Education and Social Class
1.1 At the dawn of the new century no American institution is invested with a greater role to bring the young and their parents into the modernist regime than public schools. The common school is charged with the task of preparing children and youth for their dual responsibilities to the social order: citizenship and, perhaps its primary task, learning to labor. On the one hand, in the older curriculum on the road to citizenship in a democratic, secular society, schools are supposed to transmit the jewels of the enlightenment, especially literature and science. On the other hand, students are to be prepared for the work world by means of a loose but definite stress on the redemptive value of work, the importance of family, and of course the imperative of love and loyalty to one's country.
to the enlightenment's concept of citizenship, students are at least putatively
encouraged to engage in independent, critical thinking. But the socializing
functions of schooling play to the opposite idea: children of the working,
professional, and middle classes are to be molded to the industrial and
technological imperatives of contemporary society (Aronowitz & Giroux,
1985). Students learn science and mathematics, not as a discourse of liberation
from myth and religious superstition, but as a series of algorithms the
mastery of which are presumed to improve the student's logical capacities,
or with no aim other than fulfilling academic requirements. In most places,
social studies do not emphasize the choices between authoritarian and
democratic forms of social organization, or democratic valuesparticularly
criticism and renewal. Rather, it is presented as bits of information
that have little significance for the conduct of life. Perhaps the teaching
and learning of world literature where some students are inspired by the
power of the story to, in John Deweys (1980) terms, "reconstruct"
experience is a partial exception to the rule that for most students high
school is endured rather than experienced as a series of exciting explorations
of self and society.
1.3 In the wake of these awesome tasks fiscal exigency as well as a changing mission have combined to leave public education in the United States in a chronic state of crisis. For some the main issue is whether schools are failing to transmit the general intellectual culture, even to the most able students. What is at stake in this critique is the fate of America as a civilization, particularly the condition of its democratic institutions and the citizens who are, in the final analysis, responsible for maintaining them. Arendt (1961) goes so far as to ask whether we "love the world" and our children enough to devise an educational system capable of transmitting to them the salient cultural traditions. Other critics complain schools are failing working-class students, Blacks, Latino/as and Whites, to fulfill the promise of equality of opportunity for good jobs. While they are concerned to address the class bias of schooling they unwittingly reinforce it by ignoring its content. The two positions, both with respect to their goals and to their implied educational philosophies, may not necessarily be contradictory but their simultaneous enunciation produces considerable tension for, with exceptions to be discussed below, the American workplace has virtually no room for dissent and individual or collective initiative not sanctioned by management. The corporate factory, which includes sites of goods and symbolic production alike, is perhaps the nations most authoritarian institution. But any reasonable concept of democratic citizenship requires an individual who is able to discern knowledge from propaganda, is competent to choose among conflictual claims and programs, and is capable of actively participating in the affairs of the polity. Yet the political system offers few opportunities, beyond the ritual of voting, for active citizen participation (Arendt, 1961).
identifying the problem of why and how schools fail has proven to be controversial.
For those who would define mass education as a form of training for the
contemporary workplace, the problem can be traced to the crisis of authority,
particularly school authority. That some of the same educational analysts
favor a curriculum that stresses critical thinking for a small number
of students in a restricted number of sites is consistent with the dominant
trends of schooling since the turn of the twenty-first century. In a quest
to restore authority conservative educational policy has forcefully caused
schools to abandon, both rhetorically and practically, the so-called "child-centered"
curriculum and pedagogy in favor of a series of measures that hold students
accountable for passing standardized tests and for carrying a definite
quantity of school knowledge on penalty of being left back from promotion
or expelled. Such policies have also imposed performance-based criteria
on administrators and teachers. For example in New York City the chancellor
of schools has issued "report cards" to principals and has threatened
to fire those whose schools do not meet standards established by high-stakes
tests. These tests are the antithesis of critical thought. Their precise
objective is to evaluate the student's ability to imbibe and regurgitate
information and to solve problems according to prescribed algorithms.
the other side, the progressives, who misread Dewey's educational philosophy
to mean that the past need not be studied too seriously, have offered
little resistance to the gradual vocationalizing and dumbing down of the
mass education curriculum. In fact, historically they were advocates of
making the curriculum less formal, reducing requirements, and, on the
basis of a degraded argument that children learn best by "doing,"
promoted practical, work-oriented programs for high school students. Curricular
deformalization was often justified on interdisciplinary criteria, which
resulted in the watering down of course content and deemphasizing writing.
Most American high school students, in the affluent as well as the "inner
city" districts, may write short papers which amount to book reviews
and autobiographical essays, but most graduate without ever having to
perform research and write a paper of considerable length. Moreover, in
an attempt to make the study of history more "relevant" to students'
lives, since the late 1960s the student is no longer required to memorize
dates; she/he may have learned the narratives but was often unable to
place them in a specific chronological context. Similarly, economics has
been eliminated in many schools or taught as a "unit" of a general
social studies course. If philosophy is taught at all, it is construed
in terms of "values clarification," a kind of ethics in which
the student is assisted to discover and examine his/her own values.
after more than a century of universal schooling the relationship between
education and class has once more been thrust to the forefront is just
one more signal of the crisis in American education. The educational left,
never strong on promoting intellectual knowledge as a substantive demand,
clings to one of the crucial precepts of progressive educational philosophy:
under the sign of egalitarianism, the idea that class deficits can be
overcome by equalizing access to school opportunities without questioning
what those opportunities have to do with genuine education. The access
question has been at the forefront of higher education debates since the
early 1970s; even conservatives who favor vouchers and other forms of
public funding for private and parochial schools have justified privatizing
instruction on access grounds.
The structure of schooling already
embodies the class system of society and, for this reason, the access
debate is mired in a web of misplaced concreteness (Whitehead, 1931).
To gain entrance into schools always entails placement into that system.
"Equality of Opportunity" for class mobility is the system's
tacit recognition that inequality is normative. In the system of mass
education, schools are no longer constituted to transmit the enlightenment
intellectual traditions or the fundamental prerequisites of participatory
citizenship, even for a substantial minority. While acquiring credentials
that are conferred by schools remains an important prerequisite for many
occupations, the conflation of schooling with education is mistaken. Schooling
is surely a source of training both by its disciplinary regime and its
credentialing system. But schools transmit not a "love for the world"
or "for our children" as Arendt (1961) suggests, and contrary
to their democratic pretensions, they teach conformity to the social,
cultural, and occupational hierarchy. In our contemporary world they are
not constituted to foster independent thought, let alone encourage social
Black and Latino/a working-class districts, schools are for many students
way stations to the military or to prison even more than to the civilian
paid labor force. As Michelle Fine (2003) observes: "Visit a South
Bronx high school these days and you'll find yourself surrounded by propaganda
from the Army, Navy, and Marines
look at the 'stats' and you'll see that
70 percent of the men and women in prison have neither a GED nor a diploma;
go to Ocean Hill-Brownsville 40ish years later, and you'll see a juvenile
justice facility on the very site that they wanted to a build their own
schools" (personal communication with the author). In the current
fiscal crisis afflicting education and other social services, there is
an outstanding exception: prisons continue to be well-funded and despite
the decline of violent crimes in the cities, drug busts keep prisons full
and rural communities working.
knowledge is not the only source of education for students, perhaps not
even the most important source. Young people learn, for ill as well as
good, from popular culture, especially music, from parents and family
structures, and perhaps most importantly, from their peers. Schools are
the stand-in for "society," the aggregation of individuals who,
by contract or by coercion, are subject to governing authorities in return
for which they may be admitted into the world, albeit on the basis of
different degrees of reward. To the extent that they signify solidarity
and embody common dreams popular culture, parents, and peers are the worlds
of quasi-communities which are more powerful influences on their members.
Access to What?
