Michael W. Apple (1942-)
Michael W. Apple was born in 1942 into a working class but quite politically active family in Paterson, New Jersey, the home of some of the most radical workers' movements in the US. Because there was no money for him to go full-time to a university he went to 2 small state teachers colleges at night for his BA, while working as a printer during the day. Then he went into the army – which turned him into a teacher, teaching compass reading and first aid. Leaving the army in 1962 at the age of 19 he taught as a relief teacher in inner city Paterson, New Jersey. This was a time - the early-mid 1960s - when teachers could be hired without a degree because of the severe teacher shortage. Having already been active in the desegregation movement, he was almost always assigned to poor schools with large “coloured” populations. In Paterson he was a founder-member of the Congress for racial Equality (CORE). Although not yet fully qualified as a teacher, much of his political activism was connected with education – protesting the closure of black schools and at bureaucratic attempts to avoid desegregation.
Teaching in Paterson – a very poor town with 80% of the population on some form of assistance, he became increasingly aware of the disparities between what he was being expected to teach and what his students needed to learn. This early exposure to the politics of knowledge was to inform much of his later work. It also impacted upon jhis teaching – having to accommodate to significantly different cultural expectations and learning styles – fostering an early interest in critical pedagogy. Aware of the social and economic difficulties and pressures facing teachers in “minority” schools he became very active in the teachers union – for a time becoming president of one of the local unions. However, he became disheartened by the broken promises and apparent disinterest of the party-political machine that operated the unions and their inability or unwillingness to improve the conditions of the poor inner city schools or to address teacher difficulties. Thus, like Stanley Aronowitz, he began his early professional career as a union organiser and political activist. He was politically involved in the early anti-racist and anti-segregation struggles in the south and the north and was president of a teachers’ union.
He began his early professional career as a union organiser and political activist.
Like Aronowitz, also for Michael, the personal is most truly political. One of his strongest characteristics is his capacity for reflection on his own experience, his ability to situate this in the social, political and economic circumstances of everyday life and to apply the insights thus derived to his theorising on education, culture and power. As he noted in Official Knowledge:
"Among the things that influenced me were the years I spent as a young teacher…in the inner-city schools of one of the poorest cities in the United States. It was made strikingly clear to me then that unless we acted politically – both inside the school and in the larger society – to get less racist, sexist and class-biased curricula, more critically oriented teaching practices, and closer relationships between schools and the local community, neither I nor my students and colleagues would have much of a chance of widespread success."
From those early experiences, his academic and political life has been committed unswervingly to the goals of greater emancipation and justice both within and through education. And despite the obvious conservatism, sexism and racism of some of the teaching community, he has never failed to empathise with their position, but to see it as a response to the social, political and economic situations in which they are immersed.
He has continued his political involvement nationally and internationally - including an arrest in South Korea for speaking out publicly against the military government there and for supporting the formation of an independent teachers union. He is also still deeply involved with teachers unions and other teachers, community activists, and progressive and radical educators in the United States and abroad in establishing and defending socially critical educational practices. He has continued his work on the development of more critically democratic educational policies and practices in a number of countries throughout the world. This predictably has gotten him in some trouble with dominant groups in the US and elsewhere.
He is the John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. He is also World Scholar and Professor of Educational Policy Studies at the University of London Institute of Education. A former elementary and secondary school teacher and past-president of a teachers union, he has worked with educational systems, governments, universities, and activist and dissident groups throughout the world to democratise educational research, policy, and practice.
His books and articles have won numerous awards and have been translated into Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Greek, Turkish, Italian, Thai, German, Korean, Russian, and many other languages. His latest work deals with the effects of neo-liberal and neo-conservative policies in education and the larger society and with creating alternatives to these policies and practices. He is also the editor of an international series of books published by Routledge, Critical Social Thought. He has recently been awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Educational Research Association. He also was awarded the UCLA Medal for "Outstanding Academic Achievement", as well as a number of honorary doctorates by universities throughout the world.
He has been selected as one of the fifty most important educational scholars in the 20th Century. His books Ideology and Curriculum and Official Knowledge were also selected as two of the most significant books on education in the 20th Century.
Michael W. Apple has written extensively on the politics of educational reform and on the relationship between culture and power. Although his many books and articles are too numerous to mention, among them are
- Educational Evaluation: Analysis and Responsibility, (ed.) (1974.)
- Schooling and the Rights of Children (1975)
- Ideology and Curriculum (1979)
- Education and Power (1982)
- Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education (ed.) (1982)
- Ideology and Practice in Schooling (1983)
- Teachers and Texts (1986)
- The Curriculum, Problems, Politics, and Possibilities (with Landon E. Beyer 1988),
- Ideology and Curriculum (2nd Edit.1990)
- The Politics of the Textbook (1991)
- Official Knowledge (1993)
- Education and Power 2nd Edit.(1995)
- Democratic Schools (with James A, Beane 1995)
- Cultural Politics and Education (1996)
- Power/Knowledge/Pedagogy (1998)
- Education/Technology/Power (1998)
- Power, Meaning, and Identity (1999)
- The Curriculum, Problems, Politics, and Possibilities (2nd Edit. 1998),
His three most recent books are:
- Official Knowledge (2nd Edit. 2000)
- Educating the "Right" Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2001)
- The State and the Politics of Knowledge (2003)
- Ideology and Curriculum (25th Anniversary Ed.2004)
- Globalizing Education (2005)
- The Subaltern Speak: Curriculum, Power, and Educational Struggles. (with Kristen Buras, 2006)
- Educating the "Right" Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2nd Edit. 2006)
- who sets the curriculum
- what counts as official knowledge
- the relationship of the curriculum to political and economic structures
- the relationship of ideology to curriculum
- the form and technology of knowledge transmission
- the relationship of curriculum to the prior life experiences of learners
- the relationship of curriculum to issues of equity and justice.
"Teachers, for example, blamed themselves as individuals (or their pupils) for the failures of students, just as I did. It more and more, however, seemed to me not to be a question of the amount of effort teachers and curriculum workers, put in. Indeed, few groups of people work harder and in more uncertain, difficult, and complex circumstances than teachers and administrators. Rather, it became clearer that the institution itself and the connections it had to other powerful social agencies generated the dominant rules and practices of educators' lives. Blaming teachers, castigating individuals, was less than helpful."
