Dumbing Down Teachers: Rethinking the Crisis of Public Education and the Demise of the Social State


In the United States and Europe, thousands of demonstrators have organized to protest government cutbacks and austerity measures being enacted upon the most vulnerable members of society. In the United States, students have poured out into the streets of cities on both coasts. In Berkeley, California, Raleigh, North Carolina, and Montclair, New Jersey, they are protesting massive cuts in educational funding for both public and higher education and the laying off of thousands of teachers. The cuts are serious. According to the National Education Association, there are as many as “26,000 teachers in jeopardy of layoffs in California, 20,000 in Illinois, 13,000 in New York, 8,000 in Michigan and 6,000 in New Jersey.” 1 The mainstream media coverage of these projected job losses and even the more critical analyses of these events generally reduce this massive job layoff among public school teachers to an unhappy consequence of the economic recession. The logic behind the coverage is presented as uncomplicated and straightforward. States with dwindling tax revenues are forced to eliminate basic public services, and school budgets have become a major casualty of such cuts. Operating in tandem with this weak justification is the view that teachers and teacher unions who oppose such layoffs and further cuts are selfish and indifferent to the needs of students.
This type of bad faith attack has teachers, unions, staff, and students around the country demanding that states and the federal government immediately restore funding in order to prevent the elimination of hundreds of thousands of teaching jobs and school personnel. But the reaction against funding cuts is not voiced exclusively by those parties directly invested in schools. It is also a position being advocated by the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, who wants to save over 300,000 teacher jobs by getting Congress to appropriate $23 billion in emergency aid. While the call to restore funding is only a temporary solution to the problem of school layoffs, if not school reform itself, it should not be discounted. Even a temporary reprieve is crucial for the many teachers who will lose their jobs and join the ballooning ranks of the unemployed. Yet, what is absent from such analysis is any understanding of how these massive teacher layoffs are related to the larger crisis of neoliberalism—of casino capitalism and its ongoing assault on public goods, the social contract, and any remaining social protections offered by the social state. While the circumstances in Greece are somewhat different and far more severe than in the United States, there are similar market-driven forces underlying the economic meltdown in both countries. Fortunately, the current financial crisis in Greece offers a different and more critical insight into how to respond to what Frank Rich has rightly called an “international economic meltdown” caused by “the financial sector’s runaway casino culture.” 2
In Greece, similar draconian measures are being called for, but the protests emerging in the streets of Athens and other cities operate out of a much more sophisticated level of political literacy. In this instance, the Greek protesters view cuts in public services and education along with the dismantling of the welfare state as part of the harsh disciplinary policies of an international and social order dominated by neoliberal institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. These very same policies glorify deregulated markets, privatization, unfettered greed, and a society largely organized around the accumulation of capital and the interests of an elite cadre of the rich and powerful. This growing tide of opposition in Greece to the neoliberal policies of the IMF, the European Union (EU), and the corporate state rejects the power and market-driven values of financial institutions that privilege the needs of corporations over human rights while unraveling the protections of the social state and disregarding environmental safeguards. The Greek protesters largely refuse the comforting illusion that neoliberal attacks on the social state begin and end with the current recession and can be corrected by slashing social protections through what Chronis Polychroniou calls “the implantation of a structural adjustment program that contains harsh austerity measures which will hurt workers, pensioners and the poor and dismantle an already scant welfare system.” 3 Nor do these protesters accept the argument that the voices and actions of those who suffer hardships that extend from being unemployed to having one’s pension wiped out can only be framed through a pathologizing and privatizing gaze that reduces their protests to individual irresponsibility, laziness, or another degrading character flaw. Hence, it is not surprising that the marchers have yelled “thieves, thieves,” and “burn the parliament down, it is a bordello.” 4
In my view, the reaction of protesters in the United States juxtaposed with the resistance movement in Greece suggests a difference between the two cultures that is not merely incidental and speaks to an ever-widening chasm of political culture and literacy that separates these two societies. Greece reflects a social order in which a vibrant political culture and respect for critical education enable its citizens to think carefully and thoughtfully about both the history of the crisis and the sociopolitical forces that are causing it. The protests are not simply directed against harsh austerity measures but also “against a ruling system as the economic and financial crisis has finally brought to the surface all the perversions and deformities of a political culture that thrives on graft and corruption…and the plundering of the public wealth for the benefit of the domestic economic elite.” 5 By contrast, the United States media and its antipublic intellectuals largely examine the financial crisis through very limited modes of analysis, suggesting not merely a devolution of political insight and critical understanding but also the refusal to acknowledge the stultifying effects of the decades-long influence of a market-driven cultural apparatus that depoliticizes citizens and robs individuals of opportunities to think critically and to act on their capacities for thoughtful engagement and collective action. The mainstream media is primarily controlled by a few major corporations and lacks the political sophistication one finds in the media in Europe and other parts of the world. In the United States, politics aligns with a culture of entertainment that trivializes the news and substitutes the spectacle over substance; in the case of Fox News, certain forms of political illiteracy actually drive what could loosely be called social commentary and reporting. The only public spheres left where critical analysis and discussion take place are in the alternative media extending from blogs to various online news journals.
Clearly, this massive hijacking of wealth and power by a militarized market fundamentalism points to more than an economic or political problem: It heralds a crisis of education that is part of a broader crisis of democracy itself. Hence, it is all the more devastating that the United States chooses to deal with its financial crisis by further weakening public and higher education. Education remains one of the most important spheres left for creating critical and engaged citizens capable of challenging a material and symbolic order that blindly legitimates a culture of corruption, greed, and inequality. Under casino capitalism, we not only have a growing divide between the rich and the poor, a divide in which the rich pretty much have a monopoly on political, economic, and social opportunities, but also the enormous power of a cultural apparatus that functions as a nonstop mode of education that endlessly carpet-bombs young and old with market-based values that undermine democratic values, notions of shared responsibility, and a respect for the public good.
This pervasive mode of corporate pedagogy with its erasure of the historical, ethical, and social makes it difficult for the larger public to recognize that the current crisis facing public school teachers in the United States stems from a variety of interrelated socio-economic-political forces. Some of these forces include a full-fledged attack on the welfare state, the determination of neoliberal advocates to disinvest in public education, the replacement of critical pedagogical practices with bloodless instrumental modes of training, and an ongoing attempt to destroy teacher unions. This, to say nothing of a concerted ideological and political effort by corporate backed lobbyists, politicians, and conservatives to weaken the power of existing and prospective teachers who challenge the mix of economic Darwinism and right-wing conservatism now aimed at dismantling any vestige of critical education in the name of educational reform. 6
An exemplary illustration of how a militarized form of market fundamentalism works can be seen in the spate of laws passed in Arizona, Florida, and other states undermining any vestige of critical teaching while reducing the protections and benefits of educators. In Florida, former Governor Jeb Bush, signed into law a bill stating that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as “knowable, teachable, and testable,“ 7 as if teachers and students should consider interpretation a burden when dealing with “facts.” Florida’s learn-how-to-be-stupid law finds its counterpart in another law banning ethnic studies in Tucson public schools. 8 In New York, Mayor Bloomberg announced that he will freeze the salaries of public school teachers for the next two years. The transition from bailing out the rich to punishing educators is strategic and potentially shattering in its effects. Not only are teachers and students under attack in this case but also being undermined are those institutions and modes of critical education that might provide the basis for both symbolic and material resistance to such retrograde, even racist policies. Before analyzing the current assault on teachers, public schooling, and teacher education, one that promotes a dangerous illiteracy and culture of depoliticization, I want to turn first to the protests in Greece. The Greek protest against the toxic neoliberal policies of casino capitalism is significant because it provides a countervailing example of society’s abstract understanding of both politics and the importance of nurturing and sustaining the formative culture that shapes it. In doing so, it offers an example of a more informed application of the tools of critical education and literacy to the assault on education and the social state than the protests taking place against teacher layoffs in the United States.
Responding to a global financial recession and debt crisis caused by what Gerard Dumenil calls the madness of neoliberalism organized through its vast and powerful network of corrupt banks and financial institutions, thousands of people took to the streets in Greece to protest austerity measures imposed by the EU and the IMF in order to put into place a $140 billion rescue package. 9 Rather than punish ruling politicians and corporate elites who are the vanguard of militarized neoliberalism and reform the institutions responsible for the financial meltdown and soaring debt crisis, the Greek government is supporting market-driven policies that will inflict massive amounts of suffering on ordinary Greeks, who like many of their counterparts in the United States have already lost their homes, savings, jobs, and other social protections. Further subjected to the disciplinary mechanisms of the market, the people of Greece are being asked to submit to increased cuts in the public sector, including reductions in their salaries, pensions, and other vital social services. Under the terms of the cruel diktats of the IMF and EU, the neoliberal mode of economic Darwinism exercises its authority by imposing collective punishment on an entire society for the misdeeds of a relative few corporate, financial, and political elites. But there is more being revealed here than the fundamental immorality of neoliberalism; there is also what Loic Wacquant calls “a transnational project aiming to remake the nexus of market, state, and citizenship from above.” 10 As Costas Douzinas points out, at the heart of this project is an attempt to launch “the final assault on the European welfare state, suiting the neoliberal ideology of privatization, deregulation and transfer of capital and power from the public to the private.” 11 In part, this can be seen in the current demands for reform that “will decimate the public sector, undermine the national health service, privatize the remaining utilities and extend salary cuts to the private sector, destroying hard won employment rights. No public debate, parliamentary vote or referendum has authorised this wholesale destruction of the post-dictatorship social contract.” 12 One demand that should raise eyebrows in the United States is the IMF’s attempt to push the Greek government to implement budget cuts for education and to proceed further by privatizing higher education.
Refusing to give up their pensions, social protections, and other benefits of the social state, teachers, young people, the elderly, labor activists, and a host of other groups are rising up en masse in Greece to resist this neoliberal assault. As a function of shared understandings of how they as a people and democratic society are being undermined, they have organized collectively and refused to bear the brunt of punitive policies enacted by big banks, mega corporations, and other financial industries that gobble up corporate profits as a result of the workings of a “bloated financial sector [that largely] steer[s] savings away from productive investments into speculative financial investments—corporate mergers and takeovers, and one risky asset bubble after another.” 13 What the example of the Greek protests suggests for Americans is the need to rethink not only the nature of the global neoliberal project driving teacher layoffs and the draconian cutbacks in school funding and other social services but also how the current call for educational reform in the United States defines the crisis in a language and through a set of values that mimic the very free-market discourse at the heart of the economic and ideological forces that caused the financial meltdown in the first place. The people of Greece are refusing handouts that reflect the priorities of the rich over everyone else. They are also rejecting the assumption that the market is the ultimate arbiter of social life and, for that reason, should not be held responsible for the damaged lives and human suffering it produces. Clearly, the struggle being waged in Greece is not about reforming a militarized version of casino capitalism but about putting into place a new political and economic system that will instead embrace the social state and prioritize the basic needs of the general population over the financial needs of the ruling elites and transnational corporations.
