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From U.S. Centered Multiculturalism To
Global Intercultural Educational Equality:
The Role of Reforms and Autonomy

Part 1
School as a Perpetrator of Poverty, Oppression and Inequality

by Roberto Flores
Los Angeles, California

  • Part 2 - Where Does Power Come From?
  • Part 3 - Multiculturalism or Critical Multiculturalism
  • (Links to Footnotes,and References open a new browser window for easy reference.)

Y.. ay con mucho amor
nacio una flor de la basura
Quetzal, El Vagabundo

In a recent interview with a Loyola Marymount Graduate School of Education alum, currently vice principal at a local High School in Los Angeles, California, she pointed out that “although there are less opportunities out there and although there are less supportive programs, …more drop outs, cuts in funding, schools have the obligation to facilitate the development of the type of student that can help create their own jobs…that can survive regardless (Flores, 7-2003).” (1)

I mention this at the very on-set because a discussion of how savage inequalities are multiplied and perpetrated by the educational system should not take place without a simultaneous discussion of the heroic resistance and attempts to creatively survive. Today, under the new global economic configuration, it is even more important to pay attention to the individual and collective creations of alternatives. It is in these alternative spaces that teachers, parents and students together create the imagining and knowledge to build another world (Estevas, 1998).

Working Assumptions

One of the basic assumptions that I bring to the discussion is that the U.S. corporate state system and its particular educational institution, no matter how savage, is not the perfect perpetuator of inequality and is constructed by humans. It is a human project for profit and contains visible and vulnerable cracks or imperfections. (2) An equally optimistic corollary to this assumption is that these cracks or imperfections are fueled by internal contradictions that open it up for change as well as for the creation of a new system. The growing contradiction between what the system says and what the system does is an example of these contradictions (Giroux, 1983, cited in Sleeter, in press). (3)

Today’s neoliberal economic system is completely dependent on the heightened oppression of the working classes, indigenous, and the peasantry throughout the world (Apple, 1999). To increase the degree of exploitation the state has developed divisive methods that genderize, racialize and infinitely further stratify society and that result in the perpetuation of inequalities (Apple, 1999; Stromquist and Monkman, 2000; Carnoy,2000). Yet, textually and verbally, more than ever, the global corporate system uses the language of equality, freedom and democracy and purposely appropriates progressive language to market the market ideology and imperative (Apple, 1999; Stromquist, 2003).

Marketing is crucial to the selling of corporate capitalism. Anti-poor and profit-focused executive orders and legislation are presented to the public in shiny social justice wrapping such as “Leave no Child Behind,” “English Language in Public Schools” and “Prohibition Against Discrimination or preferential Treatment by State and Other Public Entities.” Over time, if exposed, through critical dialogue, these disingenuous market ploys will increase contradictions and could wear down the legitimacy of the present state system and weaken its support (McLaren in Sleeter, in press).

These areas of imperfection and glaring contradiction or cracks are inhabited and created by critical pedagogues that are autonomous, who through their critical perspective and practice increase and expand these spaces. Their presence and practice constantly resist the system’s attempt to close up ranks in what have become local and micro liberated and liberating zones.

Gustavo Esteva (1998) refers to these spaces as commons where civil society can be itself, where human relationships are driven by respect and love for humanity (as opposed to some kind of advantage or business-based competitive edge. In these ubiquitous cracks or spaces, pedagogy of love asserts itself (Quetzal, 2002). In these spaces, that exist inside and outside of the system, great humanitarian feats are accomplished daily in spite of the general violent and destructive nature of the system and of one of its central institutions; education (Kozol, 1992). It is in these spaces that civil society has the room to think for itself on what should be the correct and dignified treatment and relationship between human beings and what should be done to realize it (Estevas, 1998; Grant, 1977).

