for All?


opening a dialogue around UNESCO’s vision for commoditizing learning


August 2003


the voices from civil society include:

Shilpa Jain, Manish Jain, Pat Farenga, Munir Fasheh, Paige Raibmon, Vivek Bhandari,

Yusef Progler, Lisa Aubrey, Sanat Mohanty, Ram Subramanian, Zaid Hassan, Jan Visser, Vachel Miller, Vineeta Sood, Linda Mbonambi, Gustavo Esteva, Dania Quirola, Rick Smyre, Jenny Gidley, Bob Stigler, David Wolsk,

Ashish Kejriwal, Sylvia Lee, Jamie Schweser, Venkatesh Iyer, Arif Tabassum, Nitin Paranjape, Fode Beaudet, Ekundayo J. D. Thompson, Ash Hartwell, Paul Cienfuegos, Nesar Ahmad, Manish Bapna, Makarand Paranjape,

Prashant Varma and Jock McClellan




copyleft* August 2003



* Material may be reproduced and shared freely with authors and source acknowledged.




An Invitation to the Reader


We thought it might be appropriate to state at the outset what this dialogue is not about. This might help to clarify our intent and help pull us out of certain dead-end debates -- and enter into new generative questions/conversations.


First and foremost, this dialogue is not a personal attack on John Daniel, UNESCO or even McDonald's. We have no personal vendetta to carry out against any of these entities. We name them only to better help us understand the current state of affairs in the world today.


Second, this dialogue is not only about higher education. McEducation for All has larger implications for entire education system ¾ primary, secondary, adult, vocational, non-formal ¾ as well as the larger universe of lifelong learning. 


Third, this dialogue is not only about public vs. private control of education.  It makes little difference whether the education system is in the hands of the public sector (the government) or in the hands of the private sector (multinational, transnational or national companies).  For people, the result is similar:  an invasive assault on their own knowledges, meanings, experiences, values, dreams, visions and practices of living.


We see Daniel’s editorial as starting point for initiating a larger dialogue – about the commodification of learning, and therefore, the commoditization of living.  Though the editorial specifically mentions commoditizing learning materials, it is clear that this only makes sense within a certain container ¾ a frame in which learning roles, relationships, contexts, content is held.


We hope you will take the variety of issues, questions and concerns they raise around commoditization, as an opportunity to engage with this larger dialogue.  This dialogue has come together in three rounds, over the span of several months.  The first round extends the McDonald's metaphore to raise several questions about the Education for All program.  The second round builds upon these questions with more critical insights into different aspects of Daniel's editorial specifically and McDonaldization more broadly.  The third rounds elaborates on these critiques and offers suggestions for freeing ourselves from the traps of commoditization.


We invite you to join us in this dialogue. Please share your comments, questions and reactions with us at or on






The hue and cry about the ‘McDonaldization’ of education should make us reach for our critical faculties. First, despite their ubiquity, McDonald’s restaurants account for only a tiny proportion of the food that people eat. Second, McDonald’s is successful because people like their food. Third, their secret is to offer a limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere.


Commoditization. It’s an ugly word that my spellchecker rejects. But it is a key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice. Products that were once hand crafted and expensive become standardized, mass produced and inexpensive. Personal computers and cellular telephones used to be specialized items for the elite. Today they are mass-market consumer items.


When products become commodities there is fierce price competition between manufacturers and profit margins are squeezed. Producers hate this and industries often have to restructure, but consumers benefit greatly.


What are the implications for education? Is the commoditization of learning material a way to bring education to all? Yes it is, and open universities in a number of countries have shown the way. By developing courseware for large numbers of students they can justify the investment required to produce high quality learning materials at low unit cost.


Such materials can be used successfully outside their country of origin after local adaptation and translation. Commoditizing education need not mean commercializing education. The educational community should adopt the model of the open source software movement. We can imagine a future in which teachers and institutions make their courseware and learning materials freely available on the web. Anyone else can translate and adapt them for local use provided they make their new version freely available too.


In this way, teachers all over the world can be freed from the chore of reinventing the wheel of basic content. They can then concentrate on adapting the best material, helping students to study it and assessing their competence and knowledge. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology has shown the way by making its own web materials available free. Let’s hope this heralds a worldwide movement to commoditize education for the common good.


- John Daniel

Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO



Round 1


"The idea that technology is neutral is itself not neutral— it directly serves the interests of the people who benefit from our inability to see where the juggernaut is headed…


We must raise questions about whether technological society has lived up to its advertising, and also to address some grave concerns about its future direction. Until now we have been impo­tent in the face of the juggernaut, partly because we are so unpracticed in technological criticism. We don’t really know how to assess new or existing technologies. It is apparent that we need a new, more holistic language for examining technology, one that would ignore the advertised claims, best-case visions, and glamorous imagery that inundate us and systematically judge technology from alternative perspectives: social, political, economic, spiritual, ecological, biological, military.


Who gains? Who loses? Do the new technologies serve planetary destruction or stability? What are their health effects? Psychological effects? How do they affect our interaction with and appreciation of nature? How do they interlock with existing technologies? What do they make possible that could not exist before? What is being lost? Where is it all going? Do we want that?"


- Jerry Mander

In the Absence of the Sacred, 1996

McEducation for All ?!?


We recently came across John Daniel’s editorial note, “Higher Education for Sale”, in UNESCO’s Education for All bulletin (October 2002). It raises several serious questions regarding the agenda and vision of the Education for All global initiative. Is UNESCO promoting the commoditization and homogenization of human learning? How could it suggest that the multinational corporation McDonald’s is a good model for the world's education systems (particularly those in the Global South) to emulate?  What is UNESCO and EFA’s stance regarding the Global Economy?


What is perhaps most disturbing about Mr. Daniel's note is the lack of critical analysis about the long-term harmful effects of McDonaldization – not as a chain of fast-food restaurants, but as a larger process of rationalization of society.[1] Mr. Daniel’s key premise is that McDonaldization brings prosperity, freedom and wider choice. Yet, as members of civil society, we feel it is precisely this claim that needs to be more critically interrogated.[2]  In this spirit, we would like to take the analogy of McDonald's a bit further in order to explore its implications for education and local communities in more detail.


What is the effect of McDonald’s on our health and well-being?

The food on McDonald’s menu may fill one's stomach quickly and cheaply, but its impact on our health is dubious at best. High in fat, low in fiber, hamburgers and fries (the food McDonald’s is famous for) have contributed to rising cholesterol rates and growing obesity — the tickets to a slow demise via heart disease, diabetes or cancer.  Plus, given how hamburger meat is produced (through factory farms and squalid slaughterhouses) there also exists the serious threat of tragic death from Mad Cow Disease or infection by the E. Coli bacterium. The fast-food lifestyle does not bode well for our social or emotional health either. Food-on-the-go sadly signals relationships-out-the-window. It suits those who have little time to be with their families or friends, much less to engage in meaningful conversations or creative expressions. McDonaldization thus spreads sickness and undermines both healthy individuals and vibrant communities -- the public is left to bear the costs of the industry’s private profit. 


In relation to education, we must ask, if the commoditization of learning materials (even if they happen to be from MIT) can lead to imagination, to holistic analysis, to deep ethics, to greater self-awareness? Or does it simply mean feeding people more decontextualized information (which is irrelevant at best, and neo-colonizing/debilitating at worst)? While being able to buy commodified degrees on the open market, alongside cell phones and personal computers, will surely benefit the middle-men of the Global Economy and those who run open universities, it is highly doubtful that it will really nourish and inspire most individuals and communities in the Global South.[3]


What is required to sustain the McDonald’s model?

To more fully evaluate the McDonald's model, it is important to understand what is required to keep the golden arches standing. The McDonald's menu does not function in isolation, it requires an entire sub-structure to fuel it and an entire super-structure to manage it. Though it is true that McDonald's only feeds a small portion of the world's population, its footprint on the planet is quite significant.


Internally, the fast-food industry has been shown to dehumanize its own employees, leaving them with little mobility, few benefits or security, and no chance of organizing for change. The assembly-line fragmentation, mechanized technologies and surveillance techniques eliminate individual uniqueness, judgement and creativity (and the natural mistakes that emerge from these), which is what guarantees the “same look, taste and quality everywhere.”  Consumers fare no better -- they are counted only as “numbers served.”  Like the cows and chickens at factory-farms, customers are coldly and efficiently herded through McDonald's superficial system without being touched by it.  Little or no emotional bond is allowed to develop among customers, employees, managers and owners. Indeed, McDonaldization intent is to take the "human-ness" of human beings out of the equation altogether.


Externally, McDonald’s and its like-minded clones have devoured diversity in both local economies and the environment. Roughly 75% of the money spent at corporate franchises like McDonald's is immediately sucked out of the local economy, thus further impoverishing many communities.[4] Small family-owned restaurants have gone bankrupt when forced to compete with deep-pocket fast-food corporations. The small farmer has been crushed by the growth of "factory farms", where livestock is raised in horrifying conditions, fed the dismembered parts of their own species, pumped full of antibiotics, and murdered in massive slaughterhouses. Global control is centralized in the hands of McDonald’s and its few “certified” suppliers.[5] They see no harm in clear-cutting rainforests (hundreds of acres of land a day), or in contributing to a worldwide water crisis, in order to meet the demands of industrialized livestock production. Transporting food across the world, as well as elaborately packaging it, further adds to global pollution. 


If one accounts for the hidden costs of McDonaldization, it becomes clear that the model is anti-diversity, anti-creativity and anti-democratic. We must ask what else would be killed — in terms of diverse ways of knowing, languages, dynamic roles and responsibilities, local cultures and contexts — if education continues to follow the same violent and unsustainable course?


What about vegetarians, vegans, diabetics, heart patients, slow food activists, those who do not like greasy food, etc.?

One must also question the "fact" that people like McDonald's processed food. Lest we forget, the fast-food industry spends billions of dollars a year on advertising to convince us of this. They manipulatively market to children (preying upon their sense of loneliness, insecurity and boredom) and to parents (preying on their sense of guilt) to secure a captive audience for generations. And what about those of us who really don’t want to eat fast food?  Must we all be forced to eat it, even if we believe it is unethical and/or harmful to us? Do we have the choice to say no, or better yet, grow our own organic foods?  Or will we be ostracized as "fundamentalists" or “impractical health freaks” if we try to exercise this basic aspect of human dignity?


The same queries apply to education and its lack of respect for diverse learners. Commoditization pro-actively creates a situation of artificial scarcity in order to establish and maintain a niche in the market. This requires devaluing the spontaneity and multiplicity of learning spaces and learning styles, intelligences, expressions, worldviews, etc. that exist in the world and instead, marketing a single homogenous commodity called “education” that all must consume.


The McDonaldization of education must be exposed for what it really is – a techno-fascist imposition that gives the illusion of free choice and equality. It represents a lack of faith in each and every human being’s capacities to decide upon and create their own learning communities, and assumes they cannot learn (or eat or create anything) without a pre-determined set of institutionalized options forced upon them. Worse yet, it holds in contempt those who do not like its homogenized options – labelling these resistors as “uneducated”, “superstitious”, “backward”, etc. At its core, it is inherently anti-learning.


It is time for us to face the harsh reality that much of the schooling (formal as well as non-formal) process is already McDonaldized i.e., run according to a highly centralized, one-size-fits-all, assembly-line mass production model which views human beings as “capital” or “human resources”. For the vast majority of people, such type of factory-education has become a mind-numbing, relationship-numbing and soul-numbing experience. It does not and cannot bring about profound forms of learning in the world. Rather than further hyping and expanding the reach of the fast-food solution, we invite you to join us in a much-needed process of fundamentally rethinking the Education for All global initiative — particularly its core assumptions around the purposes and processes of learning and its view of human beings vis-à-vis the Global Economy.


Meaningful learning, deep knowledge, collective wisdom and innovative action do not come from slick, pre-packaged course materials and efficient one-way transmission of information. MIT knows this, every lifelong learner understands this, why doesn't UNESCO and the EFA global initiative? The time has come for us to move beyond having dehumanizing solutions continually imposed upon us by distant experts (who do not know us and don’t really care to know us) and, to work together to co-create more diverse and nourishing learning opportunities for ourselves and our children. We should not be afraid to reinvent the wheel again and again. Indeed, that may be required if we wish to reclaim and regenerate the essence of learning in the 21st century, and to create a more just and peaceful world for all.



Shilpa Jain and Manish Jain

April 10, 2003



Round 2




“At the turn of the 20th century, a profound social thinker in France named George Simmel wrote a remarkable book called The Philosophy of Money. In it, Simmel said that money contained a powerful internal contradiction build into the foundations of its abstract existence: by robbing things of their innate identity and replacing that core identity with a money identity, money often cheapened things and removed their significance! Simmel said that whenever genuine personal qualities like services were offered for money, [they] tended to gradually become degraded, to lose distinction… The sale of compassion, the sale of concern, even the sale of a helping hand in many instances, lead to the same destination.  At some point, pricing eats away the intangible quality of service and the central value of what is offered will be destroyed…”


- John Taylor Gatto

“Beyond Money: Deschooling and a New Society”


available in full at <>


Would You Like Fries with that Diploma?


Pat Farenga, Holt Associates, United States



Reading “Higher Education For Sale” proved to me, again, that the education establishment is so slow on its feet. Using McDonald’s as the model for creating a successful and efficient educational system to deliver generic “basic content” is an insight that may have been sensible in the late twentieth century, when McDonald’s expanded into a worldwide business and made gobs of money.

Now, at the dawn of the 21st century, McDonald’s has posted its first loss ever. It is shutting down stores and tinkering with its menu. Burger King, by the way, is not in much better shape financially. People’s diets and perceptions of hamburger fast food have changed, but the big corporations didn’t realize it until recently. Educators are excited about this model in the public sector now that it is showing its obsolescence in the private sector!

The one-size-fits-all hamburger has reached the point of diminishing returns. Attempts to “personalize” the burger, to give people “choice,” to “have it their way,” have finally stopped fooling people. These are not “choices,” just condiments and dressings that any decent restaurant would give you without making it a sales point. No matter how you dress it up, you’re eating a hamburger, not exercising personal freedom. Ivan Illich referred to this confusion of process with substance in Deschooling Society, when he wrote, (I think) “The mandatory selection of pre-packaged commodities is hardly a choice.”

But people’s tastes change. People grow up. Diets change. To keep up with the changing market, McDonald’s and Burger King are offering more choices on their menus, increasing, not limiting their range of dishes. The editorial misses the boat on this point too.

The editorial states that McDonald’s restaurants account “for only a tiny portion of the food that people eat.” However, the author’s proposal to “commoditize learning material [as] a way to bring education to all” is a vast program no matter how you parse that sentence. This has many important implications. For example, there will have to be government resources devoted to keeping charlatans out of the business, so there will probably be FDA (Federal Diploma Agency) labels for content levels of individual courses. For instance:


This serving of Accounting 101 contains:

90% Math

5% General Reading

This serving also contains less than 5% of the following subjects the FDA deems vital to a well-balanced education:

Foreign language, Science. Social Studies

Trace elements of philosophy, literature, art, music, and poetry are at levels well below those considered dangerous by the FDA.

McDonald’s Education:

Bringing a smile with every course served. u



A Recipe for Wiping Out What Is Left of Diversity and Humanity, And a Call for a Fundamentalist and Lazy Attitude


Munir Fasheh, Arab Education Forum, Palestine



I keep hoping that educators would some day heal from some of the assumptions that have controlled the thinking and practice in education for the past few centuries.  One would think that (after such a long time) educators would realize the harm that these assumptions inflict on teachers and students alike.  But, I guess I am assuming too much.  Educators in general seem to be the least able to learn.


When I read what John Daniel wrote, I felt very disturbed and sad.  I will highlight some of the embedded assumptions to clarify why I felt the way I did.


First: the assumption that there are people who can think and people who can, at most, apply or adapt what “thinkers” come up with!  Mr. Daniel tells us that people (especially teachers) in most cultures do not have to think for themselves, and that he wants to free them “from the chore of reinventing the wheel… [and instead] concentrate on adapting the best material, helping students to study it and assessing their competence and knowledge.”  It is very hard to think of anything more humiliating to human beings, and particularly teachers, than relieving them from doing what I feel is the most fundamental human right and duty: to think; i.e. to create meaning, understanding and knowledge.  Despising people is not the invention of Mr. Daniel of course; it has characterized the past 500 years at least.  What Mr. Daniel is doing is continuing and spreading it.  For an educator in a responsible position to look at teachers as mere implementers and adapters, and still call them ‘teachers’ and still call the process ‘learning’, is very disturbing.


Second: the assumption that people in a place like MIT can know what is good for people and countries in Africa or Asia, without knowing Africa or Asia.  Even when such people visit these places, they stay in a Hilton, talk with graduates from MIT, and – in order to sound authentic – they may go to a street and talk with some “ordinary folks,” and they may even quote them!  If Mr. Daniel did not yet discover that the main characteristic of institutions is deception, he probably needs to think again, but more honestly.  Believing that a person or a group in a place like MIT can “cook” something that is good for all the peoples of the world is a very frightening attitude. Most professors at MIT hardly know, or talk with, the person in the office next door. They are mainly interested in their careers.  And Mr. Daniel believes that they know what is good for people in Africa, Asia, and South and Central America?


