How do we establish new goals and outcomes for educational systems in relation to cultural and economic globalization? The response, somewhat belated among industrialized and postindustrial economies has been to move towards a new logic and vocabulary of the new worker/citizen/consumer.

The move of Singapore education into “Innovation and Enterprise” (hereafter, I&E) as a policy orientation that focused on changing and improving student outcomes began in 2002-2004. It generally marks a shift to what the Minister of Education referred to in recent speech as a “spirit of innovation” and the “skills and attitudes required to succeed in an innovation-based world” (2 April 2005). In his 2004 National Day Address, the Prime Minister argued that … “above all, we should work to avoid a convergence of ideas, even as we foster an abiding loyalty to Singapore and an interest in seeing Singapore succeed. … [W]e have to start young, encourage our children to question as they learn, and to experiment with new ways of doing things – not just follow the rest of the class. We have to allow a spread of ideas and learning habits, and not expect students to be fitted too closely to the curve” [original emphasis].

These policy orientations have broad parallels in other educational systems. Since the late 1990s, most educational jurisdictions, state systems and non-government organizations have shifted focus to the production of human capital fitted for new economies. This is in part because of an emergent critique that traditional education and industrial models of schooling were not changing as required by conditions of globalised economic reform and cultural change.

The new economies have been described variously as postfordist, late capitalist, postindustrial and, most recently, “globalised” (Burbules & Torres, 2001). The general educational claim is that they require different worker citizens, equipped with different skills, knowledges and dispositions than industrial models of schooling afforded. Relatedly, traditional pedagogy is criticized as print-based, conformist, reproductionist and overly oriented to competitive individualism (Gee, Hull & Lankshear, 2000). Service-based, diversified and decentralized, information and discourse-based economies are said require more than the basic skills, functional rule compliance and reproductive capacity of manual laborers, primary and secondary industry workers, and the hierarchical management of the ‘old’ industrial economies (New London Group, 1996).

In the educational literature, the general argument is that the new economy will require both a shift to from manual labor to information, sign and symbol saturated work. But, moving beyond claims of a changed skill set demands, it also argues that changed competitive conditions require more dynamic and adaptable, innovative and anticipatory corporations, companies, businesses and civil institutions. This requires workers and citizens who are less compliant to precedent, tradition and authority – who actively seek out opportunities for business activity, new markets, new products, new ideas and artifacts, and different patterns of social exchange and communications. In post-fordist economies shifting from economies of scale to economies of scope (Harvey, 1996) – the degree of ‘safe employment’ in large scale repetitive industrial production is necessarily limited, with high degrees of outsourcing, consulting, and ‘niching’ both of production and consumption. At the same time, the emergent post-industrial service economies’ labor requirements appear to be information-based and change rapidly, requiring reskilling and retraining. The general push, then, is for worker/citizens who are able to independently weigh risks and develop strategies for the creation and realization of capital, and for worker/citizens who have the motivational dispositions to cope with rapid change, potential volatility and changing demands of these same, globalised markets.

The responses of educational systems has been to reset broad policy and philosophic direction, re-examine the outcomes of the system, and then undertake curriculum and assessment review. Evidence of a common ‘rhetoric’ around new economies and new skills can be found on virtually every major national or state education website in the industrialized West and North (see for example, official sites of most US, Canadian, and Australian states and provinces, especially Ontario, British Columbia, Queensland, Tasmania, but also of the national systems of New Zealand, Ireland; see also the websites of the OECD and UNESCO). There is no empirical evidence or systems benchmarks for ‘success’ at this major shift in policy, with systems generally still using performance indicators from the ‘old’ educational economies (e.g., year 12 completion rates, achievement on basic skills tests, functional literacy, tertiary participation). With the exception of ongoing Queensland and Singapore, there have there no attempts to connect descriptive analyses of classroom practices with these new educational goals.