Apple's critique really starts to come together in his reprinted Ideology and Curriculum (1989), where he delves more deeply into the issue of hegemony, calling on the works of Gramsci, Raymond Williams and Pierre Bourdieu to reveal the implicit agenda of social control that lies behind both curricular and pedagogical proscriptions. In particular he focuses on the hidden curriculum which he sees as designed to inculcate habits of work, time-keeping and submission to authority in children.
He suggests that the denial of the part played by conflict in academic life, fails to account, reflexively for the fact that the advancement of knowledge happens most frequently when conceptual absences are revealed through conflicting views of reality. In addition, the tendency to portray academic life (shaped by technical rationality) as a harmonious whole does violence to the operation of rational inquiry per se.
As Michael Apple puts it:
"The basic rule of activity that constitutes the unconscious negative value associated with conflict tends to lead to the designing of experiences that focus on the 'law or rule breaking' dimension of conflict, yet it should be made clear that conflict leads not 'merely' to law breaking, but is, in effect, law creating as well. It performs the considerable task of pointing to areas of needed redress. Furthermore, it brings into conscious awareness the more basic rules that govern the particular activity over which there is conflict but that were hidden from view. That is, it performs the unique function of enabling individuals to see the hidden imperatives built into situations that act to structure their actions, thereby partially freeing individuals to create relevant patterns of actions to an extent not usually possible."
In ways that point towards more recent conceptions in deficit thinking and theorising, Apple also addresses the ways in which teachers consciousness is “saturated” (his wonderful term!) with labels and conceptions that blame the child, rather than the system. The book finally makes suggestions about what might be done to counteract these tendencies. His suggestions for further research and for reconceptualizing the educator as an organic intellectual (again after Gramsci) while meaningful at a theoretical level are lacking in the specificity of what might actually be done in the classroom. Like Aronowitz, he calls for a collectivisation of intent and resistance, for Advocacy Research in the development of a critical curriculum that might more appropriately represent the needs and expectations of the oppressed and disenfranchised.
It looks, for instance at challenges and contestations to conservative attempts at curriculum formation. It reviews the roll of technology, and its influence on the commodification and legitimation of particular knowledge forms, and contrasts these with the possibilities opened up for creative learning. In particular, Apple looks at the ways in which commodified technologies and pedagogies are used to marginalise large groups of students who then become available for “remedial” teaching.
“By defining large groups of children as deviant (slow learners, remedial problems, discipline problems etc.) and giving funding and legislative support for special teachers and for “diagnosis” and “treatment” the State will fund extensive remedial projects. While these projects will seem neutral, helpful and may seem aimed at increasing mobility, they will actually defuse the debate over the role of schooling in the reproduction of knowledge and people “required” by the society. It will do this in part by defining the ultimate causes of such deviance as within the child or his or her culture and not due to, say, poverty, the conflicts and disparities generated by the historically evolving cultural and economic hierarchies of the society etc.”
There are references here to earlier interrogations of “deficit theorising” pinpointed in Ideology and Curriculum which still pervade most school systems, not least in “post-colonial” societies like New Zealand.
Apple then goes on to focus more minutely and once again on the hidden curriculum as a mechanism of social and cultural reproduction , showing how management models of schooling impact upon classroom relations and pedagogies. Taking examples from industry, he suggests that the hegemony of the classroom is not complete and that acts of resistance are not only possible but (if not common then) prevalent. In the end (and again somewhat akin to Aronowitz) Michael Apple exhorts the introduction of democracy into schools - into curriculum formation, into management systems and into pedagogical forms. The examples taken previously from industrial settings while in themselves inspiring once again fail to completely map the precise strategies necessary to bring about the aims that the book so passionately espouses. This is not to minimise the difficulty in prescribing educational activism in circumstances that vary widely from context to context. Like his fellow unionist, Aronowitz, Michael Apple’ solutions tend towards collective organisation of teachers and their work. But he is ever-mindful of the complexities involved in attempting to unify members of the teaching profession whose lives and personal values are as diverse (and often as blindly patriotic sexist and racist) as those to be found in the wider society.
His concern to understand to lived experiences of teachers and the social, political and economic pressures which circumscribe their beliefs, expectations and actions becomes more fully apparent in his book Official Knowledge (1993 – reprinted 2000). This book may be seen as the maturation of the understandings that have been evolving since the publication of Ideology and Curriculum and Teachers and Texts and it can rightfully be viewed as the third part of this trilogy. However, unlike its predecessors, it embraces the complexities of educational politics much more fully and concretely, refusing to accept easy or simplistic branding of the forces of conservatism or of the cultural complexities of the differing forms of resistance.
Here, he attempts to more fully understand the nature of what he has called the Conservative Restoration, seeing it as made up of four separate groups of individuals:
- Neo-liberals made up of dominant economic and political elites whose desire is to “modernise” the economy and institutions associated with it
- Neo-conservatives made up of economic and cultural conservatives who with to return to the “high standards” of the past.
- Authoritarian Populists made up of largely working class and middle class groups who mistrust the state and are concerned about education, the home, immigration etc.
- Professional new Middle Class (or a fraction thereof) whose future prosperity and advancement depends upon their support for regimes of accountability, efficiency etc.
Although their aims may be varied, the New Right has been largely able to weld these groups into a shifting alliance around conservative issues and to render the logic of their shared ideologies commonsensical. The thrust of his argument is that the Right has been able to create an acceptable commonsense understanding in the wider community that what is public is bad and what is private is good. In the domain of education this has had a dramatic and traumatising effect. It has led to a reduction in public funding that mostly affects the poorer schools. This has created deficits and resource space into which the private areas of the economy have aggressively moved – Apple spends a whole chapter analysing the introduction and operation of Channel 1 (private TV news reporting and advertising) into schools. In addition, the reduction in the resource base has gone hand in hand with a greater insistence upon testing and national standards which has so intensified teacher’s work that they have now no time for reflective or creative teaching activities which might allow for the formation of understandings and resistances to their circumstances. Alongside this has been an increasing prescription of teaching activities, and so on and so on.
