Monday, March 17, 2008

Disciplining The Mind

After reading Panopticism, I feel betrayed by the American educational system. No, I feel angry. No, wait, shocked. Ok, maybe just confused. Regardless, all this talk about Santa Clause and internalized discipline and "swarming of disciplines," and docile bodies got me thinking. 

In lecture today, it struck me. Not only do lectures function like the Panopticon, but so does the our educational system, something Foucault just barely acknowledges at the end of this piece. As small children, we participate in highly structured, supervised activities. As we grow a little older, we are given pictures to color, work sheets to fill out, and sentences to write. We turn these in to the teacher, and the assignments are returned with a gold star sticker or a smiley face. In high school, we're given pop quizzes to ensure we've done the reading, and, as extra insurance, teachers check even our reading notes and paper outlines. By the time we finally reach college, we're simply expected to do the work, no questions asked. For the most part, no one is checking up on us anymore. This is especially true at Brown due to the fact that there is no GPA calculation and all classes can be taken pass/fail. Despite all this "freedom," for the most part, we do all the work anyway. Why? Out of fear. We're scared that if we don't, an invisible hand will come down and expel us from university, effectively ruining the rest of our lives.

Forget prisoners being so caught up in the power structure that they don't realize they're actually the ones with the power; let's talk about the higher education system! The GPAs, the letter grades, and the SAT scores come together to form a perfect example of the what Foucault calls "the power of mind over mind." A little later on, Bentham himself explicitly says that the control the Panopticon model yields is applicable to "any institution" (his italics, not mine.)
This is a difficult argument for me to make. I know the pressure I put on myself to do well academically and career-wise is somewhat intrinsic to my nature, but a good part of it is due to 19 years of prodding by my parents. Yes, I want to succeed and "do the right thing." But, now I wonder if this desire is really my own. Maybe it's just something that has been so thoroughly instilled in me by a passive aggressive disciplinary methodology that I don't realize it's not really who I am? 

Foucault's analysis is confusing and somewhat troubling. But it's not something I can think too long on. I really have too much reading (which no one is going to actually check if I read) to do.

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