official knowledge: democratic education in a conservative age by michael apple

Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age by Michael Apple continues my early 90s influences. He was writing in an earlier conservative age we are. Michael Apple is such a great source of sociological context for schooling. Excerpts below.

He was writing in an earlier conservative age we are. Michael Apple is such a great source of sociological context for schooling. Excerpts below.

“Yet the powerful are not that powerful. The politics of official knowledge are politics of accords or compromises. They are usually not impositions, but signify how dominant groups try to create situations where the compromises that are formed favor them. These compromises occur at different levels: at the level of political and ideological discourse, at the level of state policies, at the level of the knowledge that is taught in schools, at the level of daily activities of teachers and students in classrooms, and at the level of how we are to understand all of this.”

“...not just in the United States, but in Britain, Australia, and elsewhere as well, the emphasis on public policy has materially changed from issues of employing the state to overcome disadvantage. Equality, no matter how limited or broadly conceived, has become redefined. No longer is it seen as linked past group oppression and disadvantagement. It is now simply a case of guaranteeing individual choice under the conditions of a ‘free market.’ Thus, the current emphasis on ‘excellence’ (a word with multiple meanings and social uses) has shifted educational discourse so that underachievement once again increasingly is seen as largely the fault of the student. Student failure, which was at least partly interpreted as the fault of severely deficient educational policies and practices, is now being seen as the result of what might be called the biological and economic marketplace. This is evidenced in the growth of forms of Social Darwinist thinking in education and public policy in general.

In a similar way, behind a good deal of the rhetorical artifice of concern about the achievement levels in, say, inner-city schools, notions of choice have begun to evolve in which deep-seated school problems will be solved by establishing free competition over students. These assume that by expanding the capitalist marketplace to schools, we will somehow compensate for the decades of economic and educational neglect experienced by the communities in which these schools are found. Finally there are concerted attacks on teachers (and curricula) based on profound mistrust of their quality and commitments.”

On teaching as a labor process:

“...we need to think about (teaching) as what might be called a complicated labor process. It is a labor process that is significantly different from that of working on an assembly line, in the home, or in an office. But, even given these differences, the same pressures that are currently affecting jobs in general are now increasingly being felt in teaching. In the general sociological literature, the label affixed to what is happening is the ‘degradation of labor.’ This degradation is a ‘gift’ our dominant economic and ideological arrangements have given us.

In the larger society, there has been an exceptionally long history of rationalizing and standardizing people’s jobs. In industry, a familiar example was management's use of Taylorism and time-and-motion studies in their continual search for higher profits and great control over their employees. Here, complicated jobs were rigorously examined by management experts. Each element that went into doing the job was broken down into its simplest components. Less-skilled and lower-paid workers were hired to do these simpler activities. All planning was to be done by management, not workers. The consequences of this have been profound, but two of them are especially important for our discussion.

The first we shall call the separation of conception from execution. When complicated jobs are broken down into atomistic elements, the person doing the job loses sight of the whole process and loses control over her or his own labor since someone outside the immediate situation now has greater control over both the planning and what is actually to go on. The second consequence is related, but adds a further debilitating characteristic. This is known as deskilling. As employees lose control over their own labor, the skills that they have developed over the years atrophy. They are slowly lost, thereby making it even easier for management to control even more of one’s job because the skills of planning and controlling it yourself are no longer available. A general principle emerges here: in one’s labor, lack of use leads to loss. This has been particularly the case for women’s labor. Women have been particularly subject to the deskilling and depowering tendencies of management...from factories and clerical and other office work to stores, restaurants, and government jobs, and now even teaching….

….It took thousands of teachers in hundreds of districts throughout the country constantly reaffirming their right to determine what would happen in their classrooms to take each small step away from total administrative control of the curriculum. This was even more the case at the elementary school level, where the overwhelming majority of teachers historically have been women. Women teachers have had to struggle even harder to gain recognition of their skills and worth. (And if you are a woman of color who is also a teacher, the situation has been even worse.)”

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