Apple takes all of these instances and carefully unpacks their processes, agendas and implications. He does this, like Aronowitz, with a keen eye on the historical context in which these patterns have emerged, yet all the time relating his text back to direct experiences and examples. The clarity of his analysis is remarkable even though the complexity of his subject is enormous. He looks, for instance at the possibilities for and examples of resistance that have and are emerging within the school system, as teachers make space for resistance in what would seem to be hopeless circumstances. He shows communities of resistance themselves are diverse and conflicted, noting how the Right’s strategies of compartmentalisation, fragmentation and individualism has resulted in the formation of complex layered identities that mitigate against collective resistance.
In this regard, he delves into the changes that have taken place over time in the theorising of cultural factors in education. He looks back at his own history – his early involvement with Marxism, with Althusser and Structuralism, and his gradual move towards the works and theories of Gramsci. He notes how cultural factors now play a much more significant part in critical understandings than they used to and that although they have not displaced issues of class he cites important point that it is impossible to think about the work of teachers without recognising the interweaving of class and sexism in the roles played by women teachers – roles that are simply an extension of the unpaid labour of the “housewife”. The race, gender, class disjunctions that are part of the social world of late capitalism make it difficult to organise unifying themes around which communities of resistance can be built.
In addition, he shows how the new right coalition has been able to command unprecedented power to shape what counts as legitimate knowledge in schools – largely by focussing their attention on the Southern and Western States – particularly Texas and California where the political economy of textbook approvals has a disproportionate effect upon the national system. He delves deeply, in fact, into the political economy of the textbook, drawing out in fine detail the circumstances that shape the actions of publishers, School Boards, parent groups and the Federal government. In each instance he demonstrates how the reframing and integration of legitimate community concerns into new and conservative ideological understandings that privilege business and industrial needs over and above concerns for the common good. Yet he points out (again) that although the Right has been able to dictate public discourse around issues of race, class and gender, its outcomes are still in many ways contradictory and leave space for creative challenges and transformations. He shows, for instance, how teachers at the chalk face create opportunities within the ever-growing dictates of the system to creatively transform the situation to their own ends. He details two examples from his own experience in curriculum development and in his Friday Seminar at Madison to illustrate the need for struggle and the opportunities for creative resistance. In all of this he inevitably moves back – again like Aronowitz – to an understanding that success is not to be had by isolated acts of isolated and creative teachers, but only through the organisation of collective and widespread resistance. Typically, he uses his own teaching experiences as a laboratory for searching out the subtleties and complexities involved in attempting to establish and maintain what he calls a “decentered unity” among individuals who share the common goal of promoting radical change in education and in life. Also typically, he reflects, yet again on his own internal consistency in his relations with others in the pursuit of this vision.
Out of this, and attuned as he is to the complexities of shifting perceptions and goals among the diverse communities of interest he proposes not a monolithic or standardised form of organisation or resistance but suggests, instead that different forms must be developed for different circumstances and situations. On the other hand, the insights gleaned from these experiences offer concrete guidelines to the processes and issues involved.
There is no doubt that Michael Apple hits the nail on the head when he suggests that the Right has been extremely successful. One of the prime reasons, I believe, is that they have done so by translating complex ideological issues not just into commonsensical understandings, but that they have done so in an understandable language. (This is something I have written about in detail, To download PDF click here).
The Left could take a leaf out of their book here. Like Noam Chomsky's own critique, Apple rightfully asserts that much Critical Theorising is aimed at other theorists and is couched in terms that are incomprehensible to the “average person” in the street. He calls for a reframing of the discourse to more comprehensible levels. He might also have noted that much theorising is about theorising about theorising in a conceptual hall of mirrors that leaves even most theorists disoriented. This seems to coincide with the remarkable explosion of critical theory as an element of university courses and programmes. A cursory search of “Critical Theory” sites on Google reveals much traffic in not a little drivel. Course outlines in Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy proliferate and blogs on the same topic are common. (I have Google Alerts out for both topics for my website). Content of all of these media rarely, if ever engages with practice. Yet as Henry Giroux has pointedly noted, critical theory is (merely) an empty masturbatory activity unless it subjects itself to a reciprocal involvement with practice (praxis) in ways which both test and inform the theoretical base of a premise. (click here to download PDF on The Relationship Between Theory and Practice). It is one of Michael Apple’s strongest points that he continually grounds his theories in the real world of teachers’ work and of the classroom. It is for this reason that his theories have more substance and are more readily accessible to educators and political activists. Similarly, it is significant that his works also attempt to provide concrete examples that not only make the relationship between theory and practice clear, but that also offer hope in a time when the Left seems to be in such disarray.
This point is taken up yet again in even more detail in Democratic Schools (1995) in which Apple and his co-editor James Beane pull together a series of concrete examples from the field of democratic classrooms-in-action in a diverse range of cultural settings ( Wisconsin, Chicago, New York and California). The book was intended to demonstrate how to create schools and classrooms with democratic values in mind. When first published it was hailed for its assessment of the important role schools continue to play in promoting democracy, its traditions, and its thinking. It showed how educators can make a lasting difference by combining authentic, important lessons and a consistent, building or system-wide focus on a critical and democratic education. It was extremely successful selling hundreds of thousands of copies, and was reprinted and updated again in 2007 – indicating that it touched a nerve amongst educators and parents alike. As the authors noted in their second edition:
“…the widespread influence of a book like this speaks eloquently to matters of much greater significance. It speaks to the deep commitment of large groups of people to build and defend an education that is worthy of its name rather than one that is reducible simply to the efficient production of scores on problematic standardized achievement tests. It speaks to the growing dissatisfaction on the part of educators in so many places with curricula that have little relationship with the cultures and lives of the students in our schools. It speaks as well to an abiding belief that schools are not factories, that they must reflect what is best in all of us, and that they must embody not simply the rhetoric of democracy but its actual practice. When all of this is put together, much like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, the picture that emerges shows that an increasingly large number of people reject the idea of “TINA”—the notion that “there is no alternative” to the policies now being implemented in towns, cities, states, and regions throughout the nation.”
