1973 - when I started asking questions, like, "Why are we all dressed so funny?"

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Movie as Metaphor...for What Ails Education?

The Pentagon Wars is clearly a "B" movie, 

and a nearly humorless comedy at that, but that does not prevent it from having some explanatory power.

The movie is allegedly based on the book by a retired Air Force Colonel who wrote what looks like a serious and detailed study of bureaucratic malfeasance in the Pentagon's procurement process (James Burton, The Pentagon Wars: Reformers Challenge the Old Guard).

Stacked up against such notable classics as Catch-22 or Doctor Strangelove, it surely fails as a "military-lunacy-film," but it does score points in showing how idealists can get co-opted by the system or simply eliminated. The film does seem to leave open the possibility of a "third way" within the system in the character of one Colonel (later Brigadier General) Smith who feeds tidbits of truth to the press and Congress. Yet his timidity suggests this third way to be a compromise that one ought to not consider to remain morally coherent.

The Connection with Education...  

As he was near leaving office, President Eisenhower famously warned of the "military-industrial complex" which could lead to a consumeristic approach to the planning, production and acquisition of war materiel. The film demonstrates how some of the dynamics can work on a small scale. In this case, with the long drawn-out design and testing of what would (finally) become the Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The education establishment does not consist of generals, but principals, superintendents, professors at schools of education, textbook publishers, lobbyists and politicians. The latter are in abundance and, while they cannot rival the Pentagon's annual budget, education policy and practice far outstrips any cultural contribution the military makes.

And rather than inflated weapons systems that get pushed into the pipeline and have a way of being refined one way or another, the educational schemes that emerge from the "educational-bureaucratic complex" seem to have less "quality assurance" than say, the M16 (one of the best moments of the film is when "Colonel Burton" tells the tale of Vietnam veteran he met who used on the early M16s with the cheap ammo that cost hundreds of lives in the early days of its fielding). When soldiers die, people begin the notice. When educational schemes fail, does anyone notice?

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