Pills, Micro-Chips, and Fruit Loops

Today I walked by a poster at a county school in Maryland, which advertised -(yes ADVERTISED)- a summary of what education “reform” is about. Among other items, it listed something it identified as “use of robust data.” I found this very curious. Exactly HOW is data robust?  “Isn’t that a taste or flavor thing?” I wondered to myself.

Here is the Websters meaning of the word robust:




1.strong and healthy; hardy; vigorous: a robust young man; arobust faith; a robust mind.

2. strongly or stoutly built: his robust frame.

3. suited to or requiring bodily strength or endurance: robustexercise.

4. rough, rude, or boisterous: robust drinkers and dancers.

5. rich and full-bodied: the robust flavor of freshly brewed coffee.

Which of these exactly refers to data? How can data, defined as systematically gathered information that is supposed to reveal, or indicate, the meaningfulness of an event or phenomena (in this case, student learning) be ….”robust”?  Is the system of data collection “strongly built (#2)” in this instance?  The truth is, if so, this claim has absolutely no grounding to support it. The testing created by Pearson is anything but reliable, valid, or ….robust.

Or, is it that the data findings are “vigorous?” (#1). I’m sorry folks, I thought a PhD in educational assessment and evaluation would have prepared me thusly, but apparently I am just stymied by this.

While such language might appeal to the senses, and thus serves as a clever use of marketing language, it has little bearing on- or origination in- the reality we call real- world education and real- world research where findings about what would really work to improve education and the lives of young people have been blatantly ignored for decades. We don’t operate in a world where real data matters. We live in a world of “tasteful,” dare I say robust, sound bites.

But the gap between ideas, language, and facts does not end there. Look at how education reformers actions belie their words:

Give ‘em pills to calm the fuck down, track them with microchips, and market a faux education to the masses using the same marketing techniques used to sell cereal.

The words make claim to help children and improve learning and quality of education. They are never expected to prove how any of this is grounded in reality. That’s our fault. We havent demanded it of them.

Reformers now use words as if somehow in their utterance, they can make them true, devoid of any factual reality. For example, parent empowerment is the word hurled around by ALEC organizers of the Parent Trigger Bill. It doesn’t matter that there is absolutely not a shred of truth behind this claim. Apparently it is enough to simply make the claim. It reminds me of junk food cereals like Fruit Loops that claim to be part of a nutritious breakfast. It doesn’t matter that what makes that breakfast nutritious is the milk and juice included in the picture, not the Fruit Loops themselves, which are made up of sugar and processed white flour.  Similarly, claiming that Mc-Charter chains improve learning is a false claim having nothing to do with the quality of the charters as a product. No matter. They sell the claims anyway regardless of facts and evidence that show, just like how Fruit Loops are made of sugar and bleached flour, that charters have failed children over and over again. Or that they do not out perform their public school replacements. No matter. The profits are real.  They throw words around that have no meaning. They are not grounded in proof nor reality. They are merely descriptive marketing claims that serve our consumer nature, and placate our desire to think critically for ourselves.

The marketing has become the thing itself. We are living in a world of the simulacra. According to Baudrillard, “Needs as such are created by the objects of consumption: objects are categories of objects which quite tyrannically induce categories of persons. They undertake the policing of social meanings, and the significations they engender are controlled,” (pp. 16-7).

Education reformers (aka the world’s corporate 1%) police people by policing the meaning of the words which are written into policies designed to regulate our collective internal and external spaces, using words to substitute for realities. For example, claiming that increasing monies to charters and vouchers promotes student well-being, or that increasing testing will improve teaching, is like saying Fruit Loops are nutritious. The fact that neither has any bearing on any possible versions of the truth doesn’t seem to matter. The claims supersede, even become, the new truth which drive policy.

The representation no longer indicates something else, it is the thing itself. In other words, the words of reformer policy represent nothing. They are conjured out of thin air. They are falsehoods and represent nothing real. Therefore they represent nothing but themselves. The words, like “robust data” create something a fiction sold as truth. It is a trick of the eye, distorting public perception so as to appear real.

Like Disney and Jurassic Park, the education reformers manufacture this fantasy world in which vouchers and charter schools are the solution to all our social ills, disguising the ugly underbelly of both the intentions and results of their initiatives. They show us what they think we want to see. We are not simply being sold a new way to educate. I fear we are being a sold a new way of being in the world, one which sacrifices our freedoms and human rights for the profits and control of global corporate powers.

Use fear and intimidation to ensure that all comply. Sometimes, replacing reality with a falsehood requires that we alter people’s minds and physical states of being. No problem. We have pills to administer to children to ensure their “productivity” and microchips to control their bodies.  Such forms of control do not symbolize means of social control and hegemonic gaze. They are, like the media, and abuse of technology itself, social control.  Baudrillard, again, illustrates this point:

The mass media “fabricate noncommunication” (p. 169) because they “are what always prevents a response, making all processes of exchange impossible … This is the real abstraction of the media. And the system of social control and power is rooted in it,” (170). This is not only the ultimate means of social control; it simply is social control; “It is useless to fantasize about state projection of police control through TV:… TV, by virtue of its mere presence, is a social control itself. There is no need to imagine it as a state periscope spying on everyone’s private life — the situation as it stands is more efficient than that: it is the certainty that people are no longer speaking to each other, that they are definitely isolated in the face of a speech without response,” (172).

Microchips, medications, high stakes testing, punitive accountability measures, which are all foisted upon children and public school teachers, but not on policy makers, corporate billionaires, nor politicians (all of whom remain immune from being accountable for their actions)-all of this is not an indication of social control and mass oppression. It IS social control and mass oppression. Children are being forced to take medication in order to perform better on tests. But not ALL kids. Just kids from low income communities. And we don’t microchip ALL kids. Just other peoples children. And coerce them into compliance.

The design is clear: Regulation of the bodies of Others for maximum usage by the elite by whom the system was designed.

While the simulacra cannot be reality no matter how hard to the reformers try to make it so, I am starting to think that the truth is stranger than (science) fiction.  Our approach to education has more to do with a theater of the absurd play than it does any pedagogically sound, morally conscious, or ethically grounded principals for how to treat children or grow a democracy.

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

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