Third: the assumption that people can really be measured.  It is very hard for me to think of any idea, throughout history, that is more degrading to human beings than the invention of grading.


Fourth: the assumption that there is “best material” that is good for all, everywhere, and that the role of teachers is just to adapt it, as Mr. Daniel claims.  Although the term fundamentalism usually refers to religion, but I think that its most successful – though subtle – form is education.  Mr. Daniel’s call falls under the category of fundamentalism at a level which is deeper and, thus, more dangerous than what is usually referred to in common discourse.  If believing in something that is good for all people, and that someone at MIT knows it and someone at UNESCO can impose it, is not fundamentalism par excellence, I don’t know what fundamentalism is.


Mr. Daniel does not have to tell educators to follow McDonald’s.  Historically speaking, it was the other way round. It is McDonald’s that emulated education and followed its model. However, because education is supported by governments through compulsory laws, it did not need to be as inventive as McDonald’s in marketing and selling its junk; it relied on enforcing the law.  McDonald’s had to be more inventive in marketing its commodity. Cooking and packaging information and selling it to students all over the world was first done at a universal level by education. Since McDonald’s was less successful in convincing governments to pass a law concerning “compulsory eating of junk,” they had to package their product in an attractive and deceptive way.  Schools, as usual, lag behind in such matters.


My understanding is that UNESCO was created to respect and protect the diverse cultures that existed for thousands of years.  UNESCO is one of the few organizations that remain to protect diverse ways of living, learning, and knowing.  Using it as a forum to claim that all what teachers can do is to be imitators and/or adaptors is a very sad situation.  It is an abuse of the mandate of UNESCO. UNESCO is supposed to protect spaces where people can live according to their own ways, and not be forced to “develop” according to a prescribed formula or ready recipe.  Please, let us not repeat one of the most notorious deeds in history, where the major institutions (the state, the church, the law, and education, supported by the financial sector and the police) collaborated to finish what armies were not able to finish – the killing of cultures and ways of living and learning and relating within indigenous communities in the Americas and Australia. And that was done, of course, claiming that the purpose was to help indigenous peoples develop and become knowledgeable and civilized!


What Mr. Daniel is advocating is to repeat this, but this time in a more subtle way and worldwide!  UNESCO was created to protect cultures and peoples from all forms of destruction but, especially, from forms that claim to be “universal.”  Please, Mr. Daniel, keep UNESCO outside this path. Thank you. u


The McDonaldization of Education: Colonialism Revisited


Paige Raibmon, Simon Fraser University, Canada



Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO John Daniel urges us to “reach for our critical faculties” when evaluating the so-called “McDonaldization” of education. Yet his own brief statement on the question is at best impoverished and at worst misleading.  Rather than elaborating further on the analogy so usefully extended by Shikshantar, I’d like to offer a historical analogy to the “McDonaldization” process that Daniel espouses. 


Daniel anchors his editorial note around the twin notions of commoditization and commercialization.  As a historian, it was another “c”-word that came to mind when I read his note: colonialism.  His proposition is a profoundly colonialist one.  This is not the first time that we have heard the benefits of homogeneity and standardization touted.  Colonizers have sung variations on this theme many times over.  Daniel’s certitude that the standardization and mass production of education will bring “greater freedom and wider choice”1 evokes an era when people spoke – some naively, some self-servingly – of the benefits that the “rest” stood to gain from the “west.” 


It is impossible today to uncritically laud the benefits of empire for colonized populations.  For indigenous peoples of the Americas, as for populations of the Global South, colonization by European powers resulted in death from epidemic disease, dispossession from land and resources, and the destruction of local social, economic, political, ecological and cultural orders.  All of this occurred on a scale that falls well within the definition of genocide as defined by the United Nations convention. And, all of this occurred within an ideological context that uncritically accepted the assumption that these so-called peripheral populations had nothing to lose and everything to gain from the globalization of community, the homogenization of values, and the commodification of resources. 


Educational policy was a cornerstone of colonial projects around the globe. In Canada, for example, Christian missionaries walked in stride with the earliest fur traders to offer religious instruction.  Indigenous children became particular targets of educational transformation, as they were seen both as less recalcitrant and less prone to “regression” than were adults.  The erroneous assumption that an absence of schools signalled an absence of teaching and learning blinded colonizers to the long-standing practices of local education that had sustained indigenous communities for generations.  In this context, it seemed as though these untrained, undisciplined children – these “wild Indians” – would do nothing but benefit from the rigours of an English-style grammar school.  This educational ideal – this McDonaldized orientation – involved children spending days, months, and sometimes years away from their families and communities; but, this was hardly a drawback, since indigenous homes were viewed as educational deserts.


From the 17th through 19th centuries colonial educators experimented with various prototypes: mission schools, day schools, on-reserve boarding schools, off-reserve boarding schools.  By the end of the 19th century, the preferred mode of colonial education in Canada had become the industrial training school, in which children lived far – sometimes hundreds of miles – from home, separated from their extended family as well as from siblings of the opposite sex. They ate foreign food, wore foreign clothes, spoke foreign languages.  Their names were replaced with identification numbers.  They learned a foreign curriculum that all too often left them alienated from their home communities, at the same time as it left them unprepared to live independently in non-indigenous communities.  Half the day was spent on half-hearted academic subjects and the other on manual skills training that most often amounted to hard physical labour that subsidized the school’s operation.  The system was standardized across the country and ran from the 1880s through the 1980s.  Here perhaps is the true fore-runner to commodified education.  Daniel’s self-assured comment that commodified education “is a key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice” may well echo the words uttered by residential school principals to parents desperate to spare their children this educational assault.


The very logic by which Daniel asks us to “reach for our critical faculties” is the same by which the children of the First Nations of Canada were in practice kidnapped from their homes and, for all intents and purposes, interned at “schools.”  Residential schools did more to slam shut the doors of opportunity, freedom and choice than they did to open them for indigenous children.  The schools became hothouses of abuse and suffering.  Federal Department of Indian Affairs records show that in the late 19th century, a quarter of all residential school students died while on the school rolls or shortly thereafter.  This death rate rises to 69% where post-schooling health is factored in.2  Children were the victims not only of illness but of widespread physical and sexual abuse too.3  The emotional toll of these ordeals is, of course, nearly impossible to tally.  It most certainly extends across generations and has been considered under the rubric of intergenerational trauma comparable to the Holocaust.4   Physical and emotional ill-health have been the legacy, and for this the Canadian government and several churches have formally apologized.  Today, the schools are widely regarded one of the most tragic products of colonialism’s conceit. 


Education was a commodity in residential schools, and indigenous children were likewise treated as such: they were products to be scrubbed clean of their individual selves, as they passed through the factory institution, emerging uniformly neat, subservient, and assimilated.  Indigenous peoples suffer the devastation of this process still. Any sincere injunction to “reach for our critical faculties” cannot shrink from historical investigation.  And, any sincere historical investigation reveals that horror more than health and happiness has been the legacy of earlier attempts at “McDonaldization.”  The questions hangs: why ought we to expect anything different in the future? u


“In Indian terms there is no equation in dollars for the loss of a way of life. …  There is a story that the old people tell about the white man.  They are like children.  They want this and that, they want everything they see, like it’s the first time on Earth.  The white men have all these tools but they don’t know how to use them properly.  The white people try to equate national defense with human lives.  There can never be an equation between dollar bills and living things – the fish, the birds, the deer, the clean air, the clean water.  There is no way of comparing them…”

- Glen Wasson

Newe Sogobia: The Western Shoshone People and Land



McDonaldization and Historical Myopia


Vivek Bhandari, Hampshire College, United States



It is deeply disturbing to see decision makers at UNESCO's "Education for All" campaign argue that the McDonald's Corporation's approach to commodification is an acceptable, indeed laudable, model for those thinking about the future of education in the new millennium. This is not only because John Daniel seems to have missed the voluminous literature on the horrors associated with what George Ritzer has called the "McDonaldization of Society" – aspects of which are effectively outlined by Shikshantar – but also in the fact that his approach to education suffers from a myopic and uncritical belief in the hopelessly facile "trickle-down" view of the world.

I say these things in large part because Daniel's perspective — that commoditization is good for society since it allows large sections of the world's population to "benefit greatly" from the products once accessible only to the elite — completely fails to take into account the contested history of market capitalism and "Development." For someone to say that "when products become commodities there is fierce price competition," and to assume that this is inevitably a good thing, is far too simplistic, as is the notion that "commoditizing education need not mean commercializing education." The history of the entrenchment of many modernist institutional structures and practices (such as those associated with the state, corporations, civil society, etc.) IS the history of commodification and McDonaldization. This history, in turn, is comprehensively intertwined with the history of Empire, the contradictions of nation-state formation, and the increasingly hegemonic forms taken by the neo-liberal consensus that has been emerging in the post-Cold War period.

Perhaps most disturbing is Daniel's inability to recognize that the world has already gone through centuries of dehumanizing institutionalization masquerading as “educational reform”, “development”, or “liberalization.” Daniel's view, that price reduction as a result of competition is a good thing, might make sense when interrogated through a purely theoretical economistic lens, but is utterly inadequate when this perspective is juxtaposed with the very real exploitative history of state and corporate power. Put briefly, socio-economic inequalities in the world have emerged not only because of economic reasons; they are as much the products of those cultural attitudes that have tried to reduce the complexity of the human experience to a narrow, statist/capitalist consensus that sits well with the modernist impulse to discipline and order.  The same critique needs to be applied to the pollyanna view of technology as a panacea for the redressal of the world's problems, a view the people at MIT are well aware of. Technology, if its primary purpose is to serve the interests of commoditization, can only act as a divisive force. Unless the discordant voices that make-up the cacophony of our world are respected, and allowed to articulate alternative modernities, I’m afraid that instead of progressing, the world may well end up regressing.


My argument here is not that we should allow ourselves to slide into excessive relativism or the token acceptance of diversity (as has unfortunately happened in many parts of the world).  What I am arguing for is the recognition that a “one size fits all” attitude has the effect of curbing the creative, regenerative, and dare I say, human impulses of people.  Discordant voices are everywhere, and instead of viewing them as source of indiscipline, or primordial resistance (as many policy makers are wont to do), I believe that such voices have to be engaged, and respected. The articulation of alternative modernities is a fundamental part of society as we know it. To treat such voices and attitudes as a problem is at best escapist.  The success of McDonald's (and many such symbols of corporate power) is inextricably entangled with those structures and institutions of modern life that have ordered our social world to "manufacture consent" and stifle dissent. These institutions, that we have uncritically come to accept as a part of our shared landscape, such as the government, schools, the media, etc, do have some practical value, but in their current configuration, are entirely ill-equipped to redress the high levels of disenchantment, alienation, and disempowerment that people feel. This is because they are being used, despite claims to the contrary, to program and institutionalize, not engage and liberate.

The McDonald's paradigm is among the worst available to us precisely because, as Daniel's note points out, the reason for its success is that it offers "a limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere." It is frightening to think that decision-makers at the highest level are uncritically equating the depth and complexity of learning processes with the practices associated with mass production, i.e., standardization, commodification, and capital accumulation. 


As I write this from the United States, a society that has turned commoditization into an art form, it is apparent to me that at this point in the world's history, there is an urgent need to evolve regenerative mechanisms that allow people to learn, work, and live freely.  In my own work I try to identify those social spaces where people create, share, or debate ideas of a political nature.  Such spaces, or “publics” as I like to call them, exist in all kinds of nooks and crannies, many of which are not considered viable sites of organizing or political regeneration.  In this sense, these publics exercise critical surveillance over the government as well their own social constituencies, without being tied-down to the normative practices of modern liberal democracy. This flexibility has allowed disempowered groups to subvert the exploitative institutions of the liberal/capitalist order, and in such situations, these “publics” have become the loci of resistance, and are reincarnated as “counterpublics” that take-on the abuses of power. I mention them here because the McDonaldization of education can only perpetuate the abuses of power, and perhaps more pertinently, will always find itself at odds with the potential for regenerative learning embedded in all of us. u


The (Neo)Liberal Impasse in Public Education


Yusef Progler, Multiworld Network, United Arab Emirates



John Daniel seems to be advocating a sort of supply-side system of schooling, in which "courseware" is produced by academics and technocrats and then consumed by teachers and students. Seeing teachers and students as consumers is not a new view, and in many ways education in the emancipatory/technocratic liberal model has always seen teachers and students as consumers of one or another system or curriculum. The novelty here is that the neo-liberal business gurus have hijacked that outlook into a more economist framework, and so Daniel illustrates an interesting hybrid of (neo)liberal technocracy.


While the general surface message is that teachers and students are passive, educational administrators and technocrats are active, there is another, subtler, problem with the Daniel plan. He sees courseware as the main site of knowledge exchange, not the human relationships at the heart of true teaching and learning. Teachers and students do not really have much of a role in this outlook, which is a severely reductionist prospectus that squeezes virtually all the humanity out of learning, by separating off teachers (as hidden producers, increasingly underpaid laborers, the new sweat shop workers) from students (as hapless consumers, in need of technocratically-mediated emancipation). In the end, the system is not questioned, only the means of its administration. Daniel is offering a loose managerial rule for schooling, typical of both liberal and neo-liberal true believers.


Using a framework of commoditization suggests business and profit, completely in line with the corporate bid to siphon public services for private gain. At the same time, holding aloof the open source movement implies some sort of socialized access to courseware. So which is it, Mr. Daniel, or can we have both? Or are you leaving a loophole in this liberal sounding game for the neo-liberals to leap in and rule? If that happens, we may really see teachers reduced to data keying the prolific palaver of the professorate — themselves elevated to superstar status by the same corporate machine that positions everyone as consumers of iconic hot-shot hero-profs, media savvy yet verbose.


Daniel suggests that courseware can be translated and customized for local use. This is tragically oblivious to the metaphorical basis of language and ignores that language "thinks" us as much as we use it to think. Like other (neo)liberals, Daniel sees language as transparent, not carrying meaning in itself, only transmitting meaning, a conduit. This obscures the distinctions between what language denotes and connotes, and it is completely naïve as to even the most pedestrian insights from anthropology, linguistics, and psychology, or even commonsense wisdom, on the topic of language in the construction of meaning. Besides that, translation is often just a colonial tool to fool us all into thinking we are simply getting "pure" knowledge, when in fact we are getting a particular worldview embodied in the language and thought system used to construct that knowledge in the first place.


The digital networks necessary to administer and distribute Daniel's courseware menus themselves are selective of what is and what is not knowledge, since that which cannot be effectively digitized and packaged over networks will not make it into the chute. Maybe that's a good thing, and maybe it isn't, but Daniel and the (neo)liberals advocating information-age fantasies of boundless knowledge for humanity, are redefining education as consumption, with a new rallying call: "The global fast course shopping mall is at your fingertips" (just make sure not to get any greasy fast food on your keypad). Such are the sad dreams of detached, free-floating ghosts, drifting aloft in an illusory world of commodities, computers and courseware, a cyber-purgatory from which they cannot escape, and into which they wish to entice others in the name of "education for all." u



For more on the Multiworld Network, see





New Skin for an Old Snake?


Lisa Aubrey, Ohio University, United States



The McDonaldization of Education for All is not an anomaly.  McDonaldization fits squarely into the current global trend of nouveau neo-exploitation, reminiscent of Aldous Huxley’s satirical and sadly prophetic Brave New World.1 Adapted to the 21st century, human beings, with advanced technological speed, are becoming more and more quickly transformed into mere atomotons with robotic functions serving an unholy, almighty, hegemonic power via their labor. The numbing of mental faculties of individuals and communities who differ with this current, but yet classic, modus operandi because they desire more just, creative, organic living is imperative to the McDonaldization project.  The numbing effect of (mis)education ensures that there is no effective resistance to this hegemon. Numbing, non-emotive, objective (mis)education is part and parcel of creating a non-resistant climate around deepening exploitation during this wave of globalization.  Effectively brainwashed, we are welcoming this exploitation to and of ourselves, as we are universally learning and teaching domination and conditioning as we have been taught to do. The remuneration we receive, as proletariat and petty bourgeoisie, is mere pittance compared to the profits and power of the global hegemon. 


“McDonaldization” is but the latest, and perhaps the most sexy lexicon used for prescribing and enforcing the domination of Eurocentric epistemologies and axiologies in a so-called “universal” education.  This universal education, which also purports to be multicultural and reflective of diversity, is nothing but the classical homogenization of all other alternative views and ways of living into the dominant mode.  More critically, the creation of this universal education mandates the destruction of local knowledge systems and other ways of knowing..  The French have called it “assimilation, other Europeans “civilization,” social scientists, “behavioralism” and “rationality”, computer techies who prescribe education via the net ”advanced technology,” all of us “globalization.” Did I use past tense?


