Zombie education

June 27, 2013

William Astore is a retired lieutenant colonel of the US Air Force who now writes for TomDispatch and other publications. In his latest piece for Truthout he explains the concept of “zombie education.”   

True education, Astore writes, is transformative and soul-enriching.

“It opens alternative paths to living that don’t begin and end at the workplace. It measures personal fulfillment in ways that aren’t restricted to take-home pay… It’s about becoming a savvier citizen whose appreciation of, and dedication to, democracy is keener and more heartfelt.”

Zombie education, on the other hand, is narrowly focused on individual profit or vocational training.  

“Students are told it’s OK to be selfish but also that their role is to be consumers, not creators; conformists, not dreamers…  Educators currying favors from business and industry spout bromides about “competitiveness.” Business leaders address graduates and tell them the secrets to success in life are a positive attitude, punctuality and smart clothes.”

Astore goes on to describe the social costs of this zombie education in terms that will surely resonate with anyone working in the field of higher education today:

“If we view education as an ephemeral commodity in a world of goods, so too will our students. They’ll lump it together with all the other trivial, product-based, corporate-funded information with which they’re constantly bombarded. Critical thinking? Informed citizenship? Boring. And could you shut up a minute? I need to take this call/send this tweet/update my Facebook.”

Over 40 years ago, in the context of the Vietnam War, Noam Chomsky wrote a provocative article entitled “The Responsibilities of Intellectuals” in the New York Review of Books arguing that western intellectuals have a moral responsibility to challenge, rather than serve, the power structures in which they are embedded. One of the greatest responsibilities that academics today face is to resist and combat the rise of zombie education.  


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