A second corollary is that presently these spaces are for the most part isolated, disconnected or connected up ideologically but not politically or organizationally that is strategically thus dissipating their transformational potential (Mayo, 1998). Teachers who are potentially transformative are not linked or organically networked within the integral community setting they teach in (Mayo, 1998). Sleeter attributes one of the reasons for this to the problem that in the U.S., critical theory is not concretely and sufficiently linked to the practice (Sleeter, in press). Many teachers do not live in the communities they teach in and participate only in the classroom and only from a distance, but they are not part of an integral whole or a community effort.

A third corollary is that disconnection from the community is in contradiction to bottom up transformational pedagogy and in that sense contradicts all the positive intent within transformational consciousness (Mayo 1998). No matter what you think or what lofty goals you might have, if it is not organized it won’t be realized.

A second assumption is that although civil society is not the initiator or maintainer of oppression, it has (to use a psycho-social term) been an enabler and therefore is partly responsible for the present unjust condition. Activist-based national organizations were at one point able to lobby and help bring about some pressure for reform at the state and national level and progressive teachers were relatively free to implement a democratic cultural curriculum. This is no longer the case. The reverse is in fact true. The right wing agenda has dismantled most previous reforms -- more on this later.

The third assumption is that under the neoliberal state, reform methods of struggle aren’t working. Walters points out:

As many intellectuals, development workers, activists and educators analyze the last five decades of international development, there is growing agreement that the dominant top-down ways of doing things have been wrong. There are still very large numbers of people on the never-ending treadmill of poverty and marginalization. At the same time the environmental resource base on which people depend is degrading -- forests, rivers and productive soils are gradually disappearing. Given that the aim of the last five decades of development have been to eradicate poverty, regenerate the environment, and influence the demographics, the five decades, Khosla (1998, p. 12) believes, can be seen as lost. (2000 p. 199)

Given this “failure” there is growing interest in knowing why and learning new effective methods of struggle. The aim of such evaluative and critical research is to not only stop resisting the tidal wave of inequalities with the same old ineffective sand bags, but, according to Estevas, (2000) to create a new system from the bottom-up. Building a new system off of this human failure is however not on the agenda of even most critical pedagogues or even revolutionary pedagogues. Building a new system entails converting symptom-treating asistencialismo (missionary work) into mutual solidarity and system-changing reform into democratic space and infrastructure building.

Civil Society has enabled the perpetuation of inequalities because, despite all its activities to treat the negative symptoms of the system and regardless of all the reforming of the system, it has not changed the nature of the system but instead made it possible for the system to survive, grow, and develop.

The focus of this discussion is to examine the traditional reformist tendency, which has as its explicit or implicit strategy, the use of electoral politics and reform and which has in most cases been an unintentional contributor to the perpetuation of inequality.

What does it mean to be progressive under this neoliberal state? How does one organize to effect a profound structural change from the local-micro bottom to the regional statewide, national and international? What should progressives do to contribute to real development from their micro position inside and outside the system? Stromquist and Monkman (2000 p. 20) respond to the awesome fact that globalization of capital is characterized by the monopolistic control of “technology, worldwide financial markets, global natural resources, media and communications and weapons of mass destruction, with the question: “Can we change the nature of these monopolies” and with, “Can education help break or at least weaken these monopolies? To add an additional dimension to the agenda, I ask another question within the realm of possibilities: can civil society focus its attention on the creation of a new and parallel system while it resists and attempts to reform the old? Can civil society utilize reform effort for the purpose of creating more space to create a new world? Ironically, as historians Zinn, (2003) and Parenti (2002) have shown, the more focus that is given to the building of a new grassroots system the more reforms are produced as a by-product.

It is important to challenge progressive traditional practice and underlying assumptions, particularly given the present draconian nature of the corporate state. Today, progressive reforms have been pushed out of the national and international agendas. In the rightist neoliberal global context, progressive reforms have been twisted around; turned, and made to appear as reactionary anti-progress diatribes that are de-centered and out of place. These formally progressive reforms are now perceived as unnatural and illogical and are therefore extremely ephemeral (Stromquist, 2000; Rust, 2000; Apple 1999). On the other hand, marketed market initiatives seem to be the most rational.

