Personal tools


CPSR Newsletter Spring 1994
 PSR Logo

[CPSR Home Page] | [CPSR Newsletter Index]| [Spring 1994 Issue--Table of Contents]

Computers and the Deskilling of Teaching

by Michael W. Apple
John Bascom
Professor of Education
The University of Wisconsin, Madison

CPSR News Volume 12, Number 2: Spring 1994


We are repeatedly told that unless we have a "technologically literate" work force we will ultimately become outmoded economically. This has created immense pressure on schools to quickly, and often relatively unreflectively, get large numbers of computers in schools and to institute 'computer literacy" classes for their students. Yet, as I have shown in both 'reachers and Texts (Routledge, 198X) and Official KnowIedge (Routledge, 1993), not only are these economic claims more than a little inaccurate, the proposals for a technological future in schools have little understanding of some of the most major negative consequences of such a technological fix, especially on the lives of teachers.

A helpful way of thinking about these consequences is to employ the concepts of deskilling and intensification These concepts signify a complex historical process in which the control of labor has altered, one in which the skills that workers have developed over many years are broken down and reduced to their atomistic units, automated, and redefined by management to enhance profit levels, efficiency, and control. In the process, the employee's control over timing, over defining the most important way to do a task, and over the criteria that establish acceptable performance, are slowly taken over as the prerogatives of management personnel who are usually divorced from the place where the actual labor is carried out. Loss of control on the part of the employee is almost always the result. Pay is often lowered. And the Job itself increasingly becomes exactly that--just a job as it becomes routinized, boring, and alienating as conception is separated from execution and more and more aspects of jobs are rationalized to bring them into line with management's "need" for increased "accountability," control. and "cost effectiveness."

These processes are not limited to what have been called working class positions. The separation of conception from execution, for example, has expanded rapidly into professional labor as well. Let us take as a prime instance the aforementioned pressure to bring the unbridled benefits of the new technology into the classrooms of America. Given these kinds of pressures, what may happen to teachers if the new technology continues to be pushed into schools in an uncritical way?

One of the major effects of the current (over) emphasis on technologizing classrooms may be the deskilling and depowering of a considerable number of teachers. Given the already heavy workload of planning, teaching, meetings, and paperwork for most teachers, and given the fiscal crisis that is having such a negative impact on so many school districts throughout the country, it is probably wise to assume that very few teachers will actually be given more than a tiny amount of training in computers, programming, their positive and negative social effects, and so on. This will be especially the case in our elementary schools where teachers are already teaching a wide array of subjects. Research indicates in fact that few teachers in any school district are actually given substantial information before computer curricula are implemented. Often only one or two teachers are the resident "experts." Because of this, most teachers have to rely on pre-packaged sets of material, existing software, and specifically purchased material from the scores of software manufacturing firms that aggressively market their products, the vast majority of which have quite questionable educational merit.

All of this is happening in a time when teachers' labor has become "intensified." There is ever more to do as widespread economic and social problems are given over to the school to supposedly solve. Thus, time is at a premium. Time to evaluate these purchased computer programs and even to learn how to use them is nearly nonexistent.

The impact of this can be striking. What is happening is the exacerbation of trends we have begun to see in a number of nations. Instead of teachers having the time and the skill to do their own curriculum planning and deliberation, they become the isolated executors of someone else's plans, procedures, and evaluative mechanisms. In industrial teens (and we need to remember that like many other professionals. teachers are workers employed by the state), this is an aspect of the transformations of the paid labor process I noted earlier--the separation of conception from execution.

This reliance on prepackaged software--without either the thne or resources to sufficiently evaluate its real educational worth--can have a number of long term effects. It can cause a decided loss of Important skills and dispositions on the part of teachers. When the skills of local curriculum planning, on which so much of progressive, community based, and culturally responsive pedagogy is based, are not used they can tend to atrophy. The tendency to constantly look to one's own or one's colleagues' historical experience about curriculum and pedagogy is considerably lessened as most major parts of the curriculum, and the teaching and evaluative practices that surround it, are viewed as something one purchases. Substantive skills, including the ability to design relevant experiences for those students who are least likely to find a culturally responsive curriculum in schools, are lost through lack of use over time. And in the process and this is very important the school itself is transformed even more into a lucrative market as all manner of material is introduced. While the situation has improved in the last ten years since the following statement was issued by the director of software evaluation of one of the largest school systems in the United States, his claim that of the more than 10,000 computer programs currently available less than 200 are educationally significant still has power. The effects of this on students, as well as on the labor process of their teachers, has not been given the attention that it deserves.

My point in these brief comments is not to take a neo-luddite position. There are many interesting, socially critical, and pedagogically creative uses to which computers can be put in schools throughout the country. Rather, I want to argue in the strongest possible terms that unless we situate the introduction of this technology back into the social reorganization of the labor processes that many professional employees are now experiencing, we may be reproducing some of its most deleterious effects into schools. Teachers and students are too important to let this go on uncritically.


[Previous Article] | [Table of Contents] | [Next Article]

  Page Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
P.O. Box 717
Palo Alto, CA 94302-0717
Tel. (415) 322-3778 Fax (415) 322-3798
Archived CPSR Information
Created before October 2004

Sign up for CPSR announcements emails


International Chapters -

> Canada
> Japan
> Peru
> Spain

USA Chapters -

> Chicago, IL
> Pittsburgh, PA
> San Francisco Bay Area
> Seattle, WA
Why did you join CPSR?

I am graduating this year and want to look beyond school to see what the world has to offer.