To be published in Review of Pedagogy and Cultural Studies in August 1998


The Rediscovery of Class and Hope in Public Education

A Review of Ghetto Schooling, A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform 

and Cultural Politics and Education


Rich Gibson 

Wayne State University, Detroit
Winter 1997-1998
A Review of Ghetto Schooling, A Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform, (Teachers College Press, 1997, $18.95) and Cultural Politics and Education, (Teachers College Press, 1996, $18.95) 
Let me tell you three stories. The first is mine, the second is Jean Anyon's, and the last is Michael Apple's. Then I will expand a bit on their ideas. Finally we can regroup to think about how we might use our stories to analyze schools and our communities, and what we might want to do. 

Early this winter, I toured several Detroit and suburban schools. My plan was to visit classes of friends and students, to reconnect with the classes I attended and taught many years ago in my hometown. In a Detroit high school, I met with a group of students and asked them about their vision of the future. 

One student replied quickly, heatedly, "Whadda ya mean future?" 

"What do you think you want to be doing, say, at the turn of the century?" 

"What's up with that? My future is to get as much stuff as I can--RIGHT NOW." 

"Why? " 

"We all know we aren't gonna make twenty-one." 

Thinking, "...adolescent hyperbole," I asked the other students if she spoke for the group. They confirmed her position and added plenty of chapters and verses about their chances for survival--and the prison/police system. After class, their veteran teacher affirmed the sincerity behind the young woman's comments and added, "Actually, I don't want to live in the world these kids will inherit. She wasn't entirely wrong, you know." 

In a suburban school, not far from the 8 Mile Road moat that serves as Detroit's apartheid wall, things were a bit different. In a college-bound history class, I met a kid who said, "The future is more of the same trash. More school." 

Which trash is that? 

"Bogus classes and tests. College. Then managing a Mickey-whopper." His comments were uproariously ratified: school is rubbish. After class, their teacher gently pointed to a state achievement test, "We get a lot of chatter about teacher-empowerment, professionalism, and student-centered classrooms. Then we get more standardized tests, bigger classes, and the blame for bad scores. Hell, we're clerks. Luckily we can still close our doors." 

I spent the winter in Grenada, a laboratory of the struggle between colonialism and impudent nationalism. Colonialism won the battle, a massive invasion of a country smaller than Kalamazoo. The nationalists, among the brightest people in the country, still languish in a 17th century jail. Indeed, colonialism won so overwhelmingly; it lost interest. The U.S. pulled its ambassador and left behind a second-tier diplomat to watch the economy unravel. 

Two comments stand out from my visit to Grenadian schools. One came from a girl's school teacher, "There's no hope here. None. It makes no difference what we do, and that goes for everyone. The only hope for people here is to leave--and never come back." The second came from a student in a class of 40+ boys in Grenada's top secondary school. He had listened sullenly in the back of a dilapidated classroom and only responded when his teacher chided him as the one who always spoke for the class but fell silent in the presence of a foreigner. "When is the U.S. going to collapse so we can do something with our lives? " 

Leaving the airport on my return from Grenada, I switched on the radio. There came Rush Limbaugh, "I'm glad I'm old. I wouldn't want to live too far into the 21st century." 

Jean Anyon tells a harsh tale. She did intensive on-site research, mostly in a Newark elementary school she renamed Marcy, for three years, beginning in 1992. Here is how she begins her story in her book, "Ghetto Schooling," "As I enter the room (of Marcy elementary) there is a strong smell of urine. The windows are closed and there is a board over the glass pane in the door. The teacher yells at a child from her desk, 'I'm going to get rid of you!' Some children are copying spelling words from the board. Several jump up and down in their seats. Most are not doing the work. Many are leaning back in their chairs, chatting or fussing . . . 

'These kids have hard lives, don't they?', I say, At that she begins a litany of the troubles of the children in the class: Derrick's father died of AIDS last week, one uncle has already died of AIDS, and another is sick. One girl's father stole her money for drugs. On Monday a boy had been brought to school by his mother, who said he had been raped by a male cousin on Thursday, but that 'he was over it now.'...Two boys were shaving chalk and snorting the dust...One boy had a puffy eye because his mother got drunk after she got laid off and beat up the kids while they were sleeping; last night he had hit her back, while she was sleeping. 

At this point I interrupt the teacher to say, 'It's really stuffy in here. Why don't you open a window?' 'I can't...because I have some children who like to jump out of school windows!' The children are totally out of control now, running around the room. One boy is weeping quietly at his desk. She shouts, 'Fold your hands!' They ignore her." 

Anyon notes that white and black teachers alike, perhaps deeply frustrated, verbally humiliated and degraded the students. She cites these examples of black teachers addressing their students: 

"You're disgusting; you remind me of children I would see in a jail or something." 

"Shut up and push those pencils--push those pencils you borderline people!" 

"Your mother's pussy smells like fish. That's what stinks around here." (Black teacher to a fourth grade girl whose mother is a prostitute). 

White teachers did their share: 

"If I had a gun, I'd kill you. You're all hoodlums. 

Why are you so stupid! I'm going to throw you in the garbage. 

Don't you have any attention span? You have the attention span of cheerios! 