In what follows, I want to focus specifically on how the current crisis regarding teacher layoffs in the United States is being analyzed and addressed through weak reformist discourses and how the hidden order of these discourses is revealed through current policies being implemented to reform existing programs and colleges of education charged with the significant task of preparing prospective teachers. My argument is organized around the assumption that at the heart of such reforms is an attempt to create colleges of education that will largely train teachers rather than give them a rigorous critical education. The dire effects of the reform measures will include turning colleges of education and alternative routes to certification into gatekeepers for a new kind of pedagogical culture and learning environment in which teachers are dumbed down. If left to proceed unchecked, reform will mean the advancement of a formative pedagogical culture that promotes political and cultural illiteracy while making teachers and students more receptive to the disempowering disciplinary practices of neoliberal policies, values, and social relations.


The political limits of the reactions in the dominant media regarding recent announcements predicting massive teacher layoffs can be illustrated in two responses: One is provided by Robert Reich, the former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration; 14 the second and most serious comes from Arne Duncan, the current Secretary of Education, and David M. Steiner, commissioner of the New York State Department of Education. The first response exemplifies a moderate liberal understanding of what passes as educational reform under the Obama administration. The second response represents the voice of official power embracing financial and ruling interests as a solution to the challenge of educational reform in a post-Bush era. This latter case is a more threatening example of reform, not merely because it is promoted by the government but because it makes an outward appeal to liberal principles that are in actuality deeply indebted to right-wing values and policies that increasingly aim to undermine public schools and the education of prospective teachers, while reclaiming market-driven values, practices, and policies responsible for the recent financial crisis. Both Reich’s liberal views and Duncan’s neoliberal position on education share an infatuation with market-driven modes of education and pedagogy. Neither seems aware of the fact that while a number of other institutions are now challenging the market-driven values that have shaped American society for the last thirty years, education seems to be one of the few spheres left that is willing to enshrine such values and, with no irony intended, does so in the name of reform. Both arguments are misguided, and while they may contain some genuine elements of reform, they ultimately undermine three key principles of education in a democracy: that public schools are one of our most important democratic public spheres, that teachers are a crucial public resource who should be treated with dignity and a measure of autonomy, and that students deserve an education that enables them to become fully responsible and critically engaged citizens rather than one that views them as customers, low-skilled workers, or criminals.
Reich’s argument focuses on the hardships that public schools and teachers face because of the deficits in state and local budgets brought on by the economic recession of 2008. Reich recognizes that one result of laying off thousands of teachers is that classrooms that once contained 20 to 25 students will soon be crammed with 40 to 45 students. But more is at stake than overcrowded classrooms; many vital education programs will be cut, including music, sports, art, and even traditional subjects such as history. Reich believes that something is wrong with a government that can provide $700 billion to bail out Wall Street banks and investment houses but does next to nothing to bail out schools. Reich insists that if the American people recognized that young people represent another form of wealth, which he symptomatically calls human capital, it will urge legislators to “shift incentives away from financial capital toward human capital,” which he believes can be done through a combination of taxes on financial transactions and interest-free loans. 15 Unfortunately, Reich has little insight into how public schools are being positioned as one of the most crucial battlefields in the war over resources under the current regime of casino capitalism. For instance, the $8 trillion that the federal government handed over to the collapsed financial sector points to more than a reckless bailout for the rich or a set of misplaced priorities, it also represents a systemic attempt by a militarized neoliberal economic and social order to drain money from the public sector and put it into the hands of rich individuals and powerful corporations and into the coffers of the permanent war complex. Consequently, there is little mention in this analysis of the priority given to military spending over educational investments. Appropriations of public funds for Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 amount to a total war cost of $1.05 trillion. 16 Military spending in the United States is not only unparalleled across the globe, it is also politically, ethically, and economically outrageous. In terms of priorities, we get a glimpse of how this money could be used when translated into practical terms. The cost of one B-2 Stealth Bomber is $1,000,000,000 and could supply 53,504,548 children with school books for a whole year. 17 Of course, this is great news for the military-industrial complex, but such runaway spending drains money from the social state that could be used to wipe out completely the cuts now experienced in education and other vital social services. 18 Herein lies an element of the financial crisis that indicts both neoliberalism and the economic and military priorities that it supports. This aspect of the crisis is simply off the table in the mainstream media and among liberal and conservative politicians. Liberals inveigh against bailouts but speak in hushed whispers about the need for massive social investments in areas designed to develop public services, goods, and transportation. Liberals have been so eager to please corporate interests in the last twenty years that they can’t even imagine a notion of educational reform connected to a jobs creation program aimed at rebuilding the aging—and in many instances unsafe—infrastructures of schools. A public works project of this sort could result in the employment of thousands of workers just as a “shift toward investment—especially toward education, alternative energy, and ecological restoration” could provide thousands of jobs to teachers and others and improve the quality of life for millions. 19
Reich fails to make clear, as Anne Frémaux points out, “that the market by itself does not constitute a social project. It is…the site where the inequalities that will persist throughout social existence are born: it is, in its essence, the very site itself of the alienation that is opposed to the emancipative project of the school.” 20 What liberal critics such as Reich seem to miss is also captured in Les Leopold’s suggestion that “Perhaps the protesters should turn their eyes towards the twenty-five top hedge fund honchos who took in $25 billion in 2009. Their ‘earnings’ alone could fund 658,000 entry level teachers.” 21 Or take note of the fact that David Tepper, the head of Appaloosa hedge fund, made “$4 billion (not million) in 2009. Mr. Tepper’s personal income for 2009 would have covered the salaries of 62 percent of public school teachers—who reach 855,600 students. (Mean salary $57,645).” 22 He further points out that New Jersey Governor Charles Christie, the political head of the state where David Tepper resides, will go out of his way to break the teachers’ union and fire teachers but at the same time refuses to reinstate “the millionaires’ tax—even though the state’s fiscal crisis is a direct consequence of what millionaires and billionaires did on Wall Street.” 23 Leopold is doing more than simply renouncing the government bailout of the mega banks and financial institutions, he is also identifying the systemic order of political and economic forces attempting to destroy public education by turning it into just another business that will provide handsome profits to stockholders. According to Leopold

[i]t’s ironic that the battlefield in this war over resources is public education. Because the public remains entirely uneducated about the connection between those billionaires and school budget cuts. We are clueless about what the Wall Street billionaires do to earn their riches and whether it’s of any value. We might be able to understand “weapons of mass destruction,” but financial weapons of mass destruction are way beyond us. 24
Public schools are under attack not because they are failing or are inefficient but because they are public, an unwanted reminder of a public sphere and set of institutions whose purpose is to serve the common good and promote democratic ends, values, and social relations. The forces poised to destroy public schools are ideologically motivated to destroy all vestiges of the common good, just as they are enraptured economically by the possibility of reaping big profits through an ongoing campaign aimed at promoting vouchers, privatization, and charters, all of which are intended slowly and successfully to convince the public to disinvest in public schooling and transform it into a private rather than public good.
Reich has nothing to say about the deregulators, venture capitalists, armies of privateers, and others who believe that the market provides the only meaningful modality of human interaction. He and many other liberals are conveniently silent about the right-wing attacks on public schools being waged in a variety of states through legislation designed to abolish tenure and faculty seniority, eliminate teachers’ unions, and transform schools into adjuncts of the corporation or, in some cases, turn them into military training camps. They decry the lack of public school funding but are silent about states such as Arizona abolishing tenure along with seniority protections so they can get rid of both teachers who are critical of regressive policies and those who are considered too expensive to keep, especially when young and inexperienced teachers can be hired at entry level salaries. This kind of economic cleansing is also matched by a type of ethnic cleansing made evident by the fact that in Phoenix, Arizona, the state senators approved legislation that would eliminate ethnic studies programs in the Tucson Unified School District on the grounds that they “promote resentment toward a race or class of people.” 25 Moreover, the anti-immigrant sentiment in Arizona not only attempts to remove immigrants from the streets but has been extended to the classroom. The Arizona Department of Education has instructed schools to either terminate or remove from the classroom teachers who do not meet English fluency standards “on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.” 26 What is tragic about this stipulation is that many of these teachers are bilingual but speak English with an accent. The new “show me your papers” 27 requirement in Arizona is now being matched with a “let’s hear you speak” rule in order to determine if you are a “real” American. Punishing teachers for having the wrong accent is more than an outburst of what Frank Rich calls “nativist apoplexy,” it is also a form of racist anti-intellectualism that disregards the pedagogical value of having bilingual teachers working in classrooms with students whose history, culture, and language are familiar to them. At the same time, the law defines ethnic studies as a threat to students because it focuses on histories that are often left out of the curriculum or, even worse, subjected to racist stereotyping. This is an argument against what might be called dangerous memories—those memories of struggle that are deemed un-American because they criticize official, often cleansed, narratives about history, or what some have called consensus history, which is free of conflict, struggle, and resistance and reads like a script written for the Walt Disney company. 28 There is nothing useful about this ethically scandalous state-sanctioned legislation given that it succumbs to promoting a type of political illiteracy that views difference rather than bigotry as a great threat to learning and to democracy.
Liberal critics such as Reich exhibit little understanding of the broader threat to public schooling posed by venture capitalists, for-profit school advocates, greedy corporations, and the wide range of privatizing forces that extend from the school voucher crowd to the accountability supporters who want to link teaching to material rewards based on test outcomes. This may be one reason why he fails to see the contradiction between wanting to save the jobs of public school teachers while using a market-based description of teachers as a form of capital, with the accompanying implication that schools produce goods—two categories often used by anti–public school intellectuals. Education is about more than harnessing capital, positioning the United States favorably as a global competitor, and improving our standard of living. It is at heart the laboratory for social experimentation where public values, justice, and democracy come together to provide the foundation for critical agents and engaged citizens. In the end, Reich’s model of school reform mimics the logic of the market and gives precedence to economic values over democratic ideals, which, given the fiscal meltdown of 2008, has proved a most dangerous form of alchemy. Customer satisfaction, marketing, capital accumulation, efficiency, unbridled competition, and business-type management are the key concepts that drive this model of public schooling and redefine the role of teaching. It is an economistic model that has no interest in questions of ethics, ends, and justice; it offers instead a pedagogy in which an emphasis on practice supplements the hard work of learning how to think, standardization replaces creativity, and the deskilling of teachers replaces an emphasis on creating the economic, social, and pedagogical conditions for teachers to combine thinking and implementation, autonomy and creativity, in the service of the public good. Liberals like Reich just don’t get it. Their political discourse is just too narrow and unreflectively endorses the right-wing belief that deregulation and redistribution are tantamount to wholesale educational reform.