2.1 In the mainstream the critique of education has been directed toward the question of access to its entailmentsparticularly the credentials that presumably open up the gates to higher learning or to better jobs. Generally speaking, critical education analysis focuses on the degree to which schools are willing and able to open their doors to working-class students because through their mechanisms of differential access, schools are viewed as, perhaps, the principal reproductive institutions of economically and technologically advanced capitalist societies. With some exceptions, most critics of schooling have paid scant attention to school authority, the conditions for the accumulation of social capitalthe intricate network of personal relations that articulate with occupational accessand to cultural capitalthe accumulation of the signs, if not the substance, of kinds of knowledge that are markers of distinction.
progressives assume that the heart of the class question is whether schooling
provides working-class kidswhether
Caucasian, Black, Latino/a, or Asianequality
of opportunity to acquire legitimate knowledge and marketable academic
credentials. They have adduced overwhelming evidence that contradicts
schooling's reigning doctrine: that despite class, race, or gender hierarchies
economic and political system, public education provides every individual
with the tools to overcome conditions of birth. In reality, only about
a quarter of people of working-class origin attain professional, technical,
and managerial careers through the credentialing system. They find occupational
niches, but not at the top of their respective domains. Typically graduating
from third tier, non-research colleges and universities their training
does not entail acquiring knowledge connected with substantial intellectual
work: theory, extensive writing, and independent research. Students leaving
these institutions find jobs as line supervisors, computer technicians,
teachers, nurses, social workers, and in other niches in the social service
small number may join their better educated colleagues in getting no collar
jobs, where "no collar"
Andrew Ross's (2003)
occupations which afford considerable work autonomy, such as computer
design, which, although salaried, cannot be comfortably folded into the
conventional division of manual and intellectual labor. That so-called
social mobility was a product of the specific conditions of American economic
development at a particular timethe
first quarter of the twentieth centuryand
was due, principally, to the absence of an indigenous peasantry during
its industrial revolution and the forced confinement of millions of Blacks
to southern agricultural lands is conveniently forgotten or ignored by
consensus opinion. Nor were the labor shortages provoked by World War
II and the subsequent U.S. dominance of world capitalism until 1973 taken
into account by the celebrants of mobility. Economic stagnation has afflicted
the United States economy for more than three decades and, despite the
well-known high-tech bubble of the 1990s, its position has deteriorated
in the world market. Yet, the mythology of mobility retains a powerful
grip over the popular mind. That schooling makes credentials available
to anyone regardless of rank or status forms one of the sturdy pillars
of American ideology (Ross, 2003).
recent years the constitutional and legal assignment to the States and
local communities of responsibility for public education has been undermined
by what has been termed the "standards" movement, which is today
the prevailing national educational policy enforced not so much by federal
law as by political and ideological coercion. At the State and district
levels the invocation to "tough love" has attained widespread
support. We are witnessing the abrogation, both in practice and in rhetoric,
of the tradition of social promotion whereby students are moved through
the system without acquiring academic skills. Having proven unable to
provide to most working-class kids the necessary educational experiences
that qualify them for academic promotion, after more than a decade after
its installation, the standards movement reveals its underlying content:
it is the latest means of exclusion whose success depends on placing the
onus for failure to achieve academic credentials on the individual rather
than the system. Although state departments of education frequently mandate
certain subjects be taught in every school and have established standards
based on high-stakes tests applicable to all districts, everyone knows
that districts with working-class majorities provide neither a curriculum
and pedagogy nor facilities which meet these standards because, among
other problems, they are chronically under-funded. But there is no shortage
of money for the private corporations that are making huge profits on
school systems' high-stakes testinga
form of privatization that transfers huge amounts of public money to publishers,
testing organizations, and large consulting companies. The State aid formulae
which, since the advent of conservative policy hegemony, reward those
districts whose students perform well on high-stakes standardized tests,
tend to be unequal. Performance-based aid policies means that school districts
where the affluent live get more than their share, and make up for State
budget deficits by raising local property taxes and soliciting annual
subventions from parentsmeasures
not affordable by even the top layer of wage-workers and low-level salaried
employees. The result is overcrowded classrooms, poor facilities, especially
libraries, and underpaid, often poorly prepared teachersan
outcome of financially-starved schools of education in public universities.
presuppose students' prior possession of cultural capitalan
acquisition which almost invariably entails having been reared in a professional
or otherwise upper-class family. That, in the main, even the most privileged
elementary and secondary schools are ill-equipped to compensate for home
backgrounds in which reading and writing are virtually absent, has become
a matter of indifference for school authorities.
In this era of social Darwinism poor school performance is likely to be
coded as a genetic deficit rather than being ascribed to social policy.
Of course the idea that working-class kids, whatever their gender, race,
or ethnic backgrounds, were selected by evolution or by God to perform
material rather than immaterial labor is not new; this view is as old
as class divided societies. But in an epoch in which the chances of obtaining
a good working-class job have sharply diminished, most kids face dire
consequences if they don't acquire the skills needed in the world of immaterial
labor. Not only are 75 percent of youth assigned to working-class jobs
but, in the absence of a shrinking pool of unionized industrial jobs which
often pay more than some professions such as teaching and social work,
they must accept low-paying service sector employment, enter the informal
economy, or join the ranks of the chronically unemployed.
1890-1920, the greatest period of social protest in American history before
the industrial union upsurge of the 1930s, John Dewey, the leading
educational philosopher of the progressive era, decisively transformed
class discourse about education into a discourse of class-leveling. Dewey's
philosophy of education is a brilliant piece of bricolage: it combines
an acute sensitivity to the prevailing inequalities in society with a
pluralist theory which, by definition, excludes class struggles as a strategy
for achieving democracy. It was a feat that could have been achieved only
by tapping into the prevailing radical critique of the limits of American
democracy. But Dewey's aim was far from founding a new educational or
political radicalism. True to the pragmatist tradition of "tinkering"
rather than transforming institutions, Dewey sought to heal the breach
between labor and capital through schooling. To the extent schools afforded
workers' children access to genuine education, American democracyand
the Americanization of waves of new immigrantswould
was not only America's pre-eminent philosopher, he was a major intellectual
spokesperson of the progressive movement at a time when social reform
had achieved high visibility and had enormous influence over both legislation
and public opinion, principally among wide sections of the middle class
as well as in the higher circles of power. Not only did his writings help
bring education into the center of intellectual and political discourse
by arguing that a society that wished to overcome the stigma of class
distinction associated with industrial capitalism had to fervently embrace
universal schooling. He was able to elaborate the doctrine that schooling
was the heart of education, the core institution for the reproduction
of liberal-democratic society, and the basis for the objective of class
leveling. In the end, "democracy in education" signifies that
by means of universal schooling all children, regardless of class origins,
could have access to social mobilitywhich
is not egalitarian at all.
and Education, Deweys (1916) main philosophical statement on education,
may be viewed in the context of the turn of the twentieth-century emergence
of mass public education which, among other goals, was designed to address
a multitude of problems that accompanied the advent of industrial society
and the emergence of the United States as a world power: the enormous
task of "Americanizing"ideological
of immigrants' children, most of whom were of the working class; the rise
of scientifically-based industrial and commercial technologies that, in
the service of capital, required a certain level of verbal, scientific,
and mathematical literacy of a substantial portion of the wage-labor force;
the hard-won recognition by economic and political authorities as well
as the labor movement that child labor had deleterious consequences for
the future of the capitalist system; and, in an era of rapid technological
change, the fact that industrial labor had become relatively expendable.
In this context the high school became an important ageing vat or warehouse,
whether adolescents learned anything or not. As Michael B. Katz (1970)
has shown, this latter concern was the basis of the public education movement
in the nineteenth century. The question for educators, law enforcement
officials, and political and economic leaders was what to do with unemployed
youth during the day. The day-prison was one solution but Horace Mann
prevailed upon his colleagues to establish public schools as a more "productive"
way of containing unruly youngsters. Later, the institution was expanded
from six to twelve grades and the minimum age for leaving rose from twelve
to sixteen. After a century of compulsory secondary schooling, the educational
value of high schools is still in doubt (Katz, 1970).
the outset, Dewey (1916) specifies the purposes of education: through
adult transmission and communication to assist the young to direct their
own lives. Dewey cautions adults that since the young hold in their hands
society's future, the nature of their transmissions inevitably have serious
consequences. Yet, having recognized, briefly, the role of "informal"
education in the self-formation of the young, Dewey establishes the rule
for virtually all subsequent educational philosophy. Consistent with a
liberal-democratic society, educators are admonished to devise a formal
method for directing the future: by the organization of a "common
school" that provides the necessary discipline and array of learnings
and methods by which learning that reproduces the social order may occur.
