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Teaching After the Market: From Commodity to Cosmopolitan

by Allan Luke - 2004

This essay is a philosophical and sociological reconsideration of the nature of teaching and work. It draws broadly from the sociology of Pierre Bourdieu and materialist models of the economic subject. It begins from an acknowledgment and review of the critiques of current policy orientations to testing and accountability in the United States, Australia, and the United Kingdom. One of the principal effects is the reconstruction of the teacher as commodity fetishist. The case is made that reassertions of definitions of teaching as craft and profession are of limited value in responding to new economic and policy conditions. A proposal is made for the reenvisioning of teachers and teaching in relation to cosmopolitan, transcultural contexts and conditions.

In a USA Today survey on American attitudes towards occupations (‘‘Who Do Americans Trust?’’ 2002, p. 1), teachers were listed in the top tier of people to have won American ‘‘public trust’’─ alongside small businesspeople, police, and firefighters, but well above politicians, stockbrokers, and, at the bottom of the list, corporate CEOs and priests. In countries governed by opinion polls these are pyrrhic victories at best, particularly in the United States where teachers and their work have been the objects of increasing direct government intervention and management and conservative criticism in the past 5 years. These include efforts to shape and surveil teacher certification (e.g., NCATE in the United States; teacher registration boards in Canada and Australia) (Cochran-Smith & Dudley-Marling, 2001), large-scale teacher testing (e.g., Darling-Hammond, 2001), the specification of academic curriculum content and pedagogic procedures in teacher education programs by state authorities (e.g., California’s reading initiative) (Garan, 2001), and current moves to standardize classroom instruction through mandated curriculum packages following the controversial findings of the U.S. National Reading Panel (Ehri et al., 2001). Variations on these policy moves are underway in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and elsewhere (e.g., Weiner, 2003).

Whatever its empirical or political origins, the American attack on teaching has been aided and abetted by powerful right wing public interest lobbies, who have directly funded, supported, and published critiques of teacher education, calls for teacher testing, as part of a larger agenda for the marketization of state schooling (Laitsch, Heilman, & Shaker, 2002). On November 18, 2002, this culminated in a call by Reid Lyon, Chief of Child Development and Behaviour of the National Institute of Child Health and Development, advisor to the Bush government and driving force behind the National Reading Panel, to ‘‘blow up colleges of education.’’1

In Commonwealth countries, royal commissions, reforms, inquiries, and parliamentary examinations into teachers, teaching, and teacher education are not simply signs of state ministerial and bureaucratic dissatisfaction with teaching and student performance. They have also been motivated by the implications for teachers’ work of complex transitions in union/employer relationships, unresolved issues about what to do with new technologies, the increasing diversity of student bodies, and the workload and professional development consequences of what appears to curriculum departments within ministries to be an infinitely expandable and elastic curriculum. At the same time, in many state and regional jurisdictions teachers constitute the largest single workforces in the economy,2 potentially a formidable political force but one whose action historically has been focused principally on issues of pay and working conditions.

In The Logic of Practice, Pierre Bourdieu (1990, p. 121) argues that trust, reputation, and honor are dependent on a profession’s symbolic capital in social fields of value. Bearing in mind the local complexity and political economies within which debates over teachers and professionalism are undertaken─ and trying to be sensitive, perhaps overly so, to the degree to which the debates over teachers and teaching themselves have become almost painfully local and parochial from all sides─ I begin from a necessarily theoretical question that borrows from Bourdieu: How would we begin to redefine and reframe, rebuild and rework the cultural and social capital of teachers at this particular historical moment? Where and on what programmatic and normative grounds would we begin in a cluttered and confused social field where schooling has become spectator sport─ as bureaucrats and senior public servants like Lyon, teachers’ unions, professional organizations, policy think tanks, academics, journalists and politicians, and conservative lobby groups conduct a free-for-all over standards, research evidence, claims of decline, market share, and the overall credibility of public schooling? Or to the theoretical point: Is it possible to redefine and reboundary the social field of teaching and education?