One of the most startling absences that marks the Obama administration’s emphasis on educational reform is how little it thinks about or advocates for the notion that students should be educated as democratic citizens and engage in debates about public values and ethics, as well as learn the knowledge and skills necessary for economic opportunity. Instead, the public purpose and democratic goals of schools are downplayed, if not undermined, by an emphasis on policies, values, and social practices that mimic the market-driven values of the existing mode of casino capitalism. For example, Arne Duncan’s “Race to the Top” agenda emphasizes expanding efficiency at the expense of equity, prioritizes testing over critical pedagogical practices, endorses commercial values rather than public values, accentuates competition as a form of social combat over cooperation and shared responsibilities, and endorses individual rights over support for the collective good—all of which are values that come out of the neoliberal playbook in which the public is a term of opprobrium and self-interest coded as parental choice is the only recognizable motive for engaging in educational reform. 29 It is not surprising that “Race to the Top” is cloaked as a contest based on the old standard free-market notion of competition, but instead of a contest that simply mimics market values there also at work an ideological agenda tied to dismantling teacher unions, removing protections for teachers, and positioning future teachers at the mercy of administrators who believe that educational reform is mostly about creating data systems to measure how people teach and learn effectively. This educational movement could have been put together by Bernie Madoff and speaks clearly too how casino capitalism has produced an anti-reform movement more appropriately understood as a form of casino education.
Duncan’s educational policies share an unholy alliance with the very norms and practices that are responsible for the current economic crisis and include an uncritical admiration for the deregulation of economic life, the collapse of public concerns into privatized issues, the development of policies that privilege the rich while criminalizing the poor, the substitution of the punishing state for the social state, and an appeal to common sense and practice as a way to discredit theory if not thinking itself. This is the same logic that supports the view that corporations are people and provides the ideological and political foundation for the ruthless market fundamentalism that has taken over the country since the 1970s. But Duncan’s educational project goes further in that it discredits and undermines those forms of teaching and learning that are vital to public service, just as it creates modes of agency almost entirely harnessed to an economic and material self-interest that reflects an open disdain for the public sector at the same time as a barely concealed contempt for democracy. We now find ourselves in a society in which the Hobbesian war of all against all has become second nature and easily accommodates institutions, values, and policies in which the obligations of the state to protect all of its members against the pitfalls of misfortune and the pain of indignity and the horror of poverty have given way to viewing such protections with disdain, leaving only a “culture of charity, humiliation, and stigma” to redress the needs of those now regarded as disposable, human waste products of a consumerism obsessed, market-driven society. 30
In Obama and Duncan’s America, the pathologies of racism and the corrosive effects of inequality in wealth, income, and power—the consequences of which include everything from missed educational opportunities to the mass incarceration of poor minorities—do not appear to exist. 31 The Gordon Gekko ethos of ruthless competition motivated by its ugly belief that “greed is good” has resurfaced in officially sanctioned educational discourse and can be seen in policies that emphasize market-driven notions of competition and choice, pitting colleagues and peers against each other through the use of monetary rewards for teachers and students who meet alleged objective performance-based goals. It is also evident in modes of teacher education that emphasize practical skills over forms of education that would actually enable teachers to think about what they teach, how they teach, and how the context in which they teach might be theorized as part of a broader effort to deepen and enhance the vital civic purposes of schooling. Lost here is any notion of educational reform dedicated to providing all children with a quality education while keeping alive the most important ideals, values, formative culture, and social relations necessary for an aspiring democracy.
What is most disturbing about the educational policies being pushed by Obama and Duncan is the degree to which they are organized around a formative culture in which there is no language for validating the discourse of public purpose over self-interest, embracing critical thinking over a culture of conformity, and viewing pedagogy as a productive force that creates particular modes of knowledge, agency, values, and social relations rather than merely as a refined practice for emphasizing the measurement and quantification of classroom practice. There is no talk of the need to confront domination and negotiate inevitable forms of conflict in this discourse. In fact, the discourse that trumps all political and ethical considerations is choice, the ultimate market-driven value. The emphasis on the practical and data driven performance pushed by Duncan and his neoliberal friends not only represents the triumph of abstract empiricism over substance but also the reduction of educational reform to the prison house of methodology. 32 Duncan’s emphasis on the practical and the empirical in the end simply frees reformers from the burdens associated with theorizing matters of power, politics, and ethics. Of course, such issues go to the heart of how to understand pedagogy as a moral and political practice rather than merely a technique or a method. As such, schools are the frontline in providing students with the knowledge and skills that enable them to question authority, connect the specific to larger social forces, translate private issues into public considerations, and create a formative culture in which knowledge and reason oppose forms of schooling whose ultimate purpose is to create cheerful robots. Moreover, public and higher education are a crucial reminder of the importance and necessity of institutions and public sites governed by public values rather than limited commercial values. They share an affinity with the social state in which matters of governance are not reduced to individual and corporate interests but are defined as part of the common good. The issue of pedagogy as a democratic project and mode of intervention is crucial to understanding how Duncan’s call for reforming teacher education produces a mode of moral and political illiteracy that both depoliticizes teaching and renders pedagogy merely as a technique designed to provide a priori outcomes. I want to challenge this conservative notion of pedagogy by first providing a brief definition of critical pedagogy. This particular understanding of pedagogy can then serve as a backdrop for further analyzing Duncan’s view of schooling and his call for reforming colleges of education.


Teaching for many conservatives such as Arne Duncan is often reduced to a set of strategies used to teach prespecified subject matter. In this context, teaching becomes synonymous with a method, technique, or the practice of a particular set of skills. In opposition to this view, critical pedagogy rejects this notion of teaching as merely a set of prepackaged techniques designed to be implemented regardless of the contexts in which they are used. Critical pedagogy is situated as a political and moral project. Its proponents recognize that pedagogy is always political because it is connected to the formation and acquisition of agency. As a political project, it illuminates the relationships among knowledge, authority, and power, drawing attention to questions concerning who has control over the conditions for the production of knowledge, values, and skills. Moreover, it sheds light on the ways in which knowledge, identities, and authority are constructed within particular circuits of power. Most importantly, it draws attention to the fact that pedagogy is a deliberate attempt on the part of educators to influence how and what knowledge and subjectivities are produced within particular sets of social relations. 33 Ethically, critical pedagogy stresses the importance of understanding what actually happens in classrooms and other educational settings by raising questions regarding what knowledge is of most worth, in what direction should one desire, and what it means to know something. It also takes seriously the important relationship between how we learn and how we act as individual and social agents. In this instance, critical pedagogy is concerned with teaching students not only how to think but also how to assume a measure of individual and social responsibility—namely, what it means to be responsible for one’s actions as part of a broader attempt to be an engaged citizen who can participate individually and collectively in society in order to expand and deepen the possibilities of democratic public life. 34
Pedagogy at its most ambitious offers the conditions to enable students to think critically, take risks, and reflect on the connection between the knowledge they gain and the obligations of civic and social responsibility while recognizing that pedagogy is not about passively receiving (often empirically based) knowledge as a commodity or a predesigned method, it is about actively engaging classroom knowledges in their most capacious expressions through critical dialogue, judgment, argument, and analysis. Public schools and the pedagogies they invoke need not be limited to learning how to take tests and master instrumental methodologies designed to use empirical data. They can and should be about creating spaces that disturb and inspire, make knowledge meaningful, and teach students to be informed and critical of the world around them. Such a pedagogy stands in opposition to Duncan’s notion of schooling, which is largely about teaching students to “imbibe and regurgitate information.” 35 Its purpose is to “teach conformity to the social, cultural, and occupational hierarchy” in order to “mold students to the industrial and economic imperatives of the dominant society.” 36 In opposition to this pedagogy of conformity and disinvestment in public education, critical pedagogy encourages critical thinking, the expanding of the imagination, the appropriation of knowledge as a form of self-reflection, self-determination, and foundation for critically understanding and collectively shaping the larger social order. This may be why any notion of transformative pedagogy is viewed as dangerous by Duncan and many of his supporters, including David Steiner, the current commissioner of New York State Department of Education.
Critical pedagogy is also about recognizing the importance of different contexts and how these affect the conditions both for teaching and for interacting with students. Not only is it context sensitive, critical pedagogy recognizes that the standardization of curricula, knowledge, teaching, and social relations does an injustice to the multiple and varied narratives, issues, histories, and experiences that students bring to schools and that operate in classrooms within different cultural, economic, and political contexts. This is a pedagogy that begins with an understanding of students as individuals with enormous capacities to be critical, knowledgeable, and informed citizens, workers, and social agents. Consequently, schools are viewed as a crucial resource in a developing democracy and teachers are valued as the front line of professional workers responsible for educating young people in the ideals, goals, and practices of a sustainable democratic society.


In Arne Duncan’s world, the language of educational reform is defined primarily through the modalities of competition, measurement, and quantification. Competition is now one of the most important registers organizing and defining schools and classroom pedagogical practices—no doubt made obvious by the name of Obama’s educational reform policy “Race to the Top,” with its allusion to Wall Street values and casino capitalism. Of course, competition itself is not the problem since competition can be healthy in a number of areas. The real issue is when it becomes, as Christopher Newfield points out, “the sole organizing principle of society.” 37 And when that happens in educational policies such as those pushed by the Obama administration, one consequence is that the ultimate agent of schooling is modeled after the unattached individual competing for social mobility and a job in the workforce. But there is more at work here than the vulgar instrumentalization of the curriculum, homage to an unchecked mode of competition, and the crude reduction of teacher work to thoughtless methodologies and techniques. There is also a neoliberal agenda in which public money is channeled into the hands of wealthy individuals and corporations; charter schools are used to siphon off and further privilege middle-class students while promoting forms of tracking and social dumping to take place in underfunded public schools; 38 and private governance structures are put in place that weaken the power of faculty and unions while placing unaccountable power in the hands of corporate elites.
