Sunday, January 15, 2006

Towards a Hegelian Dialectical Education Theory

The purpose of this paper is to describe and explain the conflicting goals, pedagogical methods, and student problems within US schools. Since the US has a highly decentralized education system in contrast to many other parts of the world, its continuation likely an attempt to avoid the political and racial struggles that would ensue with a nationalized curriculum or set of textbooks, we are left with a school system largely undefined. Instead, we must rely on theory to guide us, but there are many ways to stasis, and few ways that point to progress.
I posit three types of theoretical structures of educational dialogue: Labaree’s three-point model, which represents the purposes of schooling, Friere’s one-point model, which represents pedagogical practices as they pertain to adult literacy, and a Hegelian dialectical two-point model that represents pedagogical practices as they are applied to K-12 schooling. The two-point model is arguably the dominant model in education practice, and the single model that allows for rapid progress. Theories are inextricable from practice, yet because theories of education prove difficult to directly implement in practice and are mediated, and therefore transformed in the process of interpretation, I offer snapshots of plural implementations of both Progressivist theory and “core knowledge” theory in practice.
Just as there are numerous ways for the educational system to fail, there are numerous ways for students to fail. Undoubtedly, the curricular confusion is linked to student achievement. I therefore discuss two basic types of “at-risk” students and offer the probable cause of, and some possible pedagogical solutions for, their problems. I then go on to discuss how Foucault and Bowles and Gintis might critique my theory.

Labaree’s Three-Point Model
Labaree’s model represents the purposes of schooling. In describing the conflicting goals of education, Labaree’s (1997) model delineates three goals of education: democratic efficiency, social efficiency, and social mobility. While each of these goals have been discussed by other authors previously, Labaree is unique in that he places the three goals in single a model and makes the assertion that they tend to stay in an equilibrium—where the tensions pull society in one direction, the other two goals pull society back. Where the three goals differ, the tension resulting from their conflict negates progress. Labaree’s view of education seems to reproduce the check-and-balance triangle of the three branches of US government: congress, senate, and judicial. Because the different goals check one another, this view is predominantly one of stasis. In some aspects, stasis is beneficial because it represents continuity. Education, like religion, is fundamentally conservative, in that certain traditions and bits of knowledge must be preserved and passed down to future generations. However, a static model cannot quickly adapt to a society’s rapidly changing technologies, and may have the tendency to preserve not only the gems of traditional wisdom, but the traditional biases as well.

Freire’s One-Point Model
Not all static models have three points in a check-and-balance arrangement. Freire’s model—namely as it has been applied to creating literacy groups that promote dialogue and critical literacy, by empowering the oppressed to read the world (specifically what’s going on behind the scenes) and the word— seems to be the dominant paradigm in adult literacy. Unfortunately, in the field of adult literacy, an alternative model to critical pedagogy has yet to be posed. Ideology, says Douglas Kellner (1978), has a “life cycle.” While it begins as an “-ism,” a new perspective on socio-political concerns, it later becomes “hegemonic” when its proponents become so concerned with its preservation that they become unreflexive and fail to recognize its limitations or think differently, then becoming static. Criticality presumes reflection on one’s assumptions, yet criticality requires dialogue with others since it is not often that we can see the mote in our own eye. It is ironic that “critical pedagogy” has become un-critical through rising to the hegemonic heights which the field of literacy enshrines it in, leaving it unquestioned (and thus no longer critical). I believe that there must be at least two models posed, in order to dialogue with one another, and balance and develop the perspectives. To have a single model (as well as to have a check-and-balance model) is to stem development.

Hegelian Dialogical (Two-Point) Model
I believe that although a field may have a dominant paradigm, there also needs to be a minority voice to propel the field forward. To stem progress is to close the door on hope itself. To have two contrasting viewpoints—two opposing points, both true, on a wider circle—is part of a Hegelian dialectic that is necessary for progress. Each argument in dialogue both checks the opposite viewpoint and informs or enriches it. By arguing with a critic, a stronger position is developed. Hegel’s dialectic is postmodernism in the truest sense of the term, in that it allows for multiple hermeneutics on the world of the circle. While the two-point model also has the potential for stasis, by two opposing points negating progress if the distance each point travels in an opposite direction is equal; or by the distance traveled in the “wrong” direction being greater than that traveled in the “right” direction, thus causing regression rather than progress, I believe the dialectical model is the only model that has the potential for progress at all.