The message here is not just one of hope, but also one of achievement in the face of apparently overwhelming political and economic pressure. The stories in the book tell of teachers teaching dialogically, involving their students in the social, economic and political problems of the real world – of their real world, and of the multi-layered learnings that have been gained from this and from co-operative learning pedagogies.
Apple’s next book (partially co-authored with Anita Oliver and Christopher Zenk) - Cultural Politics and Education (1996) continues the theme of his previous works, linking the attempts by the New Right to shape and control the curriculum and environment of learning with old-fashioned classed, raced and gendered politics, and at the same time bringing to light the achievements of communities of resistance to these social, political and economic pressures. He and Zenk interrogate the relationships between the politics of cultural identity, poverty, under-achievement and unemployment and link these to political structures, processes and policies that marginalise and exclude – policies founded upon an ideology of market economics and increased corporatisation of public life. They argue that the issues behind these identities are ignored and instead, the State focuses upon the “failures”, “drop-outs” and youth-at-risk – developing remedial policies and systems that further centralise control over curriculum and pedagogy and impose even more draconian and alienating programmes upon the already-alienated. Gone is any awareness of “failure” might be a willful act of resistance against an already-oppressive and culturally insensitive system that is designed to further marginalise, label, treat, dominate and control.
Michael Apple himself points out the need to take seriously the intentions and strategies of the Right in education. He sees it not only as one of the most dangerous and anti-democratic movements in two centuries, but also as one of the most powerful and persuasive ideologies ever promulgated. Following this logic, he and Anita Oliver reveal the process of the formation of a conservative agenda in one particular school district, showing how the formation is not the result of a conspiracy (as popularly suggested), but as a response to real and often arbitrary issues that pit well-meaning school administrations against disaffected and disenfranchised groups who coalesce around conservative proposals in the name of “democracy”. It is to the authors’ credit that they clarify the real issue to be centred not around specific instances of disagreement over curriculum content, but rather about the meaning of democracy and its place in education as a seedbed of public life.
This line of reasoning leads back inexorably to one of Michael Apple’s oft-repeated argumentations – the role of conflict (and its acceptance rather than exclusion) in the educational process. He gees back to John Dewey’s notion of Democracy and Education and suggests how progressive change can be accomplished by small but significant steps taken in the classroom which link learning to the struggles and conflicts of everyday life In the process, he points out the danger of empty left-leaning rhetoric which fails to engage either with the concrete circumstances that exist in the classroom or with the circumstances ion the wider world outside.
This message is continued yet again in Apple’s Power, Meaning, and Identity (1999). Here, in a collection of essays – some of which have been published previously. In chapters with titles like:
• The Personal and the Political in Critical Educational Studies
• The Politics of Official Knowledge in the United States
• Social Evaluation of Curriculum
• How the Conservative Restoration Is Justified
• Education, Culture, and Class Power
• Power, Meaning, and Identity
• Freire, Neoliberalism, and Education
• Between Neo and Post in Critical Educational Studies
The collection brings together essays on curriculum, evaluation, and critical education and cultural theory. In characteristic plain language, they explore more thoroughly the ways in which the political economy of education is shaped by wider social structures and how political educational policies and practices actually are. Beginning once again with a historical perspective, the Apple explores the realities of class, race, and gender in education. As well as going over previous conceptual terrain. (to be continued)
Following this, in Educating the "Right" Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2001), Michael Apple, continues the critical analyses of the New Right’s successful hegemony in education that has been the hallmark of previous books. The first two chapters deal with the Right’s ability to attach its own meanings to key commonsense concepts and the constitution of the Right’s loose alliance of four separate social groups - all described first in Official Knowledge. He then reasserts the need for a “decentered unity” – as loose alliance of counter-hegemonic groups to interrupt the agenda of the Right.
Moving on from previous analyses, this is followed in the first edition by a new analysis of the specific agenda of what he calls the “authoritarian populists – with particular reference to the struggle over creationism in a national curriculum. He extends this analysis to show how political figures as well as conservative evangelical Christians have been major political and ideological forces in influencing educational policies at the local, state, and national levels around issues such as the insistence on Christian prayers in public schools. Noting how the Right maintains its alliance by co-opting the fears of parents and by locating these fears within an overarching ideological framework, he argues that what the Right sees as the secularisation of schools has led many parents to withdraw their children and instead to embrace home-schooling.
He devotes considerable time to an analysis of the home-schooling movement. Noting that while not all home-schooling parents have conservative religious views many have traditional conceptions of the family, gender and what is “legitimate knowledge." Noting that home-schooling now accounts for at least 2% of the child-education population (and growing rapidly) he suggests that home-schooling is leading to the "suburbanization of everyday life" and the "segmentation of American society" that is evidenced in the proliferating race, class, and gender divisions in society. He also questions educational policies that allow the use of public to teach religious viewpoints otherwise violating the separation of church and state as laid out in the Constitution.
Conservative white, evangelical Christian home-schoolers justify the removal of their children from school by claiming they are the new oppressed – marginalised by educational policies and curricula that denigrate or deny their belief systems. Apple suggests that these claims to subaltern status do not stand up to critical scrutiny. Their real motivations, he suggests, stem from a fear of contamination by the “Other”, and a parallel fear of the influence that secularization is schools may have upon the spiritual beliefs of their children. Since the “free” time required to home-school is most readily available to the already-affluent, it may be that such policy loopholes offer an added privilege over the poor and already disadvantaged. In December 2006, he followed up this critique of home-schooling with a more conciliatory attitude to the growing population of black home-schoolers in The Complexities of Black Home Schooling published in the Teachers College Record. (More of this later.) He notes there that the movement by groups who reqally ARE disadvantaged (African Americans, Hispanics, native Americans etc) to embrace home-scvhooling is a dangerous trend that frragments and works against the coalition-building necessary to form social movements that might thwart the conservative Right and its hegemony.
Faced with this hegemony of the Right on so many fronts, what is to be done? Apple has suggested many times that the only chance of achieving hegemony is through the building of a social movement involving the need to develop “progressive alliances” from existing counterhegemonic groups such as anti-globalisation activists, peace organizers, environmentalists, feminists, the working class, and gays and lesbians. He also suggests the possibility of tactical alliances with some elements of the Right who share some areas of agreement around issues such as national testing, the introduction of Channel One in schools etc.