As the forces of privatization merge with the gentrification of public housing, charter and privatized schools become the beachheads for gentrification and the emergence of gated communities. Moreover, the values that produce such spaces are now replicated in the schools themselves as they are filled by administrators, teachers, and students who do not “know how to share public space to common advantage” 39 or who have not learned how to deal effectively with racial and economic differences. 40 Gaining ground since the 1980s, these reform measures represent the triumph of neoliberal ideology and policies over public education, formerly viewed as a repository of democratic ideals, values, and practices. Rather than challenge such reforms, Obama and Duncan have simply legitimated and further extended them, touting unrestrained individual responsibility in all realms, unbridled competition, and corporate values as the master metaphors for educational change, all of which signify a gross perversion of democracy and a genuinely empowering education. Duncan, in particular, appears to have no language for addressing problems, values, issues, and goods that cannot be measured and quantified, or are not subject to the profit-making dictates of neoliberalism. If public schools have the potential to be vibrant spaces for engaging young people in critical dialogue, exchange, and creativity, such potential is absent from Duncan’s view of schooling. In fact, it is fair to argue that Duncan ignores, if not disdains, a long tradition in American life extending from Thomas Jefferson to C. Wright Mills in which it has been recognized that citizens are produced, not simply born, and that public schools are the crucial political site where this type of socialization takes place in a healthy democracy. 41
Almost all of Duncan’s policies are indebted to the codes of a market-driven business culture, legitimated through a discourse of measurement and utility. This is a discourse that values hedge fund managers over teachers, privatization over the public good, management over leadership, and training over education. Duncan’s fervent support of neoliberal values are well known and are evident in his support for high stakes testing, charter schools, school-business alliances, merit pay, linking teacher pay to higher test scores, offering students monetary rewards for higher grades, CEO-type management, abolishing tenure, defining the purpose of schooling as largely job training, the weakening of teacher unions, and blaming teachers exclusively for the failure of public schooling. 42 His support of the firing of the entire faculty of a Central Falls High School in Rhode Island is indicative of his disdain for public school teachers and teacher unions. Although teachers and administrators have to accept responsibility for the academic performance of their students, there are often many other factors that have to be taken into consideration such as a parent’s involvement, the socioeconomic status of the students, the existence of support services for students, and the challenges that emerge when students do not speak English as a first language. Many of the Central Falls students did not speak English as a first language, came from families that were poor, worked after school, and had few support services and specialists at their disposal. 43 Obama and Duncan ignored all of these factors because they have little sense of the larger socioeconomic forces that bear down on schools, putting many students at a decided disadvantage when compared to their well-resourced middle-class counterparts.
Many students have been subjected to a stripped down notion of schooling for quite some time, making it more difficult for them not just to think critically but also to imagine a world beyond the gospel of competition and profit. Public schooling is increasingly shaped by a pedagogy of containment, security, and conformity that undermines critical thought, teaching, and dialogue while emphasizing market values that often create what William Black calls a “criminogenic environment”—one that promotes and legitimates market-driven practices that include fraud, deregulation, and other perverse practices. 44 Black claims that the most extreme pedagogical expression of such an environment can be found in business schools, which he calls “fraud factories” for the elite. 45 He writes

We now have the entitlement generation as CEOs. They just plain feel entitled to being wealthy…with no responsibility, no accountability. They have become literal sociopaths. So one of the things is, you clean up business schools, which right now are fraud factories at the senior levels, right? They create the new monsters that take control and destroy massive enterprises and cause global economic crises, cause the great recession. And very, very close to causing the second Great Depression. 46
As educational reform increasingly appropriates the values of fraud culture, many students go through public schooling and higher education unable to recognize injustice and unfairness, and often find themselves wedded to a notion of unattached individualism that cuts them off from any sense of moral and social responsibility to others or to a larger notion of the common good. At the same time, those students who jeopardize the achievement of the quantifiable measures and instrumental values now used to define school success are often subjected to harsh disciplinary procedures, pushed out of schools, subjected to medical interventions or, even worse, pushed into the criminal justice system. 47 Most of these students are poor whites and minorities of color, and increasingly students with special needs.
To be sure, the empirical emphasis of conservative school policy has been in place for decades. In keeping with this trend, the Obama administration’s educational policy under the leadership of Arne Duncan lacks a democratic vision and sense of moral direction, and as a result reproduces rather than diminishes many of these problems. In addition, these policies bear the trace of the ideological remnants of a second Gilded Age that repudiated civic education and schooling as a public good. Rather than arguing for educational reforms and a value shift away from the ethically deadening demands of an egocentric, consumerist society that can only respond to the lure of goods, profits, and “rational investments,” Obama and Duncan are pushing the same pernicious set of values that redefine citizens as stockholders, customers, and clients. Similarly, they have pushed for modes of teaching and learning that in effect produce and legitimate a culture of illiteracy and moral indifference that too closely correlates with what journalist Matt Taibbi rightly calls a “world of greed without limits.” 48 Instead of promoting or extending “education’s democratizing influence on the nation,“ 49 Duncan has fervently placed American society under the sway of an educational reform movement that is at odds with a vision of schooling dedicated to the cultivation of an informed, critical citizenry capable of actively participating and governing in a democratic society. In fact, Duncan’s understanding of school reform is contrary to forms of knowledge and pedagogy that enable rather than subvert the potential of a socially just and sustainable society.
What is also disturbing about Duncan’s position is that he rarely mentions the corruption, fraud, scandals, greed, and criminal behavior in the larger society often associated with the ruthless business culture model he has adopted as a model for public education. There is no mention or the slightest bit of self-reflection in Duncan’s view of education to indicate that the values driving his call for the reform of public schools share an uncanny alignment with the values that gave us the Enron scandal, the Madoff Affair, “liar’s loans,” the subprime mortgage crisis, and the larger economic recession. Duncan’s indifference functions like an autoimmune system that has turned on the body politic, destroying its life-supporting organs and functions. 50 His political and ethical indifference to the death dealing values that define the business culture to which he is so attached blinds him to the corruptions, illegalities, and scandals that now fill the air like the volcanic ash that put Europe in a crisis in the summer of 2010. Does he not recognize in his own reform policies the unapologetic appropriation of casino capitalism so flagrantly exhibited in the practices of high flying venture capitalists who eagerly search out schools as part of their efforts to generate quick and lucrative profits?
The corrupting nature of these market-oriented values on education was recently made clear in a Frontline television documentary that highlighted a number of educational entrepreneurs who were in the business of buying failing universities and schools, injecting them with larger amounts of capital, and then going public by turning them into for-profit schools. When asked how he makes such schools successful, one such entrepreneur, Michael Clifford, responded that it took “money, management, and marketing,” and that his financial backers make profits so large from these deals that he was embarrassed to provide a figure. 51 What he doesn’t mention is that for these schools to be profitable, they do away with tenure, hire teachers on short-term contracts, charge inflated tuition rates, and promote aggressive marketing campaigns to secure students who take out huge federal loans in order to attend these schools. The problem is that for the schools to be profitable they have to attract an endless stream of students and they do this by making it easy for them to secure government-backed loans, which for many students are almost impossible to pay back and leave them saddled with thousands of dollars in debt. Moreover, the pressure for growth has resulted in the use of questionable high-pressure recruiting techniques to attract students who cannot succeed or graduate and eventually drop out. The largest for-profit school, the University of Phoenix, spends 20% to 25% of its total revenue on marketing, while only spending 10% to 20% on faculty. 52
In some cases, students are recruited on the basis of fraudulent claims such as being told that the degree program in which they are enrolling is accredited, when it is not. Argos University-Dallas is being sued by a number of students who were told that the university’s graduate psychology program was going to be accredited by the American Psychology Association. It never received the accreditation, leaving the students with worthless degrees. 53 Moreover, enrollment counselors are paid solely through the number of students they recruit, which gives them incentive to use often questionable tactics to recruit such students and hook them up for a quick loan. For instance, Drake College of Business, a for-profit higher education company recruited young people from homeless shelters, while charging them over $15,000 annually in tuition. 54 Many of these students defaulted on their loans, providing a profit windfall for Drake. In fact, it has been estimated that “the default-rate at for-profits could be as high as 50 percent.” 55 When Arne Duncan was asked in the College Inc. documentary about the loan scam and default rate for these students, he answered with the tepid response that it was “something we need to watch.” 56 Indeed! But if there was any doubt expressed by Duncan about for-profit schooling, he rescinded it in a later luncheon speech in which he insisted on the “vital role” that “for-profit institutions play in providing job training for students.” 57
Profit once again trumps the needs of students as Duncan enshrines market-driven forces while overlooking the havoc and hardship imposed on students who fall for the high pressure recruiting tactics and the instant loans. In the College Inc. documentary, one former recruiter stated, “If our numbers started dropping, trainers would come around and start telling you to up your outgoing calls anywhere from 300 to 450 calls a day to meet these quotas, to get those applications.” 58 Even more disturbing is that the “Federal aid to for-profit colleges has jumped to $26.5 billion in 2009 from $4.6 billion in 2000,“ 59 and yet the American taxpayer is subsidizing the loans given to students while private investors are reaping the profits on the defaulted loans. Daniel Golden, an education reporter for Bloomberg News claims that “The taxpayers are essentially funding this industry. Something like 75 percent of their revenue comes from federal grants and loans.” 60 The University of Phoenix now gets “86 percent of its revenue from the federal government, up from something like 48 percent ten years ago.” 61 It is worth noting that taxpayers have made John Sperling, the founder of the University of Phoenix, a billionaire and have financed the millions in revenue he has handed out to his top executives. Yet, the financial costs of these colleges are often much higher than their public counterparts; they aggressively subject vulnerable working-class and poor minority students to dubious recruiting tactics; and the students who attend these schools are often disproportionally saddled with a heavy debt load, especially if they drop out. These are the policies, values, and motivations that are also driving the privatization, voucher, and charter school crowd who has a strong supporter in Arne Duncan.
