My Graduate Record Exam or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Ideological State Apparatuses

"The doomsday machine is terrifying and simple to understand."

I can no longer hate the Graduate Record Exam. Any feeling of animosity has been replaced by a respect culled through fear and awe for the ideology of higher education. I bombed the test. Or, should I say the test bombed me.

After three hours of biting my lips and twitching my legs the computer flashed my score like an afterthought to a brief conversation. “By the way,” it seemed to say, “this is now over and with that score, I suggest you rethink applying to MIT.”

It wasn’t just the reality that I’d done poorly. It was the cold, graphical user interface of that emotionless computer and the way it flashed PRESS ESC TO END THIS TEST in big black letters. But we had just shared so much! I was invited to argue whether or not communities should emphasize short over long term environmental needs and the benefits of artistic license. I had to choose a set of words that helped describe Foucault’s oeuvre and answer questions pertaining to a brief essay on Robert Mapplethorpe. Even the quantitative section was captivating. Which of the following CANNOT be an integer if the integer K is a multiple of 12 but not a multiple of 9? Wow! I’d love to think about that for more than 60 seconds.

It was like the test knew me. It was so stimulating I was tempted to put down my pencil and ask the computer if it wanted to find a more intimate environment and share a drink.

It didn’t.

It wanted $160 dollars and hours of my life. It wanted me to carry a stack of flash cards at all times, break into a cold sweat every time I thought about it, and develop a habit of  swallowing four melatonine every night so I could stop thinking about it.

After walking out of the test room, some nice woman in a uniform searched my pockets, took my photo, and had me resign the form certifying my identity. She then gave me back my ID which I used to buy a six-pack of Asahi. That helped. As the edge of failure softened I began to see the GRE for what it really was, an Ideological State Apparatus.

“That is the whole idea of this machine,” Dr. Strangelove explains to the President. “Deterrence is the art of producing in the mind of the enemy… the FEAR to attack.”

Marx said something similar in 1868. “The reproduction of labour power requires not only a reproduction of its skills, but also, at the same time, a reproduction of its submission to the rules of the established order.”

If Althusser hadn’t gone crazy, killed his wife and then himself maybe he could have shared that six-pack with me and mused over that beautiful doomsday that is the Graduate Record Exam. Perhaps he too would have been in awe of Educational Testing Service’s magnificent ability to combine State Power and Liberal Arts Education and produce a machine of class ideology.

ETS  is a nonprofit committed to fairness. It creates tests “free of racial, ethnic, gender, socioeconomic and other forms of bias” and is “believed to be inappropriate or derogatory toward any group.” However, the test functions as an Apparatus that reproduces a society based on bias, particularly class bias.

Those wishing to excel at the test should begin by studying for about an hour every day, perhaps after working a nine hour shift. To learn the mechanisms and nuances of this fickle and illusive test it’s recommended that one enrolls in a GRE class, which runs about $399. After mastering the subtle art of a computer adaptive test,  the next challenge is to not fall prey to the seduction of the test’s content–a showcase of the liberal arts, an education that produces well-rounded individuals who secure jobs that  are always stimulating and help make the world a better place. These jobs pay a salary that permits one to move up the class ladder of a capitalist society (without being derogatory toward any one group).

Or maybe ETS makes higher education “a pure dream, empty and vain” that is  separated from the reality that under capitalism, “each mass” continues to be “ejected en route…with the ideology which suits the role it has to fulfil in class society,”(Althusser, 155).

I would so like to be a part of the ruling class of educational ideology, that great class that “represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology, where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them by their ‘parents’ who open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues,” (157). I would like to get a PhD at an Ivy League school and receive funding to spend five years developing some abstract theory that brings together Foucault, integers, and erotic nudes in some obscure but brilliant way. But that damn apparatus that I want to be a part of just kicked me in the ass.




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