I’m please to announce the publication of my new book Rethinking Social Studies: Critical Pedagogy in Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (Information Age Publishing, 2017).
The book is published as a volume in the series: Critical Constructions: Studies on Education and Society, which is edited: Curry Stephenson Malott, West Chester University of Pennsylvania. Brad J. Porfilio, CSU, East Bay. Marc Pruyn, Monash University. Derek R. Ford, DePauw University. Thanks to all the editors for their support of this project.
I would also like to thank Peter McLaren for writing the Foreword to the book. You can read of version of McLaren’s foreword to Rethinking Social Studies here: A Message to Social Studies Educators of the US in the Coming Trump Era.
Social studies is the most dangerous of all school subjects. Its danger, however, is a matter of perspective.
Like the schools in which it is taught, social studies is full of alluring contradictions. It harbors possibilities for inquiry and social criticism, liberation and emancipation. Social studies could be a site that enables young people to analyze and understand social issues in a holistic way – finding and tracing relations and interconnections both present and past in an effort to build meaningful understandings of a problem, its context and history; to envision a future where specific social problems are resolved; and take action to bring that vision in to existence. Social studies could be a place where students learn to speak for themselves in order to achieve, or at least strive toward an equal degree of participation and better future. Social studies could be like this, but it is not.
In practice social studies has been and continues to be profoundly conversing in nature. Social studies is the engine room of illusion factories whose primary aim is reproduction of the existing social order, where the ruling ideas exist to be memorized, regurgitated, internalized and lived by. If you don’t eat your meat, you can’t have any pudding! If you do not memorize these facts, accept these myths as truths so you can pass these exams to get those credentials, then you will not get any pudding. That is the way the world works. And good social studies teachers are here to make the meat palatable because they want everyone to be able to have some pudding.
Social studies too often teaches myths instead of encouraging critical explorations of human existence. Schools are fundamentally authoritarian, hierarchical institutions, they produce myriad oppressive and inequitable by-products and social studies is an integral component in this process.
The challenge, perhaps impossibility, is discovering ways in which schools in general and social studies in particular can contribute to positive liberty. That is a society where individuals have the power and resources to realize and fulfill their own potential, free from the obstacles of classism, racism, sexism and other inequalities encouraged by educational systems and the influence of the state and religious ideologies. A society where people have the agency and capacity to make their own free choices and act independently based on reason not authority, tradition, or dogma.
Does that sound too idealistic to you? Utopian even? I would not be surprised if it did. Many of my students (and more of my colleagues) say the same. They argue for the importance of being “realistic” or “adjusting to circumstances as they are” as if the really existing social studies classes in all their boring and socially reproductive glory are natural phenomenon beyond human capacity to change. I can understand this point of view, but cannot embrace it. You can just throw up your hands or argue for being realistic, but in the face of a world filled with injustices I do not believe sustaining the status quo is an admirable goal and neither is sustaining a social studies that offers conventional (non)explanations of the world.
In 1843, Arnold Ruge overcome with revolutionary despair, wrote a letter to Karl Marx lamenting the impossibility of revolution because the German people were too docile: “our nation has no future, so what is the point in our appealing to it?” To which Marx replied “You will hardly suggest that my opinion of the present is too exalted and if I do not despair about it, this is only because its desperate position fills me with hope.” This is an example of what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called “the courage of hopelessness.” The courage of hopelessness is an optimistic response to pessimistic circumstances. The equivalent of responding to the criticism that you are “being too idealistic” with “be realistic, demand the impossible!”
The hegemonic system of global capitalism dominates not because people agree with it. It rules because most people are convinced “There Is No Alternative.” Indeed, as I argue in this book the dominant approach to schooling and curriculum, particularly in social studies education, is aimed at indoctrinating students into this belief.
Utopian thinking allows us to consider alternatives, such as the pedagogical imaginaries which this book explores, in attempt to open up spaces for rethinking our approaches to learning, teaching, and experiencing the world. These imaginaries are necessary because traditional tropes of social studies curriculum (e.g., democracy, voting, democratic citizenship) are essentially lies we tell ourselves and students (because democracy is incompatible with capitalism; capitalist democracy creates a shallow, spectator version of democracy at best; democracy as it operates now is inseparable from empire/perpetual war and vast social inequalities).
We certainly have plenty of fuel for our hopes. The challenge we face as social studies educators is to not warm our students’ hearts with empty hopes, but rather confront what are seemingly hopeless times for freedom and equality with a pedagogy and curriculum that come from a courage of hopelessness.
This book aims to rethink social studies so it becomes a site where students can develop personally meaningful understandings of the world and recognize they have agency to act on the world, to make change. Social studies should not be about showing life to students, but bringing them to life. The aim is not getting students to listen to entertaining lectures, but getting to speak for themselves, to understand people make their own history (even if they make it in already existing circumstances). These principles are the foundation for a new social studies, one that is not driven not by standardized curriculum or examinations, but by the perceived needs, interests, desires of our students, our communities of shared interest, and ourselves as educators.
Rethinking Social Studies is organized into three parts. Part 1 – Redrawing the Lines, expands on the basic premises discussed above. Chapter 1 presents a description and critique of traditional social studies education. The chapter deconstructs the ideology of neutrality, which is frequently taught as part of social studies teacher education and examines the deleterious effects of conceiving of learning and citizenship as spectator projects. Chapter 2 presents a case study of right-wing think tank report on social studies as an example of the politics of the social studies and its connections to movement conservatism. By taking a close look at neo-conservative efforts to control the field and destroy the (at least theoretical) pluralism that has long characterized social studies we can better understand the normative nature of social studies and the inadequacy of adopting a neutral stance as social studies educators. Chapter 3, “Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship,” is in many ways the heart the book. This chapter presents an analysis of neoliberal education reforms in North America. Part of a Global Education Reform Movement (GERM), these corporate-driven reforms include three key strategies: (1) School choice and privatization; (2) human capital policies for teachers; and (3) standardized curriculum coupled with an increased use of standardized testing. The idea of “dangerous citizenship” is presented as a possible antidote to the stultifying effects of GERM on the freedom to think, learn, and teach social studies outside of a hegemonic worldview that is authoritarian and harbours racially, sexually, and class-based discriminatory traditions. Various possibilities for creative disruption of dominant assumptions and practices of social studies teaching and curriculum are presented as imaginaries for what might become insurgent pedagogies that foster dangerous citizenship.
The chapters in Part 2 – Social Education for Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life explore questions such as: What is the social justice? Chapter 4 takes a look at the relationship of social justice and power and argues that social justice requires much more that adopting a new vocabulary and socially and culturally inclusive curricula, rather it requires a revolution of everyday life.
Chapter 3 asks, What is critical pedagogy? Then takes a critical look at an approach that is filled with contradictions and too often comes across as either a theory-laden field for left wing academics or a radical idea that is domesticated by liberal teachers and teacher educators, or both. The chapter emphases the importance of everyday life and becoming as part of what it means to practice critical pedagogy.
Why is class an invisible concept in social studies? What would social studies look like if we put class at the center of the curriculum? Chapter 6, “Why Teaching Class Matters” describes both the invisibility of class in the social studies curriculum (and research) and presents an example of how class can be (and is) used as the organizing concept for a high school American Studies course. Chapter 7 analyzes the American empire – making connections between politics, foreign policy and the economy to illustrate the really existing class war in the United States (and the world) – as the context for the political and pedagogical project that is teaching and organizing for social change.
In an era marked by regimented curriculum, bureaucratic outcomes-based accountability systems, and corporatized educational aims, how do you keep your ideals and still teach? The answer to this question is multifaceted, but as argued in Chapter 8, there are at least two necessary, if insufficient responses. First, working in opposition to the mainstream of educational practice requires a question-posing approach. Secondly, collaborative thought and action are crucial to understanding and transformation of educational practices and social relations. Two counterstories are presented in this chapter. The first is based on the individual perspectives of two novice teachers. The second is the counterstory of a collective known as the Rouge Forum.