While transmitting and communicating knowledge are intended to provide
"meaning to experience," and Dewey (1916) invokes "democratic
criteria" as the basis for his concept of the "reconstruction
of experience," the objective of "control and growth" in
order to achieve "social continuity" occupies an equally important
place with the creative possibilities of education in any educational
walks a tightrope between the creative side of education as a playful
and imaginative reflection on experience and the necessary task of reproducing
the social order in which work, albeit as much as possible creative, remains
the key educational goal. But he also endorses the role of the school
for training the labor force. Dewey advocated for the ability of children
to obtain the knowledge that could aid in their quest for an autonomous
future even as he approached the problem of moral education (character
building, values) from the perspective of society's need to reproduce
itself on the basis of the criteria inherited from the past. He deplores
the separation of labor and leisure and the cleavage of liberal arts and
vocational education in which the former is regarded as activity to be
tolerated but not enjoyed. Labor should not be viewed as a job, but rather,
as much as possible, as a calling. Without addressing the nature of the
rationalized labor to which wage workers, including most professional
and technical workers are subjected, Dewey's educational philosophy is
directed mostly by the ideal of educational humanism. Class distinctions
are not denied but are
assumed to be blurred, if not eliminated, by democratic education.
both the critical and celebratory variants of his philosophy, Dewey's
intellectual children have not, with few exceptions, addressed the issue
of whether, given its conflictual purposes and hierarchical organization,
schools can fulfill the liberal-democratic, let alone egalitarian, promise.
Having narrowly confined itself to school practices, post-Deweyan progressive
educational thought has recoded his philosophy by invoking phrases such
as "self-realization" and "child-centered" to describe
education's goals. Or worse, Dewey has been used to justify a relentless
instrumentalism in curriculum design: in the name of anti-traditionalism
and nationalism high schools do not teach philosophy and social historyprincipally
the role of social movements in making historyor
treat world literature as a legitimate object of academic study. Needless
to say, few if any critics have challenged the curricular exclusions of
working-class history, let alone the histories of women and of Blacks.
Nor have curricular critics addressed the exclusion of philosophy and
recent years the philosophy of education has waned and been replaced by
a series of policy-oriented empirical research projects that conflate
democracy with access, and openly subordinate school knowledge to the
priorities of the State and the corporations. Educational thought has
lost, even renounced, Dewey's program directed to the reconstruction of
experience. In fact, after the early grades student experience is viewed
by many educators and administrators with suspicion, even hostility. Recent
educational policy has veered towards delineating pre-school and kindergarten
as sites for academic and vocational preparation. If the child is to grow
to become a productive member of societywhere
productive is equated with work-readyplay
must be directed and free time severely constrained. The message emanating
from school authorities is to "forget" all other forms and sites
of learning. Academic and technical knowledge become the only legitimate
forms, and the school is the only reliable site to obtain these. Whatever
its defects, in contrast to the penchant of modern educational researchers
to focus on "policy" to the detriment of historical and theoretical
analysis, Dewey's ideas demonstrate a passion for citizenship and ambivalence
about the subordination of education to the imperatives of the system:
he deplored the subordination of knowledge to the priorities of the State,
while at the same time extolling the virtues of the liberal State; he
subjected vocational education to the scrutiny of the enlightenment prescription
that education be critical of the existing state of affairs, while approving
the reproductive function of schools.
rise of higher education since World War II has been seen by many as a
repudiation of academic elitism. Do not the booming higher education enrollments
validate the propositions of social mobility and democratic education?
Not at all. Rather than constituting a
sign of rising qualifications and widening opportunity, burgeoning college
and university enrollments signify changing economic and political trends.
The scientific and technical nature of our production and service sectors
increasingly require qualified and credentialed workers (it would be a
mistake to regard them as identical). Students who would have sought good
factory jobs in the past now believe, with reason, they need credentials
to qualify for a good-paying job. On the other hand, even as politicians
and educators decry social promotion, and most high schools with working-class
constituencies remain ageing vats, mass higher education is, to a great
extent, a holding pen which effectively masks unemployment and underemployment,
which may account for its rapid expansion over the last thirty five years
of chronic economic stagnation, deindustrialization, and the proliferation
of part-time and temporary jobs, largely in the low-paid service sectors.
Consequently, working-class students are able, even encouraged, to enter
universities and colleges at the bottom of the academic hierarchycommunity
colleges but also public four-year collegesthus
fulfilling the formal pledge of equal opportunity for class mobility even
as most of these institutions suppress its content. But grade-point averages,
which in the standards era depend as much as the Scholastic Aptitude Test
on high-stakes testing, that measure the student's acquired knowledge,
often restrict his/her access to elite institutions of higher learningthe
obligatory training grounds for professional and managerial occupations.
Since all credentials are not equal, graduating from third and fourth
tier institutions does not confer on the successful candidate the prerequisites
for entering a leading graduate schoolthe
preparatory institution for professional/managerial occupationsor
the most desirable entry level service jobs which require only a bachelor's
degree (Aronowitz, 2000).
Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron (1977) argue that schools reproduce
class relations by reinforcing rather than reducing class-based differential
access to social and cultural capital, key markers of class affiliation
and mobility. These forms of capital, they argue, are always already possessed
by children of the wealthy, professionals, and the intelligentsia. Far
from making possible a rich intellectual education, or providing the chance
to affiliate with networks of students and faculty who have handles on
better jobs, through mechanisms of discipline and punishment, schooling
habituates working-class students to the bottom rungs of the work world,
or the academic world, by subordinating or expelling them (Bourdieu &
Passeron, 1977). Poorly prepared for academic work by their primary and
secondary schools, and having few alternatives to acquiring some kind
of credential, many who stay the course and graduate high school and third
and fourth tier college, inevitably confront a series of severely limited
none at all. Their life chances are just a cut above those who do not
complete high school or college. Their school performances seem to validate
what commonsense has always suspected: given equal opportunity to attain
school knowledge, the cream always rises to the top and those stuck at
the bottom must be biologically impaired or victimized by the infamous
"culture of poverty." That most working-class high school and
college students are obliged to hold full- or part-time jobs in order
to stay in school fails to temper this judgment for as is well known,
preconceptions usually trump facts (Cicourel & Kitrae, 1963). Nor
does the fact that children of the recent 20 million immigrants from Latin
America and Asia speak their native languages at home, in the neighborhood,
and to each other in school evoke more than hand-ringing from educational
leaders; in this era of tight school budgets English-as-a-second-language
funds have been cut or eliminated at every level of schooling.
Paul Willis (1981) insists that working-class kids get working-class jobs
by means of their refusal to accept the discipline entailed in curricular
mastery and by their rebellion against school authority. Challenging the
familiar "socialization" thesis, of which Bourdieus is perhaps
the most sophisticated version, according to which working-class kids
"fail" because they are culturally deprived or, in the American
critical version, assaulted by the hidden curriculum and school pedagogy
which subsumes kids under the prevailing order, Willis (1981) recodes
kids' failure as refusal of [school] work, which lands them in the factory
or low-level service jobs. Willis offers no alternative educational model
to schooling: his discovery functions as critique. Indeed, as Willis himself
acknowledges, the school remains, in Louis Althusser's (1971) famous phrase,
the main "ideological state apparatus," but working-class kids
are not victims. Implicitly rejecting Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb's
(1973) notion that school failure is a "hidden injury" of class
insofar as working-class kids internalize poor school performance as a
sign of personal deficit, Willis argues that most early school leavers
are active agents in the production of their own class position. While
students' antipathy to school authority is enacted at the site of the
school, its origins are the working-class culture from which they spring.
Workers do not like bosses and kids do not like school bossesthe
deans, principals, and often the teachers, whose main job in the urban
centers is to keep order. The
source of working-class kids' education is not the school but the shop-floor
where their parents work, the home, and the neighborhood.
the past half century the class question has been inflected by race and
gender discrimination and, in the American way, the "race, gender,
class" phrase implies that these domains are ontologically distinct,
if not entirely separate. The race and gender question has often not been
theorized as a class issue, but as an attribute of bio-identities. In
fact, in the era of identity politics, class itself stands alongside race
and gender as just another identity. Having made the easy, inaccurate
judgment that White students, regardless of their class or gender stand
in a qualitatively different relation to school-related opportunities
than Blacks, class is often suppressed as a sign of exclusion. In privileging
issues of access, not only is the curriculum presupposed, in which case
Bourdieu's insistence on the concept of cultural capital is ignored, but
also the entire question is elided of whether schooling may be conflated
with education. Only rarely do writers examine other forms of education.
