Tag Archives: education

Apartheid in Arizona

The legislature in Arizona recently passed House Bill 2281. This document bans ethnic studies courses which promote race consciousness from public schools.  This law of course comes on the heels of the draconian new immigration law SB 1070.  It’s worth thinking about the relation between these two laws.

Education bill 2281 specifically prohibits a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that: a) promote the overthrow of the United States government; b) promote resentment toward a race or class of people; c) are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group; d) advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.

The ideology here of course is complete objectivity in the classroom.  Supporters of this legislator are marching in lockstep with Daniel Horowitz, whose campaigns with Students for Academic Freedom have long blasted any form of politicization.  As my colleague Malini Johar Schueller and I have argued in Dangerous Professors, this spurious notion of objectivity obscures the inherent politicization of dominant established curricula and attempts to roll back the (relatively slight) gains made by post-1960s social movements.

In fact, the explicit target of the legislation is the Mexican American Studies Department of the Tucson Unified School District.  According to the department’s website, the education curriculum is designed to a) advocate for and provide curriculum that is centered within the pursuit of social justice; b) advocate for and provide curriculum that is centered within the Mexican American/Chicano cultural and historical experience.

House Bill 2281 is a transparent attempt to clamp down on forces of ideological opposition within Arizona, a necessary counterpart to SB 1070.  Their symbiotic nature is made particularly evident when the bills are compared to similar bans enacted elsewhere.

During the apartheid era in South Africa, for example, the ruling regime sought to silence critics of the status quo by banning them.  Coupled with lynching, torture, and summary execution, the practice of banning was a key instrument of apartheid-era policy.

The banning of organizations or individuals was originally authorized in South Africa by the Suppression of Communism Act of 1950, and subsequently by the Internal Security Act of 1982.  The definition of communism in these laws was extremely broad, including any activity allegedly promoting civil disturbances or disorder, promoting industrial, social, political, or economic change in the country, and encouraging hostility between whites and nonwhites so as to promote change or revolution.  The main organizations banned under these laws were the Communist Party of South Africa, the African National Congress, and the Pan-African Congress.

More than 2,000 people were banned in South Africa from 1950 to 1990.  Once a person was labeled a threat to security and public order, s/he essentially became a public nonentity.  S/he would be confined to her or his home, would not be allowed to meet with more than one person at a time (other than family members), to hold any offices in any organization, to speak publicly or to write for any publication.  Banned persons were also barred from entering particular areas, buildings, and institutions, including law courts, schools, and newspaper offices.

The banning of ethnic studies departments in Arizona is an integral part of the reactionary program being advanced by the Right in the state.  As the South African parallel suggests, the silencing of dissenting voices is just as essential to authoritarian hegemony as more obviously repressive forms of state power such as ethnic profiling in policing.

This assault on civil liberties and educational democracy needs to be taken just as seriously – and challenged just as ardently – as the state’s oppressive immigration legislation has been.

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Filed under democracy, education, Uncategorized

The Left Hand of the State

In “Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market,” the late great sociologist Pierre Bourdieu discusses the social suffering experienced by teachers, social workers, and other members of what he calls the left hand of the state: the “agents of the so-called spending ministries which are the trace, within the state, of the social struggles of the past.”  The left hand of the state is opposed to the technocrats of the Ministry of Finance, the public and private banks.  Today, the powerful right hand of the state no longer seems bent on amputating the left hand.

This battle between the two wings of the state was particularly apparent this week.  In Rhode Island, state officials fired the entire teaching staff of a school that had been judged to be failing.  The right hand brings the ax down on the left.  This is part of the “accountability” agenda advanced by the Republicans since “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB).  Particularly disturbing, however, is the fact that this decision was publicly supported by President Obama and the Democrats.  In fact, the action was partially a product of his administration’s wholesale embrace of NCLB.  The school in question was to be reconfigured under the guidelines of an Obama administration School Improvement Grant, which mandated that poorly performing schools should be transformed by a) extending instructional hours; b) converting them to charter schools; c) closing them entirely; or d) replacing the principal and half of the staff.  The local school board had been pursuing the first option, but when the teachers’ union demanded higher wages for increased instruction time, the board broke off negotiations and shut down the school.  NCLB=No Teacher Left Employed.