The second edition of the book, published in 2000, also contains new chapters on No Child Left Behind, and gender realities. In this edition, his chapter “Who ‘No Child Left Behind’ Leaves Behind” offers an important and insightful critique of the federal legislation which he notes has led to a loss of local control in education. He questions what counts as legitimate knowledge, literacy, success and failure, and good teaching under the Act, noting the incursion of business interests into education (Channel 1) and suggesting that profit rather than public service has become the predominant ethic. He refers to the introduced compulsory testing as “audit cultures” and suggests that it is the implicit racism of education policies that lies at the root of educational disparities and achievements which needs to be addressed, rather than the imposition of auditing systems which are grounded in deficit thinking. He also notes that the No Child left Behind opens the way for mote intense privatization of the educational environment. Not surprisingly, notes Apple, the very structure of the Act maps very precisely the demands of the four key conservative groups which make up the conservative alliance as well as the ideology of the Republican administration. As the Introduction to the Department of Education’s description of the Act notes, it:
“changes the federal government's role in kindergarten-through-grade-12 education by asking America's schools to describe their success in terms of what each student accomplishes. The act contains the President's four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods that have been proven to work”
Translated into action, Apple argues that these policies directly respond to and benefit the conservative groups who make up the Right, and he cites examples from Britain, New Zealand and elsewhere where similar policies have already been implemented to make his case.
Against these examples, he contrasts the work going on at Porto Alegre in Brazil, the examples given in his own Democratic Schools and of the new and increasingly influential Journal Rethinking Schools as examples of successful counter-hegemonic practice.
Besides covering and extending theoretical work mapped out in previous works, Apple here once again builds his and our understanding of the current situation in education, but also in the area of theorising itself. Drawing upon key concepts in the works of Lucáks and Rawls he makes it clear yet again that success for the left is not to be had by merely modifying classroom pedagogies to make them more critical and relevant, but by linking these small changes to broad social movements that make common sense to parents, teachers and school administrators.
Having delved intensively into the political economics and cultural politics of American schooling, Apple next turns his attention to examples from elsewhere. In The State and the Politics of Knowledge (2003) he edits a collection of essays by and with a number of his overseas PhD students and in so doing casts his critical eye over educational politics in the Pacific Rim countries of United States, South Korea, Singapore, Polynesia, Sweden, Norway and Brazil, looking at conservative state “reforms” and how these have affected curricula and pedagogy in ways which have sparked resistance in the respective communities. He begins by charting (with Anita Oliver) the case study of a diverse semi-rural American community of parents who objected to the readings in a language arts series. Despite their philosophical diversity, they were forced into a more conservative and militant approach by the unwitting persistence of the school board in characterising the issue as one of censorship and the parents as uniformly religious fundamentalists.
This is followed by Hannah Tavares with an analysis of the persistence of colonial representations of Polynesia in sexist and racist tones in both historical and contemporary Western cultures. The suggestion here is that these persistent characterisations and stereotypes (“primitive”, exotic”, “promiscuous” and “childlike”) are deeply inscribed in the production of knowledge that continues to influence modern perceptions of Polynesian peoples to their academic and economic detriment. (This is something that here, in New Zealand, has been particularly pertinent in the teaching of Maori and Pacific Island children. For reference click here) Apple then teams up with Ting-Hong Wong to examine state formation of schooling in Singapore between 1945 and 1965, detailing the curricular reforms to unify the diverse cultural groups of the Peninsula in the transition from British colonial rule. The study follows the impact of these reforms after the establishment of national independence.
Examples from Scandinavia are contributed by Petter Aasen from the Norwegian Institute for Studies in Research and Education who analyses educational restructuring in Scandinavian education in the latter decades of the twentieth century. He describes the imposition of conservative policies (identical to those in Britain and the US) of standardised testing, the establishment of core curricula and the establishment of regimes of teacher accountability and efficiency management.
There are two studies from South Korea. Misook Kim Cho and Youl-Kwan Sung (both on the staff of Korean Educational Development) write separately with Apple. Misook Kim Cho examines the rise of career education as a Ministry of Education initiated programme in the early 1990s. In anticipation of a labour shortage in manual trades, the government required a programme of occupational choice and career decision-making in secondary schools to dissuade students from choosing high-end career paths that would prolong their education. Both principals and students resisted the imposed changes. Youl-Kwan Sung and Apple then write about how Korean social studies teachers fought the reactionary Ministry of Education attempts to impose a national curriculum by developing a web-based, on-line discussion group. Yet their attempts to introduce critical (dialogical) pedagogies into their classrooms were thwarted by repressive Ministry requirements and directives.
Apple then returns (with Luís Gandin), to the example given earlier in Educating the Right Way - of the Citizen School Project in Porto Alegre, Brazil and the attempt there to develop a democratic educational system in co-operation with the local community. They engage in the very thorough and well-documented description of Porto Alegre, explaining how the leftist city administration attempts to improve the lives of people in the neighborhoods, especially in favelas (shantytowns). They also describe citizen initiatives to shape classroom age-grouping away from traditional model, and analyse the community’s attempts at curriculum development based upon community needs.
Overall, the attempt to provide a wider cultural perspective on educational reform and resistance is laudable if somewhat patchy. It does make the important point that what Apple calls the “conservative restoration” in education is a global phenomenon. Similarly, it is encouraging to see that teachers, students and parent communities are actively engaged in creative and progressive resistance wherever the ideology of the Right is manifest. There is hope here, which is, I believe, the point that Apple tries to make.
In his latest book, in 2006, Apple again produced a collaborative work – this time edited with Kristen Buras. Subaltern Speak: Curriculum, Power, and Educational Struggles.
