In Ideology and the Ideological State Apparatuses Althusser makes the assertion that education has become the dominant ISA. Certainly, this proclamation – while apt – was not surprising. First it pairs nicely with Gramsci’s conception of the traditional intellectual. That is to say, if those who are supported by the state tend to theorize in favor of hegemonic structures, it stands to reason that the intuitions that manage would also serve hegemonic interests.
Beyond this theoretical juncture, I have to say that personal experience has verified the pressure within higher education to conform curriculum to the training of workers. At all three universities I have taught, I have been encouraged to justify my classes in terms of the “real world” (read capitalist) skills they would develop in the students. Additionally, the majority of students I have talked to are interested in their degrees only insofar as it gets them a higher paying job. Based on this, I find it difficult to find fault with Althusser’s proclamations.
Luckily, neither Althusser, nor Gramsci, suggest the case is hopeless for us as academics. While both note that the systems are work pervasively in the favor of capital, they also suggest there is room for resistance. But what ought to be the nature of that resistance? Althusser calls those teachers that attempt to educate outside ISA norms “heroes.” Gramsci moves it a step further, noting that if traditional intellectuals work in concert with organic intellectuals they can foster the “expansive hegemony” that allows resistance to hegemonic forces.
Does this mean that the better use of academic time is field work? Working with those engaged in struggle to help unify their causes. Or should we focus more on honing classroom material? Working to making sure that we try to help students move beyond dominant ideological positions. Of course, these are by no means mutually exclusive, but as different universities prioritize different focuses for professors it does seem as a choice one has to make when plotting an academic future.