John Daniel of UNESCO suggests that the commoditization of learning material can bring education to all by teachers and institutions making their courseware and learning materials freely available on the web to be translated and adapted for local use.2 Some key questions ring clear:  What does Daniel mean by learning? Is it memorization and regurgitation?  Is it passive acquisition without critical thinking? What does Daniel mean by education?  Is the mastery of repetition of the ideas and interpretations of phenomena of noted others? Who are the teachers and institutions who are to make their “courseware and learning materials” available?  Whose values are grounded in the courseware and learning materials? Who deems those teachers and institutions worthy of universalizing education? Will they be other “elite” schools like MIT?  Will schools that teach the ideologies of resistance of Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, Steve Biko, Assata Shakur, Martin Luther King, Fidel Castro, Thomas Sankara, Nelson Mandela be prescribed? How many individuals and communities will have access to the web to engage this courseware?  Is Daniel’s assuming that all individuals and communities have equal and free access to the technology that will provide universal web education? Is Daniel aware of the ever widening digital divide? More fundamentally, is Daniel aware of the thousands of communities who still struggle for potable water? For these communities, water may be a more basic need, prioritized much more highly than internet and web access.


Moreover, is Daniel suggesting, that in trans-literate translation, language has no social or political context?  Is Daniel presuming that there is a universiality of epistemology and axiology equally embraced, owned, shared, and utilized by all people throughout the world reflecting all peoples ontogologically on an even keel?  Is Daniel presuming that there is a value in knowledge when it has no practical reference, relevance, and utility?  Is Daniel’s view of education “knowledge for knowledge sake”? Is Daniel suggesting an education for freedom and choice for all through McDonaldization, or is what he is suggesting a masters’ education for servants to learn to better serve their masters?


To ask these questions is not to assume that Daniel, as Assistant Director-General of Education of UNESCO, has not thought profoundly about these issues or does not know the answers. Assuredly, someone of his stature within an institution which pledges good global governance is astutely aware of the probable outcomes of McDonaldizing education. This problematique is intriguing. Daniel perhaps, is living in a house with no windows inside the UN bureaucracy; and, in a resurgent modernization thrust in this  increasingly conservative neo-liberal environment, he is merely thinking of what is best for poor societies that have been trying to combat material poverty for decades.  At the same time, within this magnanimous bureaucracy, Daniel either is not really listening or can not really listen to voices of the many people he believes he is trying to help.


Daniel’s views run in concert with countless elites in governmental and non-governmental circles, who in their benevolence, undemocratically make global development policy, which includes, (mis)education policy, affecting all of us.  Their policy making is dictatorial, and appears not to have space for reflective internal evaluation of its own methodology.  Otherwise, how can they continue to make the same faux pas, unless faux pas are really intentional consequences?  If so, then the McDonaldization scheme is certainly diabolical, classic and conspiratorial. It is yet another scheme to ensure that the poor stay poor, and the richer get richer.  In global divide terms, it means that the Global South, with its servitude-style McDonalized education, is yet to stay subservient to the Global North, while the latter cooks up yet more altruistic schemes that keep the former in its dependent position.


For modernizationists, the fact that McDonald’s brings manufacturing and industrialization (however small), fast food and food choice (however unhealthy) is a sign of progress.  Further, the fact that the McDonald’s model brings mass commodified education (however sub-standard) is a sign of progress.  Increased supply is what matters, not the on-the-ground realities. To modernizationists, it does not matter how many local farmers lose markets, harvests, animals, or do not re-coup capital inputs; nor does it matter how many farmer workers lose their jobs; nor whether or not the local economy plummets; nor whether or not McDonald’s food causes health problems. Moreover, it does not matter if there is a local demand for the McDonaldization of food and education or not. McDonald’s public relations and advertisements will seduce, and its grand design of making profits for the benefit of the already rich will prevail against local will. To modernizationists, the existence of the foreign and the multinational is progress, and local people’s rejection of these is not a sign of the undesirability of McDonald’s, but instead their rejection in a sign of their own backwardness and short-sightedness.  The former’s rationalizations and interpretations would run like this: We tried to modernize and “develop” them; they just refused to develop themselves.  They can’t even see the potential of foreign investments and foreign firms in their county.  It’s because of their backwardness that they reject all modernity, progress, and development. 


In decrying slavery in all of its forms after the US civil war and the passage of the Civil War Amendments in 1865, 1868, and 1870, African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass makes a statement relevant to the nouveau neo-exploitation that the McDonaldization of Education for All threatens today:  “You and I and all of us had better wait and see what new form this old monster will assume, in what new skin this old snake will come forth.3 Even a snake shedding its skin finds it impossible to become a “Big Mac with Cheese.” u


Commoditization: Freedom of Constrained Choices


Sanat Mohanty, The South Asian Forum, United States



Let us first analyze this phenomena of mass production and reduction in prices of computers, cell phones, etc. Silicon processing is a very highly intensive process requiring highly clean environments and very large amounts of water. A number of toxic chemicals are used in silicon processing. One big reason that computers cost as little as they do is because the computer industry is engaged in significant pollutant dumping. In facilities across East and South East Asia, the industry does not clean up the water it discharges, nor does it pay for its pollutants. Similarly, the cost of disposing products that have silicon-based devices are expensive. Cell phones, besides using silicon-based electronics, also use an extremely rare metal named tantalum. Mining processes for this metal, in Congo1 and elsewhere, have already put local ecologies at risk.


Now, if I rent an expensive auditorium in the USA and during the course of my activities, dirty it, then I am expected to pay for the clean up. Fair enough. By the same argument, companies that pollute the environment owing to their activities should be paying for the clean up. Unfortunately, this would add to the cost of their products. In reality, companies do not pay for clean up. The computer I buy is so cheap, in part, because the clean up costs are being paid for by the health of the communities that live in the vicinity of these activities.


This is true not only with the silicon based high-tech industry, but with the pharmaceutical industry (a number of precursors to the pharma industry are manufactured in Gujarat and in Korea with high levels of dumping involved in the process2), the chemical industry (remember Union Carbide?), the oil industry, the food industry, among others. A significant portion of this economy of scale is based on the ability of a large financial lobby being able to get around the costs it should pay in order to conduct business ethically.


However, my critique of McEducation goes beyond problems with mass production. In his first paragraph, John Daniel says,  “offer a limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere”. One sentence later, he adds that commoditization “is a key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice.” It is an obvious contradiction, and yet the Assistant Director General of Education does not see it. While I could argue how this contradiction completely invalidates his arguments for commoditization of education or of McDonaldization, I will focus on showing that such contradictions are in fact the basis on which commoditization is propped up.


Having decided to manufacture products or provide a service, what will an organization do to maximize its economic profits? In Bangladesh, millions of people are affected by water with arsenic levels thousands of times over the allowable limits.3 Despite such a large need, no company has stepped in to provide a solution. One would find that unusual, given that companies are fighting tooth and nail to provide “clean water service” in countries around the world. It is not unusual since there is no money to be earned in Bangladesh. Commoditization of a product or a service is feasible only when there is money to be made, AND when alternatives to the solution the company provides are limited or can be made inaccessible. This implies that commoditization is based on limiting the choices that are to be had.


Options can be limited by changing laws or regulations, or by advertising strategies that convince the consumer that the other choices are not really choices, or by making the other possibilities inaccessible. For example, at cricket matches in India, it is alleged that the staffs of various stadiums have been bribed to turn off drinking water facilities so that spectators are forced to buy water from private vendors. Similar instances have also occurred in railway stations in India. By making the choice inaccessible, the consumer is forced to buy the commodity. Advertisements limit choices by convincing the consumer that “coolness” depends on owning a car. Traveling by public transport therefore is not a real choice. Similarly, drinking sugarcane juice is not a real choice; one needs to drink bottled beverages.


Even further, with billions of dollars backing them up, large organizations usually have the ear of the lawmakers of the land. They are in a position to influence laws to make certain choices illegal and hence place their products favorably in the market place. One familiar example was the ruling on iodine content in salts. Based on “research” that claims that 20% of the Indian population is at risk of iodine deficiency, the government of India placed a ban on common salt. Only iodized salt was allowed to be sold on the open market. A number of groups questioned this research, pointing out that as low as 0.2% of people are affected by iodine deficiency. They argue that a ban on common salt is not necessary, that those who need iodized salt can obtain it, while those who do not, can use common salt. However, such a law changed the marketplace. All small businesses involved in salt-making could not sell their salt; and a $60 million market is now almost completely owned by three multinationals. A similar incident is the presentation of literature by Nestle that initially claimed that Nestle baby food was superior to mothers’ milk and subsequent variations of a theme.4


Consider the privatization of “Prison Services” in the USA. The profitability of this industry depends on increasing the number of people put in prison. Clearly then, this industry will attempt to affect laws so that people are placed in prison for the smallest misdemeanors. The US is already seeing an increase in its population in prison – at two million now – far higher than any other country. The choice of a society regarding how it deals with misdemeanors or crimes is now limited. How a society works with individuals who do not want to follow the rules it lays down, or even how it lays down such rules, begins to change under the influence of companies.


Consider the insurance industry. The profitability of this industry depends on the levels of fear that the society has. Following 9/11, the insurance market in the USA showed the following trend: “The Council's quarterly Market Index showed premium prices across all lines of commercial business continued to march upward for the period ending Sept. 30, 2002. Respondent brokers — all among the sector writing 80% of commercial property/casualty coverage — showed more than 60% of medium-sized and large accounts continued to experience price increases from 20% to 50%. Respondents said half their small accounts saw premiums rise from 10% to 20%, and 20% more went up between 20% and 30%. The increases are consistent with previous “hard market” findings.”5 The more a society feels fear, the more this industry will profit. Thus, it has a vested interest in increasing fear in society. Michael Moore’s movie “Bowling for Columbine” discusses the implications of a society built on fear. Such a society cannot be a healthy society. When a society is driven by fear, its choices are already limited. Insecurity makes a society closed; a feeling of peace and security increases freedom.


Consider the food industry. Increased commoditization has seen the growth of industrial farms and the dying of family farms. The number of species of food products – from potatoes, to corn, to rice – have all decreased. Agricultural products have large amounts of chemicals. A choice to use food without chemicals does not exist for most people in the USA; such choices are much more expensive. The same is true of the milk industry; levels of steroids and antibiotics have increased to a level where they can be found in the milk one buys. Individuals have little choice; organic milk is much more expensive. Besides attempts to fudge the laws that define organic food have resulted in a situation where one is not sure what one is eating any more. How has commoditization resulted in greater freedom?


What has commoditization of education resulted in? Standardization of learning has led to one size fits all. Different values, traditional knowledge, other means of knowing and non-western/non-Aristotelian logic have all been left out. A very large section of the educated believes that reductionist-mechanistic ways of knowing are the only valid forms of knowledge. That such methods leave out the knowledges of significant sections of the world and validate only one worldview, that they are completely untenable in understanding systems or communities, and in formulating policies at this level, is ignored. The only kind of analysis in such a method of knowledge is cost-benefit analysis. Mechanistic methods of knowing are used to bulldoze communities into oblivion, and used to justify it as an appropriate, even necessary, price to pay for development. Laws are already in place to ensure that the only kind of education is the one Macaulay formulated to evolve clerks for the British bureaucracy. Other forms of learning have been considered useless by the government – thus there is no choice (except for the very rich) but to consume this commodity called education.


Such commoditization does not only reduce the choices of a community and its freedom but in fact is violent. It makes into outcastes those that do not consume this commodity. It marginalizes those who cannot fit into this set of structured choices. Notice how those who cannot speak English interact with those who can; or even how those who cannot speak English with a certain urban accent interact with those who have a more clipped accent.


While John Daniel hopes that commoditization will reduce costs of education and make education more accessible (like burgers, perhaps?), he probably knows at the back of his head that a steeply rising education cost in the USA has not been able to “educate” its children. Reading and comprehension rates continue to fall. Just like while burgers at 49 cents might help to feed people, diseases – like obesity, heart problems – continue to grow. John Daniel’s solution is not much different from Mary Antoinette’s: if they do not have bread, give them burgers. u


"From the perspective of individual workers, the acceptance of Frederick Winslow Taylor’s Principles of Scientific Management was a Faustian bargain. They traded their own way of working things out for methods authorised by experts managing the industrial process from above the system, and in turn they received higher wages. The scientific management of work meant that most peo­ple would no longer need to continue learning on the job once they 'found their proper role in the factory.' Taylor, and his many disciples, felt a successful production system would help all men find their 'nat­ural place' in the work hierarchy. Such scientifically determined job placement would increase productivity because each man, based on an expert opinion from departments of person­nel, would use his 'natural talents' to improve the whole manufacturing process. However, the broader implication for society was that 'dumbed down' fathers no longer worked in an environment in which their chil­dren could learn experientially with them. The aeon’s old learning part­nership between parents and children was severed within a generation."

- John Abbott and Terry Ryan

The Unfinished Revolution, 2000



Ordinary Questions from Ordinary People


Ram Subramaniam, Samanvaya, India



I read Mr. Daniel’s note and Shikshantar’s, and don't understand a few things...

1.       Commoditization - What gives a person the right to declare that the world consists of “ordinary” people?  I find the word “ordinary” used rather casually to be very objectionable. Why should my people, society and country taken to be ordinary?  Who are the “non-ordinary” people who would reject the MIT material (other American universities, of course)? Does it mean anyone who is non-American is ordinary? Who declares who is ordinary and who is not?  If Mr. Daniel does it, then who gave him the mandate? UNESCO, UN, the Pope, who? I remember words from the introduction of a mediocre report written once by a few Harvard students on rural ICT. They had mentioned, “This report could be a guideline for rural ICT implementation for any poor country other than America.” They had spent 1½  days in an Indian village getting sick!  The audacity!


2.       If Mr. Daniel equates education (or education material) with tools such as computers and cell phones, he may be excused as a product of some worldview that explains education as a tool. However, we in India believe that learning shapes a person – that it is not a "tradable" commodity but a "creative process" in which the students and teachers are the co-creators. In our worldview, it is valid to re-discover the wheel every once a while so as to not forget the process of discovering.


3.       The part about justifying investment through mass production seems to be at the core of Mr. Daniel’s argument. Maybe MIT is guzzling up lot of money, but that should be looked at from the average productivity of other American institutions – they all guzzle large sums of money. Why does one need to use "high quality learning material at low unit cost" to justify it? Who said it is "high quality"? Whose quality? What is quality? Recently, a group of panchayat leaders here have declared that whatever education system gives priority to local content is "high quality." Does the MIT material stem from such a philosophy?


McDonald’s is cheap, plastic, non-natural, irresponsible and exploitative in its products and processes. “Americans” everywhere (regardless of their nationality) desire it. However, the resources of the world can only support certain amount of McDonald’s – that is why it has been stoned, burnt, looted and forced to shut down in many places. Bringing McDonald’s to education might appeal to a certain kind of people. Maybe there is a limited market for them too (hopefully, a well-quarantined one). But the real danger is to give McDonald-"ization" some form of philosophical space.  If it is bad enough as food, to bring it to education, welfare, health, to legitimise the “American Way of Life.”  We don't want that, do we? u


Models in Opposition: Open Source vs. McDonald’s


Zaid Hassan, Pioneers of Change, United Kingdom



Richard Stallman, the founder of the Free Software Foundation, explains that when he uses the word “free” in relationship to intellectual property, he means it in the sense of “free speech, and not free beer.”  There is a fundamental conflict in calling for both McDonald’s and the open source movement to be models for education. McDonaldization is about extending the reach of a few highly centralised corporate entities. The open source movement was created in order to counter corporate practices of ownership and its restrictions on innovation.


How are these two models opposed to each other? McDonald’s is a corporation that operates on a franchise model. As an organisation, it works from a traditional centre, on a command and control basis. Every aspect of a franchise, from its operating structure to the design of its space, is specified at McDonald’s headquarters in Illinois, USA. The operation of a McDonald’s franchise is precisely planned and dictated, with no room for innovation or local diversity. It is part of a monoculture dedicated to making money. Every aspect is driven and controlled from the center, and at all times McDonald’s owns the intellectual property, such as handbooks and training manuals that are used by franchisees. This intellectual property is not accessible to those who cannot pay. The logic of such a market based regime means dividing the world into McDonald’s (and its franchises), the competition and consumers with money (the key to access). Each of these relationships is necessarily characterized by dehumanizing power imbalances.


The open source movement is radical in that it directly opposes such practices, by demonstrating an alternative, communal and free way of organising the production of knowledge-based products. At the heart of the movement’s opposition to a McDonald’s model is its notion of ownership of intellectual property, from which follows a certain freedom to innovate. A pure open source license allows anyone to take code, or material, innovate on it and do as they please with it, as long as others can do the same with their work. An individual could choose to add value to an open source package, repackage it and sell it, without asking anyone for permission. A company can take a piece of open source software, radically alter it and adapt it for use within their organisation. An infinite variety of innovations are possible with open source products. This allows a product to “fork” in unplanned and un-imagined directions. There is no centralised ownership and there is certainly no centralised control, as the McDonald’s model would demand, rather there is community control.


