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Voices, Not Numbers

Towards a Greater Democracy in Education

This article will be published on May 16th.

U.S. educational policy and practice adhere to the old proverb that “children should be seen and not heard.”… Arguments for children—often made by children themselves—having voice and taking action on matters that affect their lives are rarely taken seriously.… Nevertheless, protecting children’s welfare need not exclude inviting them to speak on education issues. In some countries, such as Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, and the United Kingdom, children’s voices and opinions are considered vital…. In the United States, children’s voices are not sought out. They are most often the “objects of inquiry,”… [seen]…”as either a window onto universal psychological laws or as indicators of treatment effects. In both cases, the children themselves are simply instruments…vehicles for measuring outcomes.”… Black and brown children in particular are made into “objects of inquiry,” and are accordingly more watched, restricted, and disciplined.… Further, black and brown children, especially in poor and urban communities, have had their humanity devalued against that of children in whiter, wealthier schools.… | more…

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Educational Justice: Teaching and Organizing Against the Corporate Juggernaut

Educational Justice: Teaching and Organizing Against the Corporate Juggernaut

Forthcoming in November 2016

That education should instill and nurture democracy is an American truism. Yet organizations such as the Business Roundtable, together with conservative philanthropists such as Bill Gates and Walmart’s owners, the Waltons, have been turning public schools into corporate mills. Their top-down programs, such as Common Core State Standards, track, judge, and homogenize the minds of millions of American students from kindergarten through high school. But corporate funders would not be able to implement this educational control without the de facto partnership of government at all levels, channeling public moneys into privatization initiatives, school closings, and high-stakes testing that discourages independent thinking.… | more…

The Opt Out Revolt

Democracy and Education

In the United States today, the age of monopoly-finance capital and neoliberal politics, all aspects of social life are being financialized at breakneck speed, while the economy as a whole and employment remain lackluster. Financial flows of whatever kind are converted into “securitized” assets to be leveraged by Wall Street speculators. The data of private communications are mined. Health care is converted into a realm of super profits. Public water and electric facilities are sold to the highest bidder. The political system is turned into an open-air auction. Even pollution is treated as a market.… At the center of this juggernaut is elementary and secondary education, which receives over $550 billion in annual public spending, equal to the GDP of Belgium, ranked twenty-fifth worldwide in national income. The new copyrighted Common Core State Standards, and the accompanying standardized tests run by two multi-state consortia in conjunction with testing companies, are “high stakes” not merely for schools, teachers, and students, but also for the vested interests of capital.… | more…

The Testing Resistance and Reform Movement

In the spring of 2015, more than 620,000 students refused to take state standardized exams. The numbers were stunning in some places: 240,000 in New York; 110,000 in New Jersey; 100,000 in Colorado; 50,000 in Washington; 44,000 in Illinois; 20,000 in Oregon and Florida; 10,000 each in New Mexico and Rhode Island. Statewide, the New York opt-out rate reached 20 percent, topping 70 percent in some districts. Washington’s numbers represented half the grade eleven class. In several other states, high school refusals reached 15 percent.… These numbers are a huge leap over 2014, when the Opt Out movement first began to have an impact.… Leaders predict the numbers will escalate again in the March to May 2016 testing season.… | more…

Opting Out of the Education Reform Industry

Big business has long been enamored of public education. Whether shaping systems of schooling along the lines of factory production, dictating what children should learn, or cultivating private-public partnerships to gain access to government monies, corporations and their owners have insisted on being key players in the formation of education policy and practice in the United States. Analysts estimate the value of the K-12 education market at more than $700 billion dollars. Beyond their calls for students and workers to adapt to the global capitalist economy through increased competition and “accountability” in public schools, business leaders crave access to a publicly funded, potentially lucrative market—one of the last strongholds of the commons to be penetrated by neoliberalism.… In an education industry dependent on market competition to increase profitability, there is no better tool to turn teaching and learning into products—ready to measure, compare, and sell—than the high-stakes standardized tests championed by the contemporary education reform movement.… | more…

Should New York City Teachers Support Opt Out?

Two Views in the UFT

New York State’s Opt Out movement was described by the New York Times as “the vanguard of an anti-testing fervor that has spread across the country.” The movement consists primarily of parents and students who fought against high-stakes Common Core State Standard (CCSS) tests by “opting out” of taking the exams.… [However,] this article is not about the massive parent and student-led “Opt Out Spring” of 2015. It is about how Opt Out threw into relief two different ways of thinking about unionism within New York City’s UFT [United Federation of Teachers].… The leadership of…[the UFT,] the largest union local of any kind in the United States…. supported the CCSS and standardized testing, including the use of student test scores as part of teacher evaluations, and refused to support Opt Out.… Meanwhile, rank-and-file UFTers in the MORE-UFT (Movement of Rank and File Educators) caucus and other groups joined the city’s Opt Out movement as part of the struggle against “ed deform.”… | more…

