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Standards, Markets, and Creating School Failure

<p>Standards, Markets, and Creating School Failure</p>

In education, symbolic politics counts. Diametrically opposite policies often are wrapped in exactly the same vocabulary, something neo-liberal and neo-conservative educational "reformers" have recognized all too well.

A fine example today is the struggle over the meaning of democracy. We are witnessing a major transformation of our understandings of democracy. Rather than democracy as a fundamentally political and educative concept, its meaning is being transformed into primarily an economic concept. Thus, democracy is increasingly being defined as consumer choice. The citizen is seen as a possessive individual, someone who is defined by her or his position in market relations.

When private is good and public is bad in education and so much else in this society, the world is seen as basically a supermarket, and democracy is seen as making choices in that market.

Among the key concepts now sliding around the map of meaning is standards. Indeed, the two movements, markets and standards / testing, go together, since markets can't work unless the "consumer" has sufficient knowledge about whether a "product" is good or bad. Taken together, they can be truly damaging. I can think of no one who believes that having "standards" is bad, who believes that educators shouldn't have high expectations for all students, or who believes that what we teach and whether we are successful shouldn't be taken very seriously.

Thus, standards are "good." But, this is basically a meaningless position. What counts as standards, who should decide them, where they should come from, what their purposes should be in practice, how they are to be used, what counts as meeting them - these are the real issues.

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