In 1988 the Indian critical theorist and feminist Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak contributed a chapter to an edited series of essays - Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture in which she asked the question “Can the Subaltern Speak?” Spivak is a renowned critical theorist whose writings are said to be foundational texts in postcolonial studies. She takes us back to Gramsci’s term for the economically dispossessed. The question asked by Spivak, “Can the Subaltern Speak?” asks if it is possible for the economically dispossessed to have a voice. Putting it simply, in her analysis, she concludes that the subaltern are unable to speak to the dominant culture until such a time as they have acquired the linguistic codes and cultural capital of the oppressor (in Spivak’s case of the coloniser) By which time, they are so removed from their cultures of origin that they are themselves no longer to clearly articulate their demands. Her essay was addressed to academics who attempt to engage in dialogue with subaltern groups, and asks the more pointed question of whether the field of postcolonial studies in fact contributes to and extend the ethic of colonialism.
This book by Michael Apple and Kristen Buras is an attempt to respond to that question in an educational context. The authors suggest that indeed, the subaltern can and do speak, and their argumentation is organised in three sections:
- The Subaltern Speak: In Whose Voices
This section looks at the relationship between subaltern groups and educational reform.
- The Subaltern Speak: National Contexts
Here, the authors highlight the responses and resistances to educational reforms by various subaltern groups within the United States
- The Subaltern Speak: International Contexts.
Finally, they highlight the voices and resistances by a number of different subaltern groups overseas.
Their analysis begins with an introduction that recalls the roots of American colonialism with the story of Sagoyewatha, a Seneca chief who challenged the dominance of Christian missionaries. They use this story as a means of introducing and reminding us of the historical exclusion, dispossession and silencing of the subaltern. They also note that in the modern context, subaltern identity is more than a simple economic matter, but is rather a complex interplay of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, spirituality, age, health – and so on, and that it is not restricted to traditional conceptions of “the colonised” but is rather a local, regional, national and international phenomenon.
In the opening chapter, Kristen Buras looks at what makes E.D. Hirsch’s Core Knowledge Movement so appealing to so many subaltern groups. Hirsch’s movement seeks toi return school curricula to traditional “core knowledge” – oblivious to the fact that this knowledge is socially, culturally and politically compromised and compromising for people outside the dominant culture.
In the second chapter, Apple returns once again to a problematic that he began to analyse in the second edition of Educating the Right Way - the Home-Schooling movement. He begins his analytic by recognising that the home-schooling movement is not homogeneous, and that it covers groups from both the Left as well as the Right. What unites them is:
“…a sense that the standardized education offered by mainstream schooling interferes with their children’s potential; that there is a serious danger when the state intrudes into the life of the family; that experts and bureaucracies are apt to impose their beliefs and are unable to meet the needs of families and children.”
Having said this, he notes that the vast majority of home-schooling parents are evangelical Christians and that, ironically, they are embracing home-schooling as an alternative to state education under a claim of subalternate identity. He delves further into the issue, looking at who is actually doing the schooling in the home, at the political economy of the families – at who can afford the “free” labour to home-school their children and at the roles of the (largely) women/mother teachers within the families. He makes the perceptive point that their claim to subaltern status is based upon their traditional identities as women in a gendered society while in fact, they largely come from upper middle class white families of the dominant culture. He perceptively identifies the emerging subjectivities of home-schooling mothers when he points out that:
“To conservative religious women, what from the outside may look like a restrictive life guided by patriarchal norms, feels very different on the inside. It provides an identity that is embraced precisely because it improves their ability to direct the course of their lives and empowers them in their relationships with others. Thus, intense religiosity is a source of considerable power for many women…. Bringing conservative evangelical religion back to the core of schooling positions secular schooling as hegemonic. It enables rightist women to interpret their own actions as independent and free thinking—but always in the service of God”
He goes into some very convincing detail that their ability to use both state legislation (of the Charter School movement for instance) as well as global internet technologies, to build a powerful and persuasive movement based upon the principles of Christian fundamentalism. In this regard, they are massively supported by powerful forces of evangelical Christianity and the publishing industries both in available teaching/learning texts as well as in organizational and child-management advice and strategies and teaching aids (based upon the Bible and Christian precepts). They also have extremely powerful allies in the White House.
Schools too have not been slow to see the economic advantages of working with these Christian home-schoolers through the Charter Schools – often being able to boost their flagging enrolments and economies by as much as 300%. For Michael Apple, all of this boils down to a serious erosion of the legitimacy of the public secular school system with its precepts of American democracy have been foundational for two hundred years.
He recognises that the claims made by home-schooling parents about the education system are founded upon real experience and sound analysis - issues of unsupervised peer interaction and so on. For these groups, home-schooling provides,
“…subject positions and new identities for people who feel unmoored in a world where, for them, “all that is sacred is profaned” and where the tensions and structures of feeling of advanced capitalism do not provide either a satisfying emotional or spiritual life.”
Yet while they desire a “return” to more steadfast values and pedagogies while at the same time offering a significant increase in control over their childrens’ welfare, this movement which is based upon the perception of the need for subaltern groups to have choice and to have a voice diminishes the possibility of public discourse and in its place establishes a social norm which is largely unchallengeable and unaccountable.
His primary concern is that while purporting to be protecting their children from an alien and secular public school environment and value system (and using public funds to do so) their actions and the social consequences thereof for their children remain largely at odds. The contradictions of the situation become apparent, for Apple:
“On the one hand, one of the dynamics we are seeing is social disintegration, that is the loss of legitimacy of a dominant institution that supposedly bound us together—the common school. Yet, and very importantly, what we are also witnessing is the use of the Internet not to “de-traditionalize” society, but in the cases I have examined here, to re-traditionalize parts of it.
Although he is sensitive and compassionate to the needs of home-schooling parents, Michael Apple ends up lamenting the potential loss of legitimacy that it causes for state education, and the potential for cultures to consolidate into largely separatist cultural enclaves with little meaningful communication across the spectrum of society through which differences might be “worked out” or reconciled.
