Many students, especially those who are poor, intuitively know what the schools do for them. They school them to confuse process and substance. Once these become blurred, a new logic is assumed: the more treatment there is the better are the results; or, escalation leads to success. The pupil is thereby “schooled” to confuse teaching with learning, grade advancement with education, a diploma with competence, and fluency with the ability to say something new. His imagination is “schooled” to accept service in place of value. Medical treatment is mistaken for health care, social work for the improvement of community life, police protection for safety, military poise for national security, the rat race for productive work. Health, learning, dignity, independence, and creative endeavor are defined as little more than the performance of the institutions which claim to serve these ends, and their improvement is made to depend on allocating more resources to the management of hospitals, schools, and other agencies in question. Not only education but social reality itself has become “schooled.”
It costs roughly the same to school both rich and poor in the same dependence. The yearly expenditure per pupil in the slums and in the rich suburbs of any one of twenty US cities lies in the same range—and sometimes is favorable to the poor.1 Rich and poor alike depend on schools and hospitals which guide their lives, form their world view, and define for them what is legitimate and what is not. Both view doctoring oneself as irresponsible, learning on one’s own as unreliable, and community organization, when not paid for by those in authority, as a form of aggression or subversion. For both groups the reliance on institutional treatment renders independent accomplishment suspect. The progressive underdevelopment of self- and community-reliance is even more typical in Westchester than it is in the Northeast of Brazil. Everywhere not only education but society as a whole needs “de-schooling.”
Welfare bureaucracies claim a professional, political, and financial monopoly over the social imagination, setting standards of what is valuable and what is feasible. This monopoly is at the root of the modernization of poverty. Every simple need to which an institutional answer is found permits the invention of a new class of poor and a new definition of poverty. Ten years ago in Mexico it was the normal thing to die in one’s own home and to be buried by one’s friends. Only the soul’s needs were taken care of by the institutional church. Now to die at home has become a sign either of poverty or of special privilege. Dying and death have come under the institutional management of doctors and undertakers.
Modern poverty is not necessarily the consequence of inferior treatment. It can, of course, be associated with fewer years of school attendance or cheap schooling; but it can also accompany more costly schooling such as the higher than average per capita expenses of “compensatory education” in slums and “rehabilitation” behind bars. Modern poverty is not necessarily the…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.