According to Gilborn (cited in Apple,1999), after years of conservative attacks and mobilizations, it has become clear that “ideas that were once deemed fanciful, unworkable -- or just plain extreme" are now increasingly being seen as common-sense” (Gillborn, 1997b, p.357).

It gets worse. This discussion takes off from the sobering assessment and additional assumption that along with and as part of the welfare state, most past progressive reforms of the last 50 years have either been eliminated or are presently under serious attack (Rust, 2000; Apple, 1999; Walters, 2000). A metaphoric example of this tragic mockery of democracy is that in the U.S. there has been nearly a 1000% (Southwest Voter Registration Project stats, no date) (4) increase in the number of Latino elected officials since 1968. Over a 35 year period, we have gone from 600 to over 6000 elected officials nationally, yet the barrios and colonias that they represent are not only no better off, but unfortunately, in far too many cases, worse off. Latinos and Blacks and progressives have won the battle for electoral representation but have lost the war for democracy. In plain words, under corporate democracy, there is no representation for the poor and working classes and an increasing lack of rights for the middle classes. Many of the elected officials have become no more than brokers, middlepersons selling their community and its human and material resources to the highest bidder (Flores cited in McLaren, Sp. 2001).(5)

There is no doubt that the downside of corporate representative democracy affects communities of color to a larger extent than middle class white communities so that the unequal consequences affecting Latinos and Blacks get passed down from one generation to the next (Stromquist & Monkman 2000; Stromquist, 2003, Carnoy 2000, Apple, 1999).(6) Since representative democracy for and by civil society is the cornerstone to the possibility of progressive reform, is reform possible in its absence? Under what conditions and in which ways can reforms be utilized to support and effect social justice?

Progressive Assumptions and Discussion Questions

There seems to be at least three common assumptions that underlie the proposed traditional solutions of critical pedagogues and general progressives who are concerned with inequality in education. These assumptions are:

  1. Equality can be achieved through reforming the system. Reform or the emphasis on parliamentary form of struggle, is the main method of transforming the country. The current Neoliberal (U.S. Capitalism in the era of global corporativism) system can be straightened out through reforms and electoral politics.
  2. Formal education has a vanguard role in transforming the system. The role of formal education is to develop critical thinking skills that would automatically result, enhance, initiate and ultimately cause the transformation the system.
  3. Education is the way out of poverty and should provide preparation for better paying jobs for all those that take advantage of it.

Because of the tight interrelation of these questions I here will focus the discussion on question number 1 and address the other questions in the context of 1. There are two groups of sub questions, which number one evokes:

  1. What kind of political economic system does the U.S. have? What is the role of formal education as an institution within this type of state system?
  2. What is possible through reform as strategy? What has been the role of civil society in the production and perpetuation of inequality?

The approach here is to utilize these two questions as themes that run through the discussion. I will not, in this paper, directly address other important factors contributing to the quality and access of education that either perpetuate inequality or alleviate it. Other aspects of oppression which I consider to be more symptoms of an unjust system including; access, tax base and tax distribution structures, degree of cultural and language consonance, gender, institutional racism, teacher training, method and curriculum, tracking and grouping, are some of many are considered but not focused on. Academicians and researchers such as Oakes, Darder, Kozol, Hansen, Torres, Tollefson, Carney, Banks, Nieto, Bryce Heath, Gutierrez and many others have researched those structures and mechanisms of inequality and most have been linked to structural causes. The discussion here will address the less visited question of whether the present globalized corporative system that drives the state and all its institutions, including education, can be changed through reform and explore some ideas as to what then can be done or is being done.

The Evolving Nature of the U.S. State

  • What kind of political economic system does the U.S. have?
  • What is possible through reforms?

Because the focus of this discussion is to look at how the educational system perpetuates inequality in U.S. Schools or the U.S.’s Educational system’s current reformist ability to be equal or a democratic equalizer, it is essential that we contextualize the discussion to place it within current global trends and a temporal context that brings us up to date with transformations due to globalization.