I often ask the social studies teachers to write about and examine the beliefs that inform their practice as educators. This task is useful in unearthing unstated assumptions that underlie our classroom practices and broader beliefs regarding the role of schools in society and reasons we teach what we teach. In Chapter 9, I have taken my own assignment and completed it, presenting a “my pedagogical creed” (based on the framework of John Dewey’s famously titled article). My hope is that you will be inspired to write your own pedagogical creed as a way analyzing and gaining insight into your practice as a social studies educator.
Part 3 – Beyond the Classroom, extends some themes from earlier in the book and provides an overview of key ideas found in Parts 1 and 2 (plus a few new ones). Democracy within the social studies curriculum is too often presented in its most weak and superficial form, that is, as process of electing of representatives and the functions of government. I say, “don’t vote, engage politics!” and Chapter 10 presents one approach to political engagement, writing for popular media. Chapter 11 is my own “educational autobiography,” another assignment I ask my students to complete, this activity aims to make sense of our current assumptions, thinking, and practices as educators by historicizing and analyzing their preconditions. The idea is that if we can better understand the sources of our present thinking and practice we can then better understand our present circumstances and more clearly envision how what we think and do today can help us achieve our goals in the future. The book closes with an interview conducted by Carlo Fanelli in which I discuss a wide-range of topics, including corporate education reform, critical pedagogy, and educational and politic activism. In many ways this interview is an overview and summary of ideas from the previous chapters.
As researcher, teacher, book and journal editor I have had the privilege and honour to collaborate with many fine educators and scholars. When considering my work it is impossible to separate ideas and accomplishments that could be described as my own from those that are the result of collaboration with others. Mark Twain said,
“There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of coloured glass that have been in use through all the ages.”
Twain is right, but only up to a point. If we continue to manipulate that kaleidoscope at some point we will witness something entirely new, yet carrying forward aspects of what it was. We can understand and change the world and in the process we create ourselves anew. This is what I have experienced in my collaborative relationships with others and it is important for me to acknowledge those folks who contributed to who I am today as a person, a teacher, and a scholar.
This book emphases my collaborations with Kevin D. Vinson, Perry Marker, Rich Gibson, and Gregg Queen.
Kevin and I have had a long and fruitful collaboration as writing partners, but most importantly as friends. I came to now him when he submitted an manuscript to a journal I was editing and I like it so much I had to call him up and talk about it. That was, of course, back in the day when people actually called each other on the phone. Our interests and thinking has been so intertwined over the years that each of us has written pieces then given the other credit for writing. We allowed ourselves the conceit that our relationship was not unlike Lennon and McCartney, without the hits.
Perry and I met as graduate students when Ohio State University and Indiana University regularly held colloquia for social studies students and faculty, since then we have worked together on nearly twenty presentations, articles, and journal issues. Perry’s work as a social studies teacher educator and curriculum scholar is the exemplar of critical, democratic praxis and I have long admired his dedication to both the ideals of democracy and his students, but most of all I appreciate his friendship, particularly his willingness to engage with me in spirited discussions of politics and baseball, which are often fuelled by bourbon whiskey.
I was chairing the question and answer part of a conference session when this fellow wearing a black leather jacket stood up and asked a question that pulled the rug out from under the assumptions of all the prior presentations. Afterwards, I chased the guy down and found out his name was Rich Gibson and soon learned he was a full-time troublemaker and revolutionary. We began working together almost immediately, helping to found the Rouge Forum and writing articles for newspapers, political and academic journals, co-editing books and journals. He has been my mentor on Marx, martial arts, spaghetti westerns, revolution, and all things Detroit (and I reciprocate by sharing obscure blues, R & B, and rockabilly recordings with him).
Greg Queen is Rich’s former graduate student and in my mind he is one of the most unique and accomplished high school social studies teachers ever. He has provided leadership for social change in his community and nationally as the Community Coordinator for the Rouge Forum. His teaching embodies a critical, revolutionary spirit and he has been honoured for his dedication to teaching against the grain with the National Council for the Social Studies’ defence of academic freedom award. Greg does what most social studies teachers are afraid to do, objectively teach the unvarnished truth of United States history. When my students say nobody can teach that way and keep their job, Greg is the person I point to.
The influences of Kevin, Perry, Rich, and Greg are easy enough to spot in the pages of this book, but I must acknowledge a number of others who have influenced my thinking and practice as an educator. As a social studies educator I am deeply indebted to my professors, particularly Richard C. Phillips (University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill) and M. Eugene Gilliom (The Ohio State University) and my teachers at Independence High School in Charlotte, NC, the epitome, in a curricular sense, of the “shopping mall” high school.
I have learned much from many superb colleagues in the field of social studies education, including: Ceola Ross Baber, Jane Bernard-Powers, Jeffrey W. Cornett, Margaret Smith Crocco, Abraham DeLeon, Ronald W. Evans, Stephen C. Fleury, Four Arrows (aka Don T. Jacobs), Todd Hawley, Neil O. Houser, Gregg Jorgensen, Joseph Kahne, Gloria Ladson-Billings, Christopher R. Leahey, Merry Merryfield, Jack L. Nelson, Nel Noddings, Paul Orlowski, Valerie Ooka Pang, Marc Pruyn, Doug Selwyn, Özlem Sensoy, Walter Werner, Joel Westheimer, and Michael Whelan.
It has been a privilege to collaborate with many great scholars on a variety of projects including, Derek Ford, David Gabbard, David W. Hursh, Kathleen Kesson, Johnny Lupinacci, Curry Stephenson Malott, Gail McCutcheon, Stephen Petrina, Ken Saltman, Patrick Shannon, Larry Stedman, Ken Teitelbaum, John F. Welsh, and Mark Wolfmeyer.
All the people in, and around, The Rouge Forum have continued to be a huge inspiration to me as a scholar, teacher, and activist, most especially Brad Porfilio, Faith Agostinone Wilson, Gina Steins, Bryan Reinholdt, Joe Wegwert, Amber Goslee, Dennis Carlson, Peter McLaren, and Adam Renner (1970-2010).
Colin and Rachel continue to make me a proud father. And, as always, the person who provides my life with love, happiness, and excitement is Sandra Mathison.
Table of Contents
Foreword, Peter McLaren.
PART I: REDRAWING THE LINES
CHAPTER 1: Redrawing the Lines: The Case Against Traditional Social Studies Instruction.
CHAPTER 2: If Social Studies Is Wrong, I Don’t Want to Be Right (with Perry Marker). CHAPTER 3: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenship (with Kevin D. Vinson).
PART II: SOCIAL EDUCATION AND CRITICAL KNOWLEDGE FOR EVERYDAY LIFE
CHAPTER 4: Social Studies Requires a Revolution of Everyday Life.
CHAPTER 5: Broadening the Circle of Critical Pedagogy.
CHAPTER 6: Why Teaching Class Matters (with Gregg Queen).
CHAPTER 7: Education for Class Consciousness (with Rich Gibson).
CHAPTER 8: How Do I Keep My Ideals and Still Teach (with Rich Gibson, Greg Queen, and Kevin D. Vinson).
CHAPTER 9: Teaching for Change: Social Education and Critical Knowledge for Everyday Life.
PART III: BEYOND THE CLASSROOM
CHAPTER 10: Social Studies as Public Pedagogy: Engaging Social Issues in the Media. CHAPTER 11: A Sense of Where You Are.
CHAPTER 12: Critical Education and Insurgent Pedagogies: An Interview With E. Wayne Ross.
About the Author.
“Be Realistic Demand the Impossible”
Rejoinder to Peter Siexas’s
Dangerous indeed: A response to E. Wayne Ross’ ‘Courage of hopelessness’
University of British Columbia
Department of Curriculum and Pedagogy
Seminar Series: Diverse Perspectives on Curriculum & Pedagogy
February 26, 2016
1. The “courage of hopelessness” is, perhaps ironically, an optimistic position.
The publicity blurbs for Peter’s talk stated that he would offer “a way to steer a course between the two closely related traps of hopelessness and utopianism.” This is a misreading of my use of the term “courage of hopelessness,” which is a position of some great optimism.
