Biopolitics Laid Bare

Analysis often lists “hegemony” as a tag line for many of its posted essays. Within any conversation, discussion, or exchange of ideas, it is assumed that there will be more than one point of view. Hegemony doesn’t negate this outlook. What it does describe is that one point of view or outlook dominates the exchange by determining format, or prioritization of hierarchy, or the agenda of ideas. Some ideas will be energetically contested while others will be so marginalized as to never find voice. Currently, in Ohio, there is a very contested exchange of ideas over the nature of state sponsored (paid for) education. The state constitution mandates education as a required state concern. The current Department of Education was caught with its pants down regarding charter school oversight, especially in regard to online schooling. The State Auditor has been vocal in advocating for better control, “accounting”. Results range from new legislation “to give an accounting” all the way to Ecot (major online school) being required to account for when its students attended and what they received for this attendance, etc. The “to give an accounting” screw primarily turns on money spent (by the state) and what is received in return (much as a purchase at a big box store is defined). The intricacies of what is learned, how much it costs, and whether it is comparable with brick and mortar educational facilities is what complicates the online analysis (how “to give an accounting”). After all, there is no little teacher on the other end of an online educational program to teach math, history or Spanish. It is only soft ware, 1’s and 0’s. Yet the demand remains for determining (and verifying) a return on money spent per pupil in either pedagogy. What ties the discussion together, makes it possible, is the self righteous predetermination of “performance” as a basis to assess the return on investment. (starts to sound a lot like the marketing of stocks, doesn’t it?). Hegemony reveals itself when one questions the value or worth of the cost of a school nurse, the guidance counselor, individual sports coach, school social worker or psychologist. Just how does one (the legislature) factor in the return on investment via the outcome or “performance” of individual students for these disparate education contributors? The hegemony of the debate, the dominance of the financial mode for determining the benefits of public education, through whatever means, is clarified when one considers other forms of public sponsored or funded interaction akin to education. Public transportation readily comes to mind. Though Licking County’s response to the need of public transportation certainly continues the hegemony of financial return (with service very much established around this priority), large city fixed service mass transit elides this hegemony. Like public education, public transit is considered a given requirement. Yes, bus routes must have limits (starts and ends), and yes, certain frequencies must be established, and stops determined, but after that, there is no channeling of ridership as to who goes where, and how often. Subway systems and light rail are accessible for riders no matter what, unfettered by any requirement of justification for their efficacy. Another example would be public libraries which promote various, often disparate resources for use by any (and all) with few necessities of legitimation by the user. We’re not talking rules here, but giving an accounting for resource availability. The hegemony of performance with financial accountability at the heart of the public education debate is evidence of what theoreticians describe as biopolitics. Black Lives Matter is just one of many responses to the politics of authority, where a monarch, dictator or “police” authority rules through intimidation or overt power (might makes right). Most modern “democratic” states rely on other measures to insure that taxes get paid, the state is secure internally/externally, and that its citizens can live out their lives (raise families, pursue interests, care for themselves and loved ones, etc.). Differing from authoritarianism, biopolitics relies on the biological development of the individual, and hence the citizenry. Through various means, biopolitics determines a pool of soldiers, or medical practitioners, truck drivers and school teachers, etc. to avail itself for the good of the state. The current debate of performance based accounting for the efficacy of any state sponsored schooling reveals the working of biopolitics within the functioning of Ohio’s “real” governance. Although an American democracy where each should be able to determine their own path, the State of Ohio is determining resource allocation only on the basis of how it promotes the aspirations of the state (which currently are totally market driven). Unlike public libraries or public transportation, where the individual user can determine the actual use (or not) of the public resource, the hegemony of “performance” and financial return on educational spending determines the orientation and development of the biological individual public education is meant to serve. Education as a resource for the citizens of Ohio becomes education as a response to the demands of the market. This is biopolitics laid bare.

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