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Reagan’s Education Reform and the ‘Information Age’: Rhetoric vs. Reality

[In light of another wave of push of technology in education, this time of Artificial Intelligence, I present my observations on the corporate push of the ideology of technology companies on American public education almost 40 years ago in an essay on the Reagan Administration’s agenda for educational reform]

What is the central message of the National Commission on Excellence in Education’s (NCEE’s) 1983 report, “A Nation At Risk?” Beatrice and Ronald Gross, in The Great School Debate call it by “far the most influential” of all the reports which characterize the “current concern over reform in the school”(1). Gross and Gross added that “ the months following the issuance of ‘A Nation at Risk’. have seen a plethora of reports by commissions, committees, and task forces set up by virtually every party-at-interest including a number that has not been evincing much interest in the schools before”,(2) and the report was even used as a platform by a political candidate.(3)

The Reagan Administration’s NCEE report has an emotional tone in its assertion for reform in the American education system currently “threat by a ‘rising tide of mediocrity’”(4) The problem with the education system, according to T.H. Bell, the Secretary of Education, who commissioned the report, is that it is in a grip of a crisis caused by low standards, lack of purpose, ineffective use of resources, and the failure to challenge students to push performance to the boundaries of individual ability”.(5)

“Amply documented”, testimony received by the Commission, according to the report, suggested that among failing standards of achievement at the high school and college level, as revealed by the results of The College Board Scholastic Aptitude Tests, “business and military leaders complain that they are required to spend millions of dollars on costly remedial education and training programs in such basic skills as reading, writing, and computation”.(6)

Echoing the post-Depressions era’s call for educational reform, the message of the NCEE report suggests a similar solution. While recommendations in the earlier period are for schools to produce “good workers” for the industrial sector, the current prescription for schools, as embodied in “A Nation At Risk”, is to prepare individuals for jobs in the high technology sector and to equip them for participation in the “Information Age” the “nation is entering”.(7)

In a latter, the rationale to reform the education system, according to those who commissioned the report, is justifiable because, “the deficiencies come at a time when the demand for highly skilled workers in new fields is accelerating rapidly”, with the coming of the computer revolution.(8) Hence, the recommendation in meeting the needs of the “Information Age” is that: All students seeking a diploma be required to lay the foundations in the Five New Basics by taking the following curriculum during the 4 years of high school: (a) 4 years of English; (b) 3 years of mathematics; (c) 3 years of science; (d) 3 years of social studies; and (e) one-half years of computer science. For the college bound, 2 years of foreign language in high school are strongly recommended in addition to those taken earlier.(9)

Reflected by the above set of recommendations, such a view on the purpose of education is, according to Manfred Stanley, in The Technological Conscience, “technicist”, in nature; the process of educational socialization is geared towards maintaining the status quo of a technologically-oriented culture. Manley described the culture as “the mass displacement of a population’s freedom and responsibility for action from a personal level to the technical level as represented by a society’s technicians”.(10)

The need to reform the education system by maintaining the “status quo”, “technicist” in its orientation, arises from a dominant theory of social change in the United States; according to Rolland G. Paulston, in “Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks”, “structural-functionalist”.(11) The issue in “A Nation At Risk”, is the urgent need to produce “workers” in the high-technology sectors and through reforming the present education system, the problem of “raising a new generation of Americans that is scientifically and technologically illiterate” can be avoided.(12) The authors of “A Nation At Risk” are concerned that those “those who do not possess the levels of skill, literacy, and training” that would prepare them for the “Information Age”, “will be effectively disenfranchised, not simply from the material rewards that accompany competent performance, but also from the chance to participate fully in our national life”.(13) There are issues behind the “patriotic” claim in the report that need to be investigated.

This essay will take a Marxist perspective in analyzing some of the issues in the NCEE report – predominantly those concerning the issues of “technology”, the “Information Age”, and the “Computer Revolution”, in general, or, to put it in Paulston’s words, “to study the political economy of education and educational reform efforts, to ask the key question of cui bono, or “who benefits?” behind those claims.(14) Loaded with ambiguous terms that presumed the neutrality of the “Information Age”, claim, “A Nation At Risk”, serve to further the interest of the corporate and the military sectors, in the process, “scapegoating” the American education system.

