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Using Schools to Reinforce White Male Privilege

Posted By on February 22, 2013

acting like a dick


This is the sixth  of a series of guest posts by Dr Danny Weil from an article (World Class Standards: Whose World, Which Economic Classes and What Standards?) he originally published in Daily Censored.

In this sixth section, Dr Weil argues that conservative ideologues and corporate leaders are concealing their true intent in aggressively imposing educational standards and standardized tests on an unsuspecting American public. Besides hammering home the superiority of European culture, free market values and stereotypically male approaches to knowledge, they reinforce the notion that individual deficiency, rather than pernicious social and political problems, are responsible for human misery.


The Standards Debate as Social Prevarication and Myth

By Dr Danny Weil

“Perhaps the greatest tragedy of modern man is his domination by the force of {these} myths and his manipulation by organized advertising, ideological or otherwise.  Gradually, without even realizing the loss he relinquishes his capacity for choice; he is expelled from the orbit of decisions.  Ordinary men do not perceive the task of the time; the latter are interpreted by an “elite” and presented in the form of recipes and prescriptions.  And when men try to save themselves by following the prescriptions, they drown in leveling anonymity, without hope and without faith, domesticated and adjusted.” – Paulo Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness, 1976

Human beings seek to exist in the world, to make sense of their peculiar relationships with external and internal reality.  They seek dialogue and relationships with others in order to claim their humanness and become free from the external and internal bonds that bind them.  Standards, claim progressive post-modernists, are part and parcel of the sickness, the cognitive dis-ease that is rampant in education today precisely because they reinforce the meaningless of education — giving meaning only to what education can do for one materially, not psychologically or subjectively.  They become little more than a prerequisite for accepting and adjusting to a market society.

To begin with, radical pedagogy and progressive post-modern educational theory, hereinafter referred to as post-formalism (Kincheloe, Rethinking Intelligence, 1999), argues that tests and testing do far more than simply seek to measure academic performance or basic skills.  “From a post-formalist point of view, standards and assessment as put forth by both economic and cultural conservatives, give a false illusion—an ideological myth of meritocracy and objectivity that really operates deceitfully as technologies of power and control (Foucault, Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison, 1977).”  Standards operate as part of a modernist project, dissecting thinking into minute fragments and then testing the fragments separate from the whole.  They also are part of a mono-cultural or Eurocentric and androcentric tradition that place value on socio-centric truths and cultural claims to superiority.

Post-formalism would argue conservative standards, hereinafter referred to as universal standards, are culturally biased, gender discriminative, and class based sorting and classifying mechanisms that surreptitiously seek to motivate students by holding out the promise of extrinsic material rewards if the standards are met—i.e., better jobs, college entrance, higher incomes and better employment.  They create a false ideology of “fairness” that proclaims that individual effort is the controlling factor in determining success, regardless of ones’ social class, sex, race, cultural background or particular place in the social system.

Post-formalism argues that the current standards debate actually serves to suffocate a truly genuine dialogue about the purpose of education, of history, of human beings as subjects seeking their freedom in the enterprise of life; instead, the debate demagogues and couches the controversy over schooling as market competitiveness, global production, better goods and services, and strong national identity.

“Unfortunately, and yet understandably, the notion of universal standards resonates with many parents, especially minority parents and the economically and culturally disenfranchised, precisely because they want their children to become successful in a racially and sexually biased, class society where wages, for the majority of people, have scarcely risen in more than twenty five years (Sklar, Shifting Fortunes: The Perils of the Growing American Wealth Gap 1999).”  And as new jobs emerge and old ones die out, education is increasingly looked upon by citizenry as a way to endure rapid changes in economic life—to get ahead —a way out, or at the very least, a way to stay even and survive.  Lower wages, unemployment, and jobs relocated to third world countries have created economic insecurity, misery and uncertainty among American citizens with people scrambling and trying to avoid being the next victim of reorganization, reengineering, downsizing, restructuring or businesses disappearing, merging, and being bought out overnight.  The Right exploits these fears and economic uncertainties with the rhetoric of universal standards, falsely arguing that if we just had higher, normative standards, education would prepare everyone for the “new world order” and assure that security and equality would be re-instituted in mental and material life.  The message is clear:  don’t change life, change standards.