A brief overview of reform (educational and otherwise)

School as perpetrators of poverty, class divisions and gender inequality, is a phenomenon that almost without exception exists on an international scale and has existed since the establishment of the modern capitalist state (Ponton, 1989; Pineda, 1994; Giroux, cited in Sleeter, in press). James Tollefson, in his book Planning Language, Planning Inequality, (1996) reviews educational and language policy and points out that it has always been defined and dictated by the economic systems and by the dominant classes. One of the main premises of the Zapatista movement (centered in the Mexican state of Chiapas) is that all institutionalized practice begins and is defined by the class or group in power. Zapatistas agree with Critical Theory proponents that education (of any form) is one of the main institutions utilized to prepare and socialize people for their life roles. Zapatistas' testimonies verify that PRI education is "the government's education used to control our lives and to teach us not to have a voice". (Encuentro en Oventic, (7) 5/97; Pineda, 1994; Lenkersdorf, 1996.) According to the late Pablo Freire "all pedagogical choices concerning curriculum development, content and material, classroom processes and language use are inherently ideological in nature, e.g., they reflect the interest and point of view of the specific cultural group that dominates" (Freire, 1985).

Under the modern nation state, schools were established more as state and nation builders and to promote the goals of capitalism and its developing market (Stromquist, 2003). What can civil society do or is it doing to create more permanent change?

Reforming Robber Baron Capitalism to Welfare State

Because, the U.S. constitution articulated a social mandate and contract between government and (in the case of the U.S.) its elite and the general White Anglo Saxon protestant citizenry, not everyone was intended to be included (Zinn, 2003). The gap between what the state actually did and what it said it would do was vast. The admirable historical efforts to reform various institutions of the early raw capitalist system, particularly education, not only held the U.S. government to its constitutional word but added text clarifying the guarantee of those rights and moved towards more inclusion. The history of people’s early resistance of the 1800 and 1900 can be found in works of historians and journalists such as Upton Sinclair, Carey McWilliams, Howard Zinn, Robert Alvarez, Pedro Noguera, Rodolfo Acuña and others.

On a global scale, the struggle and the establishment of Socialism at the turn of the 20th century and the second wave of struggles for independence carried out by southern hemispheric “former colonies” also challenged and pushed for a more inclusive, democratic and just capitalist state model. From internal contradictory democratic ideals such as “all men are created equal” (Congress, 1776) (8) and the grassroots struggles to uphold them together with external pressures, the newly industrialized capitalist north, in particular the colonial powers were forced to give up their colonies and to up-date robber baron capitalism with a new legal framework and social contract, what many refer to as the welfare state, and reflected itself in the developing Bill of Rights and legislated entitlements.

Reforms and Efforts to Establish a Welfare State

Egalitarian efforts to establish a welfare state have been consistently made since the inception of this country and historians such as Zinn (2003) link the beginning of the welfare state to the struggle for the abolition of slavery and the 1865 Declaration of Emancipation (1990).(9) However, for the last 30 years, the dismantling of the welfare state (through a bi-partisan neoliberal market driven inertia) the state has continued to march steadily towards inequality (Stromquist, 2003; Apple,1999).

Because of this internal contradictory nature present in all state institutions (Giroux, 1983 cited in Sleeter, in press), the great movements for equality in all aspects have ebbed and flowed in periodic social convulsions and spasms with windfall legal (textual) gains made during the height of the abolition movement, during the New Deal era of the 1940’s and in the Civil Rights era of the late 1960’s. Reforms have served to create hope that victories for a fair and democratic society were possible when masses determinately organized to obtain them (Zinn, 1980). These victories also gave confidence to civil society that another world is possible and that civil society has all that is needed to bring it about. On the other hand, the Welfare state served to take on social justice issues but only to the extent and in the form that didn’t compromise the basic tenets of capitalism and the basic relationship between civil society and government.