[Read the text of my January 15, 2016 seminar “The Courage of Hopelessness: Democratic Education in the Age of Empire.” Watch video my talk here. Watch Seixas talk, my response and Q&A with audience below.]
2. Utopia – “Be realistic demand the impossible”
We need Utopia / utopian thought more than ever because we live in a time without alternatives when neoliberal capitalism reins triumphant and uncontested.
[This circumstance is captured in Margaret Thatcher’s declarations: “There is no alternative” and “there is no such thing as society.” The latter of which was embodied in Stephen Harper’s refusal to “commit sociology,” which was an ideological attempt to prevent the identification of and responses to structural injustices that result from capitalism.]
The so-called global free market works well for the One Percent, but not for rest of humanity. In my talk, I provided some examples of the ways in which capitalism trumps democracy (pun intended).
The hegemonic system of global capitalism dominates not because people agree with it; it rules because most people are convinced “There Is No Alternative.” Indeed, as I have argued, the dominant approach to schooling and curriculum, particularly in social studies education, is aimed at indoctrinating students into this belief.
Utopian thinking allows us to consider alternatives, such as the pedagogical imaginaries which I presented in my January seminar, in attempt to open up spaces for rethinking our approaches to learning, teaching, and experiencing the world. And these imaginaries are necessary because traditional tropes of social studies curriculum (e.g., democracy, voting, democratic citizenship) are essentially lies we tell to ourselves and our students (because democracy is incompatible with capitalism; capitalist democracy creates a shallow, spectator version of democracy at best; democracy as it operates now is inseparable from empire/perpetual war and vast social inequalities).
Stephen Duncombe argues that Utopia is politically necessary even for people who do not desire an alternative society,
“Thoughtful politics depend upon debate and without someone or something to disagree with there is no meaningful dialogue, only an echo chamber…Without a vision of an alternative future, we can only look backwards nostalgically to the past, or unthinkingly maintain what we have, mired in the unholy apocalypse that is now.”
3. The Nature of Method or Inquiry
I believe the key question to be posed in social studies and one that history can help us answer is “why are things as are they are?”
[Marx’s method, dialectics, is a tool that does not necessarily require a Marxist politics or practice (class struggle), see for example the dialectical approaches of individualist libertarians Chris Sciabarra and John F. Welsh.]
What we understand about the world is determined by what the world is, who we are, and how we conduct our inquiries.
Things change. Everything in the world is changing and interacting. When studying social issues we should begin by challenging the commonsense ideas of society or particular social issues as a “thing” and consider the processes and relationships that make up what we think of as society or a social issue, which includes its history and possible futures.
Inquiries into social issues help us understand how things change and also contribute to change.
In understanding social issues and how things change it helps to “abstract” or start with “concrete reality” and break it down. Abstraction is like using camera lenses with different focal lengths: a zoom lens to bring a distant object into focus (what is the history of this?) or using a wide-angle lens to capture more of a scene (what is the social context of the issue now?)
This approach raises important questions: where does one start and what does one look for? The traditional approach to inquiry starts with small parts and attempts to establish connections with other parts leading to an understanding of the larger whole. Beginning with the whole, the system, or as much as we understand of it, and then inquiring into the part or parts of it to see how it fits and functions leads to a fuller understanding of the whole.
Analysis of present conditions is necessary, but insufficient. The problem is that reality is more than appearances and focusing on appearances, the face value of evidence from our immediate surroundings, can be misleading.
How do we think adequately about social issues, giving issues the attention and weight they deserve, without the distorting them? We can expand our notion of a social issue (or anything for that matter) to include, as aspects of what it is, both the process by which the issue has come to life and the broader interactive context in which it is found. In this way, the study of a social issue involves us in the study of its history (the preconditions and connections to the past) and the encompassing system.
Remembering, “things change,” provokes us to move beyond analyzing current conditions and historicizing social issues, to project probable or possible futures. In other words, our inquiry leads to the creation of visions of possible futures.
This process of inquiry, then, changes the way we think about a social issue in the here and now (change moves in spirals, not circles) in that we can now look for preconditions of a future in the present and use them to develop political strategies (i.e., organize for change).
4. The School and “Social Progress”
The fundamental parts of human nature include a need for creative work, for creative inquiry, for free creation without the arbitrary limiting effects of coercive institutions.
Schools are continually threatened because they are autocratic and they are autocratic because they are threatened—from within by students and critical parents and from without by various and disparate social, political, and economic interests. These conditions divide teachers from students and community and shape teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, and action.
Teachers then, are crucial to any effort to improve, reform, or revolutionize curriculum, instruction, or schools. The transformation of schools must begin with the teachers, and no program that does not include the personal and collective rehabilitation of teachers can ever overcome the passive resistance of the old order.
Schools should places that enable people to analyze and understand social problems; envision a future without those problems; and take action to bring that vision in to existence.
Social progress is enhanced when we rewrite the narrative of the triumphant individual working within the system into a story of the creation of self-critical communities of educators in schools (and people in society) working collaboratively toward transformative outcomes.
People who talk about transformational learning or educational revolution without referring explicitly to everyday life, without understanding what is subversive about learning, and love, and what is positive in the refusal of constraints, are trapped in a net of received ideas, the common-nonsense and false reality of technocrats (or worse).
Schools are alluring contradictions, harboring possibilities for liberation, emancipation, and social progress, but, as fundamentally authoritarian and hierarchical institutions, they produce myriad oppressive and inequitable by-products. The challenge, perhaps impossibility, is discovering ways in which schools can contribute to positive liberty.
That is a society where individuals have the power and resources to realize and fulfill their own potential, free from the obstacles of classism, racism, sexism and other inequalities encouraged by educational systems and the influence of the state and religious ideologies. A society where people have the agency and capacity, to make their own free choices and act independently based on reason, not authority, tradition, or dogma.
 These remarks were presented immediately following Seixas’ presentation and prepared without the opportunity to read the text of his talk in advance. As a result, they are based upon the abstract circulated prior to his seminar and my understanding of Seixas’ perspective based upon his published work and our interactions as faculty members at UBC.
Video of Seixas presentation, Ross response and Q&A with audience (February 26, 2016):
Rich Gibson, guest blogger, asks Why Have School?
Dear Students and School Workers,
Perhaps you can challenge your friends, teachers, and colleagues, or maybe torment the worst one, with a little exercise I use at the beginning of every class: Why have school? Why are we here?
I ask that question in class one, advising students that I will follow it with these:
- What are the main things going on in school?
- What are the main things going on in society?
- What might your answers have to do with each other?
Having done the interactive dialogue frequently, I can usually predict most of the student responses–but never all, and sometimes not the funniest ones.
Part of your task as a real student is to seek answers to the question: Who am I in relation to others, and what shall I therefore do? Asking our key question may help.
One good scenario: you will recapture the view that most very young children have, fairly quickly fogged over by much of schooling: I can understand and change the world.
You might practice the exercise with classmates before school begins.
Fair warning: very few teachers have asked this of themselves. They may be reluctant to do it, even angry you posed the question. But “why are we here?” must be posed and answered in every class. It’s the teacher’s, and your, responsibility to reasonably answer it–beyond “truancy laws.”
At this point, please take perhaps ten minutes to think through, and make some notes about your answers to those questions just above.
Now (did you really, really do it?) I offer my thoughts which are radical, to-the-root analyses; more radical than most.
Why have school? Why are we here?
Let’s step back a moment in order to put school in its proper, social, perspective.
Schools are the key organizing point of de-industrialized North American life, and much of life elsewhere.
Evidence: There will be almost 50 million young people in k/12 schools in 2015. Nearly one-half of the youth in high school today will be draft-eligible for the next seven years. They’re just about all registered for conscription.
Numbers and positioning mean you are in a vital position to influence society–for better or worse.
Another 21 million mostly young people are in US colleges and universities.
School workers, not industrialized workers, are by far the most unionized people in the USA, more than 3.5 million union members. School unions are shrinking, but slowly, while industrial unions collapse, evaporate, because, in part, industry evaporates, and because industrial union leaders abandoned the idea at the heart of unionism—the contradictory interests of workers and employers.