Certainly, the two-point system has its drawbacks in practice. I have come to imagine it as a person with two hands, each of them pointing in an opposite direction, while the person instructs us to “go this way,” much like the mad logic found in Alice in Wonderland or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. As a teacher, I was frustrated by being told to simultaneously “keep the class in order,” but not to discipline any students, and “make sure the students learn,” but not to assign any homework. I found it difficult to find a balance between the two extremes and impossible to fully follow both paths at once. As Deborah Meier has written, “They [the public schools] are under heavy attack not only for failing to teach basic skills and “higher-order” thinking, but also for failing to teach any specific social or moral values and for teaching too many of them” (Meier, 1995, p. 67).
But as frustrating as the fingers pointing both ways are, at least it is a dialogical system, open to possibilities for progress. To have the hope for progress is freedom.
Deeply intertwined with the two-point system is the argument between pedagogical practices in K-12 schooling—an argument between Progressivism versus “Core Knowledge.”
Around the 1920s, Dewey propounded a method of hands-on, project-based, child-centered learning, focusing on individualized rather than whole-class instruction whereby lessons are built off of students’ interests and content is made “relevant.” Influenced by Romantic notions of the child, Progressivism concentrates on self-esteem, creativity, happiness, and other intangibles rather than more empirical outcomes. Central to Progressivism is the notion that “study skills” and “higher-order thinking skills” can be acquired in the absence of direct instruction in content knowledge, since learning is a “natural” process. The process of learning, rather than the content, is therefore emphasized. This rosy picture must be complicated, however, by the fact that there are two types of Progressivism: Dewey-an Progressivism and Administrative Progressivism.
Dewey-an Progressivism is heavily theoretical, and therefore difficult to implement, since it needs to be interpreted before being practiced. As a result, even Dewey-an schools take many different forms. Indeed, “building serious classroom work around the interest and experience of students and teachers was difficult and demanding. Few of the reformers explained how to do it. John Dewey confessed, after a try at running a school, that he knew much less about it than he had thought” (Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985, p. 269).
On the other hand, Administrative Progressivism came about as an application of principles of scientific management of the workplace, which were first introduced in the field of engineering by Frederick Winslow Taylor in 1895 (Tozer, Violas, & Senese, 1995). As a response to the huge influx of the “new wave” of immigrants from Italy, Greece, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Russia, and rural America, whose children now filled the crowded big city schools, measures of cost-cutting, efficiency, and management were introduced. The purpose of scientific management was not just to manage the schools, but to manage the students who would become workers—and to fit them for their jobs.
For a long time, Progressivism seemed the answer to our pedagogical problems because it struck a balance between social efficiency goals and academics. Those espousing rugged individualism such as H.D. Thoreau, Emerson, and Mark Twain (a.k.a., Samuel Langhorne Clemens) who had been influenced by the previous generation that witnessed the Revolutionary War, would have embraced Progressivism for its adaptation of school to the individual, its focus on the process of learning rather than the content, and its Romantic view of the child. Thoreau would have appreciated the fact that Progressive educators did not beat children for discipline, while Twain would have appreciated the emphasis on individuality. Arguably, anti-intellectualism is also a strong strand within our culture (for instance, with the frontiersmen) which probably found its way into some of the Progressivist schools (which emphasized process over content), if unintentionally.
Capitalists loved Progressivism because it helped train their workers not only in the tasks they would need to carry out, but in the attitudes they needed to hold in order to be “good workers.” Capitalists also hoped that if their workers were trained in obedience from an early age, many of the strikes that rocked the era might be avoided. Perhaps influenced by the capitalists, some schools even began to advertise education as a technical preparation for economic success, a notion that flourished during the 1890s (Cohen & Neufeld, 1981, p. 71). Administrative Progressivism directly contrasted Dewey-an Progressivism insofar as Dewey noted in Democracy and Education that Plato defined the slave as one who accepts the purposes which control his conduct from another (Dewey, 1916, p.85). Administrative Progressivism set out to control the conduct of its students in order to “train” them. Such training, conversely, could be viewed as benefiting society in that workers contribute to the productivity of the national economy.
