Order Literacy Writing Assignment
REFRAMING THE QUESTION OF WHETHER EDUCATION CAN CHANGE SOCIETY
Michael W. Apple
Departments of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies University of Wisconsin – Madison
Abstract. Among the most important questions critical educators can ask today are the following: Can schools play a role in making a more just society possible? If not, why not? If so, what can they do? These questions provide the basis for this article by Michael Apple, as well as for the books under discussion here. The books by David Blacker, John Marsh, Mike Cole, and Pauline Lipman discussed in this essay are either Marxist, have been influenced by Marxist and socialist ideas, or are published by presses that have a long history of publishing material with a Marxist and/or socialist orientation. In to adequately deal with them, Apple devotes much of this essay to a set of arguments about the possibilities and limits of these ideas. After specifying those arguments, he discusses how they are developed in the books themselves. He grounds this discussion in a call for creating a broader “we” that is based on a more historically grounded understanding of the ways in which struggles over schooling actually can make a difference.
The lengthy and quite destructive world economic crisis and the growth in power of neoliberal policies and assumptions have generated both a range of sub- stantive debates in the popular press and a good deal of critically oriented empirical, historical, and conceptual literature on capitalism, neoliberalism, social policies, and the nature of social justice. Well before Thomas Piketty’s recent volume, Capital in the Twenty-First Century,1 there was a resurgence of analyses about whether our dominant economic and social institutions are, by their very nature, fundamentally in opposition to human flourishing. As Terry Eagleton observed when he was discussing the continuing relevance of Marx today, “You can tell that the capitalist system is in trouble when people start talking about capitalism.”2
The field of education has certainly participated in such critical discussions.3
As some readers of this essay already may know, there is a long history of the influence of Marxist and socialist thought at the level of both theory and practice in education in the United States, England, Brazil, and many other nations. In the United States, we can see this influence in various places, including in the anticapitalist and antiracist work of W. E. B. Du Bois, in the Socialist Sunday Schools of the last century and similar movements, and at times even in parts of the
1. Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).
2. Terry Eagleton, Why Marx Was Right (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2011), xi.
3. See, for example, Michael W. Apple, Wayne Au, and Luis Armando Gandin, eds., The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Education (New York: Routledge, 2009).
EDUCATIONAL THEORY Volume 65 Number 3 2015 © 2015 Board of Trustees University of Illinois
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official curricula in the segregated schools of Virginia both during and immediately after the Depression.4 Nearly all of this work was guided by a concern with the complex roles that schools played in the reproduction and at times subversion of existing social, cultural, and especially economic relations.
Perhaps the most notable example is the short book published by George S. Counts, Dare the School Build a New Social Order?5 At least rhetorically influenced by some Marxist ideas, but actually more social democratic than Marxist, this book was a call to activism, a call to use the schools to create a society in which cooperative norms and social justice would be the fundamental aims of all economic, political, and cultural policies and practices. In hindsight, we might admit that Counts was a bit naïve and that he was less radical than he may have seemed at the time. However, the question raised in the title still has resonance in critical scholarship today. Can schools play a role in making a more just society possible? If not, why not? If so, what can they do? These are the questions that provide the basis for the books under discussion here.
The books by David Blacker, John Marsh, Mike Cole, and Pauline Lipman discussed in this essay are either Marxist, have been influenced by Marxist and socialist ideas, or are published by presses that have a long history of publishing material with a Marxist and/or socialist orientation.6 In to adequately deal with them, much of this essay will need to be devoted to a set of arguments about the possibilities and limits of these ideas. Only after specifying those arguments can I engage in a discussion about how they are developed in the books themselves. Moreover, given the intricacy of the issues involved, here I can simply outline a much more complex set of arguments that I and others have developed in greater detail elsewhere. Because of this, I hope that the reader will be patient with the fact that at times what I present here has numerous references to those places where I have developed these arguments in considerably more detail.
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