The US will spend more than $629 billion on schools this year, about $12,300 per student. However, this average varies a great deal between states. California, once the finest and least expensive of state school systems, kindergarten through college, is now one of the worst, spending about half the national average. Then, as we shall see, there are remarkable disparities between districts.
What is going on in schools?
Elites sought greater control over schools since the wars on Vietnam accelerated a student-teacher-prof-veteran leftist movement that nearly upended what has always been a segregated and deceitful system of mis-education.
Once elected, the demagogue, Obama, invaded US schools with his Race to the Top (RaTT), a project personified by Chicago’s education huckster Arne Duncan. The RaTT, and later the Common Core, speeds what was already happening in capital’s schools under George W. Bush, and Bill Clinton before him–and adds a few factors for spice.
Note that the 40 year education strategy has always been bi-partisan, as with war funding, and bank bailouts.
The RaTT’s predecessor, touted by Democrats and Republicans alike called the No Child Left Behind Act had at least these key factors:
- The development of a regimented national curriculum to promote nationalism;
- High stakes standardized tests to promote segregation, indifference to learning, and ignorance with a pretense of scientific backing and;
- the militarization of schools in poor and working class areas.
The RaTT makes logical extensions:
- Sharpened demands for a national curriculum–the Common Core– in more subjects (beyond literacy and math),
- Merit pay based on student test scores;
- Attacks on all forms of tenure (made palatable to the public because they know through experience that there is no shortage of incompetents in schools);
- Layoffs, hits on pay and benefits, increases in class size;
- Tuition hikes driving youth out of college with razor-like precision, typically rooted in inherited wealth;
- Some privatization, but hardly only privatization (the corporate state–described below–reflects both the unity and contradictions internal to the ruling classes who have different short term views of profitability);
- Calls for national service setting up a syphon for middle class opposition to a draft;
- Intensified moves into cities and schools in crisis, like Detroit and New Orleans, demonstrating again the contradictory goals of social control and profiteering;
- Ruthless competition between school districts and states for limited RaTT
- reward dollars;
- A harsh rule of fear and intimidation sweeping across all of capitalist schooling;
- The abolition of union contracts by fiat–administrative or government “emergency” declaration (Detroit Public Schools, and many, many, more);
- Suspensions and expulsions of students, a race and class based maneuver that, step by step, obliterates youths’ ability to begin to achieve their potential.
Indeed, fear, from all angles, is the core emotional value in schools today.
The Jeffersonian ideal of education for enlightened citizenry is long gone, replaced by schooling for jobs and war.
What is the social context of school?
The education agenda is a class war agenda, and an imperialist war agenda. One begets the other.
In 2012, the Council of Foreign Relations, led by war-hawk Condoleeza Rice (“We don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud,”) issued its Education Task Force Report, demonstrating in clear terms that the education agenda is a war agenda: class and empire’s wars.
Human capital will determine power in the current century, and the failure to produce that capital will undermine America’s security.Large, undereducated swaths of the population damage the ability of the United States to physically defend itself, protect its secure information, conduct diplomacy, and grow its economy.1
Let us tick off the emerging realities of our times; the results of the many crises of capital contradicted by the promises of democracy.
The coming and recent elections should not only be studied as how voters choose who would most charmingly oppress the majority of the people from the executive committee of the rich: the government. It should be studied, more importantly, as how an element of capitalist democracy, the spectacle of elections, speeded the emergence of fascism as a mass popular force; that is:
- The promise of perpetual war is real;
- The US, incapable of defining a grand strategy (for example, harmony won through equality), is dying a death by a thousand cuts and organizing social decay–unable even to target a primary foe, dashing to hot-spots while other empires rise;
- The corporate state, the rule of the rich, a near complete merger of corporations and government (2008 bank and auto bailouts);
- The continuation of the suspension of civil liberties (as with renditions, police murders, mass incarceration, etc.);
- The attacks on whatever free press there is;
- The rise of racism and segregation (in every way, but remember the immigration policies);
- The promotion of the fear of sexuality as a question of pleasure (key to creating the inner slave), and the sharpened commodification of women (Sarah Palin to pole dancers);
- The governmental/corporate attacks on working peoples’ wages and benefits (bailouts to merit pay to wage and benefit concessions, to multi-tier wage rates);
- Intensification of imperialist war (wars in Afghanistan escalates war on Pakistan which provokes war on Russia, etc, and the US is NOT going to leave Iraq’s oil);
- Promotion of nationalism (all class unity) by, among others, the union bosses;
- Teaching people the lie that someone else should interpret reality and act for us, when no one is going to save us but us;
- Trivializing what is supposed to be the popular will to vile gossip, thus building cynicism—especially the idea that we cannot grasp and change the world, but also debasing whatever may have been left of a national moral sense;
- Increased mysticism (is it better to vote for a real religious fanatic or people who fake being religious fanatics?);
- One spectacle heaped on the next (celebrity worship, narcissistic electronics, etc.) and
- Incessant attacks on radicals, isolating, discouraging, surveilling, and in some cases jailing those who not only practice radicalism, but who theorize to-the-root analysis.
Capitalist schooling exists within these social rising circumstances
Whose schools are these? These are capital’s schools.
This is, again, a capitalist democracy in which capital dominates democracy at every turn (bankster bailout, the auto-takeover on behalf of stockholders while auto workers’ lives were gutted, empire’s endless wars, etc).
Schooling is not education, the latter a “leading out,” the former, schooling, a fethishized form of mis-education.
The capitalist market necessarily creates pyramid-like inequality, not only in the pocketbook, but in the mind.
Is there a single public school system in the US?
Actually, there is not. There are five or six carefully segregated school systems, based mostly on class and race.
The image of education in the minds of philanthropic economists is this: “Every worker should learn as many branches of labor as possible so that if…he is thrown out of one branch, he can easily be accommodated in another.” (Marx)
There is a pre-prison school system in much of Detroit, Michigan or Compton, California; a pre-Walmart/military system in National City, California; a pre-craft worker system in City Heights, California; a pre-teacher or social worker system in Del Cero, California; a pre-med or pre-law system in Lajolla, California and Birmingham, Michigan; and a completely private school system where rich people send their kids, like George W. Bush or Mitt Romney–or the Obama children.
Arne Duncan, Obama’s Secretary of Education, also sends his kids to private schools.
Rich schools teach different realities using different methods from poor schools. In rich schools the outlook is: “This globe is ours; let us see how we can make it act.” In the poorest schools, the outlook is, “Tell me what to do and I will do it.”
What are schools designed to do?
Schools are huge multi-billion dollar markets where profit and loss influences nearly everything.
Consider the buses, the architects, textbook sales, consultants, the developers for the buildings, the upkeep, the grounds, the sports teams, salaries, etc. Cost is always an issue in school. This is, after all, capitalism.
It is more than fitting to use a church analogy: schools as missions for capitalism and empire, and the vast majority of school workers, its missionaries. The theology: nationalism.
The average salary for public school teachers in 2013 was $56,383. Salaries of public school teachers have generally maintained pace with inflation since 1990–91. (National Center for Educational Statistics, 2009)
Multiply $56,383 by the total number of school workers, above. That’s a tidy sum.
These relatively good salaries, in comparison to the crash of industrial wages and jobs, served as an imperialist bribe to educators, winning them to conduct the child abuse that is high-stakes exams and regimented curricula–and not protesting the wars that erode their kids’ lives, for example.
But, as economic break-downs caused by overproduction and war evaporated at least some of the ability to make the pay-off—and as school workers became more and more alienated from each other, their communities and students through those same processes—the bribes and jobs began to vanish–as we witness today. School workers then begin to complain about the symptoms of their problems, as with high-stake exams, and not the core: imperialism and capitalism.
The reality of the imperialist bribe is especially evident inside the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Both unions are deeply involved with American intelligence agencies, like the Central Intelligence Agency’s front Education International (the inheritor of the Cold War CIA education fronts).
Why? For a reason parallel to the reason the American Federation of Labor was born: US workers will do better if “outside” workers do worse, thus tying the interests of US school workers with the nation’s bosses, hence their relentless support for Democrats.