As a strong advocate for charter schools, Duncan rarely acknowledges that such schools are fraught with problems, in spite of the many red flags now being brought to the public’s attention. For example, there is increasing evidence that charter schools are no better or worse than public schools in terms of student achievement; 62 in many instances they produce egregious amounts of fraud, corruption, and criminal behavior; and increasingly they exploit the labor and professionalism of teachers who work in these schools. Diane Ravitch, the renowned educational theorist and former Assistant Secretary of Education for the administration of President George H. W. Bush, has pointed out that the “Philadelphia Inquirer reported that at least four charters were under federal criminal investigation for nepotism, conflicts of interest, and financial mismanagement. The managers of other charters in Pennsylvania created private companies to sell products or services to their schools or placed relatives on the payroll. One charter the Inquirer found, paid millions of dollars in rent, salaries, and management fees annually to a for-profit company owned by the charter’s chief executive officer.” 63
There is a lot of money to be made in supporting charter schools, as is evident by the number of hedge fund managers, wealthy Americans, and Wall Street executives now lining up to support them. Unprecedented numbers of wealthy foundations—what one prominent educator calls “The Billionaires Boys Club,” which includes the Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Broad Foundation—“are committed now to charter schools and to evaluating teachers by test scores.” 64 The reasons are not always philanthropic. New York Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote an important article indicating that a piece of legislation called the New Market Tax Credit, passed under the Clinton administration in 2000, gave banks and equity funds an enormous federal tax credit when they invested in charter schools. 65 The unsavory business practices, Ponzi scheme corruption, and hardships schools have to endure as a result of these tax breaks and financial investments are well articulated by Gonzalez. In an interview with Amy Goodman, he states

What happens is the investors who put up the money to build charter schools get to basically or virtually double their money in seven years through a thirty-nine percent tax credit from the federal government? In addition, this is a tax credit on money that their [sic] lending, so they’re also collecting interest on the loans as well as getting the thirty-nine percent tax credit. They piggy-back the tax credit on other kinds of federal tax credits like historic preservation or job creation or brownfields credits. The result is, you can put in ten million dollars and in seven years double your money. The problem is that the charter schools end up paying in rents the debt service on these loans and so now a lot of the charter schools in Albany are straining paying their debt service—their rent has gone up from $170,000 to $500,000 in a year—huge increases in their rents as they strain to pay off these loans, these construction loans. The rents are eating up huge portions of their total cost. And, of course, the money is coming from the state. One of the big issues is that so many of these charter schools are not being audited. No one knows who are the people making these huge windfall profits as the investors. Often, there are interlocking relationships between the charter school boards and the nonprofit groups that organize and syndicate the loans. 66
There is more to be said about Duncan’s support of charter schools other than his unwillingness to recognize the limits of charter school performance, the drawbacks of turning public money and governance structures for public schools over to private investors, and the increased evidence of corruption, fraud, and hardship for teachers, students, and parents that often accompany charter school development. Duncan’s silence on these issues stems from his willingness to view schools like a business and those who run them as CEOs whose job is similar to managing corporate portfolios. But there is something else at work here, something more pernicious than merely Obama and Duncan’s support for educational reforms that represent a deep distrust of public values and disregard for the notion of schooling as a public good, there are also elements of a neoliberal project that view charters as an interim measure on the way to ending public education and replacing it with publicly funded private schooling. While there are individuals and groups who advocate for charter schools as part of an attempt to strengthen public education, they often fail to realize that once traditional public schools are transformed into charters they are easy to close and replace with private providers.
We get a hint of these concerns and the political project that drives them in a recent op-ed by Charles Murray, a firm supporter of charter schools. Writing in the New York Times, Murray claims conservatives should no longer defend charter schools on the basis of higher standardized test scores. He now claims that test scores prove very little and that the real issue in defending charters should be on the “basis of…shared parental calculation.” 67 That is, charters should be defended as part of a larger movement to create schools that replace “the progressive curriculum used in the country’s other public schools” with a more traditional curriculum. 68 This unapologetic conservative justification of “choice” is code for organizing schools in opposition to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court desegregation ruling in the 1950s (Brown v. Board of Education). Murray’s support for charter schools, vouchers, and other elements in the neoliberal knapsack of reforms embodies this type of separatist logic, one that in this case comes from an ideologue who has utterly disavowed notions of democratic equality in favor of a commitment to what he calls the cognitive elite, a category of people that generally excludes the working class and minorities. Given that Murray has argued for the inherent genetic superiority of whites, is a primary architect of social policies that favor the dismantling of the social state, and is an apologist for racist modes of segregation, it is not surprising that educational policies favoring vouchers, charters, and privatization are compatible with his sectarian notion of schooling. Yet more is at stake in this position than a retooling of public education as an adjunct of the corporation or as a gated institution and bulwark against minorities of class, color, and ethnicity. There is also a more capacious attempt to dismantle public schooling as a public good with the broader goal of fashioning American society through the rule of corporations, religious bigots, and the rich and powerful. 69 Educational reform within this discourse is really an attempt to disinvest in the public schools and to dismantle the social state. While Duncan may not go so far as to support the end point of neoliberal policies with its destruction of all things public, he certainly plays a formative role in legitimizing and asserting the values that inform this neoliberal antipublic ideology.
The first casualty of Duncan’s educational policies is the sabotaging of the formative pedagogical culture, governance structures, and democratic values necessary for educating young people to think critically, embrace democratic civic values, and be willing to intervene in the world in order to expand and deepen the processes of justice, equality, and democratization. Lost in this stripped down notion of reform are not just the capacities students need to live in a just society, but what is absolutely crucial to any viable democracy—the ability of citizens to be able to think for themselves, to question authority, and to dialogue critically with the diverse traditions within American society. The second casualty is equally insidious and aims at deskilling and dumbing down existing and prospective teachers through an attempt to remove the pedagogical conditions necessary to foster their autonomy in the classroom. Continuing the educational legacy of the Bush/Cheney regime, Obama and Duncan seem intent on stripping teachers of their autonomy, decent working conditions, power, and creative tools that would enable them to think critically and act imaginatively in their classrooms. In Duncan’s corporatized world, teachers are reduced to cogs, limited to teaching standardized lessons, memorization, and test-taking skills in an effort to get schools to “race to the top.”
But the current administration is not content with just preventing existing teachers from thinking critically and acting creatively. It wants to go further by also attacking teacher education. Indeed, it seems quite terrified of those modes of critical education that might create future generations of teachers who view their role as more than corporate drones and drab accountants eagerly embracing teacher-proof lessons and gleefully collecting and assessing knowledge that is empirically based and marketable. Consequently, conservatives are increasingly developing alternative paths of certification for teachers in an effort to narrow their education to the learning of classroom skills, methods, and techniques. At work here is an attempt to transform a potentially critical education program for teachers into a simplified form of skill-based methods and instrumental training. In addition, there is also an attempt to depoliticize future teachers by making sure they do not have access to any critical notion of theory, literacy, pedagogy, and knowledge. Within this model of reform, teaching and learning are viewed primarily as management problems divorced from matters of agency, experience, ethics, theory, history, and politics. There is more than a vicious anti-intellectualism here and an attempt to reconfigure education in obsessive instrumental terms, there is also an attempt to limit the meaning of education to the narrow and reductive demands of economic development, the acquisition and disposability of commodities, the branding of identities, and a life in which all interpersonal and social relations tend to be subordinated to logic of consumerism. 70 Such moves are both poisonous for democracy and limited in their understanding of education. But there is also an attempt to remove teaching from the realm of politics and to undermine the critical formative culture that makes dissent, dialogue, thoughtfulness, and a commitment to democracy even possible. The vision of public and higher education and the role of teachers in American schools and the institutions that educate them deserve more than to be forced to acclimatize to a culture in which anything that cannot be quantified, measured, and consumed is viewed as useless.


Within the last year, Duncan has delivered a number of speeches in which he has both attacked colleges of education and called for alternative routes to teacher certification. 71 According to Duncan, the great sin that such colleges have committed in the past few decades is that they have focused too much on theory and not enough on clinical practice, and by theory he means critical pedagogy, or those theories that enable prospective teachers to situate school knowledges, practices, and modes of governance within wider critical, historical, social, cultural, economic, and political contexts. Duncan wants such colleges to focus on practical methods in order to prepare teachers for an outcome-based education system, which is code for pedagogical methods that are as anti-intellectual as they are politically conservative. This is a pedagogy useful for creating armies of number crunches, reduced to supervising the administration of standardized tests that are alleged to measure scholastic ability and improve student achievement. Rather than provide the best means for confronting “difficult truths about the inequality of America’s political economy,” such a pedagogy produces the swindle of “blaming inequalities on individuals and groups with low test scores.” 72 This is a pedagogy that sabotages any attempt at self-reflection and quality education, all the while providing an excuse for producing moral comas or a more conscious flight from responsibility.
By espousing the imposition of empirically based standards as a fix for educational problems, advocates of these measures do more than oversimplify complex issues, they also remove the classroom from larger social, political, and economic forces and offer up anti-intellectual and ethically debased technical and punitive solutions to school and classroom problems. In addition, Duncan’s insistence on banishing theory from teacher education programs in favor of promoting narrowly defined skills and practices foreshadows the preparation of teachers as a subaltern class who believe that the purpose of education is only to train students to compete successfully in a global economy. The debased model of teaching being advocated here is one in which teachers are constructed as clerks and technicians who have no need for something as abstract as a public vision through which to imagine the democratic role and social responsibility that schools, teachers, or pedagogy might assume for the world and the future they offer to young people.