In both the Marxist and liberal traditions schooling is presumed to remain,
over a vast spectrum of spatial and temporal situations, the theatre within
which life chances are determined.
Education and Immaterial Labor
may be defined as the collective and individual reflection on the totality
of life experiences: what we learn from peers, parents and the socially
situated cultures of which they are a part, media, and schools. By reflection
I mean the transformation of experience into a multitude of concepts that
constitute the abstractions we call "knowledge." Which of the
forms of learning predominate is always configured historically. The exclusive
focus by theorists and researchers on school knowledgeindeed
the implication that school is the principle site of what we mean by educationreflects
the degree to which they have, themselves, internalized the equation of
education with school knowledge and its preconditions. The key learning
is they/we have been habituated to a specific regime of intellectual labor
which entails a high level of self-discipline, the acquisition of the
skills of reading and writing, and the career expectations associated
say this, constitutes the self-reflection by intellectualsin
the broadest sense of the termof
their own relation to schooling. In the age of the decline of critical
intelligence and the proliferation of technical intelligence, "intellectual"
in its current connotation designates immaterial labor and not primarily
those engaged in traditional intellectual pursuits such as literature,
philosophy, and art. Immaterial labor describes those who work not with
objects or the administration of things and people, but with ideas, symbols,
and signs. Some of the occupations grouped under immaterial labor have
an affective dimension, particularly people who, in one way or another,
care for each other. The work demands the complete subordination of brain,
emotion, and body to the task, while requiring the worker to exercise
considerable judgment and imagination in its performance (Hardt &
Negri, 1994). At sites such as "new economy" private-sector
software workplaces, some law firms that deal with questions of intellectual
property, public interest, constitutional and international law, research
universities and independent research institutes, and small, innovative
design, architectural and engineering firms, the informality of the labor
process, close collaborative relationships among members of task-oriented
teams, the overflow of the space of the shop floor with the spaces of
home and play, evoke, at times, a high level of exhilaration, even giddiness
among members (Ross, 2003).
But these relationships are present in such work as teaching, child care,
care for seniors, and the whole array of therapeutic services, including
be an immaterial worker means, in the interest of having self-generated
work, surrendering much of one's unfettered time. These people are obliged
to sunder the conventional separation of work and leisure, to adopt the
view that time devoted to creative, albeit commodified, labor is actually
"free." Or, to be more exact, even play must be engaged in as
serious business. For many of these people the golf course, the bar, and
the weekend at the beach are workplaces where dreams are shared, plans
are formulated, and deals are made. Just as time becomes unified around
work, work loses its geographic specificity. As Ross (2003) shows in his
pathbreaking ethnography of a New York new economy workplace during and
after the dot.com boom, the headiness for the pioneers of this new work
world was, tacitly, a function of the halcyon period of the computer software
industry when everyone felt the sky was no longer the limit. When the
economic crunch descended on thousands of workplaces, people were laid
off and those who remained experienced a heavy dose of market reality.
may be argued that among elite students and institutions schooling prepares
immaterial labor by transmitting a bundle of legitimate knowledge. The
diligent, academically successful student internalizes the blur between
the classroom, play, and the home by spending a great deal of time in
the library or ostensibly playing at the computer. Thus the price of the
promise of autonomy, a situation that is intrinsic to professional ideology,
if not always its practice in the context of bureaucratic and hierarchical
corporate systems, is to accept work as a mode of life; one lives to work,
rather than the reverse. The hopes and expectations of these strata are
formed in the process of schooling; indeed they have most completely assimilated
the ideologies linked to school knowledge and to the credentials conferred
by the system. Thus whether professional school people, educational researchers,
or not, they tend to evaluate people by the criteria to which they themselves
were subjected. If the child has not fully embraced work as life, she/he
is consigned to the educational netherland. Even the egalitarians (better
read populists) accept this regime: their object is to afford those for
whom work is a necessary evil into the social world where work is the
Media and Popular Culture
educators and critics acknowledge the enormous role of media in contemporary
life. The ubiquity and penetration of visual media such as TV, VCR, DVD,
and electronic oral equipment like CD and tape players into the home has
called into question the separation of the public and private spheres
and challenged the notion that autonomous private life still exists. This
has prompted writers such as Arendt (1958) to insist on the importance
of maintaining their separation. When taken together with the advent,
in the technical as well as metaphoric sense, of "big brother"
where the government now announces openly its intention to subject every
telephone and computer to surveillance, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion
that media are a crucial source of education and may, in comparison to
schools, exercise a greater influence on children and youth. Many claim
that television for example is the prime source of political education,
and certainly the major source of news for perhaps a majority of the population.
And there is a growing academic discourse of the importance of popular
culture, especially music and film, in shaping the values and the cultural
imaginary of children and adolescents. Many writers have noted the influence
of media images on children's aspirations, on their measurement of self-worth,
both physically and emotionally. Of course debate rages as to what is
learned, for example, the implied frameworks that are masked by the face
of objectivity presented by television news, and by fiction which, as
everybody knows, is suffused with ethical perspectives on everyday relations
(Horkheimer & Adorno, 2002; Macdonald, 1983, McLuhan, 1964).
does every critic accept the conventional wisdom that, in the wake of
the dominance of visual media in everyday life, we are, in the phrase
of a leading commentator, "amusing ourselves to death," or that
the ideological messages of popular music, sitcoms, and other TV fare
are simply conformist (Postman, 1986). But it must be admitted that since
the 1920s and 1930s when critics argued that the possibility of a radical
democracy in which ordinary people participated in the great and small
decisions affecting their lives was undermined by the advent of the culture
industry, popular culture has, to a large degree, become a weapon against,
as well as for, the people. As a general rule, in periods of upsurge,
when social movements succeed in transforming aspects of everyday life
as well as the political landscape, art, in its "high" as well
as popular genres, has expressed popular yearning for a better world.
In this vein, a vast literature, written largely by participants in popular
culture since the 1960s, rejects the sharp divide between high and low
art. While many contemporary cultural critics such as Griel Marcus (1975)
and Robert Christgau (2001) acknowledge their debt to Critical Theory
of the Frankfurt School, particularly that of Herbert Marcuse and Theodor
Adorno, both by dint of their independent judgment, and the influence
of Walter Benjaminwho
despite his elective affinity to critical theory, welcomed, with some
trepidation, the eclipse of high artthey
find a subversive dimension in rock n' roll music. It may be that the
1960s phrase, "sex, drugs and rock n' roll" no longer resonates
as a universal sign of rebellion. Yet, when evaluated from the perspective
of a society still obsessed with drug use among kids, pre-marital sex,
and "blaming" the music for this non-conformity, the competition
between school and popular culture still rages. From anthems of rebellion
to musical expressions of youth rejection of conventional sexual and political
morality, critics have detected signs of resistance to official mores.
course even as punk signaled the conclusion of a sort of "golden
age" of rock n' roll and the succeeding genresheavy
metal, alternative, techno, among otherswere
confined to market niches, hip-hop took on some of the trappings of a
universal oppositional cultural form which, by the 1990s, had captured
the imagination of White as well as Black kids. Out of the "bonfires"
of the Bronx came a new generation of artists whose
music and poetry enflamed the embers of discontent. Figures such as Ice-T,
Tupac, Biggie Smalls, and many others articulated the still vibrant rebellion
against what George Bernard Shaw had once called "middle-class morality,"
and the smug, suburban confidence that the cities could be safely consigned
to the margins. Like Bob Dylan, some of the hip-hop artists were superb
poets. Artists like Tupac had many imitators and eventually the genre
became fully absorbed by the culture industry, a development which, like
the advent of the Velvets, the Who, and other avant-garde rock groups
of the early 1970s gave rise to an underground. And just as rock n' roll
was accused of leading young people astray into the dungeons of drugs
and illicit sex, the proponents of hip-hop suffered a similar fate. Some
record producers succumbed to demands they censor artistic material, radio
stations refused to air some hip-hop, and record stores, especially in
suburban malls, were advised to restrict sales of certain artists and
White kids learn from successive waves of rock n' roll and hip-hop music
is chiefly their right to defy ordinary conventions. After the mid-1950s,
the varied genres of rock, rhythm and blues, and hip-hop steadily challenged
the class, racial, and sexual constructs of this ostensibly egalitarian,
but puritanical culture. Bored and dissatisfied with middle-class morality
and its cultural values, teenagers flooded the concerts of rock and hip-hop
stars, smoked dope, and violated the precepts of conventional sexual morality
to the best of their abilities. Many youth adopt Black rhetoric, language,
and disdain for mainstream values. Of course, middle-class kids are obliged
to lead a double life: since their preferred artistic and cultural forms
are accorded absolutely no recognition in the worlds of legitimate school
knowledge. Since the 1960s, their shared music and the messages of rebellion
against a racist, conventional suburban, middle-class culture has constituted
a quasi-counter community. Yet on penalty of proscription they must absorb
school knowledge without invoking the counter-knowledge of popular culture.
products of visual culture, particularly film and television, are no less
powerful sources of knowledge. Since movies became a leading form of recreation
early in the twentieth century, critics have distinguished schlock from
"films," produced both by the Hollywood system and by a beleaguered
corps of independent film makers. In the 1920s, elaborating the dynamic
film technique pioneered by D.W. Griffith, the Soviet filmmakers, notably
Sergei Eisenstein and Zhiga Vertov, and the great cultural critic Siegfried
Kracauer fully comprehended the power of visual culture in its ornamental,
aesthetic sense, and gave pride of place to film as a source of mass education.