As for the student outcomes, there is no definitively researched set of skills, knowledges or competences. Yet Ministries and non-governmental organisations share a general consensus on a range of general competences including:

· To think critically, independently and translate this into action plans;

· To contend critically with new and, at times, conflicting knowledges;

· To conceputalise alternative applications of knowledge;

· To identify problems and generate strategies for addressing them;

· To work autonomously and in teams;

· To communicate across groups, teams, institutions and cultures;

· To transfer and transform skills and knowledges to new domains that were not part of initial training;

· To engage constructively with ongoing and unanticipated training and education demands;

· To think and plan strategically within organizations and institutions.

Not surprisingly, these outcomes reflect and parallel the literature on new approaches to management, corporate and institutional restructuring.

The critique of these emergent dominant models by educational theorists has fallen into several distsinctive patterns. First, there has been a persistent defense of humanities and cultural engagements as necessary correctives and balances against economic reductionism – that is, a technocratic model of education that reduces all knowledge, skill and competence to economically realizable skill. The argument, harkening back to CP Snow’s (1955) two cultures argument, is that the education system has moved too far towards the reproduction of a scientific technical rationality, and neglected the humanizing forces of artistic endeavour in all of its forms, and the critical possibilities of social sciences. In this regard, we find an unholy alliance of both cultural traditionalists, defenders of residual, canonical traditions, with those on the left who argue that the radical potential of the arts – and its necessity for moral. In this regard, there is a common discourse that secular education has sold its soul economic rationalization, and lost its mission of the teaching of a secular morality.

Second, there has been a persistent strand derived on critical pedagogy – specifically, that the responsibility of a critical democratic education, despite the pirating of the term democratic by American government, has been to create a citizenry capable of social transformation via critique, that is actionable analyses of the social, cultural and economic order, including the critique of the state and its dominant assumptions. That is, models of critical pedagogy have tended to focus on the need for an education to critique the state, civic society and political economy.

But how can we conceptualise the normative imperatives for a ‘new education’ in the face not just of globalization, but moveover in the face of the emergence of technologies and economies driven increasingly by the forces of transnational multinationals working on biotechnical and digital invention. This essay is an exploration of the normative educational imperative for a new scientific literacy – one that is premised upon the merger of corporate science, state formations and multinationals in collusion to generate new capital flows based on the invention of new biotechnological ‘property’ and new information/digital/and representataional resources. Its premise is that these new formations of political economy require a different kind of educational critical project – one that is not about or premised upon critique of the state, dominant ideologies around gender, race and class – as is the legacy of new sociology of education, but rather one premised upon a critique of the scientific/technical/corporate order that is exemplified in the new biotechnological/it start ups aided through taxpayer money and as well aided and abetted by the longstanding pharmaceutical/chemical conglomerates who both create and solve the conditions for illness and exploitation of the biosphere. To do so, I begin, without a trace of irony, from a literary fictive example.

and moreover the emergence of technologies and economies driven increasingly by biotech and digital capitalism?


At its best ‘science fiction’ creates possible worlds for which there are plausible traces, precursors, necessary conditions and indeed, political economies – that is, it has a plausibility while pushing that plausibility to its limits. Overlaid by a powerful utopian vision, and characters who demonsrate what we can view as identifiably ‘human’ and ‘humane’ dispositions and traits confronting the new – whether technological, social relational, ethical and cultural, and, indeed, ‘scientific’. This is precisely what Brave New World did – with uncanny precision, overlaying a reading of technological future with a dystopian social and political order, and inhabiting this with characters much like ‘us’, whomever that might be. On the one hand, the themes emerge are about what counts as humanity, as ‘species being’, and how this responds and survives to different political orders: e.g.,

In Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood offers her dystopian future – of the ecologically degraded shoreline of Lake Ontario (or somewhere thereabouts – probably the same shoreline that the baby boomers of the Robber Bride lived on), where the ‘last man’ lives alongside of the a cloned, vacant but curious, genetically reprogrammed tribe of people, the ‘perfect’ subjects created by his classmate, the prodigee nerd Crake, through genetic engineering and incapable of nuance, paradox, analysis and creativity. He takes us through a narrative of the end of his life, a metaphor for the end of the social order, the decay of cultural memory, the end of the species and indeed the end of the biosphere as we know it.