In December 2006, Apple followed up this critique of home-schooling with a more conciliatory attitude to the growing population of black home-schoolers in The Complexities of Black Home Schooling published in the Teachers College Record. There, he extends his sympathies to the plight of African American parents whose children are abused and marginalised within the state school system and who, as a form of resistance are withdrawing their children and resorting to home-schooling. In the end, however, his sympathies fall short of complete endorsement as he wonders about the long-term impact upon the black community. In this separate article he concludes by noting that:
“We should not criticize black parents who home school their children. But a more powerful response in the long term requires that we redouble our efforts to create more responsive, democratic, and critical educational institutions for those children who are all too easily seen as the “Other” in this society and its schools. There are multiple examples of such critically democratic schools whose processes of administration, curricula, teaching, and evaluation are closely connected to oppressed communities and their needs, cultures, hopes, and dreams. Can these be extended and become more widespread in the face of the reductive tendencies embodied in such policies as No Child Left Behind with its “push out” effects? This question is no easier to answer than the issues surrounding black home schooling. But we will only know the answer if we continue the struggles to do so. If we do not continue and expand our engagement in such organized and long term struggles for a system of public schooling that is worthy of its name, more and more black parents will seek alternatives, be they vouchers or home schooling. The way to demonstrate our respect for such parents is to make it more likely that they will not have to leave public schools.”
These sentiments are echoed to some extent in the next chapter on Education Vouchers, by Thomas Pedroni – “Can the Subaltern Act? African American Involvement in Educational Voucher Plans”. The study looks specifically at the African American community in Milwaukee, and at why the voucher plans appeal unexpectedly to such groups. Building on Apple’s previous work with Oliver in Cultural Politics and Education where they looked at the formation of conservative identities in a parental resistance to a School Board’s imposition of a textbook, Pedroni extends our understanding of the development of identity politics in the African American perceptions of school choice through educational vouchers. Based on conceptual and empirical findings, he puts forward compelling theories about the appeal of pro-voucher sentiments to Black politicians, community leaders, and poor and working class families. He sees them as representative of a subaltern ‘third force’ in conservative formation. He argues that their fleeting conservative alliances and subject positions, are likely to play an increasingly significant role in educational and social reform both in the United States and elsewhere. He suggests that liberal-Left theorists are failing to recognise this movement and consequently remain critically unaware of the direction that conservative modernization is likely to take among poor and disenfranchised communities.
In the next section of the book which deals with the resistance of subaltern groups within the United States, Glenabah Martinez begins with an analysis centered on Native American youths in the education system. “In My History Classes They Always Turn Things Around, the Opposite Way”: Indigenous Youth Opposition to Cultural Domination in an Urban High School,” takes up the stories about how indigenous youth in the United States have resisted educational practices that devalue or erase their culture. (Readers will note that Martinez’s findings parallel those in other indigenous communities throughout the world. See, for instance High School Confidential on this website.) Her account includes many first-hand student comments which offer powerful testimony to their experiences. Not unlike Russell Bishop’s Culture Speaks in a New Zealand context, it points to a system of institutionalised racism within the system that extends beyond the conceptual limits that Martinez suggests in her references to “cultural difference”. There are interesting parallels here with my own analysis of the relationship between espoused school policies of cultural pluralism and the policies-in-action of exclusion (to borrow terms from Donald Schön). See, for instance my own paper Cultural Pluralism, Education and Misplaced Patriotism .
Next, Dolores Delgado Bernal undertakes a gender analysis of the 1968 East Los Angeles School Blowouts. In her Rethinking Grassroots Activism: Chicana Resistance in the 1968 East Lost Angeles School Blowouts she tells the stories of eight Latina women involved. and in so doing offers a deeper understanding of the important role that women played in the resistance movement.
Kevin Kumashiro follows this with an essay Detraction, Fear, and Assimilation: Race, Sexuality, and Education Reform Post-9/11 which suggests the “wilfull partiality” of anti-oppressive education. He argues that through detraction, fear, and assimilation, our way of thinking about anti-oppressive education can become contradictory.
Stanley Aronowitz then contributes a chapter Subaltern in Paradise: Knowledge Production in the Corporate Academy – an extension of his 2001 book The Knowledge Factory in which he explores the erosion of academic freedom in universities as knowledge becomes more commodified, corporate interests influence the awarding of research grants and contracts, and tenure becomes more elusive. He challenges us to review our preconceptions about the political immunity, the role, status and identity of the academic, and to consider the contexts in which we live and work. He challenges us further to reflexively interrogate our taken for-granted assumptions about democracy and the extent to which we are willing to fight for freedom. Aronowitz’s chapter concludes the examples taken from an American context.
The final section, includes chapters from a variety of international contexts. It begins with Jyh-Jia Chen’s Struggling for Recognition: The State, Oppositional Movements, and Curricular Change. The essay explores opposition of Taiwanese people to the imposition of Chinese language and culture and to the standardization of the curriculum to fit Chinese perceptions and hegemony. Again, in the broader context is reflects the wider plight and struggle of indigenous peoples throughout the world in their attempts to sustain their language and culture and to resist the forces of colonisation.
This is followed by yet a further exposition of the example of Porto Alegre Citizen School in Brazil. We will remember that the example also featured in Educating the Right Way. This time, Luis Armando Gandin’s, Creating Real Alternatives to Neoliberal Policies in Education: The Citizen School Project chronicles the emergence of the Citizen School Project in response to a market driven one-size-fits-all model in education.
In what for me is one of the more pertinent and provocative essays in the collection, Kristen Buras and Paulino Motter, next challenge our preconceptions about superficial policies of multiculturalism in education. Their essay, Toward a Subaltern Cosmopolitan Multiculturalism, argues that “multiculturalism cannot deliver what it promises unless it embraces the emancipation struggles of subaltern groups and cultures". This essay questions the (majority-based) democratic processes, and the legitimacy of democracies themselves. The chapter concludes with a challenge that we search for ways to develop programmes and curricula that support and nurture subalternity.
Finally, the book ends with a concluding chapter by Michael Apple and Kristen Buras - Speaking Back to Official Knowledge. Here, they issue a challenge for us to continually reflect upon the issue of subalternity and to work for ways to support moments of resistance by subaltern groups in their struggles for emancipation and voice and for a meaningful education for their children.