Hence the focus of the discussions which follow will be, the examination of the rhetoric and the reality of the “Information Age”, and some of the political economic issues related to the call for educational reform. The first issue to be investigated in “A Nation At Risk”, concerns the use of language related to science and technology. The language employed in “A Nation At Risk”, in reference to the American society’s “demand” for highly skilled high-tech workers, is similar to that used by “futurists” such as Alvin Toffler, John Naisbitt, and Arthur C. Clarke, to name a few.(15) In the report, the claims are, for example, “computers and computer-controlled equipment are penetrating every aspect of our lives – homes, factoris, and offices”, and in general it is taken that Technology is radically transforming a host of other occupations.

They include health care, medical science, energy production, food processing, construction, and the building, repair, and maintenance of sophisticated scientific, educational, military, and industrial equipment.(16) What seems to be absent in those sentences or claims are the “actors” behind them. “Technology” becomes the subject of the discussion, “animate” in form, and demands society to conform to it. This kind of claim which suggest that technology is “neutral” is what Norman Balabanian, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Syracuse University, call a “litany of the happy technologists”, and constitutes an “ideology that is a collection of errors, illusions, and mystification presenting an inverted, truncated, distorted reflection of reality”.(17)

Assigning human characteristics to technology and assuming that it has a “life” of its own constitute a mystification of the issue itself, masking the “actors” or human interests behind the propagation of the use of a particular form of technology. As Balabanian asserts, “the litany of the happy technologist”, is also a set of values characteristic of a group; the integrated assertion, theories and aims that constitute a sociopolitical program … It fails to take political power and economic interests into account and thus masks their predominant role. It promotes a model which ascribes to technology an objectivity, a value-neutrality, which technology does not in fact possess.(18) Thus, it is not the question of the procedures of computers’, like IBM, Apple, AT&T, etc., “push” for more of their technology into “homes, factories, and offices”; rather, the claim suggested by the authors of “A Nation At Risk” is that computers, as “autonomous beings”, are demanding changes in society.

What can be concluded in this first consideration of the NCEE report is that the employment of language that presumes the neutrality of technology should not be left uninvestigated. In fact, the issue of the advancement of science, in general, that claims have “benefited mankind throughout history”, should similarly be put into question. Science and technology – its development – as suggested by Wilber and Jameson, “are more complex than the simple march of value-free knowledge which progresses by its own persuasiveness”(19) Karen Knorr-Cetina, in her study of scientific works – what goes on in the scientific laboratories, found out that a particular scientific experiment often is made without the absence of economic interests; scientists working in laboratories owned by corporate industrial sectors generally perceive that their discoveries and inventions should, most importantly, reward them with fortune and fame, while at the same time benefiting their patrons: the corporate industrial sectors.(20)

David Noble, in American by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism, gave a historical account of corporate sponsorships and monopolies of scientific and technological researches in the United States, from the period of 1880s to the middle of the twentieth century. Noble pointed out too that school curriculum, especially at the college level, are tailored according to the needs of the corporate industrial sectors.(21) It is hence, not surprising that Bell Laboratories sent its representative, William O. Baker, to authors the NCEE report which asserts schools to produce a “technologically literate” society.(22) The second issue is that of the “Information Age” or the “Computer Revolution”, its “coming” so eloquently hailed by the authors of the NCEE report. Daniel Bell termed it as the “Post Industrial Age”(23) and John Naisbitt renamed it the “Information Age” which, “had its beginnings in 1956 and 1957, two years in the decade that embodied American industrial power”.(24) Describing the characteristic of the age, Naisbitt wrote:

The real increase has been in information occupations. In 1950, only about 17 percent of us worked in information jobs. Now more than 65 percent of us work with information as programmers, teachers, clerks, secretaries, accountants, stock brokers, managers, insurance people, bureaucrats, lawyers, bankers, and technicians. And many more workers hold information jobs within manufacturing companies. Most Americans spend their time creating, processing, or distributing information… As of May 1983, only 12 percent of our labor force is engaged in manufacturing operations today.25