Regardless of historic internal efforts and socialist initiatives, the movement for equality within the U.S. lost its momentum. This loss of force was in direct proportion to the loss of community control and participation of civil society and directly proportional to the amount that was delegated to be administered by government (Zinn, 2003; Parenti, 2002). The unaccountable appropriation of people’s struggles by the state set up the reform for failure. In addition, the inertia of the free market-bent capitalist state proved to be stronger during the formation of the Welfare State (Marcos in Rebeldia, May 2003). (10) Important to mention is that during periods or instances when civil society did come together to pressure, the state system feigned towards social reform by allowing some amount of state intervention, regulation and control. The Civil Rights gains of the ’60s and in other periods and incidents, such as after the Rodney King verdict rebellion, are examples of this simulation.

On the whole, however, the Welfare state set the tone for the corporate state system to continue to overturn previously hard won rights to the colored poor and the working classes and to ironically dismantle the welfare state itself (Monrraquin, Rebeldia 01, 2003; Quintana, 2001; Rust, 2000; Walters 2000).

The welfare state’s method of keeping the essential capitalist framework, while conceding on a piecemeal basis non-essentials, was to allow and encourage reforms. A veneer of representative democracy is key to the illusory creation of deep structural reform and for perpetuation or political homeostasis.

Political homeostasis can only be achieved by a critical mass of individuals benefiting through reform. The homeostatic nature of reform is and has been used as a counter balance and pressure escape valve needed to prevent the collapse of the system from the weight of its own contradictions. Since 1965 a sizable number of students of color and first generation students went through the university system. Compared to the population however, this amounted to a small percentage. Regardless, students not only went through the system, they also became part of the system and became trained in the utilization and manipulation of an unfair system for their own individual benefit (Darder, 1991). The unintended consequences of many educational reforms were that the newly “educated” became the facilitator and apologists of the market mandate, which embraced inequality (Darder, 1991). This contradiction begs the questions; Education for what? and education that will serve whom and in which way?

Even though there have been historically internal and external pressures to be equal, the U.S. never integrated large numbers of poor and language minority students. In the U.S. 10% of the Hispanic (includes Cubans) population has a college degree, but for the majority of the people poverty is increasing.(11) Instead reforms were distorted and set up for a double failure, left there under-funded, under-staffed, misrepresented (in its underlying assumptions) and cut off from its original grassroots ties through bureaucratic professionalism and institutionalization. The relative “failure” not only led to a critical rejection by corporate media and the voters, but opened the doors to neoliberal (marketers) and neo-cons that have seized on this opportunity to introduce and push what they consider to be a superior method of education based on competition and privatization (Stromquist, 2003).

Perhaps the most important point is the irony that by definition a reform is effective to the extent that it improves the central motive or raison d’etre of an undemocratic capitalist state. Reforms have been effective tools to successfully integrate and train defenders of the unequal state that in turn facilitate the replication of an unequal internal pyramid of privileges within these communities of color and within the working class (Bordieu 1990; Darder, 1991). (12)

The demise of the Soviet Union precipitated two extremely important events; it unfettered the spread of the market and market ideology and created a new opening to eliminate any aspect of the welfare state. The transformation of the welfare state to the neoliberal state is characterized by the abrogation of social contract that included social service entitlements such as education, shelter and health (Hanson, 1990; Stromquist 2003, Apple 1999).


Internally reforming the capitalist system has brought with it the unintended blow-back consequence of making capitalism better, or “proving” reform premises wrong by setting up the reform for failure under-funded, understaffed and gutted of its original spirit. (13) In addition, the socialist criticism became weakened because of it undemocratic top-down imposition and its weakened financial status and proved to be no match to the robust neo-liberal market system. This brings us to a new era in the history of the market system; one in which market forces drive national policy (Carnoy,) and one where neoliberalism is attempting to fill the economic gaps left by formerly socialist countries. Today, the winds of reform have changed its political framework to such extent that those that are the current reformer are now neoliberals that are reforming – dismantling -- destroying any previous vestiges of the welfare state social contract to provide an unfettered path to exploitation (Rust, 2000; Chomsky, Aug. 2, 2003 - La Jornada)

