We sometimes hear education spoken of as an “ivory tower,” a criticism of it being out of touch with the common person and the everyday commercial world. It makes me cringe. Education is anything but.
Since the 1990s or even earlier, tertiary education had undergone seismic mutations into multiple iterations of a corporatised manufacturing plant with their raisin d’être to produce pegs and foot soldiers (human capital), money (financial capital), and commercial value (equity capital). If anything, the intertwining of education and industry, learning and profit, research and capital has been pushing on relentlessly, often with undocumented heavy casualties—loss of morale, loss of real scholarship, loss of liberty and learning at its best, loss of joy and health, loss of the soul and spirit of education.
Arguing for education to get out of the “ivory tower” now sounds to me anachronistic, missing the mark, and thus a straw-man argument. As the Zen master says, the goose is already out! Education has left the ivory tower long ago! It’s been in the neoliberal capitalist marketplace for many moons now. More than marketplace, it’s a Darwinian jungle of predatory beasts where chimeras of all sorts—rankings, industry bliss, jobs, or otherwise—are the prize. There is nothing new under the sun, as my old friend the book of Ecclesiastes would say.
We brandish cliches like “industry” and “jobs of the future” as if we know what we are talking about. I submit to you we don’t. Disruptive change and unforeseeable quakes will become more frequent, more devastating, less manageable. If we really want to educate in the most holistic and integral sense of the word, we need to step back, step above, and step into: back from the litany and marketing culture of insanity; above habitual selves and received paradigms; and into an empty dimension of being, thinking, feeling, intuiting, and acting. Otherwise, for all tall talks of “not business as usual” we remain entrapped in, driven by old conditioned identities and images that we misconstrue as new.
One more thing: has there ever been an ivory tower? Who coined this term for education? Who is parroting it like a broken record? What power interests of selves and politics of knowledge production and consumption form its context? What unquestioned assumptions percolate beneath our notions of education, society, human being-ness and human purpose? What social dynamics and systemic forces compel such rhetoric? Which metaphors drive the incessant drone of repetition, superficiality, and mechanization of the soul through the banalized process we now like to call “education?”
I submit this piece of random inquiry for your consideration. Let’s come alive and be the creative soulful selves we can be. Not jumping on bandwagons imported from the Euro-American flatland that is decaying from its insides. Giving it a fancy new name will not change its reality.