Testing and Social Studies in Capitalist Schooling

In a New York Times editorial on August 15, 2015, the editors, following the NAACP, cautioned that the movement for students to opt out of high-stakes standardized exams was detrimental to minority students and their communities. The rigorous accountability measures of high-stakes exams, it was claimed, compelled teachers and schools to do a better job educating traditionally oppressed students.… Such views ignore the history of high-stakes testing, which has served to perpetuate class inequality and advance white supremacy since intelligence testing was developed during the First World War. More than anything else, standardized testing measures students’ access to resources and proximity to dominant cultures, rather than innate ability or quality of teaching. The accountability movement has successfully exploited the existing inequalities of a white-supremacist, capitalist society to argue that high-stakes testing, one of its primary tools, is helping to overcome those same inequalities.… | more…

Beyond Pedagogies of Repression

At a time when the public good is under attack and there seems to be a growing apathy toward the social contract or any other civic-minded investment in public values and the larger common good, education has to be seen as more than a credential or a pathway to a job, and pedagogy as more than teaching to the test. Against pedagogies of repression such as high-stakes testing, which largely serve as neoliberal forms of discipline to promote conformity and limit the imagination, critical pedagogy must be viewed as crucial to understanding and overcoming the current crises of agency, politics, and historical memory faced by many young people today. One of the challenges facing the current generation of educators and students is the need to reclaim the role that education has historically played in developing critical literacies and civic capacities. Education must mobilize students to be critically engaged agents, attentive to important social issues and alert to the responsibility of deepening and expanding the meaning and practices of a vibrant democracy.… At the heart of such a challenge is the question of what education should accomplish in a democracy.… In a world that has largely abandoned egalitarian and democratic impulses, what will it take to educate young people to challenge authority, resist the notion that education is only training, and redefine public and higher education as democratic public spheres?… | more…

On Henry Giroux: Foreword to America’s Addiction to Terrorism

Henry Giroux is a phenomenon. He has written more than sixty books, authored hundreds of essays, won numerous awards, and been an outstanding teacher for nearly forty years.… What distinguishes Giroux’s writing is a combination of lucid analysis and incisive and justifiably harsh criticism of the deterioration of the human condition under the onslaught of a savage modern-day capitalism. However, his examination of this savagery does not stop with a description of the vicious attacks on working people by corporations and their allies in government. Nor is it content to enumerate the economic, political, and social consequences of these assaults, such as the rise in poverty, stagnating wages, unconscionably high unemployment, deteriorating health, the astonishing increase in the prison population, and a general increase in material insecurity to name a few. Instead, he goes beyond these to interrogate the more subtle but no less devastating effects of neoliberal capitalism, and by implication capitalism itself, on our psyches and on our capacity to resist our growing immiseration.… | more…

Americas Addiction to Terrorism

America’s Addiction to Terrorism

In the United States today, the term “terrorism” conjures up images of dangerous, outside threats: religious extremists and suicide bombers in particular. Harder to see but all the more pervasive is the terrorism perpetuated by the United States. itself, whether through military force overseas or woven into the very fabric of society at home. Henry Giroux, in this passionate and incisive book, turns the conventional wisdom on terrorism upside down, demonstrating how fear and lawlessness have become organizing principles of life in the United States, and violence an acceptable form of social mediation.… | more…

Laudato Si—The Pope’s Anti-Systemic Encyclical

Pope Francis’s “ecological encyclical” is an event which—whether taken from a religious, ethical, social, or political point of view—is of planetary importance. Considering the enormous influence of the Catholic Church worldwide, it is a crucial contribution towards the development of a critical ecological consciousness. It was received with enthusiasm by the true defenders of the environment; however it aroused uneasiness and rejection among religious conservatives, representatives of capital, and ideologues of “market ecology.” It is a document with a great richness and complexity, one that proposes a new interpretation of the Judeo-Christian tradition, a rupture with the “promethean dream of dominion over the world,” and a profoundly radical reflection on the causes of the ecological crisis. Many aspects of liberation theology…can be seen as a source of inspiration here, particularly the inseparable.… In the following brief notes, I am interested in emphasizing the aspect of the encyclical that explains the resistance it has found in the economic and media establishment: its anti-systemic character.… | more…

Monthly Review Volume 67, Number 2 (June 2015)

June 2015 (Volume 67, Number 2)

In two Monthly Review special issues, “Education Under Fire: The U.S. Corporate Attack on Students, Teachers, and Schools” (July-August 2011) and “Public School Teachers Fighting Back” (June 2013), we sounded an alarm regarding the rapid restructuring and privatization of U.S. K–12 public schools. In terms of the scale of nationwide restructuring, the corporate takeover of education is unprecedented in modern U.S. history. The closest comparison we can come up with is the destruction of the street car systems across the United States and the building of the interstate highway system—in which freeways went right through cities for the first time, often in the face of neighborhood and community resistance. With respect to K–12 education, unimaginable amounts of private funds have gone into pressuring and corrupting government at every level, while the control mechanisms of the new educational system are increasingly left in private, not public, hands. The Common Core Standards and related high-stakes tests are at the center of this new system, and are the product of private corporate groups outside the direct reach of government.… | more…

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