What Naisbitt tried to point out is that the American society is moving from an industrial society to an information society and that computer technology is fast becoming a convergent force in this information era. More interestingly, Naisbitt, in the first chapter of Megatrends(26) in fact reiterated the same claims made in the 1980 and 1983 NCEE reports; high schools and colleges in the United States are producing computer illiterate graduates. Without computer skills, Naisbitt warned that the nation would be moving towards mass displacement of those graduates unable to cope with the fast changing trends of the high technological age. Education, in his opinion, should train individuals to prepare them for jobs in the information section.(27 )The significance of Megatrends, especially in the first chapter, is in the author’s “forecasting” of the future of the American society; its movement towards the age of computers and how important it is for schools to produce computer literate citizens. Schools can be blamed for not being able to produce individuals needed by the information sector. In Naisbitt’s words, “a powerful anomaly is developing”, in that, “as we move into a more and more literacy-intensive society, our schools are giving us an increasingly inferior product”, as evident in declining SATs.(28)

The rationale behind the author’s promotion for extensive computer education is eloquently stated, in the language of “corporate wisdom”:

Whether you work with computers or not, it is important to become friends with the computer and become computer literate, because the computer will permeate the whole world of work. The rapid change ahead also means that you cannot expect to remain in the same job or profession for life, even if it is an information occupation. The coming changes will force us to seek retraining again and again. Business will have to play the key role, similar to the way IBM now spends approximately $500 million annually on employee training and education.29

Perhaps, as in the case of Bell Laboratories representation in authoring the NCEE report “A Nation At Risk”, one could also conclude that Naisbitt is also playing the same role – that of a representative of the corporate sector. Interestingly, Naisbitt’s vitae suggested his close association as counselor and advisor to major corporations such as United Technologies, Atlantic Richfield, General Electric, AT&T, Control Data, and IBM. Currently the “chairman of the Naisbitt Group, a research and consulting firm”, Naisbitt had “work with IBM, Eastman Kodak, and the White House”.(30) the publishers of Megatrends also hailed Naisbitt as “the country’s top authority on our deeply rooted social, economic, and technological movements”.(31) Herein lies the question of cui bono again. In the case of Naisbitt and other proponents of the “Computer Revolution”, who “foresee” the inevitability of computers “pervading” the American homes, factories, and workplace, this “technological deterministic” view – that technology is inherently neutral and its movement and advancement is devoid of human interests – held cannot be left unquestioned, especially from the Marxist point of analysis.

There are certain parties that are benefiting from this “ideological push” of the “Computer Revolution” or the “Information Age”. Major computer corporations are among the beneficiaries of those claims. Specifically, for example, the world sales figures and net incomes of the corporations Naisbitt was associated with, are impressive. Among them, in 1982, the sales of IBM, General Electric, and Atlantic Richfield are US$34.4, US$26.5, and US$26.5 billion respectively, and their net earnings in the similar order for the same year are US$4.4, US$1.8, and US$1.7 billion.(32) Among the three companies, IBM, a major computer-related industry, for that year, netted the largest profit of all, compared to the earnings of all other US-based transnational corporations.(33)

It is not the intention here to conclude that there is a casual relationship between Naisbitt’s “ideological promotion” of the “Computer Revolution” and the massive profits made, especially by IBM; rather, what is intended here is to suggest that there are political economic motives present in the claims made by the proponents of the “Computer Revolution” who herald it forcibly as the coming of an “age”. Much assertions have been made about the coming of the “Computer Revolution” or, as hailed in the NCEE report, the “Information Age”. The value of the computer as an “indispensable” device to create a more “leisure” society, and as a technological tool that can benefit mankind, has been predominantly closed to much debate. The issue in the discussions about computer technology seem to revolve around the question, “what can computers do to promote greater efficiency, cost-reduction, productivity, higher profits, etc.”(34) rather than “what the impact of computers will be in a particular arrangement of societal function”.