This editorial makes the serious mistake of assuming that open source simply means “free as in free beer,” where someone is simply giving away freebies (like toys with Happy Meals) for people to use, without essentially giving up core control.


Let’s be clear that the two models are in direct opposition to each other. We are making no less a choice than between a fundamentally free model and a fundamentally un-free model. We need to be courageous enough to choose a model where we radically democratise decision-making to the point where people have the power to not just choose but also to create their own paths.


In our age of complexity and inter-connection, the open source model teaches us two key lessons about innovation in learning. The first is that true innovation in our age requires a relinquishing of control, something that is traditionally anathema to the McDonald’s of this world. Secondly it teaches us that, given freedom from control, individuals will organize themselves in creative and effective ways – ways which no central controller could ever devise. In fact no other way of organization can conceivably succeed in our times.


Within our own learning community, Pioneers of Change <>, we recognize that there are no easy answers. Learning by its very nature is a messy process and we have learnt to sit in this messiness without needing to control it. Learning is not about designing a single, totalizing model and then replicating it across the globe.


We need to recognize that what stops most people from taking control, and responsibility, of their own learning are the prevailing myths of modern education, the myths of  “factory schooling” which McDonaldization is a natural extension of. People who are effectively indoctrinated to believe that the only legitimate learning takes place inside the classroom under the control of a teacher cannot learn for themselves and vast domains of learning are closed for them. Our challenge as educators should involve the opening of such domains and the legitimation of diverse ways of learning.


In our work with Pioneers of Change we have learnt that in order to support genuine self-organised learning we need to cultivate the conditions for learning, as opposed to say, defining a programme for learning. In practice this means espousing and living principles such as; inviting people into spaces where they can be themselves, listening to the edge, having the courage to experiment and being channels for opportunity.


Surely we know enough about learning to know that we absolutely need to move away from needing to control, design and impose learning? Rather let’s ask ourselves how we can support a plurality of experiments in learning, rooted in diverse and creative contexts, free from the synoptic control of any single entity. u


Sense and Nonsense of the McDonaldization of Education:

A Response to John Daniel’s “Higher Education for Sale”


Jan Visser, Learning Development Institute, and

Member of the International Board of Standards for Training, Performance and Instruction, USA and Mozambique



John Daniel’s editorial note in Education Today, the newsletter of UNESCO’s Education Sector, of October-December 2002 on “Higher Education for Sale” is shortsighted. The fallacy of Daniel’s claim that McDonaldization is good for education lies in its generalization. It does not attend critically to the larger picture of which phenomena like McDonald’s — whether the real chain of fast food restaurants, or a metaphorical equivalent in some other area, providing a readily available and affordable commodity — is a part. It also errs in that it assumes implicitly that the learning human being can be defined as the consumer of a product. From a human development perspective, the latter assumption is a dangerous proposition.


It is well-known, from the vast literature on research into the cost-effectiveness of distance education, that significant economic gains can be derived from spreading the cost of the labor-intensive process of design and development of high-quality instructional interventions and materials. Gains can also be had by running supporting educational infrastructure over a large number of potential beneficiaries. In fact, this argument has been used extensively – and with increasing success – in positioning distance education as a viable, and sometimes preferred, alternative to more traditional forms of educational delivery. A similar rationale drives the current trend towards standardization, continual improvement, and reuse of so-called learning objects. As long as people make wise use of such possibilities to economize, by reusing available educational resources and spreading the cost of their use (by making them fit the learning needs of many), there is no problem. There is a problem, however, when such principles are being unwisely advocated as a major opportunity to solve the world’s educational problems. As much as McDonald’s is not a major contributor to solving the world’s food problems, commoditization of education is not a major response to the learning needs of the world. Nor is it necessarily appropriate to the nature of today’s most prominent learning needs. In fact, one should apply great caution when using the principles of commoditization, if one wants to ensure the integrity of human learning. By comparison, the occasional visit to a McDonald’s outlet may not damage anyone’s health, but the proliferation and generalization of McDonald’s-like eating habits definitely will.


Another serious problem lies in the underlying assumption of Daniel’s editorial note: that all that needs to be done is to expand access to materials and processes that were hitherto in the hands of the traditional schooling systems. No questions are being asked about the appropriateness of those schooling systems for today’s world; neither are questions being raised about the meaning of human learning in the context of our turbulently changing planetary society, as distinct from the much more linearly conceived world of the past. No prompts are offered that might generate thinking about possibilities to radically change the educational enterprise, while we attempt to bring education to all.


Daniel largely misses the point when he responds “yes” to the question he himself poses in his editorial note: “Is the commoditization of learning material a way to bring education to all?” His affirmative response reveals a vision of human learning that gives little attention to what human development should focus on, namely the capacity to constructively interact with a world in change and to creatively contribute to how that world evolves as a place for all of humankind to feel at home. Such human development would focus on exploring diversity instead of feeding ready-made pieces of content.


Daniel’s response also reveals a vision of the educational process that is dangerously narrow, as it sees learning as the consequence of the provision of materials. I believe this to be wrong. While I am aware that the availability of high quality learning materials is often a crucial ingredient of an environment that encourages and facilitates learning, the mere presence of such materials is frequently not a sufficient condition. The learning process – if it is to lead to any reasonable depth of understanding and thus to the development of abilities that allow people to think and act autonomously, contributing to the well-being of their communities and society – is infinitely more complex than what Daniel surmises.


To summarize, I thank John Daniel for having provoked my passion. I hope he and his colleagues in UNESCO will be ready to look beyond the narrow metaphor he proposes in his editorial note, and beyond the often too narrow rationales that have driven the EFA movement, contradicting some of the better thinking that emanated from the 1990 World Conference on Education for All. A more serious look at what actually happens in schools and different alternative structured learning environments around the globe is urgently needed. Learning materials, schools, distance education systems, or teachers are not ends in themselves. They are means that serve social and human development purposes that require a more serious exploration – not by the experts but by the citizens of this planet at large – than what is proposed in Daniel’s editorial note. u

A Learning Burger with French Fries, Please


Vachel Miller, Center For International Education, United States



In the film Pulp Fiction, one of the characters laughs about the "Royale with Cheese," the name of the Big Mac hamburger at McDonald's in Paris. Being cross-culturally sensitive, for McDonald's, means changing the names of the same products, or, in some cases, even offering slightly modified of its menu to suit local tastes. But McDonald's is always McDonald's: hungry gut meets alienated worker heating up processed food trucked in from some distant place.


Modern schooling, as Shikshantar points out, shares similar characteristics. Adapting schooling to local culture often means changing some of the pictures in the textbooks or re-arranging the "menu" of standard curricular choices. Yet the fundamental relationships remain the same, school after school. The school is a franchise of the state: teachers operate the franchise, serving up the material they're given; students are fed the pre-packaged stuff, as they come to accept that learning tastes rather bland and that their they can only "learn" what's in the Happy Meal lesson of the day.


When educators begin to think of quality in the same way that McDonald's does, then they inevitably accept the logic of efficiency and mass-production, choosing a narrow bottom-line and abdicating control of structural choices to a central authority.


In his brief essay, John Daniel suggests that UNESCO is thinking along these lines. More specifically, he is arguing for expert collaboration on the production of learning materials for wide distribution. I do see some value in this point: to the extent that there is standard content which people want to learn, then it seems useful to make that content available in as effective a manner as possible.


If I want to learn French, for example, (and I choose to do so via my computer), then it's helpful for me to have inexpensive, high quality software available. And if many different educators and French speakers from different nations have contributed to creating that software in a collaborative manner, than all the better.


But of course, that's only one mode of learning, a mode in which I want to acquire competency as efficiently as possible — I position myself here as a consumer of knowledge produced by distant others.  In some instances, that may be an appropriate role. But if we believe that learning is much larger than a mode of consumption, much more than a matter of efficient acquisition; if we believe that learning is a matter of dialogue, of reciprocity, of creativity and contribution to others — then it's probably more appropriate to think about educational metaphors of community gardens and cooking dinner with friends, rather than driving up to fast-food restaurants.


The metaphors we use to understand the world have powerful implications for our actions. McDonalds and the modern school are institutions affiliated with industrial metaphors: assembly line, mass production, hierarchies of control, separation of humanity from nature, etc. Industrial metaphors ignore or devalue human relationships and the unpredictable, non-linear, overlapping, multi-level processes by which the natural world organizes itself.


When metaphors change, new possibilities of thinking and action open. If the learning environment is thought of as an eco-system, rather than a factory; if teaching is thought of as nurturing a garden, rather than managing a fast-food restaurant; if learning materials are thought of as flour with which we make bread together, rather than as french fries to be served by a worker to a customer — then we can begin to re-imagine what we mean by education.


To explore this topic in more depth, I'd much rather share a meal at John Daniel's house, instead of sitting down to unwrap a Royale with Cheese at his neighborhood McDonald's in Paris. u



McDonaldization vs. Humanization
Vineeta Sood, Mirambika Free Progress School, India
Wait! What are we talking about? Please help me understand. Are we talking about applying McDonald’s restaurants marketing strategy to education?
As Daniel himself has written, “First, McDonald’s restaurants account for only a tiny proportion of the food that people eat. Second, McDonald’s is successful because people like their food. Third, their secret is to offer a limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere.”
Let’s translate these factors to education.
First, it will account for only a tiny proportion of the education that people seek. Second, it will be successful because people will like whatever is served to them in the name of education. Third, the secret will be to offer limited information that is universal in its approach and range.
He further says, “commoditization […] is a key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice” out of  “a limited range of dishes…”  I see a lot of inherent contradictions here.
And what shall we keep as free gifts to promote the education? One coke free with each module? Or one diploma free with each degree? How can one commoditize education? What about the individual needs of the learner?  What about the human touch in the process of learning? No. This can’t be serious. My first reaction was that of shock and disbelief. This is perhaps a joke and a satire on the existing mess within our educational system.
If all this has been said with the slightest of seriousness, then coming from Assistant Director-General for Education, UNESCO, this is a frightening development.
I think education is a very important aspect of our life and we need to go much deeper into every aspect of it. We really need to understand:
¨        What is the purpose of education?
¨        What is the relationship between our educational practices, learning, the growth of the individual and the growth of the society?
¨        What is the root cause of the problems we face in today’s world?
¨        What would help us make this world a sane place to live in?
Does education mean just imparting a piece of information followed by evaluation or is it something beyond it? Only if education can be directed towards humanizing the human race – creating sensitive, compassionate, and loving people – can we eliminate the possibility of another Godhra/Gujarat, September 11/ Iraq happening.  From where did all this violence really originate and from where would sensitivity, love and empathy come? We really need to reflect upon this very seriously before considering any form of education for our children.
The use of the internet as a supplement to the main system is an acceptable idea to me. In this sense it is not commoditization of education but simply making information available to be put to the best use whenever required.  However, I am not comfortable with the idea of using the internet as the main source of learning.
I believe that what we need to do is to create humane and natural learning environments that protect the child’s innate sensitivity, understanding, compassion, initiative, creativity, originality, problem solving attitude… and all the qualities we would like to see in our children. 
Isn’t it ironic that today we need to “create” “natural” learning environments? Technology can be helpful in many ways but I am sure it can’t take the responsibility of developing this kind of learning environment. This is where the parents, the teachers and the members of society become instrumental.
Real education has to preserve the core of humanity and life that exists in each one of us. u











"Our system of education is, to a large degree, a closed system.  Students are tested and classified in terms of two kinds of abilities - their ability to memorize information and, to a lesser extent, their ability to analyze it. They are also taught in ways that emphasize memory and analysis. As a result, we label students who excel in these patterns of ability as smart or able. We may label students who are weaker in these abilities as average or even slow or stupid.


Students may, however, excel in other abilities that are at least as important as those we now reward. Creativity and the practical application of information - ordinary common sense or 'street-smarts' - are two such abilities that go unappreciated and unrecognized. They are simply not considered relevant to conventional education."

- Robert J. Sternberg

"What Does It Mean to Be Smart?", 1997




















Education and the Context: Where are we coming from? and Where are we going to?


Linda Mbonambi, eThekwini Municipality Durban, South Africa



Reading through Shikshantar's response to John Daniel's note, I am reminded of the time when I was in college. We were told that higher education is a privilege, not a right. As students, we were bombarded with numerous arguments, reasons, or excuses of why this is so. I guess with a view to make us feel important and different.


I recall that in my first year, I took a course which had 700 students. So many were the students that the class had to be divided into two sessions of 350 students. Basically each lesson and everything that went with it had to be replicated. It felt like we were sardines getting hooked in the net of `knowledge'. Lecturers encouraged us to consult with them on specific dates and times. I had noticed that a few of their notes had yellowed with age. This was not seen as a problem, or something to worry about.  In fact, it was seen as an indication of years of experience — something that we all needed to be proud to know.


We were told the purpose of a higher education is to teach, research and be of service to the community. Although a number of the projects that existed at the University sought to address the community service component of the University mission, many courses in the curriculum were weak on reflecting this. Needless to say that the material used was predominantly researched and produced in the west. A sense of alienation from this pre-packaged education content was evident in the quality of learners that the system produced. Many of us invariably came out with the idea that ours is to learn, get degrees, get well-paying jobs, and consume, consume and consume as much of our fruits of education, and continually aspire to amass personal wealth and personal power. I am not however saying that University education was silent on the relationship between education and service to the society. All I am noting is that it was fairly implicit, and didn't go far enough.


I should also mention that during my college student days, to get a good grade depended on your ability to know and adopt the thinking or ideological persuasion of a lecturer. No avenues existed to stimulate each student's intellectual gifts, interests and goals, in spite of numerous assignments to get us to think critically. Many in higher education experience this, even up to this day.


It seems to me that we need to press for change on the whole purpose of education. Education should be about self discovery — especially in societies in the global South, where forces of colonialism, racism and, in mine, apartheid, left indelible marks in people's appreciation of themselves, their culture, their ways of knowing and relating, their languages, their wisdoms, their values, their development, as defined by them, etc.


My questions are: (1) What role can social movements and people's organisations play to promote different of forms of learning, with a view to transform the existing credential-based, certificate-based system? (2) What should be done to create recognition for other forms of learning while ensuring wider access?  u






Escaping the Scarcity of Education


Gustavo Esteva, Institute for Intercultural Dialogue, Mexico



Last year, we were able to prevent McDonald’s from invading the historical center of Oaxaca. A very creative mobilization, which included the free distribution of samples of our rich gastronomic diversity, like tamales, and a very democratic open forum, forced the local authorities to cancel the authorization for the establishment, in spite of strong pressure by the company and federal authorities. We are doing the same with schools and education.


In suggesting McDonaldization of education, UNESCO is just doing its job. Education is the commodification (economization) of learning, transmogrifying it into a commodity, i.e. creating scarcity. Economic scarcity is not real shortage. It assumes, as an organizing principle for society, the foolish idea that man's wants are very great, not to say infinite, but his means are limited, although improvable. This separation of means and ends creates the "economic problem": the allocation of resources, the allocation of limited means for alternative, infinite ends. In our communities, such separation of means and end is seen as immoral and foolish. If learning is defined as education or schooling, we suffer severe scarcity of teachers, schools, etc. In reclaiming our own definition of learning, as a free expression of our human condition as living beings, we are enjoying the affluence of our own ways, through alternatives to education.


As Claude Alvares says, "modern education" has been creating "mental, cultural or spiritual clones...much before a cloned Dolly sheepishly crawled out of the lab". Internet and the "knowledge packages" now being produced in the "global campus" extend the threat farther than ever before. But as solid and strong as the threat is, so is the resistance to it. Today, in encouraging human beings to escape from education, we seek to dismantle the most oppressive of the class divisions of modern society. u

Round 3




"In our present civilization we have divided life into so many departments that education has very little meaning, except in learning a particular technique or profession.


To attempt to solve the many problems of existence at their respective levels, separated as they are into various categories, indicates an utter lack of comprehension.


Education should bring about the integration of these separate entities; for without integration, life becomes a series of conflicts and sorrows."


- J. Krishnamurti

Education and Significance of Life, 19


McDonaldization for All:

Why are we still forgetting issues about fairness, access,

content and education for sustainable living?


Dania Quirola, Sustainability Practitioner, Ecuador



McDonaldization does not only generalize models and contents, but also avoids a core issue in education: the concept of fairness. This starts with widespread limitations to the basic right to information, learning, discovery and co-creation. This value of fairness goes beyond opportunities to enter into formal education and “one-size-fits-all model” that corresponds to the framework presented by UNESCO. It is important to recognize that education does not only happen in a classroom, but even there, fairness is an issue. The reality in developing countries is that even those students who access to formal education, and who want to have an opportunity in the labour market, have to purchase prestige by paying tuitions higher than the average monthly salary of a farmer or any worker who has the chance of a paid job.  Learning is not like buying a burger. We should not be obligated to buy our capacity to be exposed to learning in any form and even less when being treated as simple recipients of “one-size-fits-all” models.  Furthermore, we should not be forced to participate in a system that promotes the homogenisation of our diverse ways of thinking, because sameness is not equal to fairness. It actually reinforces inequities and discrimination in our societies!