At this point of welfare state collapse, egalitarianizing capitalism through legislative reform has additional built-in limitations and seems to serve better as a secondary or tactical approach. The Zapatistas (Marcos, La H Tiene la Palabra, 2001) suggest that reform puede servir como de donde agarrarse or as a tactic that can increase democratic spaces to continue to focus on the strategic task of building a new type of democracy. Given the failure of traditional forms of struggle such as reform and the costly trappings of armed struggle, (which we will not talk about here) there is much discussion and activity in building participatory democracy; a democracy that necessarily is built from the bottom up.

Because the asymmetrical power relationship between people and government was left intact during the raw capitalist and welfare state periods then the neoliberal state in a sense should not be seen as the nemesis of the welfare state but instead as its logical development and consequence.

Reforms under Neoliberalism

The neoliberal state is a state that is, in the main, run by corporative interest. Arianna Huffington writes about the amount of decision-making power that corporations have in her latest book titled Pigs at the Trough (2003). Because of the unusual amount of political power that corporations have accumulated very little is left of representative democracy. We have been for some time now in a post-representative democratic period, in which reforms by the people are proving to be an illusory possibility and reforms by and for corporations monopolize the political sphere (Rust, 2000). In a neoliberal government, Stromquist points out that the state “takes educational system[s] out of the state monopoly and into the market place” (2002 p.13-14). Globalization puts pressure on the educational systems to organize itself according to the needs of the global market (Carnoy, 2000; Stromquist, 2000). This is completely contrary to the traditional notion that institutions of learning were for the purpose of “seeking truth,” as well as to address issues affecting the general welfare of civil society, such as to the problem of inequalities, and eliminate the economic stratification of society (Walters, 2000). We go back to the gnawing question of: Can the structural nature of monopoly capitalism be reformed? Is reform really a solution or is it just spinning our wheels and creating a desgaste, a burn out?

With the introduction of globalization and the liberalization of the market, the transformation of the welfare state to a neoliberal state became logically and ideologically necessary. Part of the common sense logic natural to the neoliberal state is to get further initiatives on how to reform the neoliberal state to make it better (Apple, 1999) Significant progressive reform of the Welfare state is not possible in a broken down representative democracy which only lends itself to carrying out retrogressive reforms. By taking control away from its grassroots source, the reform method has itself weakened participatory democracy to the extent that progressive reform is increasingly ideologically unimaginable as the marketed objective of the state is to broaden and deepen the market imperative.

As the globalization of corporativism quickly spreads to fill in the social and political economic system gaps, educational systems throughout the world scramble to compete to meet the still-being-defined global standard. This competition reinforces the market efficiency model as maximum dictate and has become pervasive in both educational content and form. Marketization reinforces the capitalist system to serve the global wealthy and objectively continues to marginalize the global poor -- all of this under the guise of a more efficient education (Stromquist, 2000; Carnoy, 2000; Apple, 1999; McLaren, cited in Stromquist 1998). Because of this, I am not referring to educational equality in a vacuum but one where it promotes and contributes to overall national, and most importantly, global equality. (14)

The accumulation of capital at the top creates crisis at the bottom. This crisis, in sum, can be described as the end of the welfare state (Quintana, 2001) and all its written entitlements, particularly public education (Stromquist, 2000, 2003) and even more specifically relevant content and methods in education. All vestiges of the welfare state are disappearing and education for the poor and the working class is one of the initial and most expendable cuts.

One of the imperatives of market expansionism (globalization) is the privatization or the all-encompassing application of the market method in both the form and content of the economic, political and cultural life of society. One of the aspects of market method is efficiency and a high degree of specialization. The educational system itself must become a market player and the push for privatization and marketization of public schools. Studies tend to show that this new political economic situation, much like the previous, is creating more poverty and inequality and a greater concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands (Lipman, 2000 cited in Stromquist, 2003; Oaks 2000, cited in Stromquist 2003; Carnoy, 2000; Ball, Bowe, and Gewirtz 1994 cited in Apple, 1999).