Duncan argues that most of the nation’s 1,450 colleges of education and programs are doing an inadequate job, as reflected in the fact that nearly 30% of students drop out or fail to graduate on time. His defense of alternative routes to education also derives from what he calls the looming shortage of teachers that will take place in the near future as an older generation of teachers retire. The first argument strikes me a non sequitur. Surely, there are multiple factors that cause students to drop out. Some of them are mundane—a change of career path—and some are more tragic—a lack of funds to continue. But many are rooted in the overwhelming recognition of the larger social forces that undermine the mission of education: from the massive inequalities in school funding to racism, dire rates of poverty, massive youth unemployment, dismantling of important social services, and the increasing criminalization of all aspects of youth behavior. 73 Moreover, any discourse that situates teacher training within a critical understanding of these forces is precisely what Duncan wants to remove from the curriculum. He offers the following as part of his defense for reforming teacher education programs:

In my seven years as CEO of the Chicago Public Schools and in my current job as I’ve traveled the country, I’ve had hundreds of conversations with great young teachers…. In particular they say two things about their training in ed school. First, most of them say they did not get the hands-on practical teacher training about managing the classroom that they needed, especially for high-needs students. And second, they say there were not taught how to use data to differentiate and improve instruction and boost student learning. 74
Duncan then praises Louisiana as a model for building longitudinal data systems that track the impact of new teachers on student achievement. For Duncan, Louisiana represents a beacon for how schools should be redefined, largely as sites of management and data collection, and advances the notion that teachers should be trained to operate proficiently in such sites. Ironically, or perhaps tragically, what Duncan leaves out of his praise for the Louisiana school system is the fact that it has one of the highest rates of student suspensions and expulsions in the nation. As the report, Pushed Out, indicates

Louisiana’s expulsion rate is five times the national rate, nearly 16,000 middle and high school students drop out each year, and public schools in the state dole out over 300,000 out-of-school suspensions a year. Within the state-run Recovery School District direct operated schools, the expulsion rate is ten times the national rate and 1 in every 4 students was suspended in a single year, twice the statewide rate and over four times the national rate. State law, as currently written, contributes to the problem, allowing principals to suspend students for a wide range of minor misbehavior, including “willful disobedience,” disrespecting school staff, and using “unchaste or profane language.” Moreover, the overuse of harsh discipline disproportionately affects some Louisiana school children over others. African American students make up 44% of the statewide public school population, but 68% of suspensions and 72.5% of expulsions. And in school districts with a larger percentage of African American and low-income students, there are higher rates of suspension and expulsion. These districts tend to have fewer resources for positive interventions. 75
Duncan’s collusion with the growing corporatization and militarizing of public schools along with the increased use of harsh disciplinary modes of punishment, surveillance, control, and containment, especially in schools inhabited largely by poor minorities of color, reveals his unwillingness to address the degree to which many schools are dominated by a politics of fear, containment, and authoritarianism, even as he advances reform as a civil rights issue. 76 Schools are not merely places where potential workers learn the marketable skills and abilities necessary in order to secure a decent job, they are also, as Martha C. Nussbaum points out, key institutions of the public good and are “crucial to both the health of democracy and to the creation of a decent world culture and a robust type of global citizenship.” 77
When educational reform neglects matters of politics, critical thinking, power, creativity, and the power of the imagination, it loses its hold on preparing young people for a democratic future and condemns them to a world where the only values that matter are individual acquisition, unchecked materialism, economic growth, and a winner-take-all mentality. The diverse range of political, economic, racial, and social forces that influence all aspects of schooling need to be critically engaged and rearticulated in the interest of justice, human development, freedom, and equal opportunity. These are not merely political issues, they are also pedagogical concerns, and the former cannot be separated from the latter, just as equity cannot be separated from matters of excellence. Defining schools exclusively in terms of mathematical coordinates and statistical formulas suggests that Duncan has no language for addressing schools as sites or teachers as engaged intellectuals that mediate, accommodate, reproduce, and sometimes challenge the diverse and often antidemocratic forces that bear down on them. If schools are increasingly being governed through a culture modeled after prisons, as I have suggested in Youth in a Suspect Society, how does one understand the growth of this model of schooling and what might it tell us about the transformation of the state and the expansion of the criminal justice system into more and more aspects of everyday life, extending from the classroom to the welfare system? What does it mean to ignore the increasing corporatization, privatization, and militarization of schools at a time when all aspects of public life are under siege by market-driven forces? How can schools fulfill their democratic mission when they are shaped by a social order characterized by massive inequalities in wealth and power?
These are not questions Duncan seems interested in addressing, primarily because his obsession with instrumental values holds both public schools and public values in contempt. Surely, prospective teachers should have some idea, some sort of theoretical model, if not also diverse vocabularies and varied paradigms, in order to understand the social forces that currently impact students, schools, the policy environment surrounding schools, and teaching itself, which often takes place in contexts that vastly differ according to a range of social and economic determinants. Duncan’s attack on theory and critical thinking is not only rooted in the most perverse form of anti-intellectualism, it is also in lock-step with a conservative and corporate educational reform movement driven by an ideological agenda largely shaped by a number of antipublic conservative foundations, politicians, legislators, and intellectuals.
One of the most prominent of these antipublic intellectuals is David M. Steiner, the commissioner of New York State Department of Education, whose work is often praised by Duncan. Steiner is a firm exponent of charter schools, alternative routes to teacher certification, and data-driven approaches to teaching. He has argued against theoretical course work and is an strong advocate of “more on-the-job training.” But Steiner is not simply a retrograde positivist touting the virtues of instrumental rationality, he is also a die-hard conservative ideologue who is intent on eliminating the conditions that might result in prospective teachers being exposed to critical, if not progressive, theory and to literature about schooling, pedagogy, and broader social issues. In fact, Steiner appears to be repelled by any notion of theory that might reveal the ideological, pedagogical, and political limitations of stir-and-serve recipes for teaching. He has made a number of public comments that suggest he is horrified by the notion that practice, indirectly or directly, might be informed by theory and engaged as a serious issue by existing and prospective teachers. In this case, the fear of theory may stem from its ability to raise critical questions about the forms of authority, specific ideologies, values, and interests that structure pedagogical practices. This might explain his emphasis on teaching prospective teachers a range of banal techniques such as “when to make eye contact, when to call on a student by name, when to wait for a fuller answer.” 78
Pedagogy in this view is utterly depoliticized, while the ideological nature of the production of knowledge, identities, desires, and social relations within the classroom gets conveniently buried beneath an appeal to techniques and methods. What also gets obscured is the productive character of pedagogy as a moral and political practice. What Steiner misses in his dystopian support for methods removed from theoretical, historical, ethical, and political considerations is that the issue of pitting theory against practice is a false one since theoretical questions always guide any form of classroom practice. What is lost here is that the issue is not whether schools of education produce too much theory since, as Stuart Hall points out, “you can’t do without it. You need to change the scale of magnification. You have to break into the confusing fabric that ‘the real’ apparently presents, and find another way in. So it’s like a microscope and until you look at the evidence through the microscope, you can’t see the hidden relations.” 79 Practices, techniques, and methodologies do not speak for themselves, and they are meaningless unless they are subject to critical interrogation and examined both through specific theoretical frameworks and the theoretical values they attempt to legitimate, particularly when used to support dominant modes of authority, teaching, and learning. The presupposition that practice is not bound to submit to norms or is unmediated by theoretical paradigms is as anti-intellectual as it is depoliticizing. The real issue is whether teachers are aware of and reflective about the theoretical frameworks and norms that inform their work. At the very least being attentive to matters of theory enables them to better understand the ethical values, ideologies, and political visions that inform different forms of practice.
Surely Steiner is too smart to accept the notion that theory is more of a pathology and a threat than an invaluable resource. It is hard to imagine him faulting the role that theory might play in enabling teachers to be thoughtful about the social, cultural, psychological, and political forces that shape classroom knowledge and produce hidden structures of meaning beneath officially sanctioned narratives. It is also hard to accept his stated belief that it is impossible for theory to provide teachers with possibilities for not only differentiating among diverse forms of classroom practice but also producing new forms of practice. Theory is the condition that enables teachers and students to be self-reflexive, to develop better forms of knowledge and classroom skills, and to gain an understanding of the contexts in which they teach and learn, which have already been constructed though struggles over theories that make a claim to legitimating what kind of knowledge and practice counts in a classroom. Theory creates the possibilities for being reflective about meaning and its effects, and it is a powerful tool for understanding how to interrogate those pedagogical spaces in which identities, values, and social relations are in play within diverse situations of power.
Steiner’s rejection of theory as a rather useless abstraction is really an attack on the productive nature of pedagogy itself and on equipping teachers with the skills and knowledge they need to be critical, autonomous agents in the classroom. At the same time, the anti-theory retreat into the world of methods and instrumental rationality is more than a retreat from the world in all of its political and social complexity—it is likewise a retreat from any understanding of the public school as a bastion of democratic learning and civic pedagogy, just as it is a retreat from any measure of moral and social responsibility. This is a dangerous and difficult stance to take at a time when the country is besieged by massive corruption, a lack of political vision, and a moral void that promotes bigotry, massive exploitation, and a dangerous national chauvinism.
What needs to be emphasized against this instrumental view of teacher education is that there is much more at work here than a disagreement over the relationship between theory and practice. There is also an ideologically driven disavowal of critical pedagogy, the civic meaning of schooling, and the role that teachers might play in connecting learning to matters of politics, power, and democracy. In fact, Steiner’s position became crystal clear to me when I attended the Nexus Conference in Amsterdam in 2007. Steiner was on a panel and he raised a number of issues about schooling that were deeply conservative, if not reactionary. When I asked him about the role of schooling as a public good, as an institution that should be defined in more capacious terms than a paradigm that focuses on simply collecting data, he answered by saying “Social justice promotes hatred. Hatred for the established order.” I was both surprised and distressed by this response, as were a number of other people in the conference. Steiner’s response revealed a buried order of conservative politics that lies beneath his rhetoric about practice while offering insight about what it is about Steiner’s policies as a model for educational reform throughout the country that attracts Arne Duncan’s spirited support. I can only assume that the object of Steiner’s critique of social justice programs is critical thought itself, which is labeled by its detractors as a form of negativism while those who deploy critiques of the status quo are stereotyped as cynical, resentful, and un-American. While it would be unfair to compare Steiner with Tom Horne, the xenophobic Arizona superintendent of public schools, he has used the same argument against thoughtful critique, labeling it as a downer and unworthy of having a place in the public schools, particularly when it takes the form of ethnic studies programs. 80 Not only is such an argument at odds with an open democratic society, it is fundamentally part of a authoritarian model of pedagogy that ultimately seeks to erase any notion of history considered at odds with official narratives.
Duncan and Steiner reify pedagogy by stripping it of its political and ethical referents and transforming it into a grab bag of practical methods and techniques. Neither of them can theorize the productive character of pedagogy as a political and moral discourse. Hence both are silent about the institutional conditions that bear down on the ability of teachers to link conception with execution, and what it means to develop a better understanding of pedagogy as a struggle over the shaping of particular identities. Nor can they raise questions about education as a form of political intervention that offers the conditions for teachers to create potentially empowering or disempowering spaces for students, critically interrogate the role of teacher authority, or engage the limits of established academic subjects in sustaining critical dialogues about educational aims and practices. These questions barely scratch the surface of issues that are often excluded when education is linked solely to the teaching of content, and pedagogy is instrumentalized to the point of irrelevance.
Pedagogy is never innocent. But if it is to be understood and made problematic as a moral and political practice, educators must not only critically question and register their own subjective involvement in how and what they teach, they must also resist calls to transform pedagogy into the mere application of standardized practical methods and techniques. Otherwise, teachers become indifferent to the ethical and political dimensions of their own authority and practice. There is no escaping the detour through theory that every pedagogical practice must take just as it is impossible to suggest that schools are somehow neutral institutions that can ignore the ways in which social, ethical, and political norms bear down on almost every aspect of schooling and classroom teaching. In fact, one can reasonably argue that most of what is learned in schools takes place through a hidden curriculum in which particular forms of knowledge, culture, values, and desires are taught but never talked about or made public. One only has to mention as a case in point the ways in which schools increasingly function as part of a circuit of power that produces the school-to-prison pipeline. One would be hard pressed to find any educator who claims that his or her school participates in such a vicious process, and yet the hard reality of such practices bear down on poor minority children every day as part of the hidden curriculum of schooling. 81
Missing from Duncan’s and Steiner’s celebration of data-driven teaching is any concern about the complex and often contradictory role that schools play in either extending or closing down the possibilities for students to participate within a wider democratic culture. Nor is there any interest in exploring how power works through particular texts, social practices, and institutional structures to produce differences organized around complex forms of subordination and empowerment. Given these omissions, it is not surprising that little is said about how the dominant culture of schooling legitimates as well as excludes, under vastly different conditions of learning, those students who are marginalized by class and race, or about what ideological and institutional conditions are necessary to provide teachers with the opportunities they need to function as critical public intellectuals rather than as robotic data retrievers. Duncan and Steiner seem mute on the issue of what it means to turn their empirically based views of classroom practice into an exploration of the limits of such practice and empirically based knowledge itself.