Access to research is a core aspect. I come from South America and there is more research about my country done by Ph.D. and masters students from US, Canada and Europe than in my own country. Starting from the fact that we do not have a Ph.D. degree in our universities and cannot afford four years of research in a specific topic. If we consider issues such as biology, the largest collections of endemic species from South America are not in our museums but abroad. Basic access to information that has been produced in our countries should be available. Furthermore, research done at universities should be available at least on the Internet. Even to simply know what has been researched about our culture and environment. Being part of an international programme for my masters' degree, it is amazing that anytime I needed research related to the courses I took in Sweden, I had to use personal contacts to access it instead of just going to our website. The other way around, if I generate new learning I face restrictions to present it in the formal educational system.  We should be empowered to apply our right to know and to share!


Another threat is an educational model that, beyond the intention of “education for all,” does not focus on access to information; but rather imposes learning methodologies and contents that prepare us for a diploma, but not for a life-affirming future. By 'life-affirming', I mean that our learning and interactions should really contribute to better knowing ourselves, to cooperating in creating alternatives that benefit society, and to living in balance within our selves and with our environment.


Being an economist by education, I feel a deep lack of learning in matters that could better prepare me to face the economic problems of my society. I am conscious about theories and expensive technologies that simply do not work in my local context. Following my curricula, I had studied and was scored based on dozen of North American books about Macro and Microeconomics. All these models would never consider basic problems such as corruption, inequities and the lack of full employment. My good sense of simplicity tells me that something needs to be changed with this homogenisation of learning.  Solutions cannot be imported from Boston!


A first step to engage in a life-affirming learning process has to deal with personal reflections about who I am and what is my role in creating a better society? Can you remember an occasion when you were truly asked to answer these basic questions?


The futures of our civilisations rely on diversity and creativity. We cannot be the same taste, the same look everywhere. We as human beings are diverse, and we have diverse ways of learning and living. This right to be different and respect these differences should be a basis for our educational system, if it is to open sources for co-creation.


Access to information, yes; access to learning, yes; access to options, yes. But, let us be careful when trying to impose our way of living on other communities. It might be that we both lose! And, furthermore, the model that is being imposed as “the way to be” is proven to be harmful for people all over the world and the planet that sustain us. I expect from those involved in global governance (such as UNESCO) a deep understanding of diversity and indeed, the realisation that we need to create multiple means of learning and living in more sustainable ways! u


A Shift of Perspective


Rick Smyre, Center for Communities of the Future, USA



After I read John Daniel’s editorial note on “Higher Education for Sale” and also many responses to his comments, it felt as if I were in a personal time tunnel, moving at mental and emotional light speed back to the mid-1980s. This was a period of transition for me in many ways as a result of many shifts… from the corporate world of textiles to a director of a community based foundation; from traditional educational ideas as a school board member to an interest in new forms of learning; from a world- view based on industrial age ideas to a new world view that seemed to be emerging but which I could not see with any clarity.


Thus, the mid-80s were a time when I began to realize I didn’t have the answers and, in fact, was not sure I was able to ask appropriate questions.  I was a product of a system of education which provided the right answer, treating most knowledge in a standard, commoditized way, requiring evaluation in true/false, multiple choice questions. Yet, the more I experienced our changing society and world, the more I sensed that, at best, I was being offered partial truths, and that many old ways no longer worked.


So I began to read articles and books that were about the future, books that were never of interest to me before while a traditional business manager. I decided to read material that was out of the mainstream. I found these new ideas always make me uncomfortable, leaving me with a feeling that I couldn’t quite grasp what was being said…and, for me, that was a difficult emotional experience because, for years, I had been expected ( or so I thought ) to provide nothing but answers as a CEO.


As I read John Daniel’s editorial note, I thought of a story I had read in the 1980s that began to help me change my thinking about the role of education in the US and in general. According to the story, a delegation of businessmen traveled to Japan to talk to those involved with making the Japanese system of education the envy of the world. One of the key individuals interviewed was Naohiro Amaya, a key official and philosopher at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry at Osaka. During one particular meeting, a question was asked of Dr. Amaya, “what would you suggest we do in the US to model what you have achieved in Japan.” With a look of surprise and almost incredulity Dr. Amaya responded, “with all respect, you ask an inappropriate question. If you Americans would look beyond tomorrow, you would realize that we are approaching a new type of economy and society, one that will require continuous innovation. Our system of education is structured to provide narrow skills that are standard to insure the best workforce in the industrial world. Your society is much more open and responsive to change than ours. You should link the natural advantages of your culture with a learning environment where all people are capable of creating new ideas to support a 21st century world that will demand continuous innovation. (I searched the Internet in vain for the exact quote knowing the limitations of my memory. Not finding it, I offer my apologies for providing a quote which gets at the essence of the meaning of Dr. Amaya’s brilliant observation).”


I remember stopping and thinking about this story in 1985. If Dr. Amaya was on target, our educational map for the 21st century was ill-conceived because it assumed knowledge ( a McDonald’s hamburger or Starbuck’s cup of coffee ) is all that we need to be prepared for the future….and standardized knowledge at that. This started me on a journey of thinking about the needs of the future of education that continues to this day. If we needed the capacities to innovate continuously, we would always need core knowledge modules. However, a world in constant change would need so much more for all individuals to learn, no matter where they lived in the world.


If we are to collaborate economically, politically and socially in a constantly changing, interconnected and increasingly complex world, we need to appreciate diversity in culture and thinking, and we need to see more than one answer to everything. We need to be able to ask appropriate questions so that we can identify trends and weak signals and see new connections and patterns important to creativity and innovation.


I believe that we are in a time of transformation that requires a parallel strategy of developing short-term competencies while seeding longer-term capacities for transformation. In a Wisdom Society, continuous learning will be central to insuring vitality and sustainability of an endangered globe. Not only do we need to insure more quantity of literacy and basic skills, we need the emergence of a new framework of transformational learning that looks to the future, develops connective thinking and creates safe havens for continuous innovation.


This will not be done, in my opinion, by taking a McDonalization approach to education, although core types of knowledge will be important for everyone. We will be living in a increasingly complex world that will require both basics akin to existing ideas of UNESCO, as well as new capacities for continuous innovation, which will require a transformation of thinking and acting. It is not either/or. It is and/both.


As someone who didn’t begin to see the need to change and transform my thinking until the age of 49, I know how difficult it is to shift perspective. I have empathy and appreciation for someone who is trying to do the right thing, yet is focused within a context of traditional thinking. The best of all worlds would be for John Daniel to become a champion of both basic education and transformational learning. UNESCO is in a perfect position to be the harbinger of a new system of learning that takes the best of existing educational methods and, in parallel, adds a new genre of learning aligned with the needs of continuous innovation that will assure a balance of diverse human, spiritual, ethical, economic and moral values.


There will always be commodities and a need for standardization in certain sectors of our world economy. However, our transforming world needs human beings that are more than customers. We need human beings that are collaborative neighbors, good stewards of ecology and concerned and involved citizens. We need citizens that think of more than themselves. We have seen what occurs when education limits our thinking to that of commoditization.  We begin to focus inwardly and cease to look for connections. This not only prevents communication and collaboration so important to world peace, but prevents the ability to innovate effectively, so important to vital and sustainable economies and communities.


We are in a time of historical transition in so many ways. None is more important and more difficult than in the arena of education….requiring a transformation of thinking to help learning/education align with the needs of newly emerging and transforming societies. It was the insight and leadership of Naohiro Amaya that helped establish Japan’s position in the world in the 1980s. At this time of historical challenge and educational transformation, there could be no greater legacy for someone in John Daniel’s position than to transform his thinking and to help others shift their perspective… from a standardized approach of education to one that integrates core 21st century competencies, local experiential learning, and the creation of new connective capacities consistent will an emerging and increasingly innovative world.  u


Commoditization vs. Creative Education


Jennifer Gidley, Spirit of the Times International Educational Initiatives, Australia



“Commoditization of learning material’ as a way of bringing ‘education to all’.  The very word commoditization brings a shudder to the souls of educators who see education and learning as creative processes, fostering the development of human wisdom.


This ideal – that education is related to the development of human wisdom – has been the driving force behind many of the great Western educational figures (Steiner, Dewey, Montessori, Pestalozzi).  That someone of John Daniel’s education, experience and position, could ever consider the analogy of McDonald’s as a way of bringing ‘education to all’, shows just how far removed from the ideals, the concept of ‘education’ has become in mainstream Western educational discourse.


Tragically, the ideals of last century’s educational visionaries have become buried in recent decades behind the frenzy to develop ‘vocational skills and competencies’ so as to be competitive in the new global markets.  In this economic rationalist climate, efficiency has become the new guiding philosophy of mainstream public education in the West.  Instead of guiding the young towards wisdom we have ‘customer service’, ‘delivery enhancement’ and ‘outcomes’.  In a sense the business mentality that drives the McDonalds of the world already drives mainstream Western education.    


And yet, anyone who is familiar with the educational research in the West in recent years will know that there is a groundswell of resistance among progressive educators to economic rationalism as the underpinning philosophy of Western higher education.  It is becoming clear that the mass education model is in effect failing our own children and young people.  Youth futures research suggests that many (mainstream-educated) young people in the West are negative and fearful about their futures, disenchanted and disempowered by their education, and have a sense that there is a spiritual vacuum in their society.1 Educational futurists have suggested for decades that more artistic, integral teaching methods, using imagination, visualisation and prosocial skills, would enhance confidence and creativity, and better prepare our young people to face an uncertain future.  Interestingly, this was supported by research with young people educated in Steiner schools in Australia.  Compared with mainstream educated young people, they were found to be more able to envision positive preferred futures, and to have a strong sense of empowerment that they can work towards creating their preferred futures.  Interestingly, their visions also placed human agency at the centre of a transformed world, unlike the techno-fix solutions found in much of the mainstream research.2  It is believed that the Steiner approach, which provides an integral mix of intellectual, artistic, and practical education, can also balance the strong negative messages that bombard young people from the media.         


So it seems that the latest educational research in the US and Australia suggest that the Taylorist assembly-line model of mass education with its mechanistic assumptions about human nature is failing our own kids.  Leading edge educational thinkers the world over know that this industrial model of education is no longer applicable to the post-industrial age.  While educational entrepreneurs may argue that what they are intending to commoditize is the latest high-tech educational packages, which they believe will lead us into a new golden age of educational equity.  However, if the educational model the West is promoting is failing our own kids, why on earth would we want to import it to other cultures?


Perhaps it is partly because of the West’s own lack of courage to throw out the outmoded factory models of education that educators like Daniel attempt to promote them as suitable ‘for all’.  Perhaps it is a feeble way to convince ourselves that ‘the educational product’ we have on offer is still viable.  It is true that although there has been increasing outcry in the US against the commercialisation and commoditization of education, the growing tip of educational innovation and transformation has been slow to get off the ground.  Yet the quantity and variety of alternative higher education approaches is increasing.3 The emerging integral education movement represented by a number of dynamic creative centres around the US, is also gathering steam.4  Ironically, some of the insights that they are beginning to introduce were already being developed almost a century ago by people like Rudolf Steiner in Europe and Sri Aurobindo Ghose in India.


Learning is not a commodity.  It is a creative process, with the development of human wisdom as its goal.  u



Reclaiming Personal Responsibility for Our Shared Learning


Bob Stigler, New Stories, USA



I remember, last year, listening to the father of a friend of mine in Croatia.  The father had been a crusader and freedom fighter for years.  He was filled with sadness as he shook his head and said “you know, what we need is a strong man for five years who will come in and set this country straight, then we can get on with things.”  He knew it wouldn’t happen.  I knew it was not what should happen.  There were alternatives he was not even able to see because they were so different than his world.


Mr. Daniels reminds me of my friend’s father.  Undoubtedly well intended, but missing a sense of how the world is shifting.


What is learning?  What processes enable it? What is knowledge?  How is it shared?  How is this changing?  What new stories are possible?


New things are possible now.  The Internet’s capacity to support connectivity is a critical part of the new possibilities.  For a fraction of the investment needed to support the kind of scheme Daniel suggests, we now have the technology that would allow us to create an internet-based global idea bank of learning resources and materials.  Using the same kind of open-source orientation Zaid Hasson talks about in his response, learners and those who support their learning from all over the world could contribute to this bank.  User rating systems where people who use the materials created and offered by others could quickly help in sorting the most frequently useful materials to the top. 


But the challenges involved in moving into this new story are not primarily of the technological variety.


The challenges are really about how we think about ourselves and each other.  And how we choose to connect with and support each other on our separate and common learning journeys.


If we want to move beyond a world of classrooms populated by teachers and learning materials which are mass produced by a dominating culture, individually and collectively we must begin to exercise higher and higher levels of personal responsibility as the producers of our shared learning...


Each of us, in this journey through life, has been blessed by deep and powerful learnings as both learners and teachers.  Some who serve now as teachers have developed new ideas, processes and methods that help others learn things more successfully.  Others who serve as parents have found creative and innovative ways to help their children.  People who work on the farm and in the factory have developed new ways of doing things and new ways of sharing their knowledge with others.  In reality, most of us spend part of every day as learners and as teachers. In addition, we’re called upon from time to time to get more organized so we can share particular skills, concepts, ideas, and ways of thinking with others.


However, much of what we each 'organize' gets lost – quickly.  To ourselves, as well as others.  We don’t tend to see ourselves as 'teachers'.  We don’t tend to value what we’ve developed in our own contexts.  We certainly don’t see sharing what we’ve learned in our roles as teachers with others as a critical responsibility.


But it is a critical responsibility.  One of the things I have always admired about Shikshantar is that it has seen this responsibility.  It has had an ongoing commitment to organizing its learning and sharing it with others. 


The world Daniel describes is the one that will emerge by default unless two things happen.  Now.


  1. We must each begin to accept the invitation to step forward as a new breed of 'teachers' and 'leaders' and organize and share what we’ve learned in our own lives with others.  It is simply an absolute requirement that we begin to see ourselves, and each other, in this way.  This is easy to say – and it is a profound shift.  It is time to see ourselves primarily as producers of learning, of our own stories, rather than consumers.


  1. We must support (with more than just cheers from the bandwagon!) the numerous efforts underway to make technologies available to provide the sort of connectivity mentioned above.  Folks that care about and understand technology are working on these kinds of things – they need to be told how important it is to create systems which allow us, globally, to connect with each other in ways that have more depth, diversity, personality and autonomy.


Back in the last century many of us speculated that investment in nuclear power plants was more "manly" than investment in solar, wind and geo-thermal energy. After all, it takes a real he-man to split an atom! And, incidentally, nuclear power plants provide a centralized point of production as well as distribution grids which can be used to justify whatever the market will bear in terms of profits. Alternatives sources were owned by the folks who generated them on their rooftops and in their fields or on their coasts. They were small scale and were locally used to make life a little better – not to make an economic profit.


Developing the systems that let us share our power – be it electricity or learning resources – is a clear, viable and necessary alternative to commodification. u


"While specialisation — with the encourage­ment of Frederick Winslow Taylor and the behaviourists — has become a feature of modern society, it is not particularly natural to the human brain. The brain has evolved over the millennia to be a multi-faceted, multi-tasked organism predisposed to thinking about new data and ideas from various perspectives. The brain works in terms of wholes and parts simultaneously and the glory of human learning is that it is essen­tially a complex, messy, non-linear process. The brain can, literally, do almost anything — but in its own way."


- John Abbott and Terry Ryan

The Unfinished Revolution, 2000










Nourishing the Brain


David Wolsk, University of Victoria, Canada



As disappointing as it was reading John Daniel’s Editorial Note, it was encouraging reading the replies. . . all of them excellent, well stated and saying what needs to be said.


For this dialogue to advance, it is also important to examine McEducation in light of current research from neurological and cognitive sciences.  Although there are about 1000 research reports summarised in the National Research Council book, How People Learn: brain, mind, experience and school, edited by John D. Bransford, et al., 2000, the conclusions for me reduce to the following:

1.       Self-directed, experiential education is the most effective approach.

2.       Learning how to learn and metacognitive lessons are also important.

3.       Each learner needs their own uniqueness recognised, by the teachers, fellow students, and the learner.

4.       Learning from exposure to the real adult world, and then encouraged to be analytical about what is experienced, is important.

5.       Most learning disabilities are an outcome of teaching errors and easily become self-fulfilling prophecies. The brain is enormously capable of repair and re-organisation, but it needs continuous challenges to drive the process.