It is a direct payoff. Reg Weaver, former NEA president, made $686,949 in his last single year of office. He now is on the board of EI, along with other past NEA and AFT bosses.
In 2010, about 10,000 NEA members at their Representative Assembly voted about 9,900 to 100 not to discuss the empires wars. In 2011, NEA was the first organization of any size to endorse Obama. Scratch our back with jobs and income and you can abuse kids and make war.
There is, in schools unlike most factories, a tension between elites’ desire for social control and profitability. This can be seen in the contradictions within elite groups about the privatization of schools. It’s also evident in the production and sale of textbooks: social control vs profitability.
It can also be seen in the liberal and unionite response to the current school milieu: “Defend Public Education!”
This is to defend a myth, on the one hand, to wish to harken back to non-existent halcyon days of schooling when it was not teaching lies, not segregated, and truly public.
On the other hand, the false demand is designed to treat schools like middle class job banks, to lure school workers into attempting to tax the rest of the working class to “win,” the further mis-education of their children–as did the California Teachers Association in 2009 with a ballot measure that failed, deservedly, by 2/3rds.
Better to “Transform Schooling!” or “Rescue Education from the Ruling Classes!”
More answers to why have school:
Skill and ideological training. Under skill training we might list, of course, “the three r’s,” along with music, art, athletics, theater, science, etc. That list comes fast and easy.
Ideological training is another thing. Ideological grooming would include nationalism (the daily salute to the flag, school spirit, etc.) as well as the training in viewpoints established by teaching distinct curricular substance (political science, civics, has nothing to do with economics) in the segregated schools, using different methods.
Beyond nationalism, one clear purpose of most schooling is to make the system of capital natural, almost invisible, and to present it as the highest, last, stage of human development.
Further, students must become so stupefied that they see no real contradiction between nationalism and the other central tenet of capitalist thought: individualism. Me! Education, necessarily a social effort, becomes an individual commodity, often in the form of test scores, used as a weapon for merit pay and, by realtors, to fix home values.
NCLB and the RaTT eradicated history in poor and working class areas and, in other areas, eliminated any sense of resistance, even the traditional right of revolution written into the Declaration of Independence: unthinkable.
The upshot of capitalist schooling is that many students, surrounded by the unsystematic, incoherent, mystical world-views of both the curricula and most teachers, come away learning not to like to learn.
Curiosity, a birthright of all children, gets crushed. Parallel to that dubious success, children in exploited areas learn they cannot understand or alter the world. So, people in pacified areas become instruments of their own oppression.
Baby-sitting and warehousing kids.
Babysitting is a key role played by capitalist schools. One way to find out, “Why have school?” is to experiment; close them. In our case, teacher strikes serve as a good test subject.
In school strikes (no sane union shuts down a football program), the first people to begin to complain are usually merchants around middle schools–who get looted. The second group is the parents of elementary students, quickly followed by their employers. (These realities can help demonstrate to elementary educators their potential power along with setting up kids’ entire world views).
The baby-sitting role is, again, funded by an unjust tax system and serves as a giant boon to companies that refuse to provide day care for their employees–but are able to duck taxes as well. This is redoubled by the fact that unions, like the United Autoworkers, completely forgot their 70 year old demand for free day care.
Schools fashion hope: Real and false.
On one hand it is clear that societies where hope is foreclosed foster the potential of mass uprisings: France in the summer of 1968 is a good example of what can happen; uprisings starting in school and quickly involving the working classes nearly overthrew the government.
Real hope might be found in showing kids and school workers alike that we can comprehend and change the world, collectively, and teaching them how.
Ask, “Why are things as they are?” every day. Or, in demonstrating that we are responsible for our own histories, but not our birthrights. Must we be lambs among wolves? Does what we do matter?
False hope might be the typical school hype: Anyone can make it; all you must do is work hard. Trumpery. Inheritance is, more than ever, the key to understanding social mobility, or immobility.
To the contrarians: there is nothing unusual about elites picking off children of the poor, educating them, and turning them back on their birth-communities as a form of more gentle rule. Obama would be one example of such a success. Skanderberg, the Albanian rebel trained by the Turks, would be a failure.
Schools create the next generation of workers, warriors, or war supporters.
Automatons or rebels, or something in between, a process with some witting direction. Those workers need to be taught to accept hierarchy, to submit, to misread realities like class war and endorse nationalism (school spirit) or racism (segregated schooling products). They need to accept their lot, to be unable to notice why things are as they are; why some live in abundance while others have no work—when there is plenty of work to do—why drudgery is so much part of most jobs. The core project here: obliterate the possibility of class consciousness.
What Cannot be Taught in Capital’s Schools in the USA?
School workers who follow the official line in school are prevented from teaching the core issues of human life: work, rational knowledge, love (sexuality) and the struggle for freedom.
Work: it is not possible teach truthfully about work because it is illegal in California and many other states to teach favorably about Marx. Absent Marx, no grasp of the labor movement, alienation, and exploitation.
Rational knowledge: very few teachers will be able to take note of the historical fact; people make gods, gods don’t make people. While multi-culturalism, a mask for nationalism that is still in style, may promote interfaith “tolerance,” history suggests religion is the ideology of death, and current events underline that reality. Which teachers will say that in a classroom?
Love (sexuality): It is illegal in California to teach sexuality as a matter of pleasure. Rather sex education is steeped in fear of diseases, pregnancy. Teaching people to fear their own bodies is key to producing the inner slave–most religions understand that.
The struggle for freedom: While I think it may be easy to justify the importance of the three paragraphs above, this fourth is my assertion that people will persistently struggle to be free. At issue is whether or not they grasp why they are not free, a radical analysis, or they battle the phantoms that their adversaries toss in front of them.2
Students, like everyone, struggle to be free, but how much freedom exists in schools–for anyone? Not much, if any, and what there is will probably be produced by spontaneous action. School imbues the practice of un-freedom.
What of the resistance?
People will fight back because they must. But the traditional organizations of resistance failed both the pedagogical project at hand, that is, teaching people why things are as they are, how to develop strategy and tactics on their own, and the practical project of direct action, control of work places and communities. While people must resist, it is vital they grasp: Why?
Let us make another tick-list, this time about the school unions, a reminder and details from the paragraphs above:
*No leader of any major union in the US believes that working people and employers have, in the main, contradictory interests, thus wiping out the main reason most people believe they join unions. Bosses (for that is what they are) of the two education unions (the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers-AFL-CIO–by far now the largest unions in the USA) openly believe in what former NEA president Bob Chase called “New Unionism,” the unity of labor bosses, government, and corporations, “in the national interest.” There is nothing new about company unionism, however, nor the corporate state.Company unionism produces highlights like the AFT, the smaller of the school unions, to invite Bill Gates, dead-set on capitalist schooling, to be the key-note speaker to their 2010 AFT convention.
*Union bosses recognize their own opposing interests to the rank and file. The union tops, after all, earn much more than school workers. As above, Past NEA president, Reg Weaver, took in $686, 949, in his last year of office. Current president, Lily Eskelsen-Garcia, will make at least $450,000. Power in the unions is vertical, top-down, perfectly clear in the structure of the AFT, somewhat disguised, but every bit as real in NEA.
These mis-leaders who move up fairly slowly through a hierarchy learn a variety of strategies to manipulate people and, “protect the contract.”
These maneuvers, like grievance procedures, move workers away from the locus of their power, the work place, to geographically distant spaces where “neutral” arbitrators decide on vital issues. But the unions rarely file cases to arbitration and, nevertheless, lose about 2/3 of the cases they file.
Union bosses also divert member action to the ballot box–any place away from the job site—where, in the words of one top NEA organizer, “if voting mattered, they wouldn’t let us do it.” But electoral work keeps member volunteers busy and it reinforces the false notions school workers have about professionalism (professionals set their own hours and wages, they determine the processes of work–teachers typically are called professionals by people asking the workers to buy textbooks for their kids), allowing educators to win hollow” respect,” the chance to dress up and rub elbows with Important People, away from school.
