bubblegum and surplus value

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  • http://crs.sagepub.com/Critical Sociology

    http://crs.sagepub.com/content/6/4/51.citationThe online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/089692057600600407

    1976 6: 51Crit SociolMike Messner

    Bubblegum and Surplus value

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  • 51

    Bubblegum and Surplus value

    Mike Messner

    A Word on Teaching Radical Subject Matter

    I see the role of the radical teacher as that of aconsciousness-changing agent for students. There aremany structural and ideological barriers facing theradical teacher who attempts to convey radical sub-

    ject matter.The process of education is a means to an end. It is

    a socialization process which creates a certain typeof person who will fit into and perpetuate a certaintype of social system. In a class society such as ours,the ruling class determines the type of educationalsystem to which students are to be subjected. Thusthe structure of the schools and of the classroomitself serves to socialize people into the bureaucrat-ized structure of corporate capitalism.

    People are socialized by the schools not only bywhat they are taught (content) but by the manner inwhich they are taught (process). Bourgeois educationtreats students as empty containers into which know-ledge is &dquo;dumped&dquo; by the teacher, who &dquo;knows.&dquo; Thisprocess, according to Brazilian educator PauloFreire, creates people who are &dquo;objects&dquo; in the histor-ical process. (1) People who are &dquo;objects&dquo; are easilymanipulated, accept authority, and lack a critical,reflective consciousness. In short, such people fitwell iinto the existing system and lack the criticalconsciousness necessary to change the system.

    Since the &dquo;process&dquo; of education is so important, itis possible for a &dquo;radical teacher&dquo; to be unknowinglyengaged in the act of socializing students to beobjects in bureaucratic capitalist society. For exam-ple, the teacher may be lecturing his or her class onsuch subjects as &dquo;freedom&dquo; and &dquo;liberation,&dquo; but theprocess and structure of the learning environment isactually conditioning the student to be an object-anon-critical actor in bourgeois society.An antithesis to this bourgeois approach to educa-

    tion and knowledge would be an approach whichallows the students to be active participants in thelearning process and critical &dquo;subjects&dquo; in the histori-cal process. (2) Knowledge is not something which

    &dquo;exists&dquo; and is &dquo;dumped&dquo; into the head of a passivelearner. Knowledge is produced on an experientiallevel through the interplay of theory and prac-tice. (3)

    In addition to the problem of process in teachingradical subject matter, I have found that there is theadditional problem of dealing with the social condi-tioning that students have previously experienced.People are usually conditioned to respond negativelyto such &dquo;leftist rhetoric&dquo; as &dquo;exploitation,&dquo; &dquo;classstruggle,&dquo; &dquo;revolution,&dquo; and &dquo;socialism.&dquo; What is notneeded is a lecture (thrown at students from behind apodium) dealing with such abstract &dquo;rhetoric.&dquo; Whatis needed is an approach which allows the studentsfirst to attain an experiential understanding of aMarxist interpretation of society. I have found thatthis type of subjective understanding often leads thestudent to be more open to considering and under-standing Marxist theory as it pertains to his or her lifeand world.

    For this reason, I have developed the followingsimulation game, which I have experimented with ona number of occasions in Sociology and Educationclasses. In this paper, I will relate the method of thesimulation game, some of the phenomena whichhave occured when I experimented with the game inthe classroom, and an explanation of what the gamemeans in terms of a Marxist analysis of the &dquo;realworld.&dquo; This is not to imply that this simulation isintended as a predictive model of society. It is asimplification of the &dquo;real world&dquo; which is intendedas a taking-off point for teaching Marxist theory.

    The MethodThe setting and ground rules of the game: I usually

    begin by informing the students that we are going toplay a simulation game to see how well they can dealwith a social situation. I ask the people to assumethat we are going to live the rest of our lives in theclassroom. No person can ever leave the room again.It is effective to close any doors or windows toemphasize this point. We are a &dquo;closed society.&dquo;

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  • 52

    Next it is necessary to inform the class that wehave no food or any means to grow food. Then Iinform them that they are very lucky, because I havea machine which can produce candy. A prop, such asa gumball machine, is very effective. I own themachine and it is our only means of sustenance. It iscapable of a maximum output of 110 pieces of candyper day if run 24 hours a day. Our last assumption isthat five pieces of candy per person per day is thesubsistence level.

    The social division of the class: I then inform theclass (assuming a class of twenty students) that Iwant to hire ten workers. Five will work a twelve-hourday shift and the other five will work a twelve-hournight shift. (Differences in the number of students indifferent classes necessitate last-second manipula-tion of the &dquo;statistics&dquo; by the teacher who is facili-tating the game.)

    I next announce that I will choose the ten peoplewhom I think will make the best workers. I alwayschoose predominantly, if not exclusively, white maleworkers, leaving ethnic minorities and women as&dquo;non-workers.&dquo; An actual physical separation ofworkers and non-workers to opposite sides of theclassroom is very effective to emphasize this divi-sion.

    Often a person will walk into class late. I label this

    person as an &dquo;immigrant&dquo; and place him or her

    among the non-workers without explaining the situa-tion or the rules to the person.

    The economic situation: After the division of theclass takes place, I announce that the workers willeach be paid six cents per day ($.60 paid to the totalwork force). The workers will be taxed one cent eachper day ($.10 from the total work force). This tax willbe distributed at the rate of one cent each to thenon-workers ($.10 to the total non-workers group). Inaddition, I will give each non-worker one cent perday (an additional $.10 to the total non-workersgroup).

    I then make it perfectly clear that I have no ethicalobligation to give the non-workers anything, but I doso out of pure humanitarianism.

    Next, I announce that all of the 110 pieces ofcandy produced each day are mine. I will sell themfor one cent apiece. This means that the workershave the buying power to purchase fifty pieces ofcandy per day, or five pieces each, their subsistencelevel. The non-workers have the buying power topurchase only twenty pieces of candy per day, or twopieces each, considerably lower than the subsistencelevel.The economics of the situation should be dis-

    played on the blackboard for all to see. I usuallydisplay them as follows:

    Discussion: Now that the social and economicsituation is displayed and understood, I ask thestudents to assume that we have been living like thisfor several weeks now. I emphasize that I am abeliever in democracy and would like to know howpeople feel about the situation. If they are nothappy, I would like to discuss why with them andpossibly come to some solutions to their perceivedproblems.From this point on, there is no set procedure to

    follow. The game may take half an hour or it maytake hours, depending on the level of consciousnessof the students and the degree of interaction. I try asmuch as possible to let the students dominate theconversation. Anything can happen, and the teacher

    must be prepared to field all types of questions andassaults.To get things rolling, I usually first ask the workers

    if they have anything to say. If the non-workers try tosay anything at this point, I either shut them up orignore them. What usually happens is one outragedworker will tell me that he wants more pay. I refusehim, and if he continues to &dquo;make trouble,&dquo; I thenbegin to pay attention to the non-workers. I ask the&dquo;starving&dquo; non-workers if any of them would like ajob. Some always raise their hands to volunteer. Thisaction usually convinces outraged individuals thatthey can get nowhere by themselves.

    Another tactic to use to cool off a &a