I hope as many of you as possible will join the Nov 20 – 23 2003 international conference in Victoria, Canada where these issues can be discussed in more detail (  We will also be doing some action planning around a global system for local responsiveness based on self-directed experiential learning -- without commoditization. u


Integration of Views


Ashish Kejriwal, Learning Environments and Possibilities, India



I want to be a part of a learning community. Where am I centered? Reading and writing are important tools of communication.  It is an art. I can read and look for all the possible errors. I can read beyond the errors and see ‘what is’ being communicated. I can read to learn the new or to teach what I already know.  


I have had many children in my classroom who expressed their deep feelings with wrong words and sometimes wrong suggestions.  I have always fought with teachers who criticised words and their meaningful implications instead of acknowledging that the child has created a possibility for a meaningful creative dialogue.


It seems to me that Mr. Daniel has clearly stated that he would like teachers to adapt to the best materials, help students learn them, and assess their competence and knowledge, in the last paragraph.  One possibility he has suggested is described with the words ‘McDonaldization’ and  ‘Commoditization’.


What he wants is separate from how he thinks he is going to get there. I see a meeting point between ‘what we want’ and I see the possibility of having meaningful interactions which can invite the different ways to achieve this goal.   I want what he wants - Real Prosperity, Freedom, Choice. I want some standard discipline in creating materials which will enhance intelligence across the globe.


In my mind, what comprises the ‘basic content’ for the materials?

a) Curiosity

b) Courage

c) Confidence

d) Independence

e) Resourcefulness

f) Resilience

g) Patience

h) Competence

i) Understanding

We should get people together to think and create material with the above roots in mind. The matter can be built according to the issues, conditions and value system of different lands. But in this case, the basic food is standardized. One has to clearly understand what is to be standardized and how can we bring diversity and harmony in our material.


One thing that I can clearly see is the necessity today for people to find spaces where they can engage in a meaningful way. Give them space to be. I am not interested in selling pre-determined lessons in these spaces but I can provide some tools and have resourceful educators who will give people a great experience of learning in togetherness.


Are there any people, entrepreneurs, groups, etc. willing to build such learning spaces? For all you know, a small cooking facility in such a Learning Space would divert a good amount of youth away from McDonald's just because they will have the opportunity to choose, cook and just have fun with food.


I am not interested in criticizing Mr. Daniel’s words. I still think that if all of us come together and take a stand for creation, we can enroll him into understanding our viewpoint and make a committed team worldwide.


We all may be right. Mr. John Daniel may be wrong. What’s the big deal about that? Can we show him better possibilities if that is the end he is really looking at? u


Commoditizing Teaching


Sylvia Lee, World Initiative for Lifelong Learning and Knowledge Management International, Canada



Jan Visser notes that John Daniel’s editorial note is shortsighted because it is generalized, and that is true. But Visser also states that wise use of mass produced learning materials does not pose a problem. Again, he is right. It is not so much a question of whether commoditization of learning materials is right or wrong, but whether it is appropriate or not for a particular situation.


Before addressing the main issue, though, it is critical to note that Daniel’s editorial note refers to commoditizing learning materials. Nowhere in the note does he mention, let alone promote, commoditization of learning itself. That difference is critical, and responses to Daniel’s note should address the idea stated, not confuse learning materials and education with learning. Daniel states that learning materials should be readily available. He doesn’t state that every single learning situation should require the use of a particular learning material or set of materials. The problem lies not so much in the materials themselves but in "teachers" who do not teach, but rather merely present the information in the materials and "learners" who have learned to absorb such materials without questioning, analysis, or even thought. The real problem, then, is rooted in the practise of teaching and our commoditization of teaching. Producing cookie-cutter teachers guarantees an education system that stifles deep learning, focusing instead on superficial learning that is readily measurable through things such as multiple choice tests.


That said, the question then becomes, "Are there times or situations in which commoditized learning materials are effective?" The answer is yes, but a qualified yes. It depends what is commoditized. If the learning materials attempt to prescribe learning (content, context, techniques, etc.) then is unlikely to be of any use to anyone. But if the learning materials focus on underlying concepts and principles, and leave the teachers and learners to build on that foundation to develop the best approaches to learning, and achieve the best outcomes for learning, then it can be very effective.


Some of the concerns raised about Daniel’s note seem to revolve around the idea that commoditized learning materials, by definition, force people into a box. They can — the classic example of that would be indoctrination. But they don’t have to. A great teacher is not one who needs to have learning materials that set out exactly what to say and do at what point in a lesson — she uses the materials as a resource to foster and nurture exploration, synthesis, and evaluation in learners.


Commoditization of teacher training is what suppresses great teachers. Great teachers can use freely available materials well. Even if we were able to produce the "perfect learning materials" (I know, I know, I don’t believe in that either!) that wouldn’t make mediocre teachers into great teachers. It’s not the tools that make the teachers.


There is another problem with Daniel’s note, though. I believe it is the wrong analogy. He calls it commoditization, but what he actually says is that learning materials should be freely and readily available. The two are, by definition, incompatible. Commoditization means the same learning materials for all. Freely available means teachers and learners have a wide choice of materials and the ability to choose to meet specific needs, or to create their own materials, or to not use any at all.


McDonaldization is based on the same ingredients or components being put together in a rigidly structure way, resulting in uniform outputs. Even then, there are some differences — no two Big Mac’s, for example, are exactly alike. The buns will be slightly different shapes, the size and shape of the lettuce leaf on the hamburger will be unique to each hamburger, and so on. To assume that the same information or experience poured into a group of human beings will result in uniform learning and uniform behaviour is ludicrous. We all know it cannot possibly happen. Even with indoctrination, no two people will gain exactly the same understanding from each learning experience, because, again by definition, learning is something that happens within the context of prior experience, personality, and many other things unique to each human being. Making learning materials easily accessible when and where they are needed is not McDonaldization unless those materials attempt to prescribe what and how every single person learns, and assumes that humans do not have the capability of, or capacity for, driving their own learning.


As Visser says, learning materials alone do not lead to learning. There has to be a teacher and a learner (and those two, of course, might well be the same person!) and there has to be interest and need, and desired outcomes. While Daniel’s statement is extremely narrow in focus, those of us around the world active in the lifelong learning field must not respond with a knee-jerk reaction, but look to the broader picture, and continue to promote learning — not just education. Education is what teachers do. Learning is what the learners do. Learning is an internal process. No teacher, however great, can make a person learn unless by using methods that destroy individuality, such as making people learn through fear.



Questions of Learning and Unlearning


Jamie Schweser, Active Element Foundation, USA



After reading the collection “McEducation for All?” I have a few questions about where the discussion of the commoditization of education could go next.  It seems to me that many people in the NGO/ educational advocacy world lack a holistic understanding of the educational systems that they support and create. 


1. I would like to believe that John Daniel and others mean to make the world a more beautiful and healthy place for all, but that their perspectives and experiences make it hard for them to see the problems inherent in their approach.  So I would like to explore personal stories that highlight the kind of unlearning that people in similar areas of work have done, in order to change or broaden their perspective and approach to “education” (and to find out how that unlearning has affected their work).


2. Within the socio-economic framework that UNESCO educational work exists, the open source curriculum suggested by John Daniel seems doomed to promote and enforce culturally-specific values and information upon others. But are there examples of open-sharing of information and learning materials that have been broadly useful and non-colonial in nature?  How are people successfully sharing the results of their experiments and learning across cultures and nationalities, while maintaining the dignity and humanity of all involved? 


These questions seem important to me, because it seems that those of us who are most blind to the negative effects of McEducation (and also who stand to gain the most materially speaking) have a lot to learn about learning, and the unique and important ways it happens and benefits people in situations and cultures different than our own. u



McEducation, Prosperity and Homo Economicus


Venkatesh R. Iyer, University of Delaware, USA



That the Assistant Director-General for Education at UNESCO should call for a "worldwide movement to commoditize education for the common good" is a sad reflection of the times we live in. But then again, if we truly understand what the nature of these times are, we would rightly cease to expect any better from those in such exalted positions; and go about, calmly but diligently, with our work of helping create and preserve pockets of sanity in a world that has been driven to the point of orchestrated mass madness.


Let us have no illusions: 'education', as it has come to be promoted by the high-and-mighty during the past few generations, is by-and-large a process of efficiently mass-transforming unsuspecting ‘homo sapiens’ into ‘homo economicus’, by the time that they are of the ‘eligible-to-die-fighting-for-your-country’ age. One cannot overemphasize the vital nature of this truly 'modern enterprise' for the continuation of the materialist barbarism ushered in by colonialism, industrialism and militarism over the past five hundred years. 


That our champion of  “commoditization” at UNESCO should also hail it as the “key process for bringing prosperity to ordinary people by giving them greater freedom and wider choice”, ought to be well noted.  “Freedom”, “Prosperity”, “Choice”, and  of course “Democracy”,  are  popular words in the lexicon of the apologists of modern tyranny, to be  used freely for concealing its dependence on the world-wide organization of violence and misery.  Though this has become ever more stark in recent years, the signs were already plainly visible to Mahatma Gandhi in the first decades of the twentieth century.  Speaking at a students’ meeting at Agra in late 1920, he observed:

"We are dazzled by the shining lustre of our chains and look upon them as the symbols of our freedom. This state [of mind] bespeaks slavery of the worst kind." 

  in Navajivan, 8-12-1920


A few years later, Gandhi wrote again lamenting this human tendency to be easily dazzled by glamorous outward appearances, while failing to recognize the violence that sustains them. 


"Today, the superficial glamour of the West dazzles us, and we mistake for progress the giddy dance which engages us from day to day. We refuse to see that it is surely leading us to death. Above all we must recognize that to compete with the Western nations on their terms is to court suicide. Whereas if we realize that notwithstanding the seeming supremacy of violence it is the moral force that governs the universe, we should train for non-violence with the fullest faith in its limitless possibilities."       in Young India, 22-8-1929


More recently, this social phenomenon of being “dazzled” has been documented carefully by the astute student of American life and history, David Nye, in his book “American Technological Sublime”.1 As scientism, technicism, militarism and industrialism grew by mutually reinforcing each other, the ‘technological sublime’ rapidly displaced the traditional ideas of  ‘sacred’ or ‘natural sublime’ as the source of the dominant values and institutions in the Europe and the neo-Europes.  With the rapid appearance of a whole host of electrical trinkets and electrification in the late 19th century, the ‘technological sublime’ assumed an even more alluring character. Nye calls this the ‘electric sublime’. 


Electrification2, accompanied by the phenomenal rise of  chemicals corporations during the same period3,  not only launched the era of global mass-production,  and what I like to call the ‘global mining civilization’, but it also helped create the global mass media and mass advertising, which have been the key agents of ‘McDonaldization’. Writing about the growth of electrical communication technologies, Carolyn Marvin rightly identifies this period as crucial to the growth of ‘cognitive imperialism’. In the epilogue to her book, “When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Later Nineteenth Century”, she writes:


“Electric media were central to this work of cognitive imperialism, in which Western civilization was the center of a stage play for which the rest of the world was an awestruck audience”.4


Much as I would like to elaborate on these themes, it would be inappropriate for me to take up more space than I already have in what was intended to be a brief comment. Instead, let me quickly summarize. 


While we let the Assistant Director General of UNESCO know what we think about his proposals to encourage the commoditization of education, let us also redouble our efforts to understand the sources of such commoditizing impulses, as also warped notions of “freedom” and “prosperity”. As I have indicated above, the phenomenon of “technological sublime”, and how it has been manipulated by the mass media, ideologues and opinion makers over the past hundred years, needs to be well understood if the ‘McEducation’ process is to be stoutly challenged.  Also needed, I would offer, are deeper insights into the methods in the madness of the twentieth century, that are still very much with us.  I hope we can work collaboratively on all these fronts, even as we are trying to help create and sustain alternative learning environments. u


Text Box: Globalization is making nonsense of diversity which is a major defining characteristic of our work in adult/community learning. Without diversity and respect for individual differences we have no business doing what we are doing. One size definitely does not fit all. Educational programmes cannot be packaged because they are not made factories.  The needs, interests, concerns, circumstances, individuality and preferences of the learners are important in the processes of programme planning. 

Ekundayo J. D. Thompson


McEducation: A New Tool of Subjugation


Arif Tabassum, Institute for Development Studies

and Practices, Pakistan



The term “McDonaldization” is not just limited to the McDonald’s restaurant chain; it is a process that leads people towards a homogenized culture, promotes uni-lingual mass communication and even makes profits by selling indigenous cultural values, humanistic sentiments, learning processes and interactions as commodities. It is basically a Trojan horse, the most modern and fastest tool for spreading imperialism, to further subjugate indigenous spaces of learning and reflections to dominant socio-cultural and economic circumstances.  The schooling system has been the most trusted and tested ally of this imperialism for the last two hundred years. It has prepared the ground for imperialism by colonizing the minds of the masses.


But (fortunately or unfortunately) in last two hundred years, this schooling system could not enslave all six billion people of the world. Many people resisted it in different ways.  Therefore, “ideologues” of imperial powers [MNCs] strategized a new way to sell their products, to indoctrinate the next generation as ‘efficient’ consumers. ‘Education For All’ was introduced with “innovative” approaches for commoditizing learning.  By the co-option and support of international organizations and government institutions, all the energies of ‘civil society’ organizations have been re-focused to implement this agenda all over the world. In this situation, we should not be surprised if someone is proudly sharing the idea of commoditization of education.


Let us be clear: EFA is not about the promotion of learning. It is about increasing consumers and developing markets along some of following terms:

¨        Giving literacy on a mass level, so that neo-literates can read the “made in ---“ brand name marks on products of corporations and can buy them.

¨        In EFA, the emphasis on computerization is just to increase compu-consumption market.  Distance learning approaches [online course, etc.] are also supporting the marketing of computers and Internet services and are promoting the advertisement industry.

¨        Killing indigenous mode of expressions: linguistic and cultural imperialism by trying to mainstream everyone into the education system and/or literacy classes.

¨        For McEducation, every learner’s eagerness to learn is important only insomuch as it can be converted into a profitable commodity. It has nothing to do with their socio-economic and psycho-cultural context and circumstances. It never cares about their indigenous cultural assets but only uses them as consumable decoration pieces.


The devastating consequences of McEducation outweigh any of its short-term benefits. McEducation may be able to create new opportunities [of enslavement], but these will be only for those who can afford it.  We should never expect learning from this process, whether MNCs or UNESCO promotes it.


What can we do?

We can resist these approaches at all levels and protect our learning rights, especially from pseudo-intellectuals, mal-practitioners and so-called experts of education. It is very easy to sit in an air-conditioned halls of five star hotels, having lavish lunches and mineral water bottles and, in the din of ringing cell phones, to discuss the learning needs of the communities, living hundred of kilometers from these hotels. But it is not easy to go to these communities and learn ‘learning approaches’ from them. Because these schooled people cannot relate their mal-intellect to the living learning of communities. Again, the enslavement of the schooling system is at fault.

So we have to counter such ‘visions’ of education and schooling, which are purely based on the promotion of McWorld, a World where just one language, one culture and one taste is desired to make more and more profit.  We should counter such agendas on two levels: 1) We should de-intellectualize these notions and ‘visions’ on every forum organized at the national and international levels.  2) We should engage our communities in reflective learning processes to strengthen and articulate their own visions of learning, so that they can build their own ozone layer to protect their natural learning processes from the severe effects of pseudo-intellectuals’ artificial visions.  u



"The complexity of our present trouble suggests as never before that we need to change our present concept of education. Education is not properly an industry, and its proper use in not to serve industries, neither by job-training nor by industry-subsidized research. It's proper use is to enable citizens to live lives that are economically, politically, socially, and culturally responsible. This cannot be done by gathering or 'accessing' what we now call 'information' (which is to say, 'facts without context' and therefore without priority). A proper education enables young people to put their lives in order, which means knowing what things are more important than other things; it means

putting first things first.


The first thing we must begin to teach our children (and learn ourselves) is that we cannot spend and consume endlessly. We have got to learn to save and conserve. We do need a 'new economy', but one that is founded on thrift and care, on saving and conserving, not on excess and waste. An economy based on waste is inherently and hopelessly violent, and war is its inevitable by-product. We need a peaceable economy."

- Wendell Berry

"Thoughts in the Presence of Fear", 2001









From Consumers to Co-Creators…


Nitin Paranjape, Abhivyakti Media for Development, India



While reading the McEducation dialogue several concerns came to my mind:


We need to understand this relationship between creators and consumers. In the modern world, the relationship is marked by a divide, which separates the two and mostly brings them together in a space controlled by the Market. The relationship is also based on the assumption (fueled by the many institutions that shape our life) that there is limited space for only few creators.  It is by design that the majority are converted into consumers, which serves the commercial interest of a few. We therefore need to understand this relationship, its underlying hierarchy, and ask questions about its present status.


Creation in the modern world gets de-linked from its core purpose and gets enmeshed in the net spun by the entertainment-consumer market. Why do we create? That is the question we all should be asking ourselves. Or, rather why are we not involved in creating -- a process which that is so intrinsic to our life and collective well-being?  The danger in McEducation is that we are made into such numb receivers, that we never think to ask these questions.