Just as there are many interpretations of Progressivism, there are many forms that Progressivist schools can take. Under the leadership of William Wirt, Gary, Indiana (a city founded in 1906 by the US Steel Corporation to house its workers), became a flagship Progressivist school district while teaching about farm animals and industrial job tasks. For the first time, students even changed classes at the bell, rotating between academic instruction and play periods—an innovation that allowed the school to house more students, since no space was wasted (Rury, 2005). The Gary plan was praised by both Dewey (who had been a teacher of Wirt’s) and the Administrative Progressives.
The Progressivism that was practiced at the magnet school I attended for elementary in the late 1980s and early 90s was far different. As Progressivism was practiced at Lincoln at Mann, students were treated as equals and called teachers by their first names, were allowed to choose which of Gardner’s multiple intelligences they had or which ones they wanted to develop during the year (i.e., logical-mathematical, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, etc.). Classes were grade combined (i.e., 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, although some students stayed through 8th grade spending time with an individual tutor at the school) and which teacher we received was determined by which multiple intelligence we wanted to develop; all of the students within a particular classroom opted to learn through or develop the same specific intelligence. We were encouraged at conferences to set goals for the quarter, semester, and year marks. These goals later had to be translated into projects; because it was my goal to be an astronaut when I grew up, I made the mistake in kindergarten of saying I would build an airplane that I would fly to school in by the end of the year. Since the school’s motto was “self-esteem, we’ve got it,” no one told me that it might not be possible. Students graded themselves on mastery of different skills on an M* (mastery plus), M (mastered), P (partial), N/A scale prior to the teacher’s grading us on those same skills on the same report card. Since we were treated as equals, we were allowed to “opt out” of “learning activities” we were not interested in; I “opted out” of multiplication in the third grade even though I did not know what I did not know. Conversely, we were also allowed to take skills as high as we wanted to, so I ended up reading Macbeth in third grade. While the program worked out for me (despite my problem with multiplication), self-motivation was a problem for some, and many students had trouble adjusting once outside of the school. Several members of the Lincoln at Mann parental board (which was instrumental in deciding who would be accepted into the school, which students would be removed, and what curricular materials would be used), wanted to extend the school beyond K-8 to include high school, but were unsuccessful in their bid. While Central Park East did not implement Progressivism in quite the same way that Lincoln at Mann did, it seems to me that Meier’s Central Park East Elementary school probably extended into the secondary level because their students weren’t adjusting well to school outside of Central Park East. Nevertheless, the solution of extending a student’s years in the same environment only delays the problem rather than eliminating it.
Every type of pedagogy works for some students, and it continues to be practiced on the basis of citing individual cases where it has worked. I believe that in the cases where Progressivism has worked, the individual students have had a strong basis in factual knowledge to build off of before they ever got to school. I suspect that the students who Progressivism works for would learn just as easily, and maybe learn more, in a different setting than Progressive pedagogy provides. For the majority of other students, to try and implement “higher order” thinking skills without implementing (in some way or another) the basic skills is like trying to build a house starting with the roof rather than the foundation; you never do end up with the result you want to get.
While Progressivists have long insisted that, “everything’s changing so quickly,” that they “can’t possibly know what skills will be needed in the future,” and believe they must teach “higher order” thinking skills to provide students with the basis of “learning how to learn,” I see this assertion as a cop-out. Anyone can read the news, given that they have a few basic skills, and a conceptual framework built in their mind to place the new ideas in context. One does not automatically have that framework—it gets built up by learning facts and putting them together. No matter how fast things change, the core essentials of knowledge do not; it’s only the frontiers of any field are changing. The facts are the same established ones which have been tested again and again for generations and have not been disproved despite rigorous testing; these essentials are the same things one’s great-great-granddaddy might have learned in school, and they are just as relevant today. These basic facts are the bricks that lay the foundation for whatever fantastic roofing the world may invent later.
Hirsch takes a similar position. Like Freire, Hirsch’s pedagogical method is based off of the field of literacy. But instead of asserting that you need to read the word in order to be able to read the world [and what’s going on behind the scenes]—namely to break free of it, Hirsch inverts Freire and says that in order to read the word, you need to be able to read the [world] culture and understand the allusions—namely by being immersed in the culture. In Cultural Literacy (1988), Hirsch says that in order for a student to be prepared to live within the world, he or she must learn the basic bits of information that others allude to. These bits of information are “core knowledge”—the building blocks that serve as a foundation and conceptual framework.
