Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Heritage Charter School: A Case of Conservative Local White Activism through a Postmodern Framework

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Heritage Charter School: A Case of Conservative Local White Activism through a Postmodern Framework

Article excerpt

Of course, there are many reasons why neoliberal ideology would flourish within the context of charter school reform. It is, after all, a reform movement with deep and strong neoliberal political roots. (Wells, A. S., Slayton, J., & Scott, J., 2002)


When analyzed within the frameworks of Postmodern Theory, Wells, Lopez, Scott, and Holme (1999) state that "charter schools embody many of the contradictions of the so-called postmodern paradox" (pg. 174). Similarly highlighted are the contradictions and paradoxes of Post-Fordist society, the Network society, neoliberalism, and the market principles being introduced into the realm of educational accountability, education policy, and educational reform. Charter school "reform" (1) is not an exception, but perhaps a great example of all these contradictions.

This article attempts to enter the charter school dialogue by looking at the charter school movement through an anti-essentialist social movement and new social movement lens. In the anti-Western new social movement conception there are no set patterns to how movements manifest themselves, or how they were intended to manifest themselves, and local context and activism defined as the agency to act through contentious daily practice is paramount (Holland & Lave, 2001). This article then, theoretically places the intended macro-charter school vision as an essentialist, Western social reform movement in education, but one that has not followed a uniform, easily understood, projected, and coherent model. Its manifestation then, has been that of a new social movement without definite and set patterns of generalizability, focusing on local contexts of activism as daily practice, and exhibiting an abundance of contradictions and paradoxes. Principal amongst the contradictions is that reform is intended to level the playing field, to allow for access, and to ultimately equalize. Although superficially, and in the spirit of postmodern simulacra, charter schools have done that, deeper contextual analysis and case studies of charter schools, especially of predominantly White charter schools, reveal differing results.

The rush to open charter schools, especially by minority groups, is out of dissatisfaction with public school education (Fuller, 2000). This can be seen as a move in the tradition of civil rights and social justice movements of decades past. Afro-centric, Latino centric, women centered, etc. charters have been established in this spirit of opportunity and reform (Wexler & Huerta, 2000). However, not just officially declared identity politics interest groups have joined the bandwagon of the charter school movement. Predominantly White groups and wealthy communities have also appropriated the rhetoric of charter school reform using "community," "heritage," or "academy" as proxies for race and or class. Nevertheless, predominantly White charter schools display characteristics that are revealing of a systemically racist and classist society. The White Eurocentric cultural capital imposed as the "standard" or "mainstream" in U.S. society allows these schools greater access to resources, both economic and otherwise that allow for their existence and success (Wells, Holme, Lopez, & Cooper, 2000).

This article focuses on the case of Heritage Charter School (HCS), a predominantly White, rural community charter school. Using the "community school" and "school of choice" rhetoric, members of the Heritage community have managed to keep a predominantly White elementary school open for over one hundred years, even when the Local Education Agency (LEA) closed down their redbrick school building in an effort to consolidate. In effect through the postmodern lens, HCS is and is not a converter charter school. A converter charter school is usually allowed to continue using the old school building by the new charter school. In that sense HCS is not a converter charter school because the LEA refused to let the new school use the old buildings; community members, however, use the rhetoric of heritage to say it is still the same school. …

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