This ain't no restaurant, you know--where you go in and get what you want...You have no sense. You have no sense."(1) 

Anyon calls what she confronts in the Newark schools a culture of resignation; teachers, parents, communities, students, administrators so alienated from one another and the struggle for knowledge that few are willing to take up the hard work necessary to change urban education. They have, simply, lost hope. Her study, what she calls a historical political economy, seeks to find seeds of hope within the historical background; inside the "deep structural" processes, of the Newark system may be reason to rediscover hope. 

Now comes Michael Apple, one of the most widely published radical educators in North America. He offers an international tale in his most recent book, "Cultural Politics and Education": 

Apple was traveling across the plains of an Asian nation with a former student and colleague when he noticed, at regular intervals along the road, small signs with the logo of a famous U.S. fast food chain. 

"Why are those signs there? Is there a ---- restaurant nearby?" 

"Michael, don't you know what those signs signify? There is no Western restaurant within 50 miles of here. These signs represent exactly what is wrong with education in this nation. Listen to this." 

Apple's friend goes on to relate a for-the-want-of-a-nail story. The nation's military government wants to introduce western capital to the fruits of that country's possibilities. The land is perfect for mechanized potato farming, farming far cheaper than available in the U.S. because the cost of labor is cheaper, environmental regulations are minimal, and taxation is low. The land is being turned over the fast food corporation--to make American's french fries. The people who once lived on the land are being driven off. They go to the cities, where there are factories being built, but jobs are few and shanty towns proliferate. But the government does not want to make the expenditures to provide a safety net for these people, nor does it want them educated. So, an endless chain of bureaucratic impossibilities is laid out for people who must register their children so the kids will be counted in projections for educational and social service needs. Hence, the children never officially exist. And, as they do not exist, there is no need to build schools or hire teachers for them. International capital was very happy, but, "These fields are the reason there are no schools in my city. There are no schools because so many people like cheap french fries."(2) 

Three stories, two texts from important radical authors in education, all beckon toward the reciprocal relationships of capital and inequality, authoritarianism and democracy, privilege and exploitation, community and exclusion, consciousness and anger turned inward--all played out in school. Both Apple and Anyon, to one degree or another, urge that educators interested in a democratic society rediscover the centripetal role of competing social classes in determining the quality of education. While their stories alone are worth the paperback price of admission, let us examine Anyon and Apple, each in order, to unravel their methods of analysis, their calls for action, and to see if we want to follow them. 

Anyon's story introduces her historical political economy of the Newark school system, which she suggests is an archetype for all blighted North American inner city schools. The strength of her story is at once in its authenticity as an activist ethnography, and in its meticulously researched and provocative study of the footing that props up school--the politics, history, and economics of the community where the school is based. As to the latter, Anyon demonstrates her lifetime thesis: that school, everything about school from the curricula to the architecture to the course content, is and has long been segregated along lines of class and race. 

In Newark, once seen by many as a model system, schools for poor and immigrant children were always second-tier, offering rote pedagogy and curricula to be memorized , and once racism was added to the mix, in the migrations period around World War Two, schools for poor kids became even worse. (55, 97). From era to era, the city spent heavily on school reform. Corruption, incompetence, coupled with the flight of white taxpayers and job-owning corporations to outlying areas, repeatedly poisoned the potential for practicable change. Moreover, teachers, those best positioned to fight for change, often failed to do so. Many educators joined the exodus. By the mid-1950's more than one-half of the Newark teaching cadre lived outside the city. Mostly assimilated lower- middle-class people, many of the teachers engaged in class war on the kids, children with lives wholly different from their instructors. (91, 111). 

Anyon says that corrupt administrators, using the school's public pot of gold to enhance their power and gild their homes, hired unqualified teachers and retained support personnel on the payroll whose wages surpassed teacher pay. The Newark rebellion of 1967, Anyon maintains, pressured officials to hire and promote unqualified black educators and administrators who clung to their jobs--at the expense of the children. (120). This group often assumed gatekeeper roles, mimicking the values of the people who also oppressed them, gaining a modicum prestige and privilege from practicing contempt. (18) 

At every turn, Anyon finds a political and economic link. One key trace element, of course, is jobs: who has them, where are they, what kind of work is it, and what do they pay? Newark"s downward financial spiral, familiar to nearly anyone who watched the northern employment belts rust, left its tracks in the record of employment. Between 1960 and 1970, Newark lost nearly one-quarter of its industrial jobs, and thirteen hundred companies left the city, though the rebellion of 1967 did temporarily spur hiring. Seventy percent of those black males who had work, had unskilled jobs. Typically racist AFL-CIO unions blocked the entry of black people to the trades. In 1967, only 150 apprentices, of more than seventeen-hundred total, were black. The loss of jobs to outlying areas, foreshadowing even more ruthless mobility from profit-searching capital, demolished the city's tax base for funding schools. (102). 

National, state, and local politics intertwined with economic decay. If conceivable, politicians became more corrupt, one noting the advantage of staying home was that he could steal more money as the mayor of Newark than as a U.S. congressman. Corruption fostered disarray. The school board, first elected by general balloting, later by a district system, had no controls on its payroll system, no requirements for specific billing for many expenditures, and a personnel system that at once failed to keep records, and granted automatic tenure to those who clung on. When the city's first black mayor, Kenneth Gibson, came to office in 1970, the school system was heavily indebted and in near chaos. Like most black mayors of the last thirty years, Gibson inherited insolvency and havoc. 