Ever Atwood, the narrative is a distinctively Canadian one of elements and weather, monochrome, but one fraught with a rich, contradictory interior monologue, and powerful issues of love, gender and sexuality – a vision we first glimpsed in the Handmaid’s Tale. It has two interesting effects: reframing the Canadian themes of the environment, both by reversing the center/margin, metropolis/hinterland relationship, making the urban centre the new ‘no go’ hinterland, and taking away the Canadian winter. Oryx, the principal woman character is the counter-Eve, the last woman, with vestiges of affect, love and relationality in the face of a debased society, where reproduction, sexuality have been reduced to genetically reprogrammed activities (no longer even requiring the social control of Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. This is Huxley’s vision revised, perhaps the suitable follower by almost a century of Brave New World, that Brave New World Revisited wasn’t. Distinctively millennial in its reframing of gender relations, and, strikely accurate in its portrayal of the demise of the species at the hands of a bio-corporate, scientific/technical order, living in gated worker communities, bound to industrial secrecy, beyond the control of state or ethnonation. This is a vision of a political order that is something beyond and other the ‘isms’ of the 20th century that both Huxley and Orwell were so precient in analyzing, bordering on the ‘neofeudal corporatism’ (Graham & Luke, 2005).

Dystopian writing of this sort is among the most sophisticated forms of critical literacy – were that taken to be a critique of the social and cultural, political and economic order – from Swift, whose Gulliver was the prototypical science fiction, to the works of Dick and others.

Without wanting to reduce Atwood’s rich narrative to political commentary – what it does is present readers, or at least all the readers I’ve spoken with, is a powerful moral, ethical and, indeed, species being imperative, put simply: how do we belay and stop this scenario, of a world rationalized wholly by science, scientists and scientism, defined and run by a techno/corporate establishment that, ultimately, destroys itself along with everything else, leaving behind only its principal artifacts and products: the new, wholly reengineered species.

_________________________scientific American, geneticist, genetic; get lewontin, new york review of books


Check his memories

Hitler’s scientists

Making social policy scientific

There are images of pedagogy throughout Atwoods’ book: of cloned subjects stripped of memory and cultural production sitting around the last man and construing him as their maker (with Crake the graduate of Crick/Watson University and clonemaster taken as their ‘Ford’), of their learning and chanting of infantile rhymes and rituals. OF the last man holding on to his humanity by remembering and chanting lessons from school, retaining poetry and narrative in his head like an oral poet recalling the legacies and traditions of print and cinema. Of the last man being streamed into Arts at University and becoming a functionary while his nerdish colleague Crake studies bioscience in an elite university. Of the last man’s powerful and salient memories of his love for Oryx, who he rescues from prostitution in the inner city.

These, I think, are traces not of a nostalgia, but Atwood leading us to reconsider, as she typically does, the power of culture, the power of narrative, poetry and art, the power of relationality and love, and, indeed, the power of the kinds of moral, affective and, indeed, analytic education which sustains these things. In this way, Oryx and Crake leads us to a reappraisal of the techno/rationalization of education as cause and concomitant to the dystopia she writes about.

The ‘project’ of critical literacy is situated, contextual and historical – that is, however we might define it: in terms of critique of text, discourse and ideology; the state, power, culture – it requires an object: being critical of something, what, phenomenal. That is, to critique, criticize is a transitive verb – and, differing objects of critique beget different historical reactions, strategies, analytic takes and approaches.

In this regard, for Huxley and others in the liberal tradition, that historical configuration was the emergence of industrial capitalism; for Atwood in the Handmaid’s Tale it was a corporate patriarchy, both perhaps different species or historical precursors to the object of Oryx and Crake: the current configuration of corporation/science. In that vision, the state, the nation, indeed, the ‘race’ (if ever Canadians could be construed as race) is disappeared, unmaked – perhaps an enabling but not overtly. IN its place is a political economy of control and surveillance, of control over the means of production and modes of information, that is ‘private’, ‘corporate’ and partitioned from non-corporate people. It is now.