*Corruption is endemic in the AFT where a steady stream of leaders have been jailed, not only for looting the treasury (Miami, D.C.) but also for child-rape and embezzling (Broward, Florida–twice). NEA hasn’t suffered the kind of dramatic jailings AFT suffers, but, for example, my own boss in Florida, where I worked as an NEA organizer, was convicted of embezzling about $1/4 million from the union.
*The school unions draw on a member base that is about 85% white and reflect the racism that such a base inherently creates. Rather than fight to integrate the teaching force and schools, the unions urge more and more “education” classes (typically an utter waste of time), adding on expenses for students, meaning those with the least get shaved out with razor sharp precision–by class and race.
*The unions, like all US unions, do not unite people, but divide them along lines of job, race, years of tenure, staff and leaders from rank and file, that is, down to the narrowest interest–capital’s favorite question: What about me?
*Since the mid-1970’s, union bosses have supported every measure that elites used to regain control of schools which were, in many cases out of control. The NEA and AFT bosses today support curricular regimentation, high stakes racist exams, the militarization of schooling, merit pay, and charter schools (a key new source of dues income).
*The AFT organized the decay and ruin of urban education in the US, while the mostly suburban NEA let urban schooling be devastated, failing to recognize the truth of the old union saw, “an injury to one only goes before an injury to all.” That both unions steeped themselves in volumes of forms of racism (racist exams, racist expulsions, racist segregation, etc) should not go unnoticed or excused.
*The education unions serve to peddle the wage labor of education workers as a commodity to employers and to guarantee labor peace. In this context, there is a direct trade off: no strikes or job actions in exchange for guaranteed dues income; the check-off. That is precisely the historical origin of the agency shop. It is also a big reason why union bosses obey court injunctions against job actions; threats to the union’s bank account, that is, the union staff salaries.
*School unions attack the working class as a whole. One glaring example (May 2009) of this was the support the California Teachers Association and the NEA gave to a series of ballot propositions that would have dramatically raised the taxes of poor and working people while leaving corporations and the rich off the hook, again. NEA and CTA combined spent more than $12.2 million dollars on the campaigns, and lost overwhelmingly. CTA-NEA demonstrated to poor and working families that organized teachers are enemies–yet those same people are educators’ most important allies.
*These are the empire’s unions. Top leaders are fully aware that a significant portion of their sky-high pay is made possible by the empire’s adventures. NEA and AFT bosses work with a variety of international organizations on behalf of US imperialism. These adventures are frequently deadly as with the AFT’s unwavering support for Israeli Zionism, support for the recent oil wars, and, precisely to the point, work with the National Endowment for Democracy, a Central Intelligence Agency front, in wrecking indigenous leftist worker movements. While the AFT has been the spearhead of US imperialism inside the wholly corrupt “labor movement,” NEA has also been deeply involved. There is a long history of this, back to World War I and the AFL’s support for that horrific war. Again, the flag-waving theory behind it: US workers will do better if foreign workers do worse.
Unlike the private sector where less than 10% of the people belong to unions, school workers are the most unionized people in the country. It follows that it is important for change agents to be where the people are. But one must keep one toe in and nine toes out of the unions.
There are some indications that resistance inside the unions, and out, is rising. In Chicago, a recent election threw out the past, sold-out, union leadership. The CORE caucus organized for months, inside schools but, importantly, in communities among students and parents. Many hoped that new president, Karen Lewis, would serve as a beacon for future union reformers, should she overcome the temptations of office, the hierarchical union structure, the patch-work nature of the CORE foundations, and the full-scale attack that will be surely launched on CORE over time. In 2012 CORE led a massive strike. Events in 2015 suggest, however, that Lewis and CORE will fail to build a mass class conscious movement–and become just another union. We shall have to wait and see.
Social democrats, really social nationalists, have come to power in other teacher unions as well: Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Detroit, for example. What they have in common is their determination to not point to the system of capital and imperialism, despite the fact that many of them belong to so-called “socialist” parties. Perhaps they believe that people need to be taken by baby steps to more radical realities, that is, tricked into class consciousness. In a fun-house mirror sort of way, they look like the upper echelon union bosses, despite heavy doses of militant rhetoric.
The ongoing public workers’s strike in South Africa, a true class battle that includes the entire public work force (educators too) versus the Quisling African National Congress government might serves as an inspiration, if any US media covered it. They do not. Word, however, does slip out.
On March 4th, 2010, masses of students, school workers, and community people organized under banners that said, “Educate! Agitate! Organize! Strike! Occupy! Teach-in!” Their actions, which included building seizures, express-way sit-downs, walk-outs, rallies, marches, and freedom schooling, varied from area to area but the connection of capitalism/war/racism/class war was made in every case I saw.
The organizers then called for similar actions on October 7th and a national conference in San Francisco in late October.
In the interim, the expert dis-organizers from the unions, the Democratic Party, and the usual sects showed up. That movement veered from its radical beginnings to the reactionary call, “Defend Public Education,” and mobilizing to get out the vote–rather like urging people into church where they know their children will be raped, where they are expected to tithe, but it’s all for the common good–some day.
In 2011, NEA and AFT co-sponsored, from the background, a “Save Our Schools” rally in Washington D.C. The rally cost $150,000 dollars. Less than 5,000 people came. The quid pro quo was, “No attacks on Obama. No criticism of the wars,” In the silence, the payoff worked, but with only 5,000 people, the fake rally also showed the unions’ inability to organize anything of significance. What they do well is dis-organize, deflect, and deceive. They will fashion pacified areas where people are instruments of their own oppression.
In the 2014-2015 school year, a movement grew to “Opt-Out!” of high stakes standardized exams which are, after all, racist, anti-working class–sorting tools that are not used in the private schools where Arne Duncan sends his kids.
But few leaders of this action ever commented on the “Why?” of the exams, i.e., class and empire’s wars, so they built a movement that appealed to many upper middle class groups, but left they key questions–and answers–blank. The core matter, class consciousness, remains untaught and unlearned.
The opportunism that drives the “”Opt-Out ‘Movement’” is perhaps best exemplified in historical context.
On July 3rd, 2000, National Education Association president, Bob Chase, spoke to the delegates at the NEA representative assembly: “(I) heard from more of you about standards and high-stakes tests than any other single issue since becoming president of the NEA…In some states, testing mania is quite literally devouring whole school systems like some education-eating bacteria.”3
Chase earlier promoted what he called, “New Unionism,” that is, the unity of unions and their members, government officials, and corporations, in the “national interest.” While there is nothing whatsoever new about company unionism, corporate state unionism, and the practice wasn’t entirely new to NEA (American Federation of Teachers president, Al Shanker pursued the same plan a decade before Chase) the NEA president codified what became NEA practice ever since.
NEA officers went on to talk anti-testing while helping create all the foundations of all the tests and offering minimal surcease to school workers who tried to resist the test fetishes.
At base, it is more than possible to be racist, sexist, nationalist and brimming over with pro-war sentiment, and oppose the test which would probably make your kid even more stupid.
In the near future, the union tops will use the illusion of the importance of the presidential election to divert millions of dollars and thousands of student and teacher volunteer hours into greater support for the corporate state: what eminent political scientist Chalmers Johnson called, “fascism,” nearly a decade ago. They will do everything they can to mask the fact of class war from above.
What Value do Teachers, school workers, Create?
Working within the school industry, which is itself a multi-billion operation, teachers engage an ideological battle, wittingly or not, that fashions the methods of thought, and thus actions, of the next generation of workers, soldiers, the middle-class buffer zones, defenders of elites like lawyers and military officers, and more. Can school workers act in concert with students, parents, vets, and others, to gain greater control of the value they create? There are hints, only hints, in the near past that they can: the Chicago teachers strike. In the now-distant past: the Students for a Democratic Society.
What can be done now?