Then things got worse. In the 1980's in New Jersey, the shift toward more intensely globalized capital meant the loss of more than 80,000 industrial jobs. The rapid-paced collapse of high-wage work was coupled to the destruction of the social service system and a "sharp rise in urban poverty...Newark was one of ten cities with the largest increase in the number of the ghetto poor during 1970 to 1980". (132). This continuing economic tumble was yoked to the suburbanization of New Jersey, a migration made easy for the color-coded select by discriminatory federal home loan policies and federally financed highway systems leading out of the city. Whites left the city, steadily before the 1967 rebellion, in a rush after, making Newark one of the most segregated big cities in the U.S. New Jersey now has the "fourth lowest proportion in the country of whites enrolled in schools attended by blacks." Suburban whites turned their backs on inner city schools. (133) 

Repeated efforts toward school funding equalization never materialized. Despite court rulings scoring the dramatic funding differences between white suburban schools and inner city institutions, little changed. But the rhetoric was swell. The New Jersey Supreme Court called the city schools "disaster areas" and pointed out the skill-drill-and-kill routine of inner city curricula. They contrasted this to the greater freedom and resources, like foreign language programs and science labs, enjoyed in suburban districts. (140). Suburban white voters, holding vast numerical superiority, rejected the Court's comments that it is wrong to consign a specific urban segment of a democracy to an inferior education simply because they cannot afford a better one. The suburbs voted for privilege--and inequality. The funding equalization rulings never came to be. 

Still, funding did improve, quantitatively. But each wave of funding, as with each new effort to reform, was met by a surrounding community culture of poverty, mostly uncommitted and incompetent educators, the seemingly endless stream of corrupt political leaders and school administrators, haphazard oversight and implementation, and a future of joblessness at the end of the educational ladder. (114) After more than 40 different reform strategies were implemented in Newark, a 1993-94 report on Newark public education said, "Children in Newark public schools endure degrading school environments that virtually ensure academic the lack of indignation on the part of staff..."After awhile, lower your standards," one teacher explained. (144). 

Anyon draws four key lessons from this history: (1) The class and race make-up of the community the school serves is closely correlated with the public investment in the education system. (2) Governmental policies, federal, state and local, assisted in the decimation of the city of Newark and its schools. (3) Core cities have suffered particularly from tax and financial policies which deepened their isolation and subverted educational reform--from the absence of books to the aging schools which deteriorate around the children. Not excellence, but the narrowest economic considerations of suburbia versus city guided not-so-public education planning. (4) Unqualified staff, the result of years of corruption and administrative chaos, damaged the possibilities for democratic education. 

From what Anyon calls this "deep structural analysis," her inspection of the relationships of schools, politics, history, and economics, Anyon proposes a dramatic turn to what is to be done. First, she says, "We must...eliminate poverty." (164) Next, we must revitalize the cities. Anyon argues for a "national urban tax on American-based [sic] corporations," no matter where they are operating. (167). Her reasoning is crystalline: "Attempting to fix inner city schools without fixing the city in which they are embedded is like trying to clean the air on one side of a screen door." (168). 

Anyon sees the hope that this strategy can work within the process of activating citizen-agency in grassroots movements for democracy, influenced by her analytical method--historical political economy. She wants to build alliances of community groups, health care providers, legal services organization, voter registration groups, business people, and so on--funded by foundations--to lead ghetto residents to self-determination rooted in really political and economic possibilities (170). Specifically, she favors state-takeovers of failing schools, the revitalization of school leaders via staff re-training (including improved training for new teachers and the reeducation of instructional staff who need, beyond curricula and instruction remolding, practice in the respectful treatment of students. (174), greater funding for special education, and full-service schools: centers of health care, education, and social services where the school itself becomes an agent for change. 

Who shall pay for this upheaval, overturning the history, economics, and politics Anyon has so carefully detailed? The rich, the privileged, and the middle class--because reform "will be impossible" if they do not decide it is in their interest to fund it.(182) Anyon believes that it is cheaper to educate a youth now than to incarcerate the youth later saying, "we are all in this boat together, if we don't pull together--the boat may capsize and we may all sink." (183) Her hopeful take on the winds of change in history, and the altruism or prescience of the rich, is that every twenty or thirty years or so an egalitarian movement pops up its head--and we are about due. If not, reasoning with the powerful is the only way out. This would seem at odds with an analysis so meticulously influenced by descriptions of at least the appearances of systematically rising inequality and authoritarianism. 

Let us hold off cross-examining "Ghetto Schooling," leave Anyon with this deep structural close of a chimeral loop, and turn, hopefully, to Michael Apple, long one of far too few radicals of record in educational journals and in school practice as well. 

