A Simulacrum of the Vagabond King with Styrofoam Crown
The launch of Sputnik by the Soviet Union in 1957 played a significant role in shaping the Western public education.
The role of education in society is impossible to overestimate. The quote famously attributed to Abraham Lincoln says: 'The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be a philosophy of government
in the next.' From what we observe today in the social movements around the world, the philosophy of school rooms in the second half of the 20th century was pretty botched, skewing people’s mentality towards technicalities of science, engineering, and finance, neglecting the humanistic side of psychological development. A lack of capacity to critically reflect on one’s personal position in relation to the social context, as well as an insufficient awareness of the democratic ways of living and experiencing them in practice, led to the rise
of a positive attitude towards neoliberalism on one hand and socialism on the other.
Discipline-oriented, technical rationality-infused and empathy-redundant education cultivated an I-Don't-Care (ID'C) culture that thrives on motivational training and personal gain, and is nourished by ongoing entertainment. Combined with insufficient social and political literacy, an undeveloped capacity for sociological imagination, and poor skills in assessing how actions affect others and the environment, since the 1960s these traits have been contributing to the construction of an additional societal layer of simulacrum.
The meaning of simulacrum here carries the resonance given it by French social theorist, Jean Baudrillard. According to Baudrillard1, a simulacrum is not a reflection of existing reality, but a conceptual platform stitched from made-up facts, conspiracy theories, aphorisms and catchy labels used to brand the opposition leaders
or groups. The forgery of a platform is promoted vigorously, beefed up with every new segment within the movement. It becomes cemented as unquestionable truth and serves as a launching pad to attack those
who are branded as enemies to achieve a goal the movement strives to reach.
In 1957, in the United States, Sputnik became a 'vagabond king with a styrofoam crown,' as professors
of education, and researchers of school reforms, Chris H. Tienken and Don C. Olrich2, christened it.
Sputnik became a magnet around which a simulacrum was constructed. Tienken and Olrich write that
'the United States was never behind' the Soviet Union, either in education or in science, technology or military capability. President Eisenhower, the authors continue, 'was not overtly upset or worried about the situation.' Moreover, 'the quality of the US education system was not a concern of his.'
Likewise, Amy Ryan and Gary Keeley3, historians for the CIA at Hopkins University, write in their article based on declassified information about Sputnik that the President was 'amply informed' about Soviet missile capabilities and their plans for launching a satellite, long before the launch. This was confirmed by former Eisenhower science advisor James R. Killian, as well as General Andrew Goodpaster.
And yet, to stay in power, President Eisenhower chose to adopt an electorally popular stand by legitimizing 'Sputnik as the symbol of American education’s inferiority,' thus also winning favor with a powerful group
of scientists who sought bolstered funding for science education and research.
'The king was crowned,' Tienken and Orlich conclude in obvious frustration, 'and so it began,' a mutation spawn, 'the No Child Left Behind Act, Common Core State Standards, and National Standardized Testing …'
The main purpose of the 1958 educational reforms was 'to produce competent scientists, technicians, and scholars who would ensure that the United States survived and maintained its dominant place in the world.'
By dominance it meant numeric, algorithmic, prescriptive, and instructional superiority manifested in quantitative, technical, and physical force. The goal was to churn out 'highly trained manpower,' as professor Jeffrey Herold4 writes, where 'any concerns about the humanity of the students themselves, or how education might enrich the quality of their lives, necessarily got lost in the shuffle.'
Thus was established a period of progressive indoctrination of the population in terms of the superiority
of the number over the word, and code over meaning. The numbers and algorithms, the slogans and banners, like a stockade, imprisoned liberal education—making values, ethics and civic engagement redundant in a system of standardized rationality.
Neoliberalism – laissez-faire economic liberalism that includes such economic actions as privatization, reinforcement
of the free market, decrease of government involvement in the economy, reductions of government spending (welfare), promotion of a self-possessive philosophy of the individual.
Simulacrum (simulacra) – a conceptual platform of fabricated facts, taken as
an absolute truth, that influence people's view of reality and behavior.
Styrofoam Crown King – an axis around which conceptual fabrications
of simulacra are constructed.
Available on Amazon.com
Available on Amazon.com
1 Baudrillard, Jean (1994). Simulacra and Simulation (The Body, In Theory: Histories of Cultural Materialism). University of Michigan Press.
2 Tienken, Christopher H. & Orlich, Donald C. (2013). The School Reform Landscape: Fraud, Myth and Lies [Kindle version. p. 21]. R&L Education.
3 Ryan, Amy & Keeley Gary (September, 2017). Studies in Intelligence Vol. 61, No. 3: Sputnik and US Intelli-gence: The Warning Record [Website]. Retrieved December, 2019, from: https://www.cia.gov/library/center-for-the-study-of-intelligence/csi-publications/csi-studies/studies/vol-61-no-3/pdfs/sputnik-the-warning-record.pdf
4 Herold, Jefferey (n.d.). Sputnik In American Education: A History And Reappraisal [PDF article, pages 143-164]. DOI: 6971-24186-1-PB.pdf