Reviewing the entirety of these chapters it appears to me that Spivak’s initial question "Can the subaltern speak?" might be accompanied now by another: “Can the dominant culture hear?” But of course, as Michael Apple has already indicated, the dominant culture is not a simple one-celled organism, but a complex and shifting arrangement of interests, identities and intentions. We must ask is it realistic, therefore, to continue to use the term “dominant culture” as a shorthand for the forces behind oppression? Or in refusing to do so do we abandon any leverage for understanding the logics and processes of oppression itself. And do we also then throw out the baby of oppression with the dominant culture bathwater. Is oppression, then, simply a deafness - an inability to hear the lived experiences of those whom our own lives condemn to poverty and hardship – those on whom we rely for our own positions of privilege, like Michael Apple’s miners who work the coalface so that he might sit at his computer and write learned books? And them the more pressing and enduring question: Is this inability to hear willful, and if so, what does it say of our desire to effect a transformation?
When we look over the writing career of Michael W. Apple it becomes clear that his theorising has developed systematically over a thirty year period. Starting with his earliest writings he has consistently worked to clarify the cultural politics and the political economy of education in all of its manifest forms. It is also clear that Michael believes in public education – holding dear the dream of democratic schools promoted by Dewey almost a century ago. Like his colleague Stanley Aronowitz, Apple also believes that the coalition of conservative groups has been successful in achieving significant changes in the education system – changes that he believes run counter to the American ideology of a peoples’ democracy that has animated American life since the Revolution. His work represents an enormous attempt to resist and turn back this tide of conservatism. Like Aronowitz, he does not believe that this can be accomplished by individual acts of resistance, but only by the creation of a broad social movement of the disparate groups of the Left. Not only does Michael Apple believe in education; he also believes in teachers whom he sees as fighting a heroic rearguard action against the twin forces of the state and global capitalism. His roots in the labour movement as a Union representative and a labour activist have never been far below the surface of his theorising. This, I believe, is one of the reasons why he reacts so strongly to the rapidly developing home-schooling movement despite the fact that it has evidently become attractive to groups who have generally been the most regular and significant victims of a racist, classed and gendered school system.
To his great credit, he has succeeded in demystifying the cultural politics of education – both in its conservative and counter-hegemonic forms – by a close reading of the politics of identity that are involved in the complex layering of cultures overlaid with experiences of class, gender, race. Like Aronowitz, too, he is clear that in our fractured world class can no longer simply be defined by income or material wealth.
Apple ranks alongside Dewey and Freire in the importance of his theorising. His output is phenomenal, his struggle to understand and communicate tireless. He is, perhaps, the last of the great critical education theorists. This is not to sound a note of doom – rather, it is a plea to all those for whom Apple’s words resonate – a plea to perhaps review again the place of the state in education, and to think of how the technologies that the Right have harvested so well might work against them in the long term. Apple believes that the educational system can be repaired, that with sufficient struggle it can be made to work in the interests of all – not as an end in itself, but as a democratic process.
I applaud his tenacity and dedication and I admire his compassion and selfless dedication to the task. But I am not as certain of the path that ought to be taken. Those readers that have read my own downloadable High School Confidential on this site will be aware that I am not as ready as Michael Apple to forgive those racist and gendered teachers who populate our schools (in probably the same proportions that they are represented in the wider community). Nor do I believe that it is ultimately possible to change them – to make them more sensitive to the cultural, spiritual and identity needs of their students. And even were this possible, one has to ask how many young minds and hearts would be ruined before the task was accomplished?
And what an enormous task! Think for a moment of all that has been written about the hidden curriculum. Think of the control and imposition of experiences of time, space, voice, choice, culture, identity – that are all, as Philip Corrigan has reminded us, impressed upon the bodies of the young at the deepest and least accessible levels of consciousness. Think of the extent to which state education has as a function of its role in society been responsible for the creation of a culture of quiescence, passivity and acceptance of the power status quo. Look at its history in the repression and dispossession of indigenous peoples and ask yourself if this is not a system designed to dispossess the Other?
And those who have been fortunate enough to struggle through this repressive educational world with some of their drive, resistance and identity still intact – like Apple, Mclaren, Aronowitz and myself. Ask what our cultural origins are – and how small in number we are. We are the mostly male, mostly white, mostly privileged (despite our class origins in a racist, sexist world) that have been allowed to feed at the trough of capitalisms left-overs.
Think about these things and then ask once again, is the state education system worth saving in its present form? Or should we start from the ground up by disassembling the whole repressive edifice and taking direct control of it ourselves, rebuilding a new and very different decentered communicative structure using the technologies that are available. Because those same technologies that have been harvested by the Right are just as available to those who seek progressive change?
Perhaps the battle now is not in the classroom, but for and around the media. Consider this item titled "School's Out Forever.":
“Knowsley Council in Merseyside, which - for years - has languished near or at the bottom of exam league tables, has abolished the use of the word to describe secondary education in the borough. It is taking the dramatic step of closing all of its eleven existing secondary schools by 2009. As part of a £150m government-backed rebuilding programme, they will reopen as seven state-of-the-art, round-the-clock, learning centres with the aid of Microsoft - which has already developed links with one school in the borough, Bowring.
The schools are moving from a deficit model of learning (”students can’t do…”) to a “can do” approach that the article claims will create creative students that will be valued by future employers. Operating 24 hours a day, the centers will allow students to explore problems that interest them at their own pace, rather than steering them through inflexible curricula.
This is an important change, as Knowsley Council seems to have figured out that students can get their information from anywhere (electronically, from social interactions, etc.). What’s important is the construction of information into knowledge and the creative use of new knowledge.”
Just as the music and entertainment industries are struggling to contain their copyright and royalty regimes, so also are the institutions of education (and their associated systems like libraries, museums etc) struggling to maintain their own monopoly.
You will notice that one portion of this review is incomplete – the review of Apple’s 1996 book Power, Meaning and Identity. Since I do not possess a copy, and it is not available in my local library, I have had recourse to looking through Google to find references, reviews and related papers. In writing this review, I have discovered one available copy of Apple’s previously published paper “Power, Meaning and Identity” (upon which I believe the book was grounded). That article, (in the British Journal of Sociology of Education, Vol. 17, No. 2, International Perspectives on the Sociology of Education (1996), pp. 125-144) is only available through JSTOR – a Scholarly Journal Archive.
As one old friend once commented in 1984, “Socialism isn’t dead, Tony, it’s merely napping!”