In other words, “question which define the controversy between unrestrained computer enthusiasts and their critics revolve about concern over the scope of science and scientific rationality”.(35) In Weizenbaum’s words, “it is in my view unfortunate that there is no more debate on such important points in the computer community’s professional literature”. (36) Central to the major thesis of this essay, in relation to the claim that education need to meet the demands of the “Information Age” is not questions such as “how can society cope with the ‘Computer Revolution’?” or “how can schools help equip individuals for the ‘Information Age’?” instead, to ask the question: “Is there a ‘Computer Revolution’ which is pervading every aspect of our lives?”(37)

Again, MIT computer scientist Joseph Weizenbaum offers an explanation to the debate. While agreeing that computers have had some benefit to certain sectors of the economy, Weizenbaum criticizes the media for its exaggeration of the impact of computers on society. He states, The computer has had very considerably less societal impact than the mass media would lead us to believe. Certainly, there are enterprises like space travel that could not have been undertaken without computers. Certainly the computer industry, and with it the computer education industry has grown to enormous proportions. But much of the industry is self-serving. It is rather like an island economy in which the natives make a living by taking in each other’s laundry. The part that is not self-serving is largely supported by government agencies and other gigantic enterprises that know the value of everything but the price of nothing, that is, that know the short-range utility of computer systems but have no idea of the ultimate social cost.(38) In the same article, he also criticize computer scientists who glorify computer technology without considering its impact on society. He cautions:

The computer scientist must be aware constantly that his instruments are capable of having gigantic direct and indirect amplifying effects. An error in the program, for example, could have grievous direct results, including most certainly the loss of much human life. On 11 September 1971, to cite just one example, a computer programming error caused the simultaneous destruction of 117 high-altitude weather balloons whose instruments were being monitored by an earth satellite(9).

A similar error in a military command and control system could launch a fleet of nuclear tipped missiles. Only censorship prevents us from knowing how many such events involving non-nuclear weapons have already occured.(39) Discussed thus far is predominantly the issue of the “Computer Revolution”/ ”Information Age” benefiting only certain sectors of the American economy, particularly the computer-related industries, and how the ideology of the “Computer Revolution”/”Information Age” has been successfully implanted in the minds of the American public by those in control of the means of disseminating the ideology. In other words, those who have access to and the monopoly of the media; i.e. the corporate industrial sectors through complex webs of interlocking directorates and other forms of media monopoly, are the ones pervasively influencing the public to accept the claims of the neutrality of computer technology.(40)

Earlier in this essay, the authors of the NCEE report claim that only business sectors demand schools to produce computer-literate citizens, but also “military leaders complain that they are required to spend millions of dollars on costly remedial education”, in the basics including computation.(41) Within the conceptual framework of political economy, it can be suggested that there is a link between the “Computer Revolution”/”Information age” claim and the business and military sector. Specifically, with the military, what kind of relationship is there between the claim that “computer-literate” society will be a reality in the near future, and the military sector? In other words, the question asked, though hence far in this essay alluringly discussed, is: “What is the ‘Computer Revolution’/’Information Age’? In an attempt to “answer” this most fundamental question, one can turn to the views of, among others, Joseph Weizenbaum who has written rather extensively, not only on the impact of computers on society, but also on the role played by the military in shaping the ideological promotion of computers in “every aspect of American life”.

Throughout the history of modern technology, critics such as the “Luddites”(42) poets of the Victorian era during the Industrial Revolution, and in the twentieth century, individuals like Herbert Marcuse,(43) Lewis Mumford,(44) and Jacques Ellul,(45) to name a few, have been concerned about the “dehumanizing” aspects of technology and its potential to create social alienation. Throughout the end of this century, with the advancement of computer technology, much of the critical analysis subsumes emphasis on the link between computers, corporate sectors, and the military. Especially in the eighties, with the escalation of the nuclear arms race, the link is more apparent. While computer technology and its advancement has, to a degree, create job displacements in the corporate sectors, and in turn, unemployment create a multitude of other social problems – family breakups, suicides, frustration, alienation, etc., – much of the directions in which researches and developments in automation, on the other hand are to further the interests of, predominantly two groups: the corporate and the military sectors.