While there is no noticeable difference in the success rates for those that do attend private schools, there is an uninterrupted upward curve in the number of children who continue to drop out from public schools (Flores, 2003; Stromquist, 2003, Apple, U.S. Census 2000).(15) In a recent World Bank (WB) report the WB has admitted that privatization is not working (La Jornada, July 22, 2003).(16) This may not mean the end to privatization but to the way that privatization is carried out.

Discussion and Conclusion

Given the savage nature of neoliberalism, which intensifies the erosion of the welfare state and any gains towards equality, today’s grassroots mandate seems to be not so much to reform (although tactically still extremely important) but more importantly to create a new state (Estevas, 2001).

Given the worsening of living conditions for the poor in the U.S. and globally (Stromquist, 2003; Apple, 1999) under global capitalism, all the cumulative impact of reforms has not been sufficient to reverse or eliminate the relationship between the state and civil society, particularly felt among the working class, communities of color, and the poor.

On February 15, 2003, it is estimated that a many as 30 million (La Jornada, 2-16-03) marched to show their discontent with Bush’s administration empire-building violent plans to invade Iraq. Under the pretense of stopping terrorism, Bush convinced a vocal sector of the American public to invade Iraq. The cost of the Iraqi occupation is by different estimates to cost 20 to 61 billion U.S. dollars per year. Even the White House estimates that the occupation may last more than 10 years. In early September of 2003, Bush went before the nation to ask for an additional 87 billion to maintain the occupation. This has increased the budget deficit and severely cutbacks in education are expected to continue.

To add insult to injury, in poor Black and Latino communities, schools in poverty areas are being targeted by the armed forces for recruitment. Based on the No Child Left Behind Act, federal funds have been conditioned on schools by a requirement allowing military recruiters to be on campus and to have access to all student information.(17) In many schools in the Eastside of Los Angeles, military recruiters outnumber college recruiters by at least 2 to 1. In response, thousands of high school students throughout California and the country walked out to show their disagreement with Bush’s war efforts and the militarization of schools.

Meanwhile, it should be expected that the drop-out rate is perhaps the best indicator of inequality will continue to grow and school’s attempt to facilitate the creation of a market society will continue to be pursued. Civil society, on the other hand, is showing signs of moving in the direction of increased resistance and independence.

Although undeniable improvements have been made, reforms never had a profound structural transformational impact on either initial robber baron capitalism or on welfare state capitalism. Reforms proved to be principally (by definition) changes in the law that allow for the improved functioning of an existing system. Progressives had one reason for reforms and the system had another. The state intended to coop the efforts of civil society while progressive forces attempted to get at least temporary alleviation from particular oppressive conditions. However, reforms by definition could not change the nature of capitalism.

The education of the poor and people of color never was a priority for the state and is certainly not one today (Bourdeiu, 1990). Even if the poor were incorporated, the market state definition of success and development is in terms of macro-economic stability which usually means the assurance that there is non-obstructed facilitation of the concentration of capital at the top. Because there is relatively little room at the top, under global corporativism the majority will still be excluded. They will become the educated poor. This phenomenon already exists in southern hemispheric countries in Latin America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe.(18) Capital concentrating at the top always means that there is less money for the majority of the people at the bottom and that there is more money, resources and wealth for the few people at the top. Under a marketized system success would be to train a relatively small sector of managers and technicians that would be obedient and not contest nor look at the system critically. Policies to equalize the distribution of capital would necessarily mean the policies that would prevent the limitless accumulation of capital at the top.