Of course, practice on its own tells us nothing, because it is always subject to various theoretical, historical, and social categories through which it is framed and experienced. Educational practice gets its meaning not simply by being emulated but by how it is reflected upon, critically mediated, and thoughtfully engaged, just like any other body of knowledge. I think that Duncan’s and Steiner’s hostility to theory and critical pedagogy is less about their presence in various educational programs and schools of education than it is about the potential of certain types of critical theory and pedagogical practices to raise questions at odds with their right-wing support for the corporate elite’s version of school reform. How else to explain Steiner’s ludicrous statements reported in the New York Times that “colleges of education still devote too much class time to abstract notions about [what he calls] ‘the role of school in democracy’ and ‘the view by some that schools exist to perpetuate a social hierarchy.’” 82 Steiner’s disdain for having future teachers analyze the role of schools and pedagogy itself through larger political, social, economic, and political categories is palpable. Steiner’s fear of teachers and students viewing public and higher education as crucial forces for creating critical citizens and viable spheres for learning about and defending democratic values, identities, and social relations says a great deal about his own politics and disdain for public values. Of course, Steiner became the golden boy for the neoconservative movement after publishing an article in 2005 in which he analyzed the syllabi in foundations courses from sixteen elite schools of education and concluded that since there was a disproportionate number of progressive authors being read in those courses, these education programs must be dominated by left leaning ideologies. 83 Needless to say, this type of ideologically based research begins with a premise and then looks for the evidence to support it. As is well known, schools of education are among the most conservative and deeply anti-intellectual colleges on campuses; they are in many cases already overly concerned with teaching methods and for this they are certainly deserving of criticism. Unfortunately, Steiner ignores the current situation and in the name of reform simply amplifies these problems. Moreover, course syllabi tell us nothing about how books are interpreted by either professors or students. Steiner’s own claims to being impartial are as bogus as is his research. Missing from Steiner’s views on education are crucial questions regarding what matters beyond learning methods, taking tests, using data, and celebrating technocratic modes of rationality? What kind of education do we need for young people to become informed citizens capable of learning how to govern rather than simply be governed? What kind of education do we need to create a generation of young people willing to engage, defend, and struggle for the ideals and social relations that offer the promise of social justice and substantive democracy?
Given the crucial importance of public school teachers in providing students with the knowledge and imagination they will need to further the ideals, social relations, and institutions crucial to an aspiring democracy, the Obama-Duncan view of educational reform must be steadfastly rejected. In both Greece and the United States, teachers, students, workers, and many others feel an acute sense of betrayal and moral indignation as the social state is dismantled and politicians scramble to protect the privileged, wealthy, and mega corporations with bailouts while placing the burden for the current economic recession on the working and middle classes. While the sense of betrayal and indignation over the deep financial cuts in education are affecting both countries, the response on the part of Greek students and labor activists is informed by a much broader understanding of the workings of neoliberal politics and the far reaching influence of casino capitalism. The culture of political literacy is alive and well in Greece, but it is declining and under major assault in the United States. And this is most evident in the campaign that Duncan is waging against public schools, teachers, and colleges of education. The Obama administration’s educational policy increasingly appears to favor an education system and a broader cultural apparatus that are utterly commodified, instrumentalized, and dominated by private rather than public considerations. Curiously, despite some skepticism regarding market-driven values being expressed by those involved in the financial sector in the United States, debates over education seem to be one of the few places left where neoliberal values are asserting themselves in an entirely unreflective way. The pedagogical conditions necessary to reclaim a culture of political literacy suggest that we take matters of education seriously if we are going to survive as a democracy. At the very least, it is time for Americans to take note of the fundamental importance of retaining educational theories and pedagogical practices that produce the knowledge, values, and formative culture necessary for young people to believe that democracy is worth fighting for.


Nick Anderson, “Recession Could Result in Deep School Staff Layoffs, Larger Class Sizes,” Washington Post (April 21, 2010), p. A02.
Frank Rich, “Fight On, Goldman Sachs!” New York Times (April 25, 2010), p. WK12.
Chronis Polychroniou, “Greece on Edge of Abyss,” Open Democracy (May 16, 2010). http://www.opendemocracy.net/chronis-polychroniou/greece-on-edge-of-abyss (accessed May 16, 2010).
Polychroniou, “Greece on Edge.”
Polychroniou, “Greece on Edge.”
Stanley Aronowitz and I have been writing about this issue for some time. See Stanley Aronowitz and Henry A. Giroux, Education Still Under Siege (Amherst: Bergin and Garvey, 2004). See also, Stanley Aronowitz, Against Schooling (Boulder: Paradigm Publishing, 2008); Henry A. Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux, Take Back Higher Education (New York: Palgrave, 2004); Henry A. Giroux, Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Paradigm Publishing, 2005).
Cited in Robert Jensen, “Florida’s Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking,” CommonDreams.Org (June 17, 2006). http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0717-22.htm (accessed June 1, 2010).
Tamar Lewin, “Citing Individualism, Arizona Tries to Rein in Ethnic Studies in School,” New York Times (May 13, 1010), p. A13; Isabel Garcia and Kim Dominguez, “Arizona Students Protest New Law Banning Ethnic Studies Classes,” Democracy Now (May 14, 2010), http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/14/arizona_students_protest_new_law_banning (accessed June 2, 2010); Appearing on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Mathews, Doug Nick, a liaison on educational matters for Tom Horne, the state superintendent of public instruction in education, argued that students who read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed are being encouraged to reconquer parts of the southwestern United States. This is not simply a form of idiotic misrepresentation of Freire’s work who argued for problem-posing education against what he called banking forms of education; it is a racist discourse that discounts any category that invokes race or ethnicity as part of an effort to engage history, culture, or matters of identity and agency. In this view, cultural, racial, and ethnic differences are more dangerous than bigotry.
Paul Jay, “Interview with Gérard Duménil: Greece, a Crisis Born of Neo-liberal Madness,” The Real News (March 10, 2010). http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=4883 (accessed June 2, 2010).
Loic Wacquant, Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Durham: Duke University Press, 2009), p. 306.
Costas Douzinas, “Greece Can Fight Back Against Neoliberals,” Guardian UK (April 27, 2010). http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/apr/27/greece-imf-eu-welfare-state (accessed June 2, 2010).
Douzinas, “Greece Can Fight.”
Robin Hahnel, “Financial Reform,” Z Space (May 7, 2010). http://www.zcommunications.org/financial-reform-by-robin-hahnel (accessed June 1, 2010).
Robert Reich, “Bail Out Our Schools,” TruthOut (March 8, 2010). http://www.truthout.org/robert-reich-bail-out-our-schools57489 (accessed June 1, 2010).
Reich, “Bail Out Our Schools.”
“National Priorities Project Tallies Cost of War through September 30, 2010,” National Priorities Project (January 11, 2010). http://www.nationalpriorities.org/2009/1/11/Cost-of-war-tallies-through-FY2010 (accessed June 1, 2010).
These figures are take from the cost of war calculator. http://www.stwr.org/special-features/cost-of-war-calculator.html (accessed June 1, 2010).
Gilbert Mercier, “The US Military Spending Keeps Growing and Growing,” News Junkie Post (February 1, 2010). http://newsjunkiepost.com/2010/02/01/the-us-military-spending-keeps-growing-growing (accessed June 1, 2010). Some important sources on American militarism include Andrew J. Bacevich, The Limits of Power (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Nick Turse, How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008); Andrew J. Bacevich, The New American Militarism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005); and Chalmers Johnson, The Sorrows of Empire (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004).
Juliet Schor, “A Cure for Consumption,” Boston Globe (May 30, 2010). http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2010/05/30/a_cure_for_consumption/?page=2 (accessed July 1, 2010). For an extensive analysis of this issue, see Juliet Schor, Plenitude: The New Economics for True Wealth (New York: Penguin Press, 2010).
Anne Frémaux, “The Educational Crisis, Symptom and Crucible of Societal Crisis,” TruthOut (April 5, 2010). http://www.truthout.org/the-educational-crisis-symptom-and-crucible-societal-crisis58505 (accessed July 1, 2010).
Les Leopold, “Hey Dad, Why Does This Country Protect Billionaires, and Not Teachers?” AlterNet (May 5, 2010). http://www.alternet.org/module/printversion/146738 (accessed June 2, 2010).
Leopold, “Hey Dad.”
Leopold, “Hey Dad.”
Leopold, “Hey Dad.”
Howard Fischer, “Legislators Take Aim Anew at Ethnic-Studies Programs,” Capital Media Services (April 29, 2010). http://azstarnet.com/news/local/education/precollegiate/article_c1f53405-acab-5f21-a580-a199a68ff76c.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Miriam Jordan, “Arizona Grades Teachers on Fluency,” Wall Street Journal (April 30, 2010). http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703572504575213883276427528.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Frank Rich, “If Only Arizona Were the Real Problem,” New York Times (May 2, 2010), p. WK10.
The liberal version of this type of argument can be found in Stanley Fish, “Arizona: The Gift That Keeps On Going,” New York Times (May 17, 2010). Fish is repulsed by the idea that the classroom could be already implicated in politics and power and assumes that any suggestion of the sort or any pedagogy that describes itself as a moral and political practice is by default a form of indoctrination. What Fish repeatedly misses is that education is always a deliberate attempt to shape the knowledge, values, capacities, and identities of students and that it errs on the side of indoctrination when it is completely unaware of the politics that guides its theory, practice, and mode of socialization. How can pedagogy free itself of the pressures of the politics, policy, economics, inequality, and other forces shaping the larger social world? Needless to say, pedagogy is always political by virtue of the ways in which power is used to shape various elements of classroom identities, desires, values, and social relations, but that is very different from being an act of indoctrination. Fish’s notion of depoliticization is so totalizing that it is incapable of making such distinctions or even recognizing that he uses his column as a pulpit and his mass-media power to advance his own political views on the virtues of depoliticization, whether in the classroom or in the larger public sphere. He is so confused about the meaning and role of critical pedagogy that he actually argues in a New York Times Op-Ed that Tim Horne, the racist and ignorant superintendent of schools in Tucson, Arizona, is simply the right-wing counterpart to Paulo Freire’s notion of critical pedagogy in that they both politicize the classroom. This is more than a theoretical stretch: It is simply a display of pure ignorance. Moreover, it is a mode of argument that replicates the type of reasoning often used by right-wing Tea Party extremists.