Weizenbaum, in his research on the link between Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the military, proposed: I think it is safe to say that the majority of research and development in computers – and, to a large extent, in computer science – is being funded and in many ways directed by the military. An example of this that is close to home here at MIT, and is, in a certain sense, prototypical, is the research and development of Artificial Intelligence (AI).(46) Weizenbaum further stated that “the computer was born – in a number of places but more or less simultaneously – as an instrument to help in warfare. For example, in the U.S. the UNIVAC was the first computer to compute ballistic tables, in other words, to improve the accuracy of artillery”.(47)

On the similar issue of computer use in military, Jonathan B. Tucker described clearly the link:

Now the Department of Defense (DOD) is seeking to apply artificial intelligence technology to warfare. On October 28, 1983, the DOD announced the Strategic Computing Initiative (SCI), a ten year coordinated effort by industry, academic, and government laboratories to develop a new generation of superintelligent computers with the ability to see, reason, plan, and supervise the actions of military systems in the field. Although many computer scientists remained unconvinced of the program’s feasibility and military justifications. The SCI is proceeding at a rapid rate. Already, SCI contracts have been let to Texas Instruments, Martin Marietta Aerospace, Rockwell International, and other firms.(48 )

Others like Jack Manno(49) and Walter McDougall(50) have suggested that much of what is all about in computer technology, especially in the preparation for the Reagan Administration’s “Star Wars” program, arise most importantly from the womb of the military. Holistically, one can see the link between “A Nation At Risk” – its proposal for computer education, – the corporate sector, and the “Information Age” claim in relation to the United States military. Herbert Schiller, summing up his discussion on the link between the business and the military sectors stated that “a great amount of the activity, a good share of the content, and the general thrust of what is now defined as the Information Age, represent military and intelligence transactions”.(51)

Earlier in the same article, Schiller stated that:

The communications technology now widely in general use has been conceived, designed, built, and installed with the primary objective being the maintenance of (the United States’) economic privilege and advantage, and the prevention of the kind of social change that would overturn and eliminate this advantage. The military machine acts, with the assistance of this technology as the global enforcer of the status quo.(52)

The economic advantage alluded to in Schiller’s statement above, is those of corporations like “IBM, Hughes Aircraft (satellite construction) and a half dozen other giant U.S. corporations (which) dominated the international information technology market”,(53) and “with an assured annual multi-billion dollar government (military and bureaucratic) market for computers, programming and satellites, the success of the U.S. information industry – especially the computer microchip and satellite manufacturing sectors – up to recently, at least has been guaranteed”.(54)

In conclusion, the second issue which analyzes the most fundamental claim of the authors in “A Nation At Risk ”. – that the “Computer Revolution”/ ”Information Age” is a reality and that the American education system can be blamed for not being able to produce citizens prepared for this “new” era – suggests that there are forces in the society which are powerfully influencing schools,and in that relation, education is not a neutral process. Most importantly is the issue of the presumed neutrality of the “Computer Revolution”/”Information Age” in the NCEE report, presented in such neutral terms, with such sure and mystification, suggesting that the nation is entering an age that all, “old and young alike, affluent and poor, a majority and minority”,(55) “will equally benefit, including also, the claim by the authors of the report that their concern “goes well beyond matters such as industry and commerce. It also includes the intellectual, moral and spiritual strengths of our people which knit together the very fabric of our society”.(56)

Indeed, such is a “patriotic” claim! The emphasis of the report, nevertheless, falls short of suggesting the paramount role the military plays within the political economic framework of the call for educational reform. As suggested by authors such as Schiller, Weizenbaum, and others, strengthening the U.S. military with sophisticated computer technology serves to enforce and maintain the status quo of the United States economy’s global dominance – through the powerful and most profitable operations of the few transnational corporations. Such political economic arrangement seems logical in response to the claim made by the Reagan Administration’s educational reform proposal, that “our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world!”.(57).

The next issue that should be analyzed is specifically the role of computers in education, seen by the NCEE proposal as one of the “new” basics crucial to the education process. Computers in education is proposed as a requirement, because it is seen as an important tool for information and communication, without which employment in the information sector will be an insecurity for those graduating from high schools and colleges. Proponents of computers in education see the value of computers not only as a “new” skill to prepare individuals for the job market, but also believe that computers are machines that could help students to “think” analytically, through programs such as drill and practice, tutorial, instruction, etc, in almost all subject matter taught in schools.