Given the shifting role of the welfare state and the predominance of global supra-structures and given the U.S.’s dominating role within that structure which is making major decisions in all aspects including education, some of the questions confronting U. S. civil society include; What is the goal of U.S. public education? and What do we mean by equalization? The global corporate system can even be an efficient trainer of neoliberal technocrats and do this for a diverse group of students but this does not mean that we have education for all or more importantly that this is the type of education we want? The setting of mission, goals, and purpose of education is not determined through a participatory process that civil society is involved in changing and constructing but is set in response to capitalist neoliberal state needs and possibilities. The question is asked, “Can individuals from poor classes be integrated?” The answer is obviously “yes.” But if the question were, “Can the vast majority be integrated?” the answer would be “no.” If the question was, “Can all be integrated and treated as equals?” the answer is definitely “no.”

The downside to reformist strategies is that more than ever (as the state is driven more and more by market techniques) the state has the ability to either reject or absorb reforms through the process of institutionalizing them and disconnecting them from the grassroots base.

“If so and so made it you can make it too.” In the face of it, this advise from high school counselors, teachers and many parents seems to be a great improvement over you are not smart enough or forget it. The “Get yourself a factory job” former cliché is unfortunately still coming out of neanderthalian mentors. But, without a critical view of education, an education may become another opportunity for a devastating brain drain of local communities, of students being lured into corporate suicide, into reaping personal benefit at the cost of collective development. So perhaps the question is not “Can capitalist education be the equalizer it purports to be?,” but “How is it that we can learn from our experience with the educational system under the current transformation of global capitalism to help establish a new system with new goals which then its institution of education would serve?” Freire calls it a solidarity state, the Zapatista call it a state in a world where all worlds fit.

A pedagogy of love and hope is not on the agenda of the neoliberal state. Education for the purpose of creating not only equality within the U.S. but a globalization of equality is however on the agenda of an increasing number of people and movements of people. That is a global equality that is brought about by and that contributes to the fair, equal and sustainable distribution of global resources.

One possible path that we can take since the reform path seems inaccessible, is education for the reconstruction of politically-independent communities by and for communities; education for a dialectical and dialogical learning within the communities that would result in a deeper understanding of who that community is and what it can do for itself; Education for the purpose of civil society understanding the power it already has; Education for the purpose of controlling the accumulation of capital and looking at reforms as a way of expanding space for the creation of a new system from the bottom and not as something that will be there for ever.

The Eastside Café -- Another World is Possible

For the last 3 years, I have been working with a network of collectives and individuals called The Eastside Café. The Eastside Café’s logo is “not a place...a state of mind” and its mission is to rebuild and reconstruct community. In the situation we live in today, where the state and its educational apparatus is transforming into an institution for and by the market but still serves to control formal education, education for and by the market leaves out more and more individuals. In this situation of maximum efficiency, schools act as competitive mills and filters separating the entrepreneurs from the rest (the majority). Many organizations like the Eastside Café are offering alternative views of education and knowledge. Transformative education, whether formal or informal, is valuable (Mayo, 1998). As the system transforms from a semi-welfare state to a neoliberal state, it convulses and there seems to be less stable ground within the system to create liberatory spaces within the system. The general trend toward the consolidation of a global corporate supra-structure has paradoxically prepared civil society to provide for itself, to take back its life and to accomplish liberty no matter where one is. The Eastside Café as many other grassroots organizations are attempting to provide through informal and non-formal means the communication and learning necessary to create a new and different world. To help accomplish this The Eastside Café has developed the community scholars’ program, which focuses on bringing out the value of self-development in critical thinking and going to college not for the purpose of leaving the deteriorating barrio and inner city neighborhood, but in working within the neighborhood as the place were one realizes the power that one has. The Eastside Café encourages community scholars to focus their attention and go to school as critical agents that will help transform not only the school they are in while they are there but work with the community so that the meaning of their scholarship is maximized.

  • Part 2 - Where Does Power Come From?
  • Part 3 - Multiculturalism or Critical Multiculturalism
  • (Links to Footnotes,and References open a new browser window for easy reference.)

Published in In Motion Magazine October 16, 2003.