This turn toward an obsession with material interests at the expense of the public good is taken up brilliantly in Tony Judt, Ill Fares the Land (New York: Penguin, 2010).
Zygmunt Bauman, Living on Borrowed Time: Conversations with Citlalj Rovirosa-Madrazo (Cambridge: Polity, 2010), p. 7. For a brilliant analysis of the how the Obama administration’s neoliberal education policies are influenced by market-driven venture philanthropists, especially with regard to teacher education, educational leadership, charters, vouchers, and corporate values, see Kenneth J. Saltman, The Gift of Education: Public Education and Venture Philanthropy (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010).
On the corrosive effects of inequality on all aspects of American life, see Judt, Ill Fares the Land.
These issues were taken up brilliantly in the not too distant past by C. Wright Mills, various members of the Frankfurt School, and by advocates of the new sociology of education in the 1980s.
See, especially, Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999).
These issues have been explored in Roger Simon, Teaching Against the Grain (Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 1992); Henry A. Giroux, Schooling and the Struggle for Public Life, 2nd ed. (Boulder: Paradigm, 2005); Henry A. Giroux, Theory and Resistance in Education, 2nd ed. (Westport: Bergin & Garvey, 2001); Joe Kincheloe, Critical Pedagogy Primer (New York: Peter Lang, 2008); and Deborah Britzman, Novel Education (New York: Peter Lang, 2006).
Stanley Aronowitz, Against Schooling (Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers, 2008), p. 17.
Ibid., Aronowitz, Against Schooling, p. 19.
Cited in Isabelle Bruno and Christopher Newfield, “Can the Cognitariat Speak?” E-Flux 14 (March 2010). http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/118 (accessed June 2, 2010).
One of the best books written on the charter schools movement is Danny Weil, Charter School Movement: History, Politics, Policies, Economics, and Effectiveness, 2nd ed. (New York: Gray House, 2009).
Judt, Ill Fares the Land, p. 216.
Kenneth Saltman, Capitalizing on Disaster: Taking and Breaking Public Schools (Boulder: Paradigm, 2007).
Michael Roth, “Education for a Democracy,” Tikkun 9:4 (July/August 1994), p. 51.
For a discussion of how cheating is endemic to educational privatization, see Kenneth Saltman’s exposé of the largest for-profit company managing public schools in Saltman, The Edison Schools: Corporate Schooling and the Assault on Public Education (New York: Routledge, 2005). There is no credible evidence supporting the idea that paying teachers whose students score high on standardized tests makes them better teachers. In fact, given the various scandals that have emerged in Texas and other places regarding teachers who provide fake tests scores or who alter the results of such scores, it would seem that what these schemes really do is promote corruption.
These teachers are now being rehired under a new set of hiring procedures. Tatiana Pina, “What it Takes: Central Falls High School Parents Make Sure Their Children Succeed,” Providence Journal (May 16, 2010). http://www.projo.com/education/content/central_fall_parents_05-16-10_2LI9TIQ_v208.8ddf750.html# (accessed June 2, 2010).
Bill Moyers, “Interview with William K. Black,” Bill Moyers Journal (April 23, 2010). http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04232010/transcript4.html
Moyers, “Interview with William K. Black.”
Moyers, “Interview with William K. Black.”
I take up these issues in detail in Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009).
Matt Taibbi, “The Lunatics Who Made a Religion Out of Greed and Wrecked the Economy,” AlterNet (April 26, 2010). http://www.alternet.org/story/146611/taibbi:_the_lunatics_who_made_a_religion_out_of_greed_and_wrecked_the_economy (accessed June 2, 2010).
Gene R. Nichol, “Public Universities at Risk Abandoning Their Mission,” Chronicle of Higher Education (October 31, 2008). http://chronicle.com/weekly/v54/i30/30a02302.htm (accessed June 2, 2010).
I am taking this concept from Jacques Derrida, “Autoimmunity: Real and Symbolic Suicides – A Dialogue with Jacques Derrida,” Philosophy in a Time of Terror: Dialogues with Jurgen Habermas and Jacques Derrida, ed. Giovanna Borradori (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004), pp. 85–136.
John Maggio and Martin Smith, “College Inc.,” Frontline (transcript) (Boston: WGBH Educational Foundation, 2010). http://www.pbsl.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/collegeinic/etc/script.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Daniel Golden and John Hechinger, “For-Profit N.J. College Halts Recruiting of Homeless,” Businessweek (May 5, 2010). http://www.businessweek.com/news/2010-05-05/for-profit-n-j-college-halts-recruiting-of-homeless-update1-.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Cited in Andrea Fuller, “Duncan Says For-Profit Colleges Are Important to Obama’s 2020 Goal,” Chronicle of Higher Education (May 11, 2010). http://chronicle.com/article/Duncan-Says-For-Profit/65477/?sid=pm&utm_source=pm&utm_medium=en (accessed June 2, 2010).
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Golden and Hechinger, “For-Profit N. J. College.”
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Maggio and Smith, “College Inc.”
Trip Gabriel, “Despite Push, Success at Charter Schools Is Mixed,” New York Times (May 1, 2010), p. A1.
Diane Ravitch, Death and Life of the Great American School System (New York: Basic, 2010), p. 134.
Ravitch cited in Amy Goodman, “Leading Education Scholar Diane Ravitch: No Child Left Behind Has Left U.S. Schools with Legacy of ‘Institutionalized Fraud,‘” Democracy Now! (March 5, 2010) http://www.democracynow.org/2010/3/5/protests (accessed June 2, 2010); While Ravitch criticizes venture philanthropists such as Gates, Broad, and Walton for promoting neoliberal educational policies, she does so in defense of a larger conservative attempt to restore Western-based curricula marked by fixed disciplines and traditional core knowledge. A much more insightful and critical argument against these casino capitalist philanthropists can be found in Kenneth Saltman’s work. Unlike Ravitch, he does not blame progressive education for the system’s current failings, and he takes up the current reform movement now bankrolled by “the billionaires club” as part of the neoliberal assault on both schools and democracy itself. See Saltman, The Gift of Education.
Juan Gonzalez, “Albany Charter Cash Cow: Big Banks Making a Bundle On New Construction as Schools Bear the Cost,” New York Daily News (May 7, 2010). http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/education/2010/05/07/2010-05-07_albany_charter_cash_cow_big_banks_making_a_bundle_on_new_construction_as_schools.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
This is excerpted from the transcript of the following interview: Amy Goodman, “Juan Gonzalez: Big Banks Making a Bundle On New Construction as Schools Bear the Cost,” Democracy Now! (May 7, 2010). http://www.democracynow.org/2010/5/7/juan_gonzalez_big_banks_making_a (accessed June 2, 2010).
Charles Murray, “Why Charter Schools Fail the Test,” New York Times (May 5, 2010), p. A31.
Murray, “Why Charter Schools Fail.”
This theme has been taken up by a number of authors recently. See, for instance, Chris Hedges, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America (New York: Free Press, 2006); Henry A. Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed (Boulder: Paradigm, 2008); and Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2008).
This issue is taken up brilliantly in Zygmunt Bauman, Consuming Life (London: Polity, 2007).
See, for example, “A Call to Teaching: Secretary Arne Duncan’s Remarks at The Rotunda at the University of Virginia,” ED.gov (October 9, 2009), http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10092009.html (accessed June 2, 2010); “Teacher Preparation: Reforming the Uncertain Profession–Remarks of Secretary Arne Duncan at Teachers College, Columbia University,” ED.gov (October 22, 2009), http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10222009.html (accessed June 2, 2010) and Talk of the Nation with Neal Conan, “Duncan Prescribes Drastic Measures For Schools,” National Public Radio (April 19, 2010), http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126111829 (accessed June 2, 2010).
David H. Price, “Outcome-Based Tyranny: Teaching Compliance While Testing Like A State,” Anthropological Quarterly, 76:4 (Autumn, 2003), p. 717.
See Henry A. Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009); Christopher Robbins, Expelling Hope: The Assault on Youth and the Militarization of Schooling (Albany: SUNY Press, 2008); and Kenneth Saltman and David Gabbard, eds., Education as Enforcement: The Militarization and Corporatization of Schools, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 2010).
“Teacher Preparation,” http://www2.ed.gov/news/speeches/2009/10/10222009.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Elizabeth Sullivan and Damekia Morgan, Pushed Out: Harsh Discipline in Louisiana Schools Denies the Right to Education (New Orleans, LA: National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, 2010). http://www.nesri.org/fact_sheets_pubs/Pushed_Out_Report.pdf (accessed June 2, 2010).
Andy Kroll, “Will Public Education Be Militarized?” Mother Jones (January 19, 2009). http://www.motherjones.com/commentary/tomdispatch/2009/01/wil-public-education-be-militarized.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Martha C. Nussbaum, “Education for Profit, Education for Freedom,” Liberal Education (Summer 2009), p. 6.
Lisa W. Foderaro, “Alternate Path for Teachers Gains Ground,” New York Times (April 18, 2010), p. A19.
Stuart Hall and Les Back, “In Conversation: At Home and Not at Home,” Cultural Studies 23:4 (July 2009), pp. 664–665.
Horne’s ignorant views are amply displayed in a debate with Michael Dyson on the Anderson Cooper Show. http://www.cnn.com/video/data/2.0/video/bestoftv/2010/05/12/ac.ethics.study.ban.cnn.html (accessed June 2, 2010).
Tony Penna and I wrote about the hidden curriculum over thirty years ago. See Henry A. Giroux and Anthony Penna, “Social Relations in the Classroom: The Dialectics of the Hidden Curriculum,” Edcentric (Spring 1977), pp. 39–47. I have written a number of books on the school-to-prison pipeline. See, for example, Henry A. Giroux, The Abandoned Generation (New York: Palgrave, 2004).
Foderaro, “Alternate Path for Teachers,” p. A1.
His co-authored article with Susan Rozen appears in Frederick Hess, Andrew Rotherham, and Kate Walsh, eds., A Qualified Teacher in Every Classroom (New York: American Enterprise Institute, 2004). His defense of the piece appeared in the conservative educational journal, Education Next. See David Steiner, “Skewed Perspective,” Education Next 5:1 (Winter 2005). http://educationnext.org/skewedperspective/ (accessed June 2, 2010).