Apple's project in, "Cultural Politics and Education," is stated more theoretically, than Anyon's. Against the trendy "posties" of the academic left, in opposition to those whose rhetoric is so obscure that they are incapable of stating plainly their belief that discourse is all, Apple says his work is "...based on a critical and self critical structural understanding of education. While not economically reductive, it does require that we recognize that we live under capitalist relations." (vi). In addition, in order to understand our current social milieu, it is essential to have "an understanding of gender, and race and class." (14) Reality is afoot. Our two radical authors, both Anyon and Apple, like many others in fields who must look at the rise of what can only be called the international war of the rich on the poor, are on the trail of the resurgence of Marxist analysis.(3) Can they stay the course? 

Apple's question is this: " do we create the educational conditions in which our students can see (and teach us) the very real and massive relations of inequality and the role of school in partly reproducing and contesting them, and at the same time jointly create the conditions that assist all of us in empowering each other to act on these realities?" (xvii) In this inquiry, Apple argues that naming the world is significant, as is the construction of identities, but the struggle to name and create needs to be related to the material conditions at hand. He offers a detailed description of those circumstances. He focuses deliberately on the economy, first investigating the rising income and wealth disparities between those who work and those who own, then between the races and sexes--and finally, at the bottom of the heap, an examination of the plight of young people of color. A neat line is drawn between income and education: youth who experience poverty are more than 300% likely to never finish school than those who have never lived with poverty. (74) The income gap between blacks and whites continues to rise, as does the general poverty rate in the 1990's. Unemployment and incarceration rates remain coded by factors of class and race. Projections for job growth in the future do not suggest that a college degree, once a ticket to at least lower middle class life, will ease a job search. Eight of the top ten jobs are menial. As Apple notes, rising job and economic disparities are not easily overcome, and education is frequently scapegoated for the growing economic imbalances. 

How an undemocratic economy, one motivated by greed and fear, will hurdle to what Apple hopes will be meaningful jobs with good wages, is a very serious problem. Like Anyon, Apple urges that what ought to be at work is a sense of the common good, not profit. But Apple raises the ante a bit: he suggests that despite what ought to be, the question at hand is: "Which side are you on?" (90). 

I believe that is one key question schools are designed to conceal. Apple reviews his long development of a working grasp of hegemony: winning consent of the governed to the prevailing order. Beyond coercion and violence, this method of rule offers comfort to disparate groups under a given umbrella where compromise is possible while, at the same time, elites remain in power. (15) For educators, Apple submits that one indicator of developing hegemony within an increasingly inequitable society is the struggle for a national curriculum, linked necessarily to national exams, and finally to the funding of schools which fail--or succeed.(4) Apple does not oppose a national curriculum in principle, but rejects a national curriculum written in a period of what he sees as rightist ascendency. He worries that public education itself is at risk, a transformation from a past commitment to education for a democratic society to education for the corporate state, and alliance of business, the new right, and neo-conservative intellectuals with a four-part strategy: (1) privatization of school through choice and voucher plans, (2) regulation of knowledge through standardized curricula and exams, (3) attacks on the public schools as anti-family, anti-business, and, (4) growing subservience of schools to the needs of business and industry---a process which will disempower and deskill educators. For those who want to resist, Apple somewhat facetiously offers the rightist slogan, "Just say no." (41) 

Those who want to resist, to struggle for democratic schools and communities, need to do so with more wisdom than the past indicates we have exercised. Apple describes how, in Citrus Valley, a semi-rural western city of 30,000, professional educators so bungled a series of parent and student complaints that the school system contributed to the growth of the populist right. Rather than listening to grievances about the curricula and textbooks, educators, operating unthinkingly as bureaucrats, managed to maneuver the criticism of around thirty parents into protest meetings of 700. Educators positioned the parents as adversaries, the rank and file versus the power of the state, rather than discovering areas of critique and commonality, those spaces that exist in the processes of the development of state hegemony in a capitalist society, the interstices that can be levered to expand the limits of compromise. Apple uses Gramsci's take on the state and resistance movements, a conflux of the economic tensions of social action, the torque between popular political and ideological trends and the power of the state, and cultural movements organizing from below. So, avoiding the charge of reductivism, Apple counsels that while oppositional identities can also be created by the right, it remains that progressives have established "border areas," like the Fratney School in Milwaukee, where multi-cultural curricula and pedagogy prevail. In the Citrus Valley incident, educators' arrogance and intransigence built the right. In Fratney, a vision of inclusion and criticism builds the left. Hence, "saying no is not enough. There is work to be done." (66) 

Some of that work is best personified by the Ontario Federation of Labor which, Apple proposes, unites theory and practice in a series of demands which he calls "non-reformist reforms," related to the education and training of workers in Canada, beginning with, "Training is a right...a tool for equity" ...a process that should be at least partially determined by the workers themselves. (101). 