People can be told that this is capitalism, rooted in exploited labor–and crises;
- That there is a connection between capitalism and imperialism–endless war;
- That the key reasons for the attacks on working people and schools are rooted in those two;
- The education agenda is a class war agenda and an imperialist war agenda;
- That the government is an executive committee and armed weapon of the ruling class–there they work out their differences, allowing us to choose which one of them will oppress us best;
- That the overwhelming majority of union bosses have chosen the other side in what is surely a class struggle–the union hacks gain from the wars and capital by supporting those wars, winning high pay and benefits, and betraying workers, they’re a quisling force, junior partners to a very real ruling class;
- That students, not teachers nor profs, are the primary target of capitalist mis-education and history shows they can and will take leadership, organize, and fight back;
- That we can build a social movement that rejects the barriers US unionism creates, from job category to industry to race and sex and beyond.
The core issue of our time is the reality of endless war and rising inequality met by the potential of mass, active class conscious resistance.
We can fight to rescue education from the ruling classes although schools may be illusion mills, human munition factories, or missions for capitalism–the vast majority of teachers its missionaries.
What upends that is a mass, class conscious social movement that shouts the words that tyrants fear most: Equality! Justice! Retribution!
Escalating direct action to control work sites, communities, and importantly, the military.
Everything negative is in place for a revolutionary transformation of society (distrust of leaders, collapse of moral suasion from the top down, financial crises, lost wars, massive unemployment, booming inequality, imprisonment of only the poor, growing reliance on force to rule, eradication of civil liberties, corruption and gridlock of government at every level, etc.) What is missing is the passion, generalization, organization, commitment, and guiding ethic to make that change.
For a beginning, how about a one day, nation-wide, rank and file school strike, uniting all school workers, students and people of the communities: Monday, the day after the International Workers’ holiday–Mayday? The idea is in the wind among some of the rank and file.
There is no reason to look around for approval. It won’t come, top down. It is after all, just us.
Time is short. Justice demands organization.
Meanwhile, try those questions at the top in and out of class.
What defeats men with guns? Ideas!
References for the student counts, costs, etc., are at http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=372
More on US unionism here http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/10/23/counterfeit-unionism-in-the-empire/
Rich Gibson, a co-founder of the education-based Rouge Forum, is professor emeritus, San Diego State university and a former professor of labor history and social studies at Wayne State University in Detroit. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
This week, in my course on secondary social studies curriculum, we discussed various ideological stances toward curriculum. Predictably, the issue of “neutrality” in social studies teaching came up.
Indeed, my students reported that as part of their professional preparation in the UBC B.Ed. program they have been repeatedly told that teachers should always strive for neutrality in their classrooms, I disagree.
Teaching (and curriculum) cannot be separated from politics. And, adopting the ideology of neutrality is to surrender agency and professionalism as a classroom teacher.
The ideology of neutrality is based upon theories of knowledge and conceptions of democracy that constrain rather than widen civic participation and has consequences that include passive, rather than active, learning; representation of democratic citizenship as a spectator project; and ultimately the maintenance of status quo inequalities in society.
Below is an excerpt from a recent paper I wrote with Kevin D. Vinson that takes up the issue.
Ideology of Neutrality, or What Exactly Are We Protecting Students From?
… Educators often eschew openly political or ideological agendas for teaching and schools as inappropriate or “unprofessional.” The question, however, is not whether to allow political discourse in schools or to encourage particular social visions in the classroom, but rather what kind of social visions will be taught?
There is a misguided and unfortunate tendency in our society to believe that activities that strengthen or maintain the status quo are neutral or at least non-political, while activities that critique or challenge the status quo are “political” and inappropriate. For example, for a company to advertise its product as a good thing, something consumers should buy, is not viewed as a political act. But, if a consumer group takes out an advertisement charging that the company’s product is not good, perhaps even harmful, this is often understood as political action.
This type of thinking permeates our society, particularly when it comes to schooling and teaching. “Stick to the facts.” “Guard against bias.” “Maintain neutrality.” These are admonitions or goals expressed by some teachers when asked to identify the keys to successful teaching. Many of these same teachers (and teacher educators) conceive of their roles as designing and teaching courses to ensure that students are prepared to function non-disruptively in society as it exists. This is thought to be a desirable goal, in part, because it strengthens the status quo and is seen as being an “unbiased” or “neutral” position. Many of these same teachers view their work in school as apolitical, a matter of effectively covering the curriculum, imparting academic skills, and preparing students for whatever high-stakes tests they might face. Often these teachers have attended teacher education programs designed to ensure that they were prepared to adapt to the status quo in schools.
Anyone who has paid attention to the debates on curriculum and school reform knows that schooling is a decidedly political enterprise (DeLeon & Ross, 2010; Mathison & Ross, 2008a; Mathison & Ross, 2008b; Ross & Gibson, 2007; Ross & Marker, 2005a, 2005b, 2005c). The question in teaching (as well as teacher education and school reform) is not whether to allow political discourse in schools or whether to advocate or not, but the nature and extent of political discourse and advocacy. “The question is not whether to encourage a particular social vision in the classroom but what kind of social vision it will be” (Teitelbaum, 1998, p. 32).
It is widely believed that neutrality, objectivity, and unbiasedness are largely the same thing and always good when it comes to schools and teaching. But, consider the following. Neutrality is a political category—that is—not supporting any factions in a dispute. Holding a neutral stance in a conflict is no more likely to ensure rightness or objectivity than any other and may be a sign of ignorance of the issues. Michael Scriven (1991) puts it this way: “Being neutral is often a sign of error in a given dispute and can be a sign of bias; more often it is a sign of ignorance, sometimes of culpable or disabling ignorance” (p. 68). Demanding neutrality of schools and teachers comes at a cost. As Scriven points out there are “clearly situations in which one wants to say that being neutral is a sign of bias” (p. 67). For example, being neutral in the debate on the occurrence of the Holocaust; a debate on atomic theory with Christian Scientists; or a debate with fundamentalist Christians over the origins of life and evolution. To rephrase Scriven, it seems better not to require that schools include only neutral teachers at the cost of including ignoramuses or cowards and getting superficial teaching and curriculum.
Absence of bias is not absence of convictions in an area, thus neutrality is not objectivity. To be objective is to be unbiased or unprejudiced. People are often misled to think that anyone who comes into a discussion with strong views about an issue cannot be unprejudiced. The key question, however, is whether and how the views are justified (e.g., Scriven, 1994).
“A knowledge claim gains objectivity…to the degree that it is the product of exposure to the fullest range of criticisms and perspectives” (Anderson, 1995, p. 198). Or as John Dewey (1910) argued, thoughts and beliefs that depend upon authority (e.g., tradition, instruction, imitation) and are not based on a survey of evidence are prejudices, prejudgments. Thus, achieving objectivity in teaching and the curriculum requires that we take seriously alternative perspectives and criticisms of any particular knowledge claim. How is it possible to have or strive for objectivity in schools where political discourse is circumscribed and neutrality is demanded? Achieving pedagogical objectivity is no easy task. The objective teacher considers the most persuasive arguments for different points of view on a given issue; demonstrates evenhandedness; focuses on positions that are supported by evidence, etc.
This kind of approach is not easy, and often requires significant quantities of time, discipline, and imagination. In this light, it is not surprising that objectivity is sometimes regarded as impossible, particularly with contemporary social issues in which the subject matter is often controversial and seemingly more open to multiple perspectives than in the natural sciences. However, to borrow a phrase from Karl Popper, objectivity in teaching can be considered a “regulative principle,” something toward which one should strive but which one can never attain. (Corngold & Waddington, 2006, p. 6)
The “ideology of neutrality” that dominates current thought and practices in schools (and in teacher education) is sustained by theories of knowledge and conceptions of democracy that constrain rather than widen civic participation in our society and functions to obscure political and ideological consequences of so-called “neutral” schooling, teaching, and curriculum. These consequences include conceptions of the learner as passive; democratic citizenship as a spectator project; and ultimately the maintenance of status quo inequalities in society.
For more on this issue, you may want to read this piece: “Redrawing the Lines: The Case Against Traditional Social Studies Instruction.”
Forthcoming articles in the current volume of Critical Education will include a special series examining The Media and the Neoliberal Privatization of Education, edited by Derek R. Ford (Syracuse University), Brad Porfilio (California State University, East Bay), and Rebecca Goldstein (Montclair State University).
The series will be launched on March 30, 2015 and run through August 15, 2015.