The “invaluability” of computers in education is, as Gross and Gross put it, “being embraced with almost religious fervor by some school reformers”.(58) From the political economic standpoint, who will benefit in the educational process, from a widespread introduction of computers in the classroom? Similarly, as in the issues of science and technology, and the “Computer Revolution”/”Information Age”, the neutrality of computers in education and their value in teaching “thinking skills” cannot be left unchallenged. There will be certain sectors of the society who will benefit more than others in the educational process that “strives” for computer literacy. It would be foreseeable that those students who have access to computers will benefit more than others without that advantage.

Ira Schor believes that, in relation to computer education, until each and every student is provided with equal access to computers, both at home and in schools, the educational process will favour the success of the affluent section of the school population.(59) In his critical analysis of the issue of computers in education, Schor succinctly states:

It’s easy to see that wealthier students are already ahead in the race for the 21st century. They have home computers to practice on no matter what hardware their better schools manage to buy. Students from poorer districts not only get less spent on them in every way at school, but also have less spent on them at home. Their less funded schools will have fewer computers for them to learn on. Their lower paid parents will not be able to supply them with microprocessors.(60)

Similar conclusion on the issue of inequality of access to computers in education is reported by Michaels, Cazden,and Bruce in a study they did on the impact of computers in education; in which they state that “many children are effectively denied access to new technologies because they live in the wrong school district. Others are able to use computers but only in the most limited ways.”(61) Marcia Boruta and Hugh Mehan, in their observation of the use of computers in “21 classrooms in 5 Southern California school districts”, believed that computers in education not only can further contribute to the stratification of skill acquisition levels on the basis of students’ socio-economic background, but also potential stratifiers on the basis of sex.(62)They concluded that:

The use of computers makes a difference in a way that well intentioned educators have not considered. By even tracking students from different socio-economic backgrounds through different computer-based curricula, and by encouraging curricular division between boys and girls, the computer can be used as a tool to contribute further to the stratification of our society.(63)

Ian Reinecke, writing about the overall impact of high technology on society, in Electronic Illusions, too believe that the introduction of computers in education will only widen the disparities between the “haves” and the “have-nots”.(64) Specifically analyzing the issue within the British education system, Reinecke states: An intensive campaign to put microcomputers in British schools aimed at a target that would have given each student access to a computer for an average of one hour each year. That average includes, of course, some schools where students have almost unlimited access and those where they have none at all. The use of microelectronic technology is likely, as in so many other areas of its use, to entrench social disparities.(65)

Thus, echoing Schor, Michaels, Cazden, and others discussed and quoted earlier, Reinecke also concluded that “if micro-computers can be adapted to create educational programs that assist learning, it is the children of the wealthy who will benefit”.(66) In conclusion and response, respectively, to the potential impact of computers in education, and to the question “who will benefit?” in the process of teaching computer literacy, one can imply that those who are already in the advantageous position of having access to computers (at home or in schools,) – the “haves” – will benefit more than those without the advantage: the “have’nots”. In short, specifically in the case of computers in education, there can never be equal opportunity in the process of computer education, when the existing socio-economic arrangement of the society permits the “natural” process of stratification to prevail.

As evident in the growing number of debates in the field of American education, especially the debates centering around the 1983 NCEE report, “A Nation At Risk” – the Reagan Administration’s proposal to reform schools currently “degenerating towards mediocrity”, – there is a great concern by those in control of the apparatus of governance that because schools are producing “inferior products”, changes and recommendations in dealing with the “problem” are, conceivably, the immediate solutions. Thus, in preventing society from its unpreparedness in entering the “Information Age”, reforms need to be made, most importantly, at the school level because these institutions of learning are the ones that “can be held accountable” if, in future, society continues to degenerate. At the curricular level, therefore, it is proposed that education should be geared predominantly towards the production of “technologically-literate” graduates. Central to the proposal’s call for reform in schools is the issue of the “Computer Revolution”/”Information Age” and students, ill-prepared with, besides other basics such as science and mathematics, computer skills, will be potential “losers” in the “rapidly changing” technological age.