But, fast on the heels of repeating that the seminal and complex question at work in an increasingly stratified society is, "Which side are you on?", Apple advances three reasons why social justice must guide educator actions: (1) While the education system is a "major public asset, its benefits are still unevenly distributed, (2) the future society will be deeply influenced by the actions of educators, and (3) teaching is a "moral trade," and the morality at work is that the rich as well as the poor are demeaned by inequitable educational systems. (94). With Anyon, Apple concludes that it is only through locating schools in a material political, economic, and historical relationship, "relentless attention to systematic power and critique" beyond psychologizing the construction of identities, that reasonable and hopeful pathways for change can be discovered. (106). With Anyon, Apple seeks to demonstrate those new teaching strategies incorporating popular culture simply are not enough to engage the very real and serious battle that is going on in society. "The relationship between schooling and economic, political, and cultural power are not afterthoughts." (96). Again, Apple hits out at educational "posties" whose efforts (quoting Edward Said) have left progressives "floundering" while serious issues like inequality, ecological crises, and racism are "left to the odd political candidate on campaign." It is not sufficient to turn to popular culture, as so many of his hipper left colleagues do, for Apple the issue is to give "social justice its critical edge." (108) Like Anyon, Apple calls for solidarity with the poor and, drawing on Michael Katz, suggests that a sense of moral outrage, coupled with organizing around questions of dignity and justice--is the route toward a democratic society. (117) At issue is a reevaluation of the need for cheaper french fries. 

Part of the power in both Apple and Anyon is to place education in its rightful context, that is, both authors relocate schools in the social and economic relationships that bring schools to being--and press toward the question, "Why have school?", though neither asks. Given their relational starting point, Anyon and Apple enrich their investigations by examining the practical phenomena that surround schools; Apple by a broad national and international take on the rise of inequality and authoritarianism, Anyon with a conscientious review of specific conditions in Newark. Moreover, both Anyon and Apple, to one degree or another, insist there is a coherent way to see what is up, a method that involves reconnecting class and race as wedges into reality. But noting and arranging phenomena is not enough. The next step is to historicize and deepen understanding of the appearances of the phenomena, using political economy as a sextant. This is where Anyon and Apple stop short. The shortened step causes them to stumble. 

Implicit in Apple, as explicit in Anyon, is a sense of what ought to be, but too little on how to get there, and not enough on how this situation came about.(5) Yes, it ought to make sense that educating a youth is cheaper than incarcerating an adult. But, when for-profit prisons are added to the mix, there is more money to be made from a jailed felon than from the tax outlays needed to educate children. Of course workers in Ontario, and around the world should have a right to an education, a critical education that provides them with real and satisfying jobs. It is an unfortunate commentary on the state of discourse in education that, even given the great strengths of both books in describing the horrors of racism, sexism, and the war on the poor in schools; in reestablishing the fact that schools are in a reciprocal relationship with the national economy and its politics, there is so precious little on where it is that what can only be called this class struggle comes from, and what the way out may really look like. Missing in both analyses, both calling on history and political economy as central to their method, is a concrete notion of why solidarity must be deepened, other than in a missionary sense, and what it is a student must know in order to be impenetrable to the lies necessary to the construction of hegemony. While Apple is willing to ask the question "Which side are you on?", surely fully understanding the historical implications of the question, like Anyon, he is caught up in proclaiming the value of public education for all of society. If we are to choose sides, what's this about all being in the boat together? While Anyon is left declaring that if the rich and their foundations do not recognize the apparently suicidal nature of their ways and fund social change, all is lost; Apple is left suggesting appropriate "non-reformist reforms," like the development of good capitalist schools, can bring us nearer to democratic egalitarian justice. Where is the political economy in this? Given the descriptions of the role of the state as a corrupt weapon of dominance in Anyon, and even the more mediated Gramscian notion of a state as contested terrain in Apple, how is it that both are willing, at one point or another (for Apple, a national curriculum under good politicians, for Anyon, state takeovers of schools) to rely on that state to equalize and democratize society? In Anyon, particulary in the belief that the rich must fund social change or change is doomed, the solution is the problem, the antithesis is mired in the thesis. This would seem to be the only correspondence between Anyon's analysis and her proposal for action. But perhaps what is a disjuncture, a mystical leap from a deep structural historical political economy to a plea for alms, is in fact the result of an analysis not deep enough. 

. What is absent in all of this is a still more penetrating analysis, that is, a material analysis of the reasons inequality, authoritarianism, the fear of sexuality (altogether absent in this conversation), and the need for ignorance--and regulating knowledge-- are built into a society that must exploit labor, divide people, split mental and manual labor, chase an ever cheaper workforce and raw materials, open markets, and convince the rabble that there is no other way to live: this is the highest form of human evolution. It is not enough to notice the obvious boom in inequality and injustice, nor enough to say that people do not have control over the products and processes of their work, their time, or the decisions that are made in their schools and communities. What is needed is a truly deep structural, systematic, analysis which understands where this originates, and rising specifically out of that analysis, reasonable estimates of where social change is going to go. What is the likely fate of an economic and political system that simultaneously thrusts people together in international systems of production, exchange and distribution, yet drives them apart with calls for nationalism, racism and the fear of sexuality? If educators and student, parents and administrators, communities and schools, are all alienated from each other, and the most powerful players in the interaction have stakes in keeping it that way; what shall we do? Just what is the source of the "sides" we are to choose? Why is there class struggle? 

Considered inversely, what if Apple and Anyon won? What if new politicians came to power and those who are now rich tithed to the ghetto schools and their communities. Then what? How long does that last--until one of the rich discovers that she can corrupt a politician, or dodge the tithe, and leap ahead of the rest? What if winning meant social democracy--or even socialism? What's new about that? What here serves as a lighthouse warning against the failures of both? What kind of consciousness, coupled with mass action, does it take to gain a more democratic and egalitarian society? What must people be able to visualize before they take the risks necessary for social change? Even given the complexities of what might be thought of as border identities, those psychologized paradigm shifters at home on the twisting ground of race/sex/class/ability/age; what might bring coherence to the mix--clarity that both Apple and Anyon rightly see as important? 