In Hirsch’s Core Knowledge schools, the curriculum includes many “traditional” pre-Progressive elements such as reading Greco-Roman mythology in the elementary years and memorizing facts. Hirsch believes that through having a coherent, standard, and sequenced curriculum, learning gaps caused by student mobility can be decreased. Further, he believes a sense of community (such as the one Meier touts in her book, claiming it to be the sole province of Progressivism) can be built through parents working with their children. In his What Your __ Grader Needs to Know series, Hirsch includes traditional tales, songs, and lessons in art, history, geography, math, and science for parents to do with their children.
Hirsch’s “core knowledge” method is very similar to the method of teaching I settled into. Teaching in my own school in Indiana—a “one-room style” school in Indianapolis —covering a course subject that was supposed to be algebra, I soon found that not only my 6th grader could not understand why “3x=18” by any method shown, but my 11th graders could not understand it either. It was not a problem with the variable; they understood that “x” substituted for some number. The problem was multiplication itself. They sometimes guessed, sometimes tried to count out the answer on their fingers, and sometimes used rhymes they learned or methods they created for multiplication which did not usually work. I ended up taking them back to revisit multiplication—attempting to make it interesting through games (whole class tic-tac-toe, since it was initially very difficult for the entire class to get three or more answers right; multiplication bingo), projects (making Napier’s bones, illustrating booklets for younger siblings), and tricks with fingers (with the 9’s, you can spread your two hands out, and count from the left; for 9x3, you count down 3 fingers, and you can see that 2_7 or 27 is left). I introduced these activities at the beginning of class; once the students were interested in multiplication, we launched into memorizing the tables through group recitation out loud (I used whole class instruction), drawing multiplication tables, practicing flash cards in pairs, and working out multiplication problems in their notebooks. While it took several weeks before the students learned how to multiply (I suspect it took them longer because they now had wrong methods to un-learn), building off of the basis of multiplication, and division—which they practically breezed through after learning how to multiply, I was able to bring them back up to algebra by the quarter mark.
If I had claimed to teach the students “higher order” thinking skills, I doubt I would have bothered to teach the multiplication tables, least of all through such shockingly traditional methods—like memorization, recitation, and whole group instruction. But if I had not done so, my students would have been completely lost in algebra. Traditional methods are often caricatured as “dull,” but in the shouting hours of multiplication recitation that took place in my classroom nothing could have been further from the truth. The students were not only engaged, but excited to be learning a skill that had eluded them for so long.
Like those who use terminological polarization in the culture war, Progressivists typically use rhetorical pairings like “traditional vs. modern,” “merely verbal vs. hands on,” “premature vs. developmentally appropriate,” “fragmented vs. integrated,” “boring vs. interesting,” “lockstep vs. individualized” (Hirsch, 1996, p. 8). I believe that the delineation is artificial. Just as there can’t be a plant without a seed to start from, the process of learning cannot begin sans content but needs something to build from.
There may be nothing “natural” about certain subjects, like learning how to read; the alphabet is arbitrary and imposed. It differs from culture to culture (if it were natural, it would be the same, and we would all speak the same language). Ancient castes of scribes in Jewish, Hindu, and Egyptian cultures were revered for their knowledge of writing, since few could read or write. The process of learning something as arbitrary as the alphabet or multiplication tables is not natural because the content itself is not natural. That is not to say that learning must be dull where it can be made “fun,” but learning the content must take precedent over the entertainment value that embellishes the topic. As Gramsci wrote, “The new concept of schooling is in its romantic phase, in which the replacement of “mechanical” by “natural” methods has become unhealthily exaggerated… Previously pupils at least acquired a certain baggage of concrete facts. Now there will no longer be any baggage to put in order” (Hirsch, 1996, p. 6).
This argument between Progressivism and Traditionalism is not new; it has been going on a long time in education. The argument between the two may be exemplified by the dissonance between the Committee of Ten report and the Cardinal Principles report.
In 1893, Harvard President Charles Eliot headed an NEA panel called the Committee of Ten, which argued for both greater quality and greater flexibility in high school education. While the panel supported offering physics, chemistry, and French (in addition to more classical subjects), it disapproved of bookkeeping and clerical studies. Those on the panel argued (much like Hirsch) for a standardized national curriculum (Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985, p. 240-41). Both those in favor of classical studies and those advocating “practical” studies were outraged; in the end, the panel’s reasonable via media failed.