It is precisely this claim that education should prepare individuals for the “Information Age” that the investigations in this essay take focus. Starting with the assumption that education itself is not a neutral process – for, it seeks to further the interests of the dominant groups in power, – the political economic framework by which this critique of “A Nation At Risk”, is based upon, seeks to answer the question who benefits? behind the “Information Age” in relation to the report’s call for reform in schools. The Marxist perspective of analyzing the issues in this essay is adopted, not only because of its unpopularity, – or, according to Paulston, because it has “been largely rejected and/or ignored,”(67) in the United States – but also largely due to its applicability as a mode of analysis in examining the power structure that determines the direction education takes.

In the case of “A Nation At Risk”, the “dictators” of the education system are predominantly the corporate and military sectors. Both, especially at the international level, in turn, work in symbiosis with one another; the strength and dominance of American business enterprises overseas are largely sustained and reinforced by the United States military.(68) Specifically, the beneficiaries in the “Information Age” claim are computer-related corporations. Thus, the claim that there is a “Computer Revolution”/”information Age” has the undertones of “high technology” propaganda; and “ideology” disseminated by the corporate industrial sectors. And, because of the nature of the claim – ideological, – thus, this essay questions not only the “Computer Revolution”/”Information Age” but also, in general, the “semantics” of science and technology; the presumed neutrality of scientific and technological “progress”.

The claim that computer education, an issue considered in the last part of the essay, is crucial to the education process too, upon critical examination, cannot stand the test of equal opportunity in education; those who are from the upper strata of the socio-economic level will have greater advantage in computer education than those from the lower socio-economic class. Thus, the call for “reform” in the schools can indeed be suggested that those in power and control of the means of production – the corporate sectors – intend to maintain their interests. In Paulston’s words, “national ‘reforms’ will only take place when they are viewed by dominant political and economic elites as defending or advancing their interests vis-a-vis less privileged groups in society”.(69)

Indeed, from the political economic perspective, the 1983 NCEE report and proposal for education reform seeks to precisely do that; defend and advance the interests of two major “elites” in American society: the corporate and the military sectors!


1 Beatrice Gross and Ronald Gross, eds., The Great School Debate (New York:Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1985), p. 21.

2 Ibid., p. 17

3 Ibid., p. 16

4 Ibid.

5 T.H. Bell quoted by Ira Singer, in Ira Singer, “What’s the Point in ‘A Nation At Risk,’?” in The Great School Debate, eds. Beatrice Gross and Ronald Gross (New York: Simon and Schuster, In., 1985), p. 356.

6 National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk,” in The Great School Debate, Beatrice Gross and Ronald Gross eds. (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 9185), p. 26.

7 Ibid., p. 25

8 Ibid., p. 27

9 Ibid., p. 38

10 Manfred Stanley, The Technological Conscience (New York: The Free Press, 1978), p. 220.

11 Rolland G. Paulston, “Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks,” Comparative Education Review (june/October 1977): 385.

12 National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk,” p. 27.

13 Ibid., p. 25.

14 Rolland G. Paulston, “Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks,” p. 391.

15 see, for examples: Alvin Toffler, Future Shock, (New York: Bantam Books, 1970)., John Naisbitt, Megatrends, (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984)., and Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future, (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984).

16 National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk,” p. 27.

17 Norman Balabanian, “Presumed Neutrality of Technology,” Society (March/April 1980): 10.

18 Ibid.

19 Charles K. Wilber and Kenneth P. Jameson, “Paradigms of Economic Development and Beyond.” in The Political Economy of Development and Underdevelopment, 3d. eds. Charles K. Wilber and Kenneth P. Jameson (New York: Random House, Inc., 1984), p. 5. see also Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolution, 2nd ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970).

20 see Karen D. Knorr-Cetina, “The Ethnographic Study of Scientific Work: Towards a Constructivist Interpretation of Science,” in Science Observed, eds. K. D. Knorr-Cetina and M. Mulkay (London: Sage Publications, 1983).

21 see David F. Noble, America by Design: Science, Technology, and the Rise of Corporate Capitalism. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

22 National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk,” p. 48.

23 see Daniel Bell, The Coming of the Post-Industrial Society, (New York: Basic Books, 1973).

24 John Naisbitt, Megatrends, (New York: Warner Books, Inc., 1984), p. 1.

25 Ibid., p.4.

26 as advertised inthe front cover, Megatrends is also “the nation’s #1 bestseller” and “60 weeks on the New York Times best seller list.” This raises the question how a particular book becomes a bestseller and who decides how, why, when, etc., it becomes a bestseller.