Apple, offering the more theoretical analysis of the two, believes that a new set of political leaders might transform the problems he describes--as evidenced in his willingness to support a national curriculum, and his focus on the New Right as a danger. Either this comes from an overestimation of the relative autonomy of the state (the right people could free it from the out-of-control nature of the demands of global capital), or it is born in a great deal of faith in the possibilities of a gentler form of capital itself, one that doesn't require the creation of surplus value, crises of overproduction, one that has solved the problems of a declining rate of profit, that doesn't require racism--or war.(6) Both Apple and Anyon miss seminal questions like: where does government come from, what pays for school and what is the relationship of school expenditures to available surpluses, or shortages, in the economy--even though both authors have elsewhere struggled with these very issues?(7) 

Both Apple and Anyon place a great deal of hope in the very modest oppositional groups that have been born, over the years, in resistance to the onrush of capital: teacher unions to community groups to citizen action organizations. I see little reason for their faith. For example, the teachers' unions are about to merge. The form of the merger, moving the National Education Association into the AFL-CIO, will strip the once-independent NEA of its structural democratic protections, and deny educators the one choice they had when their own union turned sour: go to another one. The content of the merger, what NEA President Bob Chase calls New Unionism, is the nationalist unity of the union leadership with business and politicians: exactly the corporatist approach Apple warns against. The relationship of reform and more fundamental change, in a global economy simultaneously driving people more and more together in systems of production and exchange, yet driving people more and more immediately apart by nation, class, race and sex--to whatever ends, must be understood as the unity of a potential and growing internal harmony met by a powerful force of disharmony. A potential international community which could create and enjoy abundance competes with a commanding economic and political system buttressed by ideology, divisions in oppositional ranks, and force. In this competition, this interpenetrating relationship, while there is a clear need for reform actions, there is also a compelling need for theory and practice on the side of more radical change--on restructuring rather than repairing. Practically, entrenched reform groups, not unlike the incompetent and unscrupulous gatekeeper educators Anyon describes, develop a powerful stake in retaining their relatively privileged niches, and, as reform organizations, are simply not designed to address questions of structure and system. The other side of the coin, grassroots reform groups, simply lack the outlook to meet the power of the government and what has indeed been the invisible hand of the economy lining the pockets of a few leaders. 

In sum, Anyon and Apple have reopened the door for deep structural analysis in education, and positioned educators as vital players for social justice: hope. I believe the great strength in their work is their insistence on social practice, the pivot point from which theory is enriched. Even so, their historical political economy is insufficiently explored; only the appearances of injustice are probed, while what lies at the root remains obscure. Hence, from what is properly characterized as this objective idealist's standpoint, from this insufficiently deep understanding of the terrain, come appeals to reason and unity that appears to be unattached to their source--but indeed do represent the disjuncture of matter and mind that is distinctive of objective idealism. That is, in theory, an analysis rooted in the study of the material world's appearances, but unwilling to abstract from those appearances the relationships that bring them to being, is likely to misunderstand how things change. If Anyon and Apple present us with the appearances at hand (rising economic injustice linked to the regulation of knowledge and educational injustice), but do not fully probe into the systematic reasons that underlie this constantly spiraling process (surplus value and alienation), then it follows that they turn to near-supernatural prescriptions for action: get the rich to fund equality, set up corporate training sessions for workers' power. Mind and matter, ideas, actions, and material forces, form an unsettled identity. External gambits of the mind (the calls for the rich to subsidize the end of poverty--which they create and benefits them) do not exist and cannot supercede the remaining members of this united disharmony. Being insufficiently materialist produces being undialectical. If we do not more fully understand the complexities of the changing terrain, we cannot understand how to change it. With a flawed look at the territory, as Apple and Anyon to one degree or another demonstrate: power growing out of human exploitation is defeated by people reasoning with power. This won't work. It is a somewhat false hope. 

The little vignettes which open this piece are silhouettes of key issues facing all teachers, especially big-city educators: hopelessness, alienation, metronomeism---as long as I'm a monk I'll toll the bell--unfocused resistance. I think the stories represent, in abbreviated form, a fair depiction of the ideas, and indeed the material forces, driving much of our environment. 

U.S., teachers are at the center of North American society, among the last people with regular jobs and health benefits. Schools are now the centripetal point of the social system, replacing industrial work places, now often out-sourced to the third world. More than ever, what teachers do counts. No one is better positioned to engage the mediation of reform and fundamental, structural, social change, in theory and practice. How we teach, what we teach, whether we can image hope in a mean world; all this questions whether or not we can involve people in the comprehension and transformation of reality. If not, we reinvest in irrationalism and hopelessness, organized decay. So, what do we do when we must look at the kids and teach? And how can we organize enough power to challenge injustice? How do we as educators keep our ideals and still work? 