I ask myself about the purpose behind my expressions, my creations. When we create something why does it have to be placed on the menu in the public domain? What is our need to seek public approval?  Is it appreciation? Assessment from experts? Commercial consideration?


At the core of my need to create is to communicate, to share my beliefs and perceptions, to express my concerns and ideals. On another level, it is to satisfy my inner need of creating meaning, exploring my thoughts and feelings so that they mesh together into a fine web of my own and act as a mirror for discovering myself. The process is of healing, and of learning. When I share it with others it is not in order to please them, as is the condition today, but to generate dialogue.


Dialogue is crucial for my own growth as a creative person, and to understand what it means to others.  Does my creation strengthen my relationship and contribute towards my communities’ well-being? Dialogue also helps me in reflecting about the process, and makes me aware of my limitation. Dialogue on my self, my creation and the community opens up several possibilities. Possibilities of co-creation, partnerships, apprenticeships, governance and other engagements which I never considered important. The act of sharing is also intimate. It opens up my private world to others, dynamically merging the public and private spheres, a vital process missing from today’s impersonal world, and invites others to do the same. When I am ready to start the dialogue based on my experiences and reflections, the conversation is natural. The interaction transcends competitive concerns and becomes rooted in human spirit and nurturance. While McEducation may efficiently spread “information”, it effectively destroys this possibility of dialogue. 


The journey of self-discovery, finding meaning through one’s own efforts and taking control of one’s creation, is an irreversible, joyous and spiritual process. Such insights over the years have convinced all of us at Abhivyakti <>, where I work, to spread the value of becoming engaged with the creative process. It is what we call promoting producers over consumers. We are convinced that a society that stresses the importance of having a producer in each of its citizens would be a dynamic society. A society different from the present, which has more consumers than it has producers. More producers would mean variety in art forms, stories, innovation in design.  Most importantly, this diversity wouldn’t be solely for commercial purposes; the reason for its birth would be much more complex and organic. For creators self-motivation is crucial. Motivation will provide energy to engage with the process of creating over energy-draining consumption. It would also mean all living spaces would throb with creative energy, making them vibrant and alive, and thereby lessen the focus on a few urban centres, which are today hotbeds of media activities. An environment of producers would mean that all systems would be creating meaning. It would mean ourselves, our children, families, our communities would be involved in the process of creation. Being in the environment that nurtures producers and not just materials would mean evolving our thinking, emotions, and relatedness.


As more people get engaged in the production process, it would widen the network of dissemination. Imagine having a plural and multiple nodes of exchange all over the place. It will not only reduce the role of mass media being the sole distributor of entertainment and news, but will effectively reduce the domination of the market and the few who control it. Rich, vibrant, personal, multi-sourced and organic culture would emerge making life colorful, communal and connected. Creative expressions would be part of life, part of the community and vital ingredients of discovering our human spirits.  The monotony and uniformity of McEducation for All can never generate such energy.  The actual spirit of communication is to bring forth such processes and contribute towards laying the foundation on which creative and critical communities emerge. u

John Daniel is a Genius…


Fode Beaudet, Pioneers of Change, Senegal



McDonald’s model is not a bad one. It’s actually very good for what it wants to do.  I understand the views of John Daniel. Do I agree? That’s another story. Unfortunately, I doubt he will understand the fierce criticism regarding his idea.




The issue at stake is the premise behind the way we see and experience the world, as well as how we relate to each other. He is (implicitly) for the status quo, for preserving the systems and the assumptions about how life is currently organized: mainly, for continuous growth and profit, irrespective of the aspiration that counters this ideology.


Consequently, he merely responds to the impetus of how best to educate the population where quantitative measure is the absolute. This implies (unconsciously, since he does hold ‘good intentions’) preparing and educating the population for consumerism, and limit critical thinking to the efficiency of the system rather than challenging the system itself.


Christopher Lash, in ‘Culture of Narcissism’ writes:

“Mass production,” said the Boston department store magnate Edward A. Filene in 1919, “demands the education of the masses; the masses must learn to behave like human beings in a mass production world…They must achieve, not mere literacy, but culture”.


Lash notes:

“In other words, the modern manufacturer has to ‘educate’ the masses in the culture of consumption” 

In my view, it is clear that the McDonald’s model requires the vision of Filene. And I doubt anyone with common sense (unless they have a narrow sense of economic dogma) would genuinely believe education should serve this purpose. But, we may reach this outcome indirectly through the support of this model.


However, let’s look beyond this model and see how futile and biased the arguments against it have become due to the vested interests involved in supporting such an unsustainable model in terms of quality of life. I read an article in the Washington Times recently. They were quoting a study from the US Chamber of Commerce stating that the fast food industry should not be blamed for obesity problems: the cause was rather related to the eating habits of individuals, such as eating a snack between meals. ‘Incidentally’, the report appeared while the Fast-Food industry came under fierce criticism and faced numerous libel suites.


Why is the result predictable and how is it related to education?


For one, let’s look at who owns the Washington Times newspaper. It’s a self-proclaimed Messiah named Sun Myung Moon (he believes he is the incarnation of God fulfilling the mission of Christ) whom immigrated from Korea years ago. Who supports this Messiah? Former President Reagan, and Father and Son Bush (Rev. Moon was a VIP guest at the inauguration of Reagan and Bush Sr.)


In fact, Bush Sr. supported the “Messiah” to spread his paper in Latin America during a launch in 1996, calling Moon “…the man with the vision…” and about the Washington Times: “'The editors of the Washington Times tell me that never once has the man with the vision interfered with the running of the paper, a paper that in my view brings sanity to Washington DC.''


If that is so, it’s brainwashing at its finest.

Ironically, Moon professed on a number of occasions that he was an ‘ordinary’ guy because he went to McDonald’s (I had to throw that in without intending to put much weight on this fact). 


This brief account is no coincidence, and the reason why the Washington Times can write such ‘news’ as serious rather than in the humorous section is because a large part of the population is lead to believe this. Regrettably, there is truth in their distorted integrity: with the lenses of a profit-making machine, you can avoid cognitive dissonance by seeking the tiniest argument and extrapolating on a grand scale. For example, eating snacks between meals may well contribute to obesity. But does that argument hold as a significant weight compared to the grease, fat, and other chemicals in the processed food eaten regularly? Of course not.


It doesn’t take much discernment to see it through. Or does it?  Or could it be a matter of education? If so, what kind of education?


What is required is a kind of education that serves primarily the interest of the learner with a critical appreciation of the world. Without a discernment process to see what lies behind the scenes, we are merely actors regurgitating the script written by a few while thinking we are particularly brilliant (e.g. John Daniel). Education should give us the ability to read between the lines.


I’ll be the first to admit that I admired McDonald’s when I was at university. Who wouldn’t? (provided their opinion came from textbooks and Fortunate magazine). We heard about how McDonald’s was great in marketing (pointing out the use of children in their publicity stunt and saying it with a straight face), that it didn’t have a union, etc. Basically, we were unconcerned and not given a perspective regarding the consequences of the McDonald’s industry, especially regarding lifestyle and appreciation for healthy habits (isn’t it being healthy uncool?). And surely we didn’t hear about the lobbying made to reduce the minimum salary of teenagers (16) because they were a source of cheap labor.


So here we have it: schools prepare for industry. School loves McDonald’s. McDonald’s loves school.


So yes, John Daniel is a genius.


Whether it should be this way or not, who is it to decide? Citizens? Consumers? Investors? u



Text Box: It is so useful for you to stimulate this dialogue. I wonder if UNESCO will respond? It is interesting/appalling that John Daniel would have written this. The essence of the issue to seems to me has to do with the quality and nature of relationships in learning and teaching, and reducing this to a matter of commodities, the making, selling and buying of things, is to advocate a form of prostitution for the educational process.
Ash Hartwell
Center for International Education, 
University of Massachusetts, USA


Time for an Uprising Against Global Corporatism


Paul Cienfuegos, Democracy Unlimited, USA



-->John Daniel's comments are a perfect example of the sorry state of this world, where the commodification of just about everything is now complete. Corporations are artificial entities. Yet corporations are given more rights by our governments than are given to We The People:  they have unlimited terms of existence, their owners have limited liability, their managers are rarely held responsible for the harms they do, corporations are treated by the courts as citizens with civil liberties guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. If corporations break the law, they cannot be imprisoned. They are allowed to dominate our social and political life through far-reaching decisions affecting products, investments, pollution, safety and jobs, as well as through their manipulation of elections, laws, and the media.


Large corporations no longer have to lobby politicians, they make sure the candidates they support have all the money they need to win, and then they virtually own them. Large corporations no longer need to control the mass media — they now own it, and thus can shape the parameters of almost any public debate. Large corporations no longer have JUST television advertising to reach the lucrative market made up of children — they now produce the academic materials that end up being used by many schools in our increasingly (and purposefully) under-funded public school system. (The above is true here in the US at least.)


People don't eat corporate food because it's tastier or better than locally produced foods. They eat it because of the constant barrage of advertising they're subjected to. You need go no further than the testimony under oath of various McDonald's executives during the infamous McLibel trials in Britain years ago for proof of this <>. When a McD's VP for marketing was asked about his work for the company, he stated, "If we didn't advertise, no one would buy our food." Now THAT'S quite an admission, eh?

Mr. Daniel's should be ashamed of himself for writing such tripe. He has committed one of the greatest crimes in any democratic society — turning "citizens" into mere "consumers", where producers of goods are magically transformed into a totally different group of people from those who consume the goods — all neat and tidy (but ridiculous). Consumer choice does not a democracy make! People power is collective power. The choice whether to buy or not buy a product (be it an educational "product" or a burger) is false power, yet it's exactly the kind of power corporate leaders want our social movements to focus our work towards building, as it marginalizes our effectiveness.

In the summer of 2002, UNICEF's Executive Director Carol Bellamy announced her organization's "partnership" with McD's to raise funds for children's charities, including UNICEF, and to launch "McDonald's World Children's Day" to commemorate the anniversary of the UN adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. An international outpouring of opposition attempted to change her mind but was unsuccessful (see following page).

What we are witnessing is the final stage of the corporatization of all of our institutions, our cultures, our very lives. Now UNESCO. The UN is even considering giving individual corporations delegate status at the table, as if they were nation states or NGOs. What is needed to turn this abomination around will be nothing short of a global democratic uprising against corporatism in all of its guises. No small task to achieve, but in my opinion, we have no other options left.


Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County (DUHC) is a grassroots effort to reclaim citizens' historic authority to define and govern the formation and operation of the corporation. We lead 'First Steps Toward Dismantling Corporate Rule' workshops. <>

In July, Commercial Alert and 57 public interest groups, health professionals, elected officials and child advocates asked UNICEF to end its partnership with McDonald's Corp. and cancel "McDonald's World Children's Day." Last Wednesday, we received a dismissive response from UNICEF. Our reply to UNICEF Executive Director Carol Bellamy is below.

Dear Ms. Bellamy:


We are unsatisfied with your August 13 letter dismissing our request that UNICEF protect children’s health by severing its partnership with the McDonald’s Corp., and canceling “McDonald’s World Children's Day.” McDonald’s is the world’s largest fast food chain. It peddles precisely the kinds of high calorie meals that children should avoid, given the international epidemic of childhood obesity and soaring incidence of type 2 diabetes.

You write that you are “proud” of UNICEF’s “tradition of eliciting corporate support.” But serving as a public relations prop for McDonald’s, along with the predictable harm to children’s health, is nothing to be proud of. Your partnership with McDonald’s will likely damage UNICEF’s integrity, good name and long-term fundraising prospects far more than any pittance McDonald’s may offer.

McDonald’s exploitation of children is well established. For example, a 1997 decision by a British judge, The Hon. Mr. Justice Bell, found that McDonald’s “exploits children” through its advertising. It is hard to understand how UNICEF could justify partnering with a firm that exploits children, or why UNICEF would abet this exploitation.


We are alarmed that UNICEF has become a marketing tool of the obesity lobby. As if “McDonald’s World Children’s Day” is not enough, this year:


* UNICEF endorsed the so-called “Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition” (“GAIN”) which is a coalition to promote market access and consumption of unhealthy processed foods across the planet. Members of GAIN include Kraft Foods Inc. (a subsidiary of Philip Morris), Procter & Gamble Co. and H.J. Heinz (a violator of the baby-food Code, according to the International Baby Food Action Network).

* The U.S. Fund for UNICEF endorsed the “Coca-Cola Unity Chain,” providing a public relations boost for the Coca-Cola Co., which aggressively markets its high-sugar, caffeinated soda pop to the world’s children.

UNICEF’s support for the junk food industry seems to be part of your longstanding insensitivity to the toll of corporate marketing on children. For example, a 1990 internal Philip Morris USA memo recounts your comments about the company: “I like Philip Morris…I think it is a great company.”

Does UNICEF have standards that a corporation must meet to be a UNICEF partner? Or will UNICEF rent itself out indiscriminately as a public relations tool to the highest bidder? Is there any corporate conduct that UNICEF finds too unacceptable to partner with?

We ask you, once again, to drop your partnership with McDonalds, cancel “McDonald’s World Children’s Day” and to stop acting as an agent of the global junk food industry.

Gary Ruskin, Executive Director, Commercial Alert


Commercial Alert's mission is to keep the commercial culture within its proper sphere, and to prevent it from exploiting children and subverting the higher values of family, community, environmental integrity and democracy. For more information, see



Education:  A Commodity for Sale


Nesar Ahmad, Center for Budget Accountability, India



“Higher Education for Sale” makes for ironic reading. Writer John Daniel, UNESCO’s Assistant Director General for Education, advocates ‘commoditization’ of education materials in the same way the McDonald’s has commoditized its food products. He tells us the qualities of McFoods: a “limited range of dishes as commodities that have the same look, taste and quality everywhere” and “McDonald’s is successful because people like their food.”


Now we try to understand the implications of this proposal. Education is a cultural and social phenomenon. It is one of the major factors shaping our (those who have access to the present education system) lives. The education materials, which are to be taught to the children, have to be chosen carefully to suit the pupils’ social and cultural environment. Just imagine the study/reading material prepared by some American Institution/Company on Indian cultures or social systems. Why should students in India read material prepared by some alien about the caste system in India? Should some executive of a MNC in the West prepare study material for Indian students on India’s political system? (As if the World Bank, IMF and the WTO are not already ‘teaching’ us more than enough about everything, from drinking water to poverty alleviation, to fiscal management, trade and good governance.)  Even on the subjects like science, which might be considered by some as ‘universal’ in terms of content, there has to be examples and experiments taken from the daily life of the society the children come from.


If learning materials are commoditized, what will happen to the diversity of ideas? If the students from every country will study the courseware prepared by the same company/institutions, will there be any space for thinking something new or fresh on any subject? How will study material, as a commodity, present the different points of view that exist on any given issue?


The fact is, education is now a service to be traded both within a country and internationally. This suggestion for the commoditization of education could have not come at a better time. The General Agreement on Trade in Services (GATS) has been enforced in the WTO, and education is part of it. So TNCs, big universities and research institutions in the West and their mentors, the World Bank, IMF and the WTO, have discovered a trillion dollar business. Daniel’s suggestion should be seen in the light of GATS.


GATS suggests four ways of trade in education: study abroad (Consumption Abroad), education delivered by foreign teachers (Presence of Natural Persons), long-distance learning between countries (Cross Border Supply), and creation of foreign establishments (Commercial Presence) and, quite obviously, emphasizes the privatization of education. GATS does not specifically mention trading in education materials, except for the materials that go with long-distance learning (“Cross Border Supply” in WTO jargon). But Daniel’s suggestion that commoditized books and other educational materials prepared by some institution can become standard courseware for teachers all over the world is quite dangerous.


As we know, trade in education services does exist even now in India, probably in all four forms. Indian students do visit abroad for higher education (their number is increasing); and our universities get students from neighboring countries (though much less in number). We have seen more and more institutions from abroad, mainly the West, setting up shop in India, or offering their long distance courses. What GATS is going to do is pressurize governments to promote these activities and remove any ‘obstacles’ in free trade of education. We have already seen the decrease in public investment in education and opening of private universities. GATS is going to take all this to the higher level. Lest we forget, the primary objective of GATS is to increase economic growth through increased trade in the service sector.


Daniel claims the commoditization of education materials will help universalize education, by providing standard, high quality education materials at large scale. However, he defends that this will not necessarily lead to the commercialization of education, and also suggests that these materials should be made available on the net for everyone. Two questions are important here: One, why would institutions/companies, which have created these materials as commodity, provide it to all for free?  After all commoditization means business (and money), and prevailing market rationale demands that these institutions would want their investment back plus profits. Two, even if some of these companies decided to provide information to everyone for free on the internet, what proportion of the world population’s will actually have access to it?  Maybe we should start the McComputers for All global marketing campaign? u

"Love your children, enjoy their freedom. Let them commit mistakes, help them to see where they have committed a mistake. Tell them, 'To commit mistakes is not wrong -- commit as many mistakes as possible, because that is the way you will be learning more.'"

