Georges Bataille has some haunting words about how the workplace is the scene of our domestication and repression: it is where we are forced to put away our Dionysianism. The crazy sex from the night before is as if forgotten; the drunken marital argument of the weekend is erased; the antic children have disappeared; all the passionate music of life is turned off, and a false bourgeois order clothes you with the sack and quick penury awaiting you if you don’t obey. But Bataille might also have emphasized school, for school is work too–work before the adult workplace–and school tutors the adolescent in repression and the rectitude of the bourgeois order, at the very moment in life when, temperamentally and biologically, one is most Dionysiac and most enraged by the hypocritical ordinances of the parental league. [link added]
Bataille, Dionysus; these are some pretty heavy-duty invocations, marshaled to make a point almost every schoolboy knows and senses almost instinctively, deep in the core of his already-repressed self. School is a training and staging ground, a rehearsal space, a green room, for the regimented and regulated world on the ‘outside.’ But it does even more service than that, of course. It also frees up the child’s parents to put in their inadequately compensated eight hours or more in the workplace. School is not just preparatory for the workplace; it supports and enables it.
Some schools–like parochial religious ones, appropriately enough–perform this task of preparation better than others: generic school buses, pompous titles for teachers and administrators, prayer assemblies, and most interestingly, uniforms. Why do you think so many perfectly intelligent human beings put up with the idiocy of rigidly prescribed dress codes, which homogenize and straitjacket and which, as the examples of jackets and neckties in hot summers remind us, are so often inappropriate and uncomfortable? If they haven’t worn uniforms themselves, they’ve seen children wearing them; it reminds them of order, a good thing, as we are often old. The bit about assemblies and uniforms remind us that schools are also venues for flirtations with the military: who better to instruct and inspire us on the virtues of order and discipline and immediate, instinctive, unthinking obedience?
Note: It has been said the primary value of a putative employee’s college degree–for employers–is the knowledge it provides them of his or her ability to persist with a structured program for four years, maintain a schedule, read and write with some adequacy, and follow instructions. This reductive view of a college education seems to be the one uppermost in the minds of those who plan university reform these days. Critical thinking would be a disruptive, subversive skill; better to merely emphasize the routine and the structural, all the better to prepare today’s graduate for the arrangements that await him in the workplace, the enduring site of his or her control, a space where–in the American context at least–the Constitution is put on hold.