As Anyon and Apple and others have shown, our curricula are too frequently taken up as if they stood apart from the students and teachers, as if they were dogmas rather than human creations. We often teach as if the disciplines are outside or above the key issues of human life: the struggle for production, reproduction and sexuality, and the construction of rational knowledge: the historical forces that create a framework to understand that optimism is not pollyanna-ism--there is reason to believe that people can create communities where people can love one another and actualize their human capacities--rather than move up by stomping down. The point is to recognize the correspondence of a social system, what Apple recognizes is capital, and its social relations, the underpinnings of social agency. Put crudely: surplus value on one hand, alienation on the other. These are the "why's" of any study. These elements sustain the assembly of a reasonable standpoint, a student's grasp of where she is and her options for personal or collective action. In brief, you should know this stuff because you can understand your life and you can make change. Thus, you can be more powerful. Being hopeful is sensible. 

We should study work and production. The centrality of labor is denied and denigrated in many U.S. classrooms--and certainly in textbooks. When the universal commonality of the need to work is impugned or set aside, it is possible to make all kinds of nonsensical assumptions about culture. It is trifling to celebrate cultural difference in a society whose animating practice is class inequality. What is significant is to seek the origins of inequality and to explore the potential commonalities and differences that sweep through boundaries of class, race, and sex. But, in most schools, the ABC's are Anything But Class. This leads to multi-culturalism serving as a thin veil for witless nationalism--and a hip mask for new forms of consumerism. (It's fun to discover what people in different cultures eat. It's significant to investigate how they get the food, and who has it.) In most North American classrooms, the problem is not so much the "posties," whose confusion hasn't trickled down far into the K-12 world, but that work, and hence class, simply is obliterated--silent and invisible. In classrooms in communities where there is no work, we should ask, "Why not?", and study movements of the unemployed--or campaigns to shorten the work week. Where people do have jobs, we might ask: How is production carried on? How has this changed? Who does the work? Who governs the work place? Who gains? Why? 

We should wonder about students' sexuality, a cardinal factor in any classroom, and be curious as to the links between rising demands for abstinence and, not simply STD's, but political economy. How can we historicize sexuality--as a system of desire, pleasure, and reproduction? What comprises the civics of abstinence, written so guardedly into the new welfare bill? 

We need to investigate the construction of knowledge and wonder about its relationship to our classrooms. The pillars of a good education rest on a thoroughgoing analysis of the students, the community, and the educator herself--armed with a paradigm that can make sense of subject matter---all wrapped up in a community of honesty, trust, freedom, critique, risk, and rigor. How does that mesh with grades, standardized exams, tracking, and booming class counts? How does group work fit into the individually scored national exam? How does the idealized classroom meet the reality? Where does imagination meet memorization? More significantly, how can we make sense of the material world in a classroom? How can we understand how things change? Is change systematic? If not, just what are we doing? Or should we deny the primacy of the material world and suggest that things are immutable--and incoherent? 

Simply making an inquiry into these fundamental issues in most classrooms is partisan business--as is the appearance of neutrality that comes from not doing so. This kind of pedagogy clashes with the irrationalism of most U.S. curricula which, at best, say one paradigm is as good as the next (depending, in the postmodernist sense, on where one shops), or, at worst, pander to the lowest common denominators of patriotism. After all, both national teacher unions favor a national curriculum, national testing, and a national alliance of educators, corporations and politicians --and grade retention. For the serious educator, school is a partisan business. There is risk 

Rank and file educators can struggle for power. In theory, this means actualizing the relationship of the community, school, promises for democracy and inclusion; not merely in the curricula, but in practice: turning urban schools into organizing centers for democratic communities. As Anyon suggests, this is cleaning all sides of the screen door. Educators can climb on Apple and Anyon's shoulders and use the strengths of these texts, especially Anyon's sense of a concrete analysis conditions and Apple's hopeful notions of social practice, to become more formidable. Real power for most teachers comes from making ties of authentic solidarity with poor and working class kids and parents, not business leaders and politicians. In late 1997, the Ontario Federation of Teachers, after Apple's book was completed, shut down the province with a popular strike that mobilized parents, educators and children around very real demands like control of the curriculum and class size. Their leadership sabotaged the fight. 

Our students, and many of their parents, are superior to their circumstances. Most do not know it. Many of them have internalized perfectly rational anger. Part of the students' anger comes from the bureaucratization of school; disjointed purposeless classes in which too many kids and teachers look busy and, sometimes with a wink, process nonsense which has nothing to do with grasping or changing the world. Some of the parent's anger comes from a tax system which has shifted the burden of school costs to the backs of working people--and a curriculum which denies their dignity. Everyone who does not collect profits has reason to be angry about the segregation of schools and curricula along lines of, first, class, then race, and then sex. While most of us set out in the world with some sense of fairness and utopian dreams, we find our hopes pinioned against the routine demands of school. 

In short, there are sides to be taken in teaching because teaching is part of a partisan world. There is also solidarity to be forged, not in the missionary sense of doing for, but in the egalitarian sense of doing with for a common interest. Given the pivotal position of teachers in this context, and the downward trajectory of most economic life, the choices teachers make will reflect back on them. Teachers who allow themselves to be used to tamp down their kids' expectations--those who see the future and aim low--will eventually see their wages knotted to the disintegrating parental income of their students: the factor standardized exams measure best. Teachers who make wage demands, and do not make related demands about restructuring taxes, are likely to feel alone--quickly. 