The Illusion of Individualistic Meritocracy

The universal standards debate disguises the way that history constructs meaning and opportunity by eternalizing itself behind false images of meritocracy, scientific rationality, and truth. By giving illusion to the mythology of meritocracy, standards serve to marginalize, discourage and disenfranchise, precisely because they propose that those who fail to live up to the technicistic standards are individual failures, do not belong in education; that they would be better served in vocational programs or, in the alternative, perhaps not be educated at all.  The failure to meet normative standards becomes defined as an individual problem devoid of social context and culpability. The debate refuses to recognize and discuss socio-economic issues such as crumbling school infrastructure, overcrowded schools, inadequate teaching resources, dysfunctional teacher training programs, the clandestine nature of teaching in isolation without mentorship or guidance, the shortage of qualified teachers (especially among minority communities), poverty, dysfunctional families, the lack of early childhood nutrition, health care or preschool, low salaries, the dismal state of parental involvement, poverty, low wages and the economic and political arrangements of post-modern capitalist society that creates, if not allows these conditions to exist.  Nor does the debate recognize intellectual diversity, cultural distinctions, intellectual diversity, epistemological processes and concerns, language disparities and differences, or gender discrimination.

Education is a uniquely public and cooperative activity done in concert with others for the purpose of reading the world, forging loving relationships, living a productive life and developing personal and social understanding.  Yet standards create a scarcity mentality—a win-lose situation where competition and ruthless grade acquisition landscape educational discourse and practice under false claims of meritocracy.  Standardized tests base themselves on, and reinforce, an ideology of insipid individualism where others exist only as rungs on a ladder, to “get over”, to compete and measure oneself against.  What is uniquely a public, collaborative activity, learning, becomes a privatized, competitive activity, getting good grades.  For this reason, universal standards are antithetical to human agency and authenticity; they are testimonies to class, race, and sex-based privilege and the objectification and reification of human intellectual endeavor.  They tear all forms of educational community asunder, pitting students against students, teachers against teachers, and citizens against citizens.  Universal standards rigidly enforce hierarchies, acquiescence and submission in place of cooperation, collaborative problem solving and shared experience and dialogue.  They operate as an ideological moral authority in the hands of an immoral constituency.

Furthermore, the current standards’ debate gives the false illusion that “we are all in this together” and that the standards proposed are objective, fair and not culturally, racially or sexually biased.  The debate does this by couching rhetoric in words such as “we”, “us”, “our”, and “together”. The discussion provides an individualistic rational that serves to temper resentment when somebody else gets into college, or gets the “good” job.  “After all, we’re all working under the same standards, aren’t we?  If you just would have done better!”  They impose an “unnatural selection” on citizens by proclaiming their naturalness, and in doing so they ideologically manipulate the public with the falsity of their own mythology.  All of this serves to surreptitiously beguile students, teachers and community into believing that there is no political agenda, no cultural norms being advocated, no prevalence of hierarchical classifying and sorting—that standards are a neutral, generic conception and operation applicable equally and fairly in the interests of everyone.

(To be continued.)

Dr Danny Weil is a public interest attorney who has practiced for more than twenty years and has been published in a case of first impression in California. He is no longer active as a lawyer but has written seven books on education, has taught second grade in South Central LA, PS 122, taught K-1 migrant children in Santa Maria, California and Guadalupe, California, taught in the California Youth Authority to first and second degree murderers and taught for seventeen years at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, CA. in the philosophy department. Dr. Weil holds a BA in Political Economics and Philosophy, a multi-subject bilingual credential in education (he is fluent in Spanish) and has a PhD in Critical Thinking. He is a writer for the Truthout Intellectual Project.



photo credit: marsmet451 via photopin cc


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