Vertov's Man with a Movie Camera and Eisenstein's October
were not only great works of art, they possessed enormous didactic power
(Kracauer, 1995). Vertov evoked the romance of industrial reconstruction
in the new Soviet regime and the imperative of popular participation in
building a new technologically-directed social reality. And in most of
his films Eisenstein was the master of revolutionary memory. His work
encouraged the people not to forget how brutal the ancient regime was
and to understand that the future was in their hands, and he would produce
the images that created a new "memory" even among those who
had never experienced the heady days of the revolution. Of course Griffith
conveyed a different kind of memory: in his classic Birth of a Nation
he deconstructed the nobility and romance of the American Civil War and
the Reconstruction period by depicting them as a corrupt alliance of Blacks
and northern carpetbaggers, the epithet applied to the staff of the Freemens
Bureau and the military which had been dispatched to guarantee the newly
won civil rights of millions of African Americans.
1950, anthropologist Hortense Powdermaker termed Hollywood "the dream
factory." While we were entertained by the movies, she argued that
a whole world of hopes and dreams was being manufactured that had profound
effects on our collective unconscious. Rather than coding these experiences
as "illusion," she accorded them genuine social influence. With
the later writings of Andre Bazin, Francois Truffault, Christian Metz,
Stephen Heath, Laura Mulvey, and Pauline Kael, movies as an art form,
but also a massive influence on what we know and how we learn, came into
its own. Film, which was for Critical Theory just another product of the
culture industry, is now taken seriously by several generations of critics
and enthusiasts as a many-sided cultural force. At the same time film
criticism has evolved from reviews in the daily and weekly press and television,
whose main function is to advise the public whether to choose a particular
film to spend an evening watching, or to hire a baby-sitter to attend
a movie, into a historical and critical discipline worthy of academic
departments and programs, and whose practitioners are eligible for academic
rank (Bazin, 1961; Kael, 1994; Metz, 1991; Powdermaker, 1950).
their ubiquity and vast influence, the kinds of knowledge derived from
mass media and popular music remain largely unexamined by the secondary
school curriculum. In this respect, public education may be regarded as
one of the last bastions of high cultural convention, and of the book.
Perhaps more to the point, by consistently refusing to treat popular culturetelevision,
film, music, and video gamesas
objects of legitimate intellectual knowledge schools deny the validity
of student experiences, even if the objective would be to deconstruct
them. Thus, a century after mass-mediated music and visual arts captured
our collective imagination, notwithstanding its undeniable commodification,
popular culture remains subversive, regardless of its content, because
it continues to be outlawed in official precincts. By failing to address
this epochal phenomenon, even as its forms are overwhelmingly influential
in everyday life, school knowledge loses its capacity to capture the hearts
and minds of its main constituents. And if schools cannot enter the
students' collective imagination other forms of knowledge are destined
to fill the vacuum.
course the power of television in shaping political culture is far less
well understood. If the overwhelming majority of the people receive their
news and viewpoints from television sources then, absent counterweights
such as those that may be provided by social movements, counter-hegemonic
intellectuals, and independent media, they are inevitably subjected to
the ruling common sense in which alternatives to the official stories
lack legitimacy, even when they are reported in the back pages or by a
thirty second spot on the 11 o'clock news. Even journalists have discovered
that the integration of the major news organizations with the ruling circles
inhibits their ability to accurately report the news. For example, on
October 26, 2002 more than 100,000 people descended on Washington, D.C.
to protest the Bush administration's plan to wage war on Iraq. The New
York Times reporter on the scene estimated the crowd in the "thousands"
and stated that the turnout had disappointed organizers who had expected
more than 100,000 demonstrators to show up. Since the New York Times
functions as a guide to the rest of the American news media, including
television and radio news, the coverage of the demonstration throughout
the nation was scant, in part because other media relied on the paper's
understated numbers. For the majority of Americans, the original report,
and its numerous recapitulations, left the impression that the demonstration
was a bust. But the Washington Post, perhaps the New York Times'
only competitor in daily print journalism, estimated the number of demonstrators
more or less accurately, and by the evening of the event a wealth of information
and furious condemnation of the New York Times' biased coverage
swarmed over the internet. Days later, in an obscure little piece, the
paper's editors issued a correction without referring the readers to the
more importantly, the relation between education and class is indicated
by the way issues are framed by experts, opinion surveys, and the media,
which faithfully feature them. That Iraq's president Saddam Hussein and
his government constitutes an imminent threat to U.S. securitya
judgment that neither for the media nor for the Bush administration seems
to require proofis
the starting point of virtually all of the media's coverage of U.S. foreign
policy. On the nightly news many programs of talking-head experts, no
less than Sunday morning talk shows on commercial networks where experts
mingle with the political directorate to discuss world and national events,
rarely if ever posed the question of whether there was warrant for this
evaluation. The commentary and discussion revolved instead around the
issue not of whether the U.S. should go to war to disarm the regime, but
when it inevitably would occur. The taken-for-granted assumption was that
Saddam has viable "weapons of mass destruction" in his possession,
whether or not the United Nations inspectors dispatched by the Security
Council to investigate this allegation could affirm this U.S. government-manufactured
"fact." Since the Bush administration knows that there nothing
as efficient as a war to unify the underlying population behind its policies,
and the media is complicit, citizens are deprived of countervailing assessments
unless they emanate from within the establishment. And even then, there
is only a small chance that these views will play prominently.
when Brent Scowcroft, the national security advisor in the first Bush
administration, and retiring Republican conservative U.S. Representative
Dick Armey expressed reservations about the current administration's war
plans, neither received the notice such an ideological breach might deserve.
Only the tiny fraction of the population that reads a handful of liberal
newspapers and magazines of opinion were likely to know about their objections.
From the perspective of the leading media, Americans were in virtually
unanimous agreement that we should and would go to war against Iraq. Yet,
by the results of some polls, which are poorly reported in most media,
we know that support for the war is not only soft, but is qualified; while
few are opposed to a war on any terms, many Americans object to a unilateral
attack by U.S. forces. But there were ample indications the administration
would proceed as if public opinion were unified around its policy. In
this mode of governance absent massive protest that may be manifested
directly or electorally, silence is tantamount to consent. Without visible
dissent, a visibility routinely denied by the media to protestors, the
administration interpreted the Republican victory in the 2002 mid-term
elections as a retrospective mandate for its war policies.
pattern of government vetting and censorship of war news was established
during World War II, but the first Bush administration elevated it to
an art form. During the 1991 Gulf War, the administration took pains to
shield reporters from the battlefield and insisted they be quartered in
Saudi hotels, miles away from the action. Journalists received all of
the war news from government sources, including video footage and photographs
shown to them in special briefings. By the contemporary and subsequent
testimony of some journalists who had been assigned to cover the events,
the Bush administration was intent on not repeating the mistakes of the
Vietnam war when the Johnson administration permitted the press full access
to American and enemy troops and to the battle scenes. Historians and
political observers agree that this policy may have had a major impact
on building the anti-war movement, especially the images of body bags
being loaded on airplanes and the human gore associated with any close
combat, supplied by staff photographers. Americans never got the chance
to view the physical and human destruction visited by U.S. bombs and missiles
on Baghdad or the extent of U.S. casualties. The war was short-lived so
the political damage at home was relatively light. Needless to say, the
fact that of the 700,000 troops who entered the combat area some 150,000
have since reported psychological or physical injuries barely makes it
to the back pages of most newspapers, let alone the visual media.
well, at its inception some educators and producers touted the educational
value of television. Indeed perhaps the major impact of the dominance
of visual culture on our everyday knowledge is that to be, is to be seen.