There has been some resistance to this punitive agenda of late.  On Thursday, a national day of action in defense of public education saw demonstrations take place across the country.  Here’s a map of actions.  My union, the Professional Staff Congress, took part.  I was tied up with a job search, unfortunately, and so don’t have any pix.  But the PSC recently produced a great brochure that makes some strong arguments against proposed cuts to higher education in NY.  And here’s an interesting video meditation by UC Berkeley activists on the student movement:

I’ll give Bourdieu the last word: “Now that the great utopias of the 19th century have revealed all their perversion, it is urgent to create the conditions for a collective effort to reconstruct a universe of realist ideals, capable of mobilizing people’s will without mystifying their consciousness.”

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Filed under class war, education

Pedagogy of the Oppressors

This is the first of an occasional series of posts on the search for a high school for my daughter in the New York City area.  Unfortunately I haven’t chronicled this entire experience, but I will be including selected vignettes of adventures we’ve had over the last four months or so of the school search in order to capture reflections on this harrowing experience.

I want to document this because it has been by far the most intense and unpleasant ordeal I’ve undergone while living in New York City – which is not exactly an easy place to live at the best of times.  In fact, according to a recent survey, NYC ranks last among the many states in the U.S. in terms of happiness.  But then perhaps happiness is overrated.  There are certainly a lot of bizarre and sometimes quite amusing elements mixed into the NYC school search ordeal.  Moreover, although I’m sure that this experience is highly anomalous, as a limit case I suspect it has quite a lot to reveal about the extreme circumstances to which youths are increasingly subjected in the precarious world we currently inhabit.

At any rate, last night we attended a reception for a NJ-based boarding school at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel here in NYC.  We’re looking at boarding schools as well as private and public schools in NYC.  Since public high schools in the city are now so selective, I want to make sure that my daughter gets accepted somewhere and so I’m applying almost everywhere (at least that’s how it often feels).  Apparently boarding schools have a lot more financial aid to give, and so we’ve been encouraged to apply there as well as to so-called day schools in the city.

There also seems to be a trend towards boarding schools among young people in the city.  My daughter, like most of her friends, expressed interest in going away to one, the idea being that as an only child she pines for the company of an extended network of siblings, something she’s likely to find at a boarding school, in theory at least.  I think it’s also part of the desire to grow up more quickly, to have the teen equivalent of a kind of glamorous Carrie Bradshaw cosmopolitan life.

The reception at the Waldorf Astoria certainly seemed to promise an experience along those lines.  The hotel itself was straight out of an Edith Wharton novel.  Most of the people there seemed like movie stars or prostitutes or both.  I half expected to see Bono and Jeffrey Sachs smoozing with Angelina Jolie in an alcove of the lobby.  I held onto my daughter’s arm very tightly.

The young people and parents who turned up for the reception also all seemed very urbane, and I was struck by the very high percentage of African-American families in attendance.  The reception was held in “Peacock Alley,” which felt just about gilded enough.  Rather ironic given the parlous state of the U.S. economy today.

Once school officials began making presentations, though, the hollowness of private school rhetoric began to show through this gilded facade.  The head of the school talked a lot about “tangible signs of progress” at the school, by which he seemed to mean that they have a lot of money and have been throwing up a lot of buildings.  As he ceded his place to a string of other school officials and teachers, I was struck by the fact that all the people tapped to speak were Anglo-American, a very unfortunately choice given the predominantly non-white composition of the potential applicant pool.  Why would any of us want to entrust our children to people who seemed not to have thought about the need to integrate their institution and their public face?

The various administrators and teachers who spoke talked about how the school embodied strong values and community.  As my daughter pointed out in a frustrated aside after the reception, this was ridiculous.  All schools have values and community.  What kind of values and community is, of course, the question.

After the administrators held forth, a series of students were invited to speak.  One young couple perhaps gave an unwitting clue to the school’s values.  They mentioned that they went from the school to an elite ivy league university, from whence they went on to work at Lehman Brothers, and now, after being fired when the firm collapsed, work at Goldman Sachs.  The point, I suppose, was to underline the illustrious career trajectory of graduates from the school.  It didn’t seem to have dawned on anyone that these blithe young spirits had come to rest in two of the most piratical institutions in the U.S.  So much for instilling values!

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Filed under education, Uncategorized, urbanity