In 1918, the NEA released a new report: the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education which insisted that education was democratic, and should help every individual “find his place in society” by teaching him/her the skills a citizen should know. These skills included worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, good health, and various academic processes including reading, writing, math computations, and oral and written expression (Powell, Farrar, & Cohen, 1985, p. 256). Both Administrative Progressives, who implemented vocational training, and Dewey-an Progressives, who stressed the processes of learning (versus the content) and who later implemented extracurricular activities were pleased. This report was widely heralded and even considered the “Bible” of school reformers.
Although the argument is ongoing, the way I see it, we have given Progressivism a long enough “test drive” to know that this educational vehicle does not work. Indeed, we have been trying to make Progressivism work since the 1900’s. Albert Einstein once defined insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. By Einstein’s definition, then, to continue trying to make Progressivism work, is insane.

Many Paths to Student Failure
Just as there are many theoretical paths to stasis, there are many actions that lead to student failure. The way to succeed in school, or to have school succeed the student in its role of educating one for future productivity, success, and happiness (in whatever terms it may be defined) is a very narrow one; the ways for school and student to fail are numerous. “At-risk” students may have been exposed to risk factors such as poverty, young, single, or low-educational status parents, abuse and neglect, dangerous neighborhoods, or homelessness, alienation, or inadequate educational experiences. Of course, students may have been exposed to several of these risk factors, creating a cumulative risk.
“At-risk” students tend to fall into two types: first, those who are “at-risk” due low achievement and second, those who have been exposed to inadequate educational experiences (Pellino, K.M., 2005).
“At-risk” Students, Type One
At-risk students who have “low achievement” or “inadequate skill level” are the students we typically picture when the term “at-risk” is used. It is highly likely that these “at-risk” students originate from a lower-class background.
In Bourdieu’s parsimonious view, schooling is an exercise in stratification of society, whereby wealthy parents pass down “cultural capital” to their children. The topics that teachers teach in schools are those that wealthy parents have passed down to their children through osmosis, by exposure to the middle class environment; for instance, the skill of “sequencing” is a product of orderliness, whereas children from a lower class environment filled with chaos may be confused by the concept of “sequencing.”
The way that I see it, both wealthy and lower class people have skills; the skills that they have just happen to be different sets of skills, and the skills that the wealthy hold happen to be more highly valued because the wealthy are in a hegemonic position (as Gramsci termed it).
For instance, say Pat Johnson comes from a lower-class home. He does not do very well in school, but he knows how to improvise with recipes, cooking dinner using government food which varies from month to month, how to revise leftovers, how to handle money and use coupons, how to navigate a drug-infested area and not get hurt, how to sew his own clothes or cut used clothes down to size, how to entertain himself by storytelling or singing, how to avoid getting hit by an abusive parent, how to decorate a home with thrift store findings, how to use a bucket as a dustpan, how to flatten a penny on the train tracks as a toy, and how to keep from getting beaten up by one’s peers by acting “cool” and using different linguistics.
In contrast, Susan Smith comes from a wealthy background and knows how to read and negotiate dense contracts, invest money (in cd’s, banks, the stock market, and venture capitalism), and she knows which name brands are “trendy.” She knows how to golf, play tennis, and ski, is versed in speaking French, and plays the piano, harp, and flute. She knows how to direct a caterer or a housekeeper to do work, and she knows how to keep a household neat and orderly using special containers, such as from the Container Store. Since she has manners, she knows the etiquette for parties, soirees, and other occasions. Because the upper middle class are in a hegemonic position, her skills are valued more than Pat’s, and are tested in document reading on exams, sequencing, math problems on investments and interest, French quizzes, and her use of what Delpit terms “edited” English. Pat may be labeled “at-risk” because his “skills” [namely the skills that the school values] are not up to par, while Susan, who is really no “smarter” than Pat may receive accolades.
Students like Pat may benefit from direct instruction. Lisa Delpit says that students who do not come to school with “cultural capital” need the hidden rules made explicit through direct instruction, since schools are based on the culture of the upper and middle classes.
In contrast to Freire, who called for a change of both methods and content—new content to celebrate the culture of the oppressed and new methods to ensure resistance and intellectual independence, Delpit (similar to Hirsch and Gramsci before her) argues that in order for the oppressed classes and races to succeed, the oppressed class should master the traditional tools of power and authority (Hirsch, 1996, p. 7).