27 John Naisbitt, Megatrends, pp. 25-30.

28 Ibid., p. 22.

29 Ibid., pp. 31-32.

30 Ibid., p. 1.

31 Ibid.

32 Fortune (August 22, 1983): 170-171., quoted in Walter S. Jones, The Logic of International Relations, 5th ed. (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1985), p. 613.

33 Ibid.

34 see for example, Herbert Simon, “The Social Impact of Computers: What Computer Mean to Man and Society,” Science, 195 (18 March 1977).

35 Joseph Weizenbaum, “Where Are We Going?: Questions for Simon,” Datamation (15 November 1978); 436.

36 Ibid

37 see Ian Reinecke, Electronic Illusions (Harrisonburg, V.: R.R. Donnelley & Sons company, 1984). on a “skeptic’s” view of the Information Age.

38 Joseph Weizenbaum, “On the Impact of Computers on Society,” Science 176 ( ): 609.

39Ibid.,: 613.

40 see for example H.H. Bagdikian, Media Monopoly (Boston: Beacon Press, 1983)., on the control, ownership, and inter-locking directorates of media by major Fortune 500 companies.

41 National Commission on Excellence in Education; “A Nation At Risk,” p. 26.

42 Ian Reinecke, Electronic Illusions (Harrisonburg, V.: R.R. Donneley & Sons Company, 1984), p. 12.

43 see for example, Herbert Marcuse, “Some Social Implications of Modern Technology,” in The Essential Frankfurt School Reader, eds. Andrew Arato and Eike Gebhart (New York: Continuum, 1985)

44 see for example Lewis Mumford, The Pentagon of Power: The Myth of the Machine (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1980).

45 see for example Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society, trans. John Wilkinson (New York: Vintage Books, 1984).

46 Joseph Weizenbaum, “Computers in Uniform: A Good Fit?”, Science for the People ( ); 26.

47 Ibid. Jonathan B. Tucker, “Strategic Computer Initiative: A Double-Edged Sword.” Science for the People ( ): 21.

48 see Jack Manno, “The Military History of the Space Shuttle”, Science for the People (September/October 1983).

49 see Walter A. McDougall, … And the Haven and the Earth: A Political History of the Science Space Age (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1985).

50 Herbert I. Schiller, “Informatics and Information Flows: The Underpinnings of Transnational Capitalism”. in

51 Ibid., p. 6

52 Ibid. Schiller pointed out too, that “te electronics industry is an outgrowth of military and encouragement. The early computers and their successors have been developed with the closest consultation between private companies, IBM, in particular, and the Pentagon. Government funds financed the outputs. The first communications satellite was a military effort.”

53 Ibid.

54 Ibid., p. 7

55 National Commission on Excellence in Education, “A Nation At Risk”, p. 25.

56 Ibid.

57 Ibid., p.23.

58 Beatrice Gross and Ronald Gross, eds. The Great School Debate (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1985) p. 306.

59 Ira Schor, “Will Microchips Tip the Scales Against Equality”,” in The Great School Debate eds. Beatrice Gross and Ronald Gross (New York: Simon and Schuster, Inc., 1985), p. 356.

60 Ibid.

61 Sarah Michaels, Courtney Cazden, and Bertram Bruce, “Whose Computer Is It Anyway?” Science for the People ( ); 44.

62 Marcia Boruta and Hugh Mehan, “Computers in the Classroom: Stratifier or Equalizer?”, Science for the People ( ); 41.

63 Ibid., 42.

64 Ian Reinecke, Electronic Illusions (Harrisonburg, Va.: R.R. Donneley & Sons Company, 1984).

65 Ibid., p.176.

66 Ibid.

67 Rolland G. Paulston, “Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks”, Comparative Education Review (June/October 1977); 385.

68 see Controlling Interest: The World of the Multinational Corporations, sound filmstrip, prod. California Newsreels, 1978. see also Richard J. Barnet and Ronald E. Muller, Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations (New York: Touchstone, 1974).

69 Rolland G. Paulston, “Social and Educational Change: Conceptual Frameworks”, Comparative Education Review (June/October 1977); 387.

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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