Celebrity is a word that is reserved for people whose names become "household"
words. Celebrity is produced by the repetition of appearances of an individual
on the multitude of television talk showsOprah,
The Today Show, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Late
Show with David Letterman, and othersin
which personalities constitute the substance of the event. The point of
the typical interview between the anchor or host and her or his subject
is not what is said, or even that the guest is currently appearing in
a film or television show, the ostensible purpose of the segment. The
interview is a statement of who exists, and by implication, who doesn't.
The event has little to do with economic or high-level political power,
for these people
are largely invisible, or on occasion may appear on the Charlie Rose
Show on PBS or, formerly, on ABC's Nightline. The making of
sports, entertainment, political, or literary celebrities defines the
boundary of popular hope or aspiration. The leading television celebrity
talk shows are instances of the American credo that, however high the
barrier, anyone can become a star. For this is not an instance of having
charisma or exuding aura: the celebs are not larger than life, but are
shown to be ordinary in an almost banal sense. Fix my nose, cap my teeth,
lose weight, take acting lessons, and with a little luck the person on
the screen could be me.
The Labor and Radical Movements
as Educational Sites
working-class intellectual as a social type precedes and parallels the
emergence of universal public education. At the dawn of the public school
movement in the 1830s, the Ante Bellum labor movement that consisted largely
of literate skilled workers, favored six years of schooling in order to
transmit to their children the basics of reading and writing, but opposed
compulsory attendance in secondary schools. The reasons were bound up
with their congenital suspicion of the State which they believed never
exhibited sympathy for the workers' cause. Although opposed to child labor,
the early workers' movements were convinced that the substance of educationliterature,
history, and philosophyshould
be supplied by the movement itself. Consequently, in both the oral and
the written tradition, workers organizations often constituted an alternate
university to that of public schools. The active program of many workers
and radical movements until World War II consisted largely of education
through newspapers, literacy classes for immigrants where the reading
materials were drawn from labor and socialist classics, and world literature.
These were supplemented by lectures offered by independent scholars who
toured the country in the employ of lecture organizations commissioned
by the unions and radical organizations (Tannenbaum, 1995).
the shop floor was also a site of education. Skilled workers were usually
literate in their own language and in English, and many were voracious
readers and writers. Union and radical newspapers often ran poetry and
stories written by workers. Socialist-led unions such as those in the
needle trades, machinists, breweries, and bakeries sponsored educational
programs; in the era when the union contract was still a rarity, the union
was not so much an agency of contract negotiation and enforcement as it
was an educational, political, and social association. In his autobiography,
Samuel Gompers, the founding AFL president, remembers his fellow cigar
makers hiring a "reader" in the 1870s who sat at the center
of the work-floor and read from literary and historical classics as well
as more contemporary works of political and economic analysis such as
the writings of Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels. Reading groups met in the
back of a bar, in the union hall, or in the local affiliate of the socialist
wing of the nationality federations. Often these groups were ostensibly
devoted to preparing immigrants to pass the obligatory language test for
citizenship status. But the content of the reading was, in addition to
labor and socialist newspapers and magazines, often supplemented by works
of fiction by William Shakespeare, the great nineteenth-century novelists
and poets, and the writings of Marx and Karl Kautsky. In its anarchist
inflection, Peter Kropotkin, Moses Hess, and Michael Bakunin were the
required reads (Gompers, 1924).
New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and other large cities where the socialist
and communist movements had considerable membership and a fairly substantial
periphery of sympathizers, the parties established adult schools that
not only offered courses pertaining to political and ideological knowledge,
but were vehicles for many working- and middle-class students to gain
a general education. Among them, in New York, the socialist-oriented Rand
School and the communist-sponsored Jefferson School (formerly the Workers'
School) lasted until the early 1950s when, due to the decline of a left
intellectual culture among workers as much as the contemporary repressive
political environment, they closed. But in their respective heydays, from
the 1920s to the late 1940s, for tens of thousands of working-class peoplemany
of them high school students and industrial workersthese
schools were alternate universities. These schools had diverse curricula
and didn't just offer courses that promoted the party's ideology and program.
Many courses concerned history, literature, and philosophy and, at least
at the Jefferson School, the student could study art, drama, and music,
as could their children. The tradition was revived, briefly, by the 1960s
New Left which, in similar sites, sponsored free universities where the
term "free" designated not an absence of tuition fees but signaled
they were ideologically and intellectually unbound to either the traditional
left parties or to the conventional school system. I participated in organizing
New York's Free University and two of its successors. While not affiliated
with the labor movement or socialist parties, it succeeded in attracting
more than a thousand students in each of its semestersmostly
offered a broad range of courses which were taught by people of divergent
intellectual and political orientations, including some free market libertarians
who were attracted to the school's non-sectarianism.
I worked in a steel mill in the late 1950s some of us formed a group that
read current literature, labor history, and economics. I discussed books
and magazine articles with some of my fellow workers in bars as well as
on breaks. Tony Mazzocchi, who was at the same time a worker and union
officer of a Long Island Local of the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers,
organized a similar group and I knew of several other cases where young
workers did the same. Some of these groups evolved into rank and file
caucuses that eventually contested the leadership of their local unions;
others were developed mainly for the self-edification of the participants
and had no particular political goals.
almost every workplace there is a person or persons to whom other workers
turn for information about the law, the union contract, contemporary politics
or, equally important, as a source of general education. This individual(s)
may or may not be schooled but, until the late 1950s, rarely had any college
experience. Schools were not the primary source of their knowledge. They
were, and are, largely self-educated. In my own case, having left Brooklyn
College after less than a year, I worked a variety of industrial production
jobs. When I worked the midnight shift, I got off at 8:00 in the morning,
ate breakfast, and spent four hours in the library before going home.
Mostly I read American and European history and political economy, particularly
the physiocrats, Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Maynard Keynes, and Joseph
Schumpeter. I read Marx's Capital in high school and owned the
friend Russell Rommele, who worked in a nearby mill, was also an autodidact.
His father was a first generation German-American brewery worker with
no particular literary interests. But Russell had been exposed to reading
a wide range of historical and philosophical works as a high school student
at Saint Benedict's Prep, a Jesuit institution. The priests singled out
Russell for the priesthood and mentored him in theology and social theory.
The experience radicalized him and he decided not to answer the call but
to enter the industrial working class instead. Like me he was active in
the union and Newark Democratic Party politics. Working as an educator
with a local union in the auto industry recently, I met several active
unionists who are intellectuals. The major difference between them and
those of my generation is that they are college graduates, although none
claims to have acquired their love of learning or their analytic perspective
from schools. One is a former member of a radical organization and another
learned his politics from participation in a shop-based study group/union
caucus organized by a member of a socialist grouplet which dissolved in
the mid-1990s when the group lost a crucial union election. In both instances,
with the demise of their organizational affiliations, they remain habituated
to reading, writing, and union activity.
Parents, Neighborhood, Class Culture
Locke (1954) observed that, consistent with his rejection of innate ideas,
even if conceptions of good and evil are present in divine or civil law,
morality is constituted by reference to our parents, relatives, and especially
the "club" of peers to which we belong:
William James (1890) put the manner equally succinctly:
Neither philosopher had a doubt that
the social worlds of peers and family are the chief referents for the
formation of the social self. Each in his own fashion situates the individual
in social context, which provides a "common measure of virtue and
vice" (Locke, 1954: 478) even as they acknowledge the ultimate choice
resides with the individual self. These, and not the institutions, even
those that have the force of law, are the primary sources of authority.
(1961) argues that education "by its very nature cannot forego either
authority or tradition" (180-181). Nor can it base itself on the
presumption that children share an autonomous existence from adults. Yet
schooling ignores the reality of the society of kids at the cost of undermining
its own authority. The society of kids is in virtually all classes an
alternative and oppositional site of knowledge and of moral valuation.