Here is a full listing of forthcoming articles in Critical Education, from March through September 2015:
Forthcoming Articles in Volume 6:
Volume 6 Number 6
March 21, 2015
‘That would give us power…’ Proposals for Teaching Radical Participation from a Society in Transition
Manchester Metropolitan University
Volume 6 Numbers 7-16
Critical Education series The Media and the Neoliberal Privatization of Education
Editors: Derek R. Ford, Brad Porfilio & Rebecca Goldstein
Volume 6 Number 7
March 30, 2015
The News Media, Education, and the Subversion of the Neoliberal Social Imaginary
Derek R. Ford
California State University, East Bay
Rebecca A. Goldstein
Montclair State University
Lessons from the “Pen Alongside the Sword”: School Reform through the Lens of Radical Black Press
Hobart and William Smith College
Volume 6 Number 8
April 15, 2015
Breathing Secondhand Smoke: Gatekeeping for “Good” Education, Passive Democracy, and the Mass Media: An Interview with Noam Chomsky
Zane C. Wubbena
Texas State University
Volume 6 Number 9
May 1, 2015
Speaking Back to the Neoliberal Discourse on Teaching: How US Teachers Use Social Media to Redefine Teaching
Volume 6 Number 10
May 15, 2015
Political Cartoons and the Framing of Charter School Reform
Volume 6 Number 11
June 1, 2015
Neoliberal Education Reform’s Mouthpiece: Education Week’s Discourse on Teach for America
University of British Columbia
Volume 6 Number 12
June 15, 2015
Re-Privatizing the Family: How “Opt-Out” and “Parental Involvement” Media Narratives Support School Privatization
Loyola University Chicago
Volume 6 Number 13
July 1, 2015
Learning from Bad Teachers: The Neoliberal Agenda for Education in Popular Media
University of Texas at Austin
Volume 6 Number 14
July 15, 2015
#TFA: The Intersection of Social Media and Education Reform
T. Jameson Brewer
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Volume 6 Number 15
August 1, 2015
Engagement with the Mainstream Media and the Relationship to Political Literacy: The Influence of Hegemonic Education on Democracy
Paul R. Carr
Université du Québec en Outaouais
Gary W. J. Pluim
Volume 6 Number 16
August 15, 2015
Teach For America in the Media: A Multimodal Semiotic Analysis
Sarah Rose Faltin Osborn
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Jessica L. Sierk
University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Volume 6 Number 17
September 1, 2015
Capitalizing on Knowledge: Mapping Intersections Between Cognitive Capitalism and Education
Joseph Paul Cunningham
University of Cincinnati
Alternate Routes: A Journal of Critical Social Research
VOL 26 (2015)
NEOLIBERALISM AND THE DEGRADATION OF EDUCATION
Edited by Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans
Contributors to this anthology trace how neoliberalism has impacted education. These effects range from the commercialization and quasi-privatization of pre-school to post-secondary education, to restrictions on democratic practice and research and teaching, to the casualization of labour and labour replacing technologies, and the descent of the university into the market which threatens academic freedom. The end result is a comprehensive and wide-ranging review of how neoliberalism has served to displace, if not destroy, the role of the university as a space for a broad range of perspectives. Neoliberalism stifes the university’s ability to incubate critical ideas and engage with the larger society. Entrepreneurship, however, is pursued as an ideological carrier serving to prepare students for a life of precarity just as the university itself is being penetrated and occupied by corporations. The result is an astonishing tale of transformation, de-democratization and a narrowing of vision and purpose.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Carlo Fanelli, Bryan Evans
Jeff Noonan, Mireille Coral
Why Do Governments Adopt Neoliberal Education Policies? Critical Theory on Policy Movement in the Context of Contemporary Reform in Mexico
Simten Cosar, Hakan Ergul
From Being an Entrepreneur to Being Entrepreneurial: The Consolidation of Neoliberalism in Ontario’s Universities
Precarious Employment in Ontario’s University Sector: Reflections on Collective Bargaining at Carleton University
Mat Nelson, Lydia Dobson
“Between a Rock and a Hard place”: Negotiating the Neoliberal Regulation of Social Work Practice and Education
Beyond Education, Brains and Hard Work: The Aspirations and Career Trajectory of Two Black Young Men
Carl E. James
Joel D. Harden
Shannon T. Speed
Cultural Logic, which has been on-line since 1997, is a open access, non-profit, peer-reviewed, interdisciplinary journal that publishes essays, interviews, poetry, reviews (books, films, other media), etc. by writers working within the Marxist tradition.
Volumes 2011 and 2012 were edited by David Siar.
Volume 2013 is the open access version the Education for Revolution issue that was published by Works & Days in December 2013, which I co-edited with Rich Gibson. Thanks to everyone for your contributions, to David Downing and his team for publishing the issue in Works & Days, to David Siar for his editorial and site management, and to Joe Ramsey for suggesting the WD/CL collaboration for the Education for Revolution issue.
Below are the Contents for Volumes 2011, 2012, and 2013
Cultural Logic, Volume 2011
“A Contribution Towards a Critical Theory of School Shootings”
“Reading Notes on Sangeeta Ray’s Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak: Polemic with Digressions on a Theory of Irreducibility”
“The Politics of the Personal in Edward Upward’s The Spiral Ascent”
“On the Causes of the Civil War in Nepal and the Role of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)”
“Apocalypse Then: Philip Roth’s Indignation”
“Enlightenment in the Shopping Mall”
Response and Counter-Response
“Some Comments on Sven-Eric Holmström’s ‘New Evidence’ Concerning the Hotel Bristol in the First Moscow Trial of 1936”
“Reply to Mike Jones”
(From) The Electric Chair Poems
Cultural Logic, Volume 2012
“Alienation, Reification, and Narrativity in Russell Banks’ Affliction”
“North Korea and the Theory of the Deformed Workers’ State: Definitions and First Principles of a Fourth International Theory”
“White Noise: Representations of (Post)modern Intelligentsia”
Doug Enaa Greene
“Leninism and Blanquism”
“Toward an Anarcho-Empiricism: Integrating Precedent, Theory, and Impetus in the Anarchist Project”
E. San Juan, Jr.
“In Lieu of Saussure: A Prologue to Charles Sanders Peirce’s Theory of Signs”
“Becoming ‘Migrant John’: John Steinbeck and His Migrants and His (Un)conscious turn to Marx”
Cultural Logic, Education for Revolution, Volume 2013
E. Wayne Ross & Rich Gibson
“Education for Revolution”
David B. Downing, Nicholas P. Katsiadas, Tracy J. Lassiter & Reza Parchizadeh
“Forward to the Revolution” (Forward to the Works & Days Edition)
“Barbarism Rising: Detroit, Michigan and the International War of the Rich on the Poor”
E. Wayne Ross & Kevin D. Vinson
“Resisting Neoliberal Education Reform: Insurrectionist Pedagogies and the Pursuit of Dangerous Citizenry”
Julie A. Gorlewski & Brad J. Porfilio
“Reimaging Solidarity: Hip-Hop as Revolutionary Pedagogy”
Timothy Patrick Shannon & Patrick Shannon
“Learning to Be Fast Capitalists on a Flat World”
Brian D. Lozenski, Zachary A. Casey & Shannon K. McManimon
“Contesting Production: Youth Participatory Action Research in the Struggle to Produce Knowledge”
“Schooling for Capitalism or Education for Twenty-First Century Socialism?”
Curry Stephenson Malott
“Class Consciousness and Teacher Education: The Socialist Challenge and the Historical Context”
Deborah P. Kelsh
“The Pedagogy of Excess”
“Undermining Capitalist Pedagogy: Takiji Kobayashi’s Toseikatsusha and the Ideology of the World Literature Paradigm”
“Marxist Sociology of Education and the Problem of Naturalism: An Historical Sketch”
David J. Blacker
“The Illegitimacy of Student Debt”
Alan J. Singer
“Hacking Away at the Corporate Octopus”
Richard A. Brosio
“A Tale of Two Cities —— and States”
“SDS, the 1960s, and Education for Revolution”