“At-Risk” Students, Type Two
“At-risk” students who have received inadequate or inappropriate educational experiences are not the students who are usually thought of when the term “at-risk” is used. These students may have been gifted and talented students who became “at-risk” due to tuning out in class, being “turned off” to educational studies, and becoming alienated from lack of challenge. These students may also have been bullied by classmates or peers for being “different.”
If gifted and talented students are placed within a regular classroom, they may be exposed to an inappropriate level of instruction as the result of a teacher’s use of whole-class instruction (such as Hirsch propounds) after the 1975 IDEA act, which stretched the variety of student levels within an individual classroom. In this case, “core knowledge” pedagogy may not be the best solution for a student; on the other hand, Progressivism tends to advocate for the wide variety of students to be broadened even further. Because social promotion often does not encourage the “skipping” of grades, gifted and talented students who are bored have more time to get into trouble, and may end up being labeled “at-risk.” Compounding these problems, bright students from disadvantaged or minority backgrounds may be more likely to get tracked into lower skill level classes than non-minorities.
Both students at the low end and high end of the spectrum seem to have problems and wear the “at-risk” label much more frequently than middle-level students. By failing to meet the needs of students at the lower end and at the higher end, aiming only for the middle, instructional practices actually produce “at-risk” students.
While the student who becomes “at-risk” suffers because of lost educational opportunities, society suffers as well since society is made up of individuals, and the loss to one is a loss to all. Other countries, ironically, have done better both in terms of equality and achievement. I believe that America can do better.

Foucault’s View of My Theory
Foucault would disagree with my assessment of things. First, he would find fault with basing a theory on Hegelian dialectic. In an interview, he said that “ ‘Dialectic’ is a way of evading the always open and hazardous reality of conflict by reducing it to a Hegelian skeleton.” (Rabinow, 1984, p. 57). For him, history is a matter of struggle, represented by the image of war, and change can only come through a break with tradition (Rabinow, 1984, p.54, 65). Truth does not stand in opposition to “un-truth,” or reason in contrast to “non-reason,” but is created within discourses which are themselves neither true nor false (Dreyfus & Rabinow, 1982, p. 210). Truth is created by a regime, and there are therefore many versions of truth. Foucault might argue that my assessment is merely a version of truth (or “regime”), and attack my assertion that the circle of Hegel’s dialectic could include as authoritative a point as Hirsch’s, given that postmodernism rejects authoritative “experts” such as Hirsch might be deemed (assuming, of course, that Foucault believes Hegelian dialectic to be postmodern, as Clive Beck posits, although Hegel wrote and lived within the modern era).
Pedagogies likewise operate as regimes of truth. For Foucault, power is exercised rather than possessed, so there are neither any inherently liberating or repressive pedagogical practices (Gore, 1994, p. 233). While Hirsch’s “core knowledge” would be no more liberating than Dewey’s Progressivism in theory, Foucault might assert that the Progressivist regime was once liberating because it represented a paradigmatic shift, and that “core knowledge” is currently liberating insofar as it represents a break with the dominant paradigm of Progressivism. In essence, Foucault would say that no liberation is permanent, and as soon as something becomes dominant, the struggle for liberation must begin again.
Bowles and Gintis’ Critique
Bowles and Gintis, using their social reproduction theory, would claim that the education system—both in Progressivism (particularly as manifested in Administrative Progressivism) and “core knowledge” pedagogies—legitimates economic inequality by providing a pseudo-meritocratic mechanism for assigning individuals to economic positions. The poor are concentrated in schools with repressive, chaotic, and arbitrary internal order mirroring the characteristics of their inferior job situations (Bowles & Gintis, 1976, p.132). Education is a mere tool of the economic order; the purpose of education being to initiate students into the economic system; whereas some eras have been better at that indoctrination than others, some pedagogies have been more effective in that indoctrination than others. Because those in a hegemonic position set curricular standards, any “meritocracy” is illusory. Similarly, race and social distinctions are merely a part of the upper class’ ploy to divide and conquer the subordinate classes. Because the elites control the economic order, and therefore also control its handmaiden, education, as soon as economically disadvantaged students began to learn the same curriculum as the elites, the way that elites measure “merit” would shift. Since meritocracy is just a construct of the elites, there is no way to beat them at their own game—the rules would be rewritten. Bowles and Gintis would argue that Hirsch, Delpit, and I are under a delusion that we could change the social order permanently—especially in thinking that we could change it from the outside.


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