We have already seen how working-class kids get working-class jobs by
means of their rebellion against school authority. Since refusal and resistance
is a hallmark of the moral order, the few who will not obey the invocation
to fail or to perform indifferently in school often find themselves marginalized
or expelled from the community of kids. While they adopt a rationality
that can be justified on eminently practical grounds the long tradition
of rejection of academic culture has proven hard to break, even in the
wake of evidence that those working-class jobs to which they were oriented
no longer exist. For what is at stake in adolescent resistance is their
perception that the blandishments of the adult world are vastly inferior
to the pleasures of their own. In the first place the new service economy
offers few inducements: wages are low, the job is boring, and
the future is bleak. And since the schools now openly present themselves
as a link in the general system of control it may appear to some students
that cooperation is a form of self-deception.
not invariably, then in many households parents provide to the young a
wealth of knowledge: the family mythologies which feature an uncle or
aunt, a grandparent, or an absent parent. These are the stories, loosely
based on some actual event(s) in which the family member has distinguished
her or himself in various ways that (usually) illustrate a moral virtue
or defect, which constitute a kind of didactic message. Even when not
attached to an overt narrative, parable, or myth, we learn from our parents
by their actions in relation to us and others: How do they deal with adversity?
How do they address ordinary, everyday problems? What do they learn from
their own trials and tribulations and what do they say to us? What are
our parent's attitudes towards money, joblessness, and everyday life disruptions
such as sudden, acute illness or accidents? What do they learn from the
endless conflicts with their parent(s) over issues of sex, money, and
relative weight of parental-to-peer authority is an empirical question
that cannot be decided in advance; what both have in common is their location
within everyday life. The parents are likely to be more susceptible to
the authority of law and of its magistrates and, in a world of increasing
uncertainty, will worry that if their children choose badly they may be
left behind. But the associations with our peers we make in everyday life
provide the recognition that we crave, define what is worthy of praise
or blame, and confer approbation or disapproval on our decisions. But
having made a choice that runs counter to that of "their company"
or club the individual must form, or join, a new "company" to
confer the judgment of virtue on her or his action. This company must,
of necessity, consist of "peers," the definition of which has
6.5 Religion, the law and, among kids, school authorities face the obstacles erected by the powerful rewards and punishments meted out by the "clubs" to which people are affiliated. At a historical juncture when, beneath the relentless pressure imposed by capital to transform all labor into wage labor, thereby forcing every adult into the paid labor force, the society of kids increasingly occupies the space of civil society. The neighborhood, once dominated by women and small shopkeepers, has all but disappeared save for the presence of children and youth. As parents toil for endless hours to pay the ever mounting debts incurred by home ownership, perpetual car and appliance payments, and the costs of health care, kids are increasingly on their own and this seriously affects their conceptions of education and life.
recent studies and teacher observations have discovered a not inconsiderable
reluctance among Black students in elite universities to perform well
in school, even those of professional/managerial family backgrounds. Many
seem indifferent to arguments that show that school performance is a central
prerequisite to better jobs and higher status in the larger work world.
Among the more acute speculations is the conclusion that Black students'
resistance reflects an anti-intellectual bias, and a hesitation, if not
refusal, to enter the mainstream corporate world. Perhaps the charge of
anti-intellectualism is better understood as healthy skepticism about
the chance that a corporate career will provide the well-publicized satisfactions.
There are similar indications among some relatively affluent White students
as well. Although by no means a majority, some students are less enamored
by the work world to which they, presumably, have been habituated by school,
especially by the prospect of perpetual work. In the third tier universities,
State and private alike, apparently forced by their parents to enroll,
many students wonder out loud why they are there. Skepticism about schooling
still abounds even as they graduate high school and enroll in post-secondary
schools in record numbers. According to one colleague of mine who teaches
in a third tier private university in the New York metropolitan area,
many of these mostly suburban students "sleepwalk" through their
classes, do not participate in class discussions and are lucky to get
a "C" grade.
the working-class neighborhoodsWhite,
Black and Latino/athe
word is out: given the absence of viable alternatives, you must try to
obtain that degree, but this defines the limit of loyalty to the enterprise.
Based on testimonies of high school and community college teachers, for
every student who takes school knowledge seriously there are twenty or
more who are time-servers. Most are ill-prepared to perform academic work
and, since the community colleges and State four-year colleges and "teaching"
universities simply lack the resources to provide the means by which their
school performance can improve, beyond the credential there is little
motivation among students to try to get an education.
some instances, those who break from their club and enter the regime of
school knowledge risk being drummed out of a lifetime of relationships
with their peers. What has euphemistically been described as "peer
pressure" bears, among other moral structures, on the degree to which
kids are permitted to cross over the line into the precincts of adult
authority. While being a success in school is not equivalent to squealing
on a friend or to the cops, or transgressing some sacred moral code of
the society of kids, it comes close to committing an act of betrayal.
This is comprehensible only if the reader is willing to suspend prejudice
that schooling is tantamount to education and is an unqualified goodas
compared to the presumed evil of school failure, or the decision of the
slacker to rebel by refusing to succeed.
invoke the concept of "class" in either educational debates
or any other politically charged discourse generally refers to the White
working class. Educational theory and practice treats Blacks and Latino/as,
regardless of their economic positions, as unified, bio-identities. That
Blacks kids from professional, managerial, and business backgrounds share
more with their White counterparts than with working-class Blacks is generally
ignored by most educational writers. Just as in race discoursein
which "race" refers in slightly different registers to people
of African origin and those who migrated from Latin countries of South
America and the Caribbean"Whites"
are undifferentiated and treated as a unified category. The narrowing
of the concept limits our ability to discern class at all. I want to suggest
that, although we must stipulate ethnic, gender, race, and occupational
distinction among differentiated strata of wage labor, with the exception
of children of salaried professional and technical groups, where the culture
of schooling plays a decisive role, class education transcends these distinctions.
No doubt there are gradations among the strata that comprise this social
formation, but the most privileged professional strata (physicians, attorneys,
scientists, professors), and the high-level managers are self-reproducing,
not principally through schooling but through social networks. These include
private schools (some of which are residential), clubs and associations,
and, in suburban public schools, the self-selection of students on the
basis of distinctions. Show me a school friendship between the son or
daughter of a corporate manager and the child of a janitor or factory
worker and I will show you a community service project that's being used
by the privileged student to help get into one of the "select"
colleges or universities such as Brown, Oberlin, and Wesleyan.
Schooling selects a fairly small
number of children of the class of wage labor for genuine class mobility.
In the first half of the twentieth century, having lost its appeal among
middle-class youth, the Catholic Church turned to working-class students
as a source of cadre recruitment. In my neighborhood of the East Bronx,
two close childhood friends, both of Italian background, entered the priesthood.
As sons of construction workers the Church provided their best chance
to escape the hardships and economic uncertainties of manual labor. Another
kid became a pharmacist because the local Catholic college, Fordham University,
offered scholarships. A fourth kid was among the tiny coterie of students
who passed the test for one of the city's special schools, Bronx Science,
and became a science teacher. Otherwise, almost everybody else remained
a worker or, like my best friend Kenny, went to prison.
the well-publicized claim that anyone can escape their condition of social
and economic birtha
claim reproduced by schools and by the media with numbing regularitymost
working-class students, many of whom have some college credits, but often
do not graduate, end up in low- and middle-level service jobs that do
not pay a decent working-class wage. Owing to the steep decline of unionized
industrial production jobs those who enter factories increasingly draw
wages that are substantially below union standards. Those who do graduate
find work in computers, although rarely at the professional levels. The
relatively low paid become k-12 teachers and health care professionals,
mostly nurses and technicians, or enter the social service field as case
workers, medical social workers, or line social welfare workers. The question
I want to pose is whether these "professional" occupations represent
the post-war economic boom which made possible a significant expansion
of spending for schools, the social services, and administration of public
goods, the public sector workplace became a favored site of Black and
Latino/a recruitment, mainly for clerical, maintenance, and entry-level
patient care jobs in hospitals and other health care facilities. Within
several decades a good number advanced to middle and registered nursing,
but not in all sections of the country. As unionization spread to the
non-profit private sector as well as to public employment in the 1960s
and 1970s, these jobs paid enough to enable many to enjoy what became
known as a "middle-class" living standard as well as a measure
of job security offered by union security and civil service status. While
it is true that "job security" has often been observed in its
breach, the traditional deal made by teachers, nurses, and social workers
was that they traded higher incomes for job security. But after about
1960, spurred by the resurgent civil rights movement, these "second-level"
to see themselves as workers more than professionals: they formed unions,
struck for higher pay and shorter hours, and assumed a very unprofessional
adversarial stance towards institutional authority. Contracts stipulated
higher salaries, definite hours (a sharp departure from professional ideology),
that seniority be the basis for layoffs (just like any industrial contract),
and substantial vacation and sick leave.
assertion of working-class values and social position may have been strategic;
indeed it inspired the largest wave of union organizing since the 1930s.
