Education as Enforcement: The Militarization and Corporatization of Schools

By Chapman, Roger | Radical Teacher, Summer 2004 | Go to article overview

Education as Enforcement: The Militarization and Corporatization of Schools


Chapman, Roger, Radical Teacher


Edited by Kenneth J. Saltman and David A. Gabbard. Routledge Falmer, 2003.

This past school year my eldest daughter, Christine, completed sixth grade and was a recipient of the "President's Award for Educational Excellence." During the awards ceremony at the middle school in Terre Haute, Indiana, the principal obligatorily read to the gathering of students and parents a message from President George W. Bush. Although the presidential certificate was "in recognition of Outstanding Academic Excellence," the message strictly emphasized values and the making of right decisions. Besides the nauseating politicizing aspect of the imposed remarks, very off-putting was what was left out of the President's text. There was no mention of learning, reading, studying, researching, inquiring, analyzing, thinking, discovering. It was yet another reminder that public education is not what it might seem at first glance.

What is the raison d'etre of the school system? In reply, sociologists advance two main theories. The functional perspective, a traditional explanation and very positive and optimistic in outlook, maintains that school is where children learn citizenship and how to become productive members of society. In contrast, the conflict perspective, which is a more deep-structure analysis but at the same time as negative as Karl Marx explaining the textile mills of Manchester, argues that the true purpose of school is to indoctrinate young people to a social system in which most of the benefits are allotted to only a minority of the populace. In Education as Enforcement, the editors Kenneth J. Saltman and David A. Gabbard, along with the other twenty-one essayists, explore different dimensions of how the American education system formally and informally enforces the dominant market ideology, which is augmented with militaristic thinking and practices. Henry A. Giroux, in the book's foreword, calls for educators to avoid the pitfalls of, on one hand, "both neoliberal and orthodox leftist positions, which dismiss the state as a tool of repression" and, on the other, "the [purposeful] reduction of the state to its policing functions, while linking such a struggle to the fight against neoliberalism." The contributors of this volume, probably all liberal or orthodox leftists, are firmly in the camp of the conflict perspective, delivering a scathing critique of the present state of affairs, but not dismissing the state as a tool of repression because they are actively waging dissent.

Education as Enforcement is timely and appropriate, sounding the alarm against the nation's current conservative power grab and exposing how a debilitating military-corporatist ideology has seeped into the nooks and crannies of our educational institutions, mass media, and even popular culture. The processes of education, the writers argue, should be liberating, with a focus on individual and community interests. Unfortunately, they continue, pedagogical approaches often amount to indoctrination, rendering educators sycophants of the corporate and the commercial. Consequently, schools perpetuate social stratification and foster a militaristic mentality, the trend toward standardized testing a case in point because it assigns social rank. Minimum standards are used to marginalize, to keep people in their place, which results in the undermining of democracy. Formal citizenship (legal rights but on paper) is never developed into substantive citizenship (actual democratic participation). Economic and military interests are also literally intertwined, just as President Dwight D. Eisenhower, hardly a radical, had warned a half a century earlier in his Farewell Address about a military-industrial complex on the verge of imposing a "total influence" on society: Today, the significant other of globalization is the United States military, presupposing that what is good for Halliburton is good for not only America but also Iraq and, yes, the world. …

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