This is far from an original thought (and yes, I am aware of iterative theory). It’s probably a mix of Marx, W.C. Allee, and Steinbeck (who, i think developed his social theories from Allee through Ed Ricketts. Social reproduction theory posits that cultures act like single organisms (that’s from Allee), unconsciously reproducing themselves, developing structuring structures (Bourdieu) that ensure the continuation of the species/culture. The players in the game are of course unaware of their roles. They imagine they are acting existentially. The collective, of which they are a part, imagines (as if it had a mind–as if the individual had a mind–as if I have a mind) it is also acting existentially on the basis of announced (usually rationalized) purposes. Higher education is one of those collectives in our particular culture. Let’s imagine HEd as a being, a collective, an organism within the larger organism (as our organs are collectives within the larger organism of us). HEd has the announced purpose of educating citizens to be thoughtful, productive, cooperative, critical thinkers (of course) in our culture, ensuring the continuation and even evolution of our culture (the current standoff in Congress signifies what a great job we’re doing of that).
But the unannounced purpose of HEd is to reproduce the culture, which includes the culture of domination and radical asymmetrical distribution of wealth, status, and privilege (WSP). I and others have of course written endlessly about this (Bourdieu, Clark, Katz, Gee, Bowles & Gintis and so on). English departments are no different, although they like to imagine themselves as redistributing critical literacy. And likewise, our field is no different, imagining such silly things as that we are teaching our students in our writing classes how to interrogate culture and write themselves into a better world. (and of course, I have to imagine that I am no different either, although here I am, pretending that I have broken free from the structuring structures to think, ironically, for myself). But just supposing I had a useful thought born of the anger I feel towards writing classes and any other classes that make students feel what the student I have quoted feel–and I know there are many who feel that way. Basically, I think we learn counterproductive teaching strategies (the kind that make our students feel off-balance, stressed, disliking what they are doing when they should be loving it [check out Gary Tate’s searing essay, “Halfway Home”) as part of that structuring structure, of that social mechanism that guarantees the ongoing radical asymmetrical distribution of WSP. Think about it: who are the kids who get through (I mean through the whole educational gauntlet, leading the to JD, MD, or PhD)? Probably (and this is obvious) the sons and daughters of those who already have lots of WSP. I think this stupid notion of rigor is one of the primary mechanisms–we need to make our students work hard instead of enjoy the process of learning. Maybe I have to think about why this would make me angry.
[ok–I wrote what i was thinking. as i said, highly unoriginal–but i think it needs to be revoiced from time to time]
And now I realize why I’m angry: I’m probably reworking my anger at teachers/the system that almost killed my love of reading and writing. I have never been the best of students. School still bewilders me.