But, together with the entrance of huge numbers of women and Blacks into
the public and quasi-public sector workforces it was as well a symptom
of the proletarianization of the second-tier professions. Several decades
later, salaried physicians made a similar discovery; they formed unions
and struck against high malpractice insurance costs as much as the onerous
conditions imposed on their autonomy by Health Maintenance Organizations
and government authorities bent on cost containment, often at their expense.
More to the point, the steep rise of public employees' salaries and benefits
posed the question of how to maintain services in times of fiscal austerity
which might be due to economic downturn or to pro-business tax policies.
The answer has been that the political and public officials told employees
that the temporary respite from the classical trade union trade-off was
over. All public employees have suffered relative deterioration in their
salaries and benefits. Since the mid-1970s fiscal crises,
begun in New York City, they have experienced layoffs for the first time
since the depression. And their unions have been on a continuous concessionary
bargaining mode for decades. In the politically and ideologically repressive
environment of the last twenty five years the class divide has sharpened.
Ironically, in the wake of the attacks by legislatures and business against
their hard-won gains in the early 1980s the teachers unions abandoned
their militant, class posture and reverted to professionalism and to a
center-right political strategy.
truth, schools are learning siteseven
if only for a handfulof
intellectual knowledge. In the main, they transmit the instrumental logic
of credentialism, together with their transformation from institutions
of discipline to those of control, especially in working-class districts.
Even talented, dedicated teachers have more difficulty reaching kids and
convincing them that the life of the mind may hold unexpected rewards,
even if the career implications of critical thought are not apparent.
The breakdown of the mission of public schools has produced varied forms
of disaffection; if school violence has abated in some places, it does
not signify the decline of gangs and other "clubs" that signify
the autonomous world of youth. The society of kids is more autonomous
because, in contrast to 1960s, official authorities no longer offer hope;
instead, in concert with the doctrine of control they threaten punishment
which includes, but is not necessarily associated with, incarceration.
I note, however, that the large number of drug busts of young Black and
Latino men should not be minimized. With over a million Blacks, more than
3 percent of the African-American populationmost
of them youngwithin
the purview of the criminal justice system, the law may be viewed as a
more or less concerted effort to counter by force of the power of peers.
This may be regarded in the context of the failure of schools. Of course,
more than three hundred years ago John Locke knew the limits of the magistrates
indeed, of any adult authority to overcome the power of the society of
kids (Giroux, 2000).
are the requisite changes that would transform schools from credential
mills and institutions of control to sites of education that prepare young
people to see themselves as active participants in the world? As my analysis
implies, the fundamental condition is to abolish high-stakes standardized
tests that dominate the curriculum and subordinate teachers to the role
of drill masters and subject students to stringent controls. By this proposal
I do not mean to eliminate the need for evaluative tools. The essay is
a fine measure of both writing ability and of the student's grasp of literature,
social science, and history. While it must be admitted that math and science
as much as language proficiency require considerable rote learning, the
current curriculum and pedagogy in these fields includes neither a historical
account of the changes in scientific and mathematical theory, nor a meta-conceptual
explanation of what the disciplines are about. Nor are courses in language
at the secondary level ever concerned with etymological issues, comparative
cultural study of semantic differences, and other topics that might relieve
the boredom of rote learning by providing depth of understanding. The
broader understanding of science in the modern worldits
relation to technology, war, and medicine for exampleshould
surely be integrated into the curriculum; some of these issues appear
in the textbooks, but teachers rarely discuss them because they are busy
preparing students for the high-stakes tests in which knowledge of the
social contexts for science, language, and math are not included.
I agree with Arendt (1961) that
education "cannot forgo either authority or tradition" (97).
But authority must be earned rather than assumed and the transmission
of tradition needs to be critical rather than worshipful. If teachers
were allowed to acknowledge student skepticism, and if they incorporated
kids' knowledge into the curriculum by making what they know the object
of rigorous study, especially popular music and television, they might
be treated with greater respect by their students. But there is no point
denying the canon; one of the more egregious conditions of subordination
is the failure of schools to expose students to its best exemplars, for
people who have no cultural capital are thereby condemned to social and
political marginality, let alone deprived of some of the pleasures to
be derived from encounters with genuine works of art. When the New York
City Board of Education (now the Department of Education) mandates that
during every semester high school English classes read a Shakespeare play
and one or two works of nineteenth-century English literature, but afford
little or no access to the best Russian novels of the nineteenth century,
no opportunities to examine some of the most influential works of Western
philosophy, beginning with the Milesians through Plato, Aristotle and
the major figures of "modern philosophy," and provide no social
and historical context for what is learned, tradition is observed in the
breach more than in its practice. And when, under budgetary pressures,
elementary and secondary schools cut music and art from the curriculum,
they deprive students of the best sources for cultivating the creative
imagination. Schools fulfill their responsibility to students and to the
communities in which they live when, at every level, they offer a program
of systematic, critical learning which simultaneously provides students
with "access" to the rich traditions of so-called Western thought,
history, and the arts, including its literature, and
opens parallel vistas of Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Aronowitz, 2000).
the schools should relieve themselves of their ties to corporate interests
and reconstruct the curriculum along the
line of genuine intellectual endeavor. Nor should schools be seen as career
conduits; although, this function will be difficult to displace, for among
other reasons, in an era of high economic anxiety many kids and their
parents worry about the future and seek some practical purchase on it.
It will take some convincing that their best leg up is to be educated.
It is unlikely in the present environment, but possible in some places.
could elaborate these options; this is only an outline. In order to come
close to their fulfillment at least three things are needed. First we
require a conversation concerning the nature and scope of education and
the limits of schooling as an educational site. Along with this, theorists
and researchers need to link their knowledge of popular culture, and culture
in the anthropological sense, that is, everyday life, with the politics
of education. Specifically, we need to examine why in late capitalist
societies, the public sphere withers while the corporatization process
penetrates every sphere of life. We need teachers who, by their own education,
are intellectuals who respect and want to help children obtain a genuine
education, regardless of their social class. For this we need a new regime
of teacher education that is founded on the idea that the educator must
be educated well. It would surely entail abolishing the current curricula
of most schools of education, if not the schools themselves. The endless
courses on "teaching methods" would be replaced with courses
in the natural and social sciences, mathematics, philosophy, history,
and literature. Some of these would address the relation of education,
in all of its forms, to their social and historical context. In effect,
the teacher becomes an intellectual capable of the critical appropriation
of world histories and cultures. And we need a movement of parents, students,
teachers, and organized labor armed with a political program directed
at forcing legislatures to adequately fund schooling at the federal, state,
and local levels, and compelling boards of education to deauthorize high-stakes
standardized tests that currently drive the curriculum and pedagogy (Aronowitz
& Giroux, 1985).
proposed these changes, we need to remain mindful of the limitations of
schooling and the likelihood that youth will acquire knowledge that prepares
them for lifelike
sex, the arts, where to find jobs, how to bind with other people, how
to fight, how to love and hateoutside
of schools. The deinstitutionalization of education does not require abandoning
schools. But they should be rendered benign and removed as much as possible
from the tightening grip of the corporate, warfare state. In turn teachers
must resist becoming agents of the prison system, of the drug companies,
and of corporate capital. In the last instance, the best chance for education
resides in communities, in social movements, and in the kids themselves.
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Stanley Aronowitz is a Distinguished Professor of Sociology at CUNY Graduate Center and the Director of the Center for Cultural Studies. He is the author of seventeen books, including False Promises, Science as Power, Roll Over Beethoven, The Knowledge Factory, From the Ashes of the Old: American Labor and America's Future, Postwork, and The Jobless Future. Sections of this paper have been published in Social Text and Yesterday's Dreams, edited by Alan Scott.
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