- Osho

The New Child, 1991




The Tragedy of Commoditization


Manish Bapna, Bank Information Center, USA



The basic assumptions underlying John Daniel’s editorial on the ‘McDonaldization’ of education require critical examination – particularly given the prevailing (though misplaced) faith in the Millennium Development Goals and Education for All global initiatives.  The thoughtful and passionate responses to this editorial, collected by Shikshantar, not only highlight the serious misgivings many individuals have on the validity of the underlying assumptions but also raise fundamental questions on the ultimate objectives of these two global initiatives. It is therefore disappointing, though not surprising, that Daniel's/UNESCO’s advocacy for the commoditization of learning fails to challenge the existing orthodoxy.  The absence of creative, life-affirming responses to the challenges facing society today reflects, in my opinion, our consistent inability to foster a meaningful ‘culture of the commons’ around learning. The ‘McDonaldization’ of education – which is premised on a culture of competition – stands in stark contrast to what a culture of the commons should truly represent.


It may be useful to draw from literature on the commons which was originally developed in response to understanding the inter-linkages between people and common-pool natural resources such as water or forests.  Elinor Ostrom, in her seminal research on common-pool resources, identified design principles that are characteristic of robust, self-governed local institutions.  These principles can be bundled into two broad categories: minimal recognition of rights to organize and collective choice arrangements.  The adaptation of these principles to fostering a learning environment that supports the multiplicity of worldviews, objectives, styles, expressions, etc. inherent in human learning would suggest the following:

* Right to organize and the legitimacy of local institutions – Local communities have the right to organize and form their own learning spaces and institutions.  Local institutions would not be challenged by external authorities such as national governments or international donors.  The commoditization of learning materials, however, establishes a standardized knowledge set to be systematically disseminated around the world.   History has repeatedly demonstrated that such standardized rules often empower existing state agents (in this case, in the delivery of education) and undermine the legitimacy of self-created and self-governed local institutions.  Daniel’s prescriptions fail to acknowledge the primacy of local institutions and the debilitating effects of standardized rules.


* Creating and modifying rules for the commons – Collective-choice arrangements require that all participants are involved in creating and modifying rules for developing a commons around learning.  Daniel would assign the construction of these rules to the powerful elite – the McDonald’s in the education world – without recognizing the power hierarchies that exist between participants in the learning commons.  The open source software movement recognizes these imbalances and attempts to overcome them, although admittedly with limited success.  But neither the original learning material nor the methods of how this material may be used, according to Daniel, would involve the active, meaningful participation of people.  Disenchantment with the learning commons at best or imposition of standardized rules at worst would naturally follow.


It seems intuitive that a learning environment should be based upon a culture of the commons and not a culture of competition – given the complex and personal nature of learning and the humanistic values supported by the ‘commons’.  However, Daniel’s editorial suggests the opposite.  The commoditization of learning materials and ‘McDonaldization’ of education advocated by Daniel would result in a 'tragedy of the commons' – the grim and barren outcome described in social science literature when the principles underlying the commons are subverted. u

Text Box: John Daniel's statement on "Higher Education for Sale" in the UNESCO Newsletter is as ridiculous as it is dangerous. However, just because it is silly, it cannot be ignored. Instead, it reflects the sinister designs of those who run our world. In other words, it represents the views of several influential and powerful people, even though these people may not openly come out in favour of standardization, homogenization, commodification, and globalization of higher education as Daniel does.

Shikshantar's detailed, persuasive, and lengthy rebuttal is both timely and welcome. It focuses on the "real" issues that plague the education sector rather than dwell on platitudes and slogans. The responses collected by Shikshantar not only show how dangerous the analogy between McDonald's and higher education is, but also attack the McDonald's model of fast food itself. I endorse Shikshantar's efforts and join my voice to those of millions of people around the world who wish to live lives of dignity and autonomy rather than being subjected to external controls, of all those forces who wish to rob human beings of their selfhood and humanity.
- Makarand Paranjape
 Samvaad Foundation and Jawaharlal Nehru University, India


Giving Way to the Heart


Prashant Varma, Engaged Buddhist, India


This is what I feel after being exposed to such an idea, or rather proposal, of evolving a paradigm of universal education drawing "inspiration" from a symbol of global violence and injustice: McDonald's.


It gives rise to such sadness in me to see what we are creating and for what purpose…even to divorce education from learning is a grave error in human experience. It may be worth contemplating life experience, and the many ways in which we seek to understand and define it.


The present state of the education system is attempting to erase all possibilities of being human… It is inextricably linked to forces of market, power structures and all such conditions which are uprooting us from our experience, and imposing upon us a systematic view fueled by greed, desire, hatred and jealousy…  The nature of the education system rests upon beliefs that view life in fragments, in hierarchy, in a mind stream habituated to dualism (i.e., of human vs. nature, of good vs. evil, etc.).


How can we confine a collective learning journey to formal spaces like the school or college, or degrees? It is only the fundamental ignorance of modern education processes, which enflames the arrogance that assumes superior roles and inferior paths. Education cuts dynamic traditions into parts to serve as show-case items or as escapes/antidotes to the urban life.


Learning, on the other hand, is a sacred endeavor which should not be commodified. To many ordinary beings, learning is a process of constant interaction with the natural elements, with life forms, in human relationships, with happiness and sadness.  It is a contemplation of life ¾ a process which is incomplete and that continues through many lives and forms. It constantly provides us a glimpse into the nature of reality, which if felt, would naturally thrust our efforts towards goals that are not defined by the very gross appearances of human needs. Learning is to enable us to reclaim our simplicity and to nourish our inherent goodness that is veiled by clouds of destructive emotions.  By continuing to give legitimacy to such violent spaces of education, we seem to be serving certain systemic interests, to churn out masses of desensitized professionals to keep structures of greed and hatred running sound. Yet we are all victims of this fragmented view…


The only way out is to create and regenerate conditions for learning, where the human experience is valued, where there is a natural interaction with the living world, not in zoos or manicured urban greenery… It is about facing a mountain to be reminded of our fragile experience, and to feel both immensity and humility.  Or to be in a forest and feel vulnerability, because there you know what interdependence and looseness of self really implies. We need to create learning conditions where there is always self-reflection and self-analysis of our way of being and functioning, where more emphasis is on developing a sense of warmth and responsibility, above veils of self-interest and loyalty. Where we rediscover the importance of the cultivation of qualities, like compassion, humility and service.  Where the textual/ rational mind gives way to the heart…


Metaphors, Words, and Models of a Wiser World


Jock McClellan, Quinebaug Valley Community College, USA



Metaphors matter.  They channel the flow of thought in each learner.  In groups, they affect the flow of dialogue.  In organizations like UNESCO, they control where money flows.  And what holds for metaphor holds for words (ancient metaphors) and for models (metaphors for action).  If our goal is a model of a wiser world, let’s not stop at McDonald’s.


Let’s instead go to that global feast of wisdoms, to that pot-luck party of home-grown meals, that history of recipes handed down and added to by countless generations, that sharing of breads as gifts of friendship not as exchanges of commodities.


Commodities have their place.  Markets work.  The signals of price help a learning world adapt.  But markets are motivated by money, and not all learning will sell.  It will be easy to commoditize lessons that increase earning power, but harder to sell lessons in wisdom.  Can I interest you in a few shares of McWisdom, Inc, anyone?


Commoditized distance learning can work, delivering materials cost-beneficially, as Jan Visser notes.  I know - I’ve participated in online courses as both 'teacher' and 'student'.  In both cases, participants have inched toward wisdom.  But we have done so because the structure was dialogic, interactive, and exploratory.  We were not consuming pre-digested education.  We were constructing knowledge for ourselves.


Words.  The phrase “Education for All” makes me wary.  Although I am an educator, I fear the word “education” has come to connote the transmission from a central source of knowledge to passive recipients.  I prefer the word “learning.”  But that too is misleading; it conjures a process happening in individual brains.  But learning is a collective process as well.  We are not wolf children; we learn together.  So “Co-Learning for All” comes closer to what I would want.  But even that is off.  The co-learning is not just “for” beneficiaries; it is also “by,” “with,” and “via.”  “Co-Learning by All, with All, and for All” comes closer to my own vision of a wiser world.


Models.  What would a co-learning world look like?  It would not be a McDonaldized monopoly, pushing one form of learning.  We need everyone’s wisdom, not just that which is shipped from Ohio.  Discourse would be unconstrained, whether by governments, corporations, or cultures.  Diversity would be treasured, not buried.   Diverse ecologies survive; monocultures do not.  There is reason to suspect the current prevailing global culture so badly ignores the environment which sustains it that it will collapse as did Mayan civilization.  We need alternatives, and a wise world will nurture them.  A co-learning world will listen to life on the planet, something the current commoditized culture is slow to do. 


A world of good judgment will recognize that lessons which fit for one environment may not for another.  The complexity of today’s problems cannot be addressed with McSimple solutions.  A just world will reject cultures that conquer by force of arms rather than the force of argument.   A wise world will not get its ideas in drive-throughs, but by reflection and dialogue in afternoon cafes.  Not fast food, but sustenance that lasts.


A wiser world will not be a utopia of seven billion sages.   Rather, its collective wisdom will emerge from the limited efforts at understanding by everyone doing their best to make sense of their own local worlds. But those understandings must be communicated, so that lessons learned by individuals can rise to the level of collective learning, to the level of a change in the shared lessons to better fit environing realities.  And here literacy matters. We need everyone’s participation, and if some commoditized materials can help in certain situations, fine. 


The Internet can help in the sharing of lessons, and the Web is already a copy machine for “open source” software and courseware.  Copyright or copyleft, the more the better.  But a web of wisdom will not just be a network of bits.  It will be a living web of learners continuously sharing understandings and questions, a vibrating hum of collective human meanings.  The sound will not be reduced to a single McDonald’s jingle.


All life can be seen as composed of networks which adapt to change in the environment by a change in their pattern of connections, a change in the “connection weights between nodes.”  The emerging wiser world will be a vast, adaptive network of learning networks.   Such an emergent, self-organizing network is beyond the control of any education czar.  But what emerges does depend on which local “rules” of interaction are followed by individual learners.  So we need to ask if we want those rules to be economic rules only, or rules of a different kind.  If learning follows utilitarian, economic rules only, the danger will be that educational commodities may be designed to sell, not to enlighten.  If education is about more than mental materials, but also about relationship to others and the world, a growth in closeness could emerge.   If the state of heart and mind that gives rise to action is one of compassion, there is a better chance that what will emerge will be a world of mutual happiness.  We would be wise to strive for such a world.   u



The Culture of Schooling...

1)   Labels, ranks and sorts human beings. It creates a rigid social hierarchy consisting of a very small elite class of ‘highly educated’ and a large lower class of ‘failures’ and ‘illiterates’, based on levels of school achievement.

2)   Imposes uniformity and standardization. It propagates the viewpoint that diversity is an obstacle, which must be removed if society is to progress.

3)   Spreads fear, insecurity, violence and silence through its externally-imposed, military-like discipline.

4)   Forces human beings to violently compete against each other over scarce resources in rigid win-lose situations.

5)   Confines the motivation for learning to examinations, certificates and jobs. It suppresses all non-school motivations to learn and kills all desire to engage in critical self-evaluation. It centralizes control over the human learning process into the State-Market nexus, taking power away from individuals and communities.

6)   Commodifies all human beings, Nature, knowledge and social relationships.  They are to be extracted, exploited, bought and sold.

7)   Fragments and compartmentalizes knowledge, human beings and the natural world.  It de-links knowledge from wisdom, practical experiences and specific contexts.

8)   Artificially separates human rationality from human emotions and the human spirit. It imposes a single view of rationality and logic on all people, while simultaneously devaluing many other knowledge systems.

9)   Privileges literacy (in a few elite languages) over all other forms of human expression and creation. It drives people to distrust their local languages while prioritizing newspapers, textbooks, television as the only reliable sources of information.

10) Reduces the spaces and opportunities for ‘valid’ human learning by demanding that they all be funneled through a centrally-controlled institution. It creates artificial divisions between learning and home, work, play, spirituality.

11) Destroys the dignity of labor; devalues the learning that takes place through manual work.

12) Breaks intergenerational bonds of family and community and increases people’s dependency on the Nation-State and Government, on Science and Technology, and on the Global Market, for their livelihoods and identities.


[1] Sociologist Max Weber described that the Western world would become increasingly "rationalized" – that is, dominated by efficiency, predicatability, calculability and nonhuman technologies that control people. An important aspect of rationalization is that it allows individuals little choice of means to an end. Institutionalized rules, regulations and organizational structures are given full power over human beings in order to produce optimal results (Ritzer, 2000).

[2] Several critiques have been launched against the McDonald's model which must be taken seriously. See McDonaldization of Society (2000), Fast Food Nation (2002), The Food Revolution (2001), and Jihad vs. McWorld (1996), for example.

[3] See David Noble’s Digital Diploma Mills (2002), where he describes commodification as the “disintegration and distillation of the educational experience into discrete, reified and ultimately saleable things or packages of things.” Commercialization and profit-making is very much linked to the process of commodification.  We must question Mr. Daniel’s claim that commoditizing education could be done along the lines of the open source software movement. Precisely to challenge control and uniformity, to de-legitimize the monopoly of Microsoft and to create space for diversity and sharing, did that movement begin.  It is totally at odds with and irreconcilable to McDonald’s philosophy and approach. We only wonder how Mr. Daniel proposes to handle all of the commercialization (in terms of tuition courses, textbooks, uniforms, degrees, etc.) that is already taking place in education today as a result of commodification.

[4] See Bringing the Food Economy Home (2000).

[5] Here we find that the Global Market's mantra of competition rings hollow. Virtually every industry (ranging from beef to poultry to potatoes) related to McDonald's is dominated by a handful of corporations. McDonald's (oftentimes in collusion with the American Government) sets the rules and only the big-boys are allowed to play in this monopolistic game.

1.Daniel’s assumption that prosperity and freedom are positively correlated with greater consumer choice should really make us reach for our critical faculties. 

2. Robin Brownlie and Mary-Ellen Kelm, “Desperately Seeking Absolution: Native Agency As Colonialist Alibi,” Canadian Historical Review 75, no. 4 (1994): 550.  On residential schools across Canada, see J.R. Miller, Shingwauk’s Vision: A History of Native Residential Schools (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).   On disease and health issues relating to residential schools in British Columbia, see Mary-Ellen Kelm, Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-1950 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 1998), 57-80, and Maureen K. Lux, Medicine that Walks: Disease, Medicine, and Canadian Plains Native People, 1880-1940 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2001).

3. In 1994 the First Nations Health Commission for the Assembly of First Nations reported that physical, sexual and emotional abuse had been almost universal in the residential school system.  J.R. Miller, “Reading Photographs, Reading Voices: Documenting the History of Native Residential Schools,” in Reading Beyond Words: Contexts for Native History, ed. Jennifer S.H. Brown and Elizabeth Vibert (Peterborough: Broadview Press 1996), 460-482.

4. Bonnie Duran, Eduardo Duran, and Maria Yellow Horse Brave Heart, “Native Americans and the Trauma of History,” in Studying Native America: Problems and Prospects, ed. Russell Thornton (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1998), 60-76.

1 A Penguin Classic, Brave New World By Aldous Huxley was first published in 1932.

2 “Higher Education for Sale” from Education Today:  The Newsletter of UNESCO’s Education Sector (October-December 2 002).

3 Frederick Douglass’s Speech to the Thirty-Second Annual Convention of the American Anit-Slavery Society, May 10, 1865.






1 Gidley, J. and S. Inayatullah (2002). Youth Futures:  Comparative Research and Transformative Visions. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger.

2 Gidley, J. (2002). Holistic Education and Visions of Rehumanized Futures. Youth Futures: Comparative Research and Transformative Visions. J. Gidley and S. Inayatullah. Westport, Connecticut, Praeger.

3 Inayatullah, S. and J. Gidley, Eds. (2000). The University in Transformation:  Global Perspectives on the Futures of the University. Westprt, Connecticut, Bergin and Garvey.

4 The Integral Institute, Boulder, Colorado; The California Center for Integral Studies; The Community for Integral Learning and Action, Massachusetts.

1 David E. Nye. 1994. American Technological Sublime, published by M.I.T Press (Cambridge, MA and London: 1994). Also see,  David E. Nye, Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology: 1880―1940, published by  M.I.T Press (Cambridge, MA and London: 1992).

2 Thomas P.  Hughes, 1983. Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society: 1880―1930, published by Johns Hopkins University Press (Baltimore and London: 1983).

3 Ludwig F. Haber, 1971.  The Chemical Industry: 1900―1930, published by Clarendon Press (Oxford: 1971).

4 Carolyn Marvin. 1988. When Old Technologies Were New: Thinking About Electric Communication in the Late Nineteenth Century, published by Oxford University Press (New York and Oxford: 1988).