Contemporary Public Policy Influencing Children and Families: "Compassionate" Social Provision OR the Regulation of "Others"?

Article excerpt

Critical analysis of change in public policy within and across nations recognizes that the education and welfare of children, families, and all citizens is intertwined with economics, politics, and cultural discourse(s). In the United States, increasingly narrow media, judiciary, and academic discourses have supported legislative actions that limit social provision and opportunity for a range of children and family types, including linguistic and cultural minorities (Cannella, 2004a). This narrowing of discourses and shift in policies is not simply a change in U.S. policy toward children and their families within American borders, but is used to support a particular political agenda and represents narrowing of perspectives spreading around the world. As examples, the language of education has shifted from a discourse of equality of opportunity to blame and punishment; rather than focusing on justice and societal inequities, those who are in need are labeled as freeloaders with parents held responsible for all forms of social provision for the health and education (e.g., care) of their children (Lincoln & Cannella, 2004a). In the name of accountability, experts in the administration of achievement and ability tests are 'training and testing the world'--without even a discussion of the embeddedness of transnational capitalism in the testing agenda, monocultural views of knowledge, or even a passing acknowledgement of the conceptual, cultural, and contextual limits of testing as construct (Cannella & Viruru, 2004).

A shift in resources is occurring so that those who "talk the talk" and "play the game" are the recipients of social, intellectual, and material support. A bolstered patriarchal enactment of Empire within U.S. borders, as well as around the world, is generating an even more restricted (both reconceptualizing and reinscibing) form of neoliberal politics that places hyper-capitalism at the for-front. The purpose of this paper is to describe possible (however contingently, and with a postmodern avoidance of the construction of new "truths") disciplinary and regulatory methods that are being used to impose this "new" hyper-capitalism on children and their families. While actually and ultimately impacting all of us, this imposition most often targets children and families from socially excluded and marginalized groups ('those' within the U.S. who have most in common with the 'less powerful' around the world because of their skin color, gender, socioeconomic level, language, and/or religious practices). In the paper, we combine hybrid perspectives like postcolonial critique, feminist, and poststructural analysis to further hybridize our unveiling of these hyper-captialist (and patriarchal) public policy methods. Further, the disciplinary and regulatory methods will be illustrated by focusing our examples on specific revisions or discourses related to Child Health and Welfare, Education and Care, and Family/Cultural/Language Diversity. Finally, we focus on the need for an international network of critical social science research that constructs new discourses and forms of public communication, as well as academic activism.

"Compassionate" Discourses and Constructing the "Other"

Although the U.S. and Europe have for quite some time perpetuated modernist views of the world that focus on neoliberal patriarchy and economic/intellectual forms of empire, over the past 30 years (especially in the U.S.) this practice has emerged with a vengeance as a reconceptualized invasive network of thought that attempts to silence all forms of contestation. Some believe that this purposeful construction of discourses, redistribution of resources, and creation of power networks is in reaction and backlash to the civil rights gains by people of color, the poor, and women of the 1960s (Lincoln & Cannella, 2004a; Berry, 1997; Faludi, 1991). Yet, in his 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush introduced a key theme that was again invoked in 2004, the notion of "compassionate conservativism" a phrase that he associated with government helping "people improve their lives, not try to run their lives. …