Education under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal and Radical Debate over Schooling

By Stanley Aronowitz; Henry Giroux | Go to book overview

ELEVEN

Schooling and the Future: Revitalizing Public Education

AS THE UNITED States moves into the twenty-first century, it faces a dual crisis in public education. Both aspects of the crisis have been discussed in this book. The first is apparent in the rise of the new right and its economic and ideological attacks on the schools. 1 The second centers on the failure of radical educators to match neo-conservative politics with a corresponding set of visions and strategies. 2 We believe that both crises offer critical educators the opportunity to rethink the nature and purpose of public education and to raise ambitions, desires, and real hope for those who wish to take the issue of educational struggle and social justice seriously in the future. But for such hopes to become realizable, we have argued the need to assess the failures of left educational thinking in the past decade, and the reasons for the success of neo-conservative educational policy and the “authoritarian populism” upon which it has been able to construct a broad national consensus. We will first analyze the nature and ideology of neo-conservative discourse on public education, and how it has challenged some of the basic assumptions of radical educational theory. We will conclude by briefly summarizing some of the elements of a critical educational theory that need to be addressed in the future.

The most obvious aspect of the crisis in public education and the response it is engendering from neo-conservatives is in the discourse they use to describe the role schools should play in American society. They no longer celebrate schools as democratizing institutions. On the contrary, as we mentioned in the last chapter and as the recent spate of commission reports illustrate, they view schools within the narrow parameters of human capital theory. 3 Simply stated, conservatives argue that the traditional arm’s length relationship between schools and business be dismantled for the purpose of overhauling schools in order to align them more closely with short and long term business and corporate interests. For the most part, they have successfully imposed their ideology on school administrators, parents and the public.

The turn towards public education as a citadel of corporate

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