One of the important parts in understanding neoliberalism as a particular dispositive of power (or perhaps a mode of biopower – that sort of distinction doesn’t matter here) lies in understanding the various techniques it deploys. After all, there is no “neoliberalism” or “neoliberal power” existing in the abstract; as Foucault repeatedly demonstrates, power can only be fully understood by digging down to the mircro-level, to all the little practices and techniques that add up to a particular social regime of power. Attention to these details has been one of my interests for a while (for example, in the case of privacy notices, or the emergence of best practices).
At least since Althusser, we’ve been accustomed to recognize the schools as part of the ideological state apparatus, and Foucault’s Discipline and Punish underscored the point. The locus classicus of neoliberalism in K-12 education is of course the rise of standardized testing regimes such as those imposed by No Child Left Behind. Another area of focus has been the rise of semi-privatized charter schools. Here, I want to take note of another, more subtle: the use of online homework assignments. Recall that one of the central aspects of neoliberalism at work is the erasure of the work/home boundary and the devolution of technological minutiae to employees; the result is what Ian Bogost calls “hyper-employment,” and the necessary parallel rise of what David Graeber calls “bullshit jobs,” a phenomenon brought about by the fact that we don’t actually have 24 hours of useful work a day to do. On the job, workers are subject to nearly unlimited surveillance, and things like employee wellness programs extend that surveillance into the home. It is only to be expected that this surveillant, time-wasting product of the neoliberal thought collective will be visited on our children.