There are a variety of land mines here. People in pacified areas often become instruments of their own oppression. They think with the minds of their enemies and claim those thoughts as their own. They confuse liberation with skills of obedience. High test scores will make you free. The union will take care of this. 

This is wrong. Teachers who seek to make change, who want to exert some control over their work and its products--who want to champion their ideals and still teach--must look to the solidarity they forge outside the bounds of traditional reform groups. Caucuses of rank and file educators need alliances with parents and children as the source of their power, and to love, democracy, and equality as a motive. This means active opposition to standardized exams, the free development of self-actualizing curricula, serious enforcement of class size caps, and a redesign of an unjust tax system. It also means teaching and acting against capital, and understanding what that is: the unity of strike support to studying Marx. School workers (teachers, media specialists, counselors, social workers, custodians, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, etc.) create value collectively. No one of us, thankfully, teaches a child alone. We create value within communities of parents and kids. Only concerted organization can make it possible for teachers (and kids and parents) to create an honest classroom, to create an inclusive democratic community, to control what they create. 

Teachers must also address the coming crisis: retirements in much of the nation will mean that an educator force that is 95 per cent white will face a national classroom that is about 50 per cent kids of color. Craft union answers to this veritable invasion, which Anyon and Apple seem to favor, using certification to preserve jobs and drive up wages, are not simply immoral, they will actually erode the unity, hence the power, of educators and kids. The prime issue is, above all, how to get educators of color into the classroom. 

Even so, perhaps we ignore an important part of history when we assume we must have public schools. In addition, it is surly possible to over-state the role of teachers in making social change. There is some evidence that says, one the one hand, good schooling can come from closing school, and on the other hand, that liberation and open schools might be incompatible. For the former, I point to the Freedom Schools in the south during the civil rights era. For the latter, consider the choice South African youths made to boycott school until after the overturning: liberation before education. Perhaps for a middle ground, the Black Panther Party Free Breakfast programs had an interesting track record as schools. And what is the possibility of using the right's attack on education, charter schools, to build the organizing center for democratic communities from the inside out? School and social change, as Anyon shows, can reflect back on each other. It may well be that the Los Angeles rebellion of April 29, 1992, is a more powerful example of the format for change than any court case or teacher strike. Those educators who find that persuasive should find ways to build ties with the youths who participated, and will participate again. 

There is historical precedent for partisan action. Indeed, within the confines of capital, throughout the world, interesting and progressive education takes place that does link communities, holistic and critical pedagogy, and possibilities for social justice.(8) The effort for the ability to struggle for the truth in decent classroom surroundings and in democratic communities isn't new. Margaret Haley, early in this century, led committees which united teachers, students, and mostly working class parents around issues of curriculum, class size, and progressive taxation. While this was not enough, her reforms called into question the domination of a system that runs wild, uncaring for who is in charge or who is suffering. She stood for hope, a better world, and generated it--against a culture of resignation that prevailed in schools in her time, nearly one hundred years ago. She understood the role of class in school. She often won. We can too.(9) 

1. Anyon, J. (1997) Ghetto Schooling, a Political Economy of Urban Educational Reform, Teacher's College Press, New York. P. 29. 

2. Apple, M. (1996) Cultural Politics and Education, Teachers College Press, New York. P. 4. Apple also urges us to review his (1995) Democratic Schools, ASCD, Washington. 

3. For extensions on the recognition of the revival of the importance of Marx' non-reductivist work, see Greider, W. (1997) One World Ready or Not, The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, Simon and Schuster, New York. Also, Kaplan, R. (1996) The Ends of the Earth, a Journey to the Frontiers of Anarchy, Vintage, New York. For a more popular account of Marx's relevance, see Cassidy, J. October 20, 1997, The Return of Marx, New Yorker Magazine. For a thorough-going exposition, see the work of Lukacs' student, Meszaros, I. (1995) Beyond Capital, Monthly Review Press, New York. 

4.  See Apple, M. and Christian-Smith, L. e's. (1990) The Politics of the Textbook, Routledge, New York, for a discussion of the use of textbooks as a national curriculum. For a detailed discussion of the development of a state wide curriculum and examination in one area, the social studies, see Gibson, R. (Winter 1997) Beware the Dream Censors in Cultural Logic, a cyber-magazine on the world wide web. 

5.  In fairness, Apple does point to his "Democratic Schools" or a more complete view of what he hopes to create. 

6. For a brief discussion of the declining rate of profit, see Moseley, F (1997 Autumn v1 n1) The Rate of Profit and Economic Stagnation in the United States Economy, Historical Materialism, London. 

7.  Research on the relationship of governmental activity and surplus value is in short supply. See for a beginning, O'Connor, J. (1973) The Fiscal Crisis of the State, St. Martins Press, New York p11. 

8. See for example Kaplan"s, Ends of the Earth (1997) p.361 for a description of democratic schooling in another hemisphere. At the other end of the spectrum, the Shining Path of Peru built a sizeable movement beginning is schools. See Palmer, D.(1992) The Shining Path of Peru, St. Martins' Press, New York. 

9.  Zitron, Celia (1963) The New York City Teachers Union, Humanities Press, New York. 

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