There are clear patterns in the public debate to date. Teachers and teaching become the objects of scrutiny and critique right at key junctures of social, economic, and cultural change. The common discourse strategy of the political right is a shunting of responsibility for changes in youth culture, community demographics, and employment, and, indeed, moral stance to schooling as cause and concomitant of such changes. Teachers and teaching get blamed for everything from deteriorating physical plants and eroded funding of schools, changing family structure and community social relations, youth unemployment, to changes in identity and dominant technologies for intellectual formation and cultural expression. The current debates are, at least in part, attributable to larger, unresolved ideological matters as nation states, institutions, and communities struggle to understand and articulate new and viable narrative accounts of life pathways into and around economies and cultures that are visibly in transition (Luke & Luke, 2001).

But at the same time, the response of many teachers’ unions, professional organizations and teacher educators has often been an acritical defence of these self-same systems and practices that themselves are struggling to identify, name, and contend with new material conditions and discourses. While they are crucial and necessary matters, better pay, smaller class size, improved per capita state funding of teacher education, and better funded professional development in and of themselves will not prepare teachers sufficiently for what are fundamental educational challenges posed by difficult economic conditions, new formations of youth, and new forms of work. The difficulty of the situation is compounded by the tendency of many educational theorists, researchers, and policy makers, across a broad ideological and methodological spectrum, to offer a counterhypothesis: that an adjustment of current educational interventions─ whether curricular, instructional, or evaluative─ has the potential to redress both residual and emergent structural social and economic inequality. Going all the way back to Coleman, this is an equally theoretically suspect and empirically vulnerable claim. As Michael Apple’s (2001, p. 97) recent comments suggest, the failure of progressive and democratic educational constituencies to articulate a forward-looking, strategic alternative to neoliberal governance and teacher deskilling marks a ‘‘tragic absence’’ in public debate and educational activism. But, apart from a defense of professionalism versus deskilling, of craft versus proletarianized work, what would such a new positive thesis for teaching and teacher educators look like?

Narrow debates over scientific evidence aside, the breadth of international sociodemographic and social policy data can only lead to the conclusion that we are at a critical moment. The empirical conditions and contexts of schooling, identity, and knowledge formation are changed and changing. Schools, teachers and students face the accelerated power and contradiction of forces of late and globalized capitalism. The actual community contexts, social, human, and fiscal resources for schooling are not those of the relatively stable postwar periods, which spawned many of our current educational interventions and policy strategies. Human subjectivities and their varied life narratives and patterns are changing, with shifting and risky life pathways to and through schooling to insecure employment prospects and markets. Schools across national and regional jurisdictions in North and West, South and East are still struggling to contend with cultural and linguistic diversity, and, now are attempting to deal with the epistemological diversity affiliated with popular media, world youth cultures, and new technologies. Although these are still taken as classical signs of deficit in many staffrooms, boardrooms, and among particular research communities, shifting family shapes, mobile communities and new, for many teachers unrecognizable, forms of identity will not go away. Quite the contrary, they seem to morph and shift even as traditional educational approaches, methods, and structures struggle to respond to them.

The structural conditions for supporting educational institutions also have been in transition. In the case of Australian education, despite the levels of funding of state and nonstate education holding steady at around a quarter of state budgets, an increasing burden of overall expenditures has been shifted from taxation bases to fees. This has been abetted by changes in allocative formulae that effectively have increased the federal subsidy of private and religious schools. In many ways, the truly radical alternative to the assumption that educational reform must occur either in a zero-sum public funding environment or through privatization was put by the Labor Party in the run-up to the 2000 Australian federal election: a flat taxation levy for education to recommit a significant percentage of public spending, bringing Australia’s spending back up towards OECD comparable levels or those of educationally-focused nations like Singapore.

In an object lesson for U.S. researchers studying vouchers and charter schools as forms of marketization, the process of privatization of Australian state schooling has been ongoing, taking various guises, with around 30% of Australian students attending taxpayer-subsidized nongovernment schooling, some of it not covered by any educational credentialing or regulatory systems beyond the licensing of basic health and physical plant standards. In such a context, to argue that marketization and technocratic commodification are responsible and viable educational responses to new conditions is contestable, empirically questionable (cf. Luke, 2003a, 2003b; Darling- Hammond, 2003), and, from a policy perspective, tautological; that is, there is an implicit claim that the rules of the market will shake out structural educational deficiencies and problems that, arguably are exacerbated if not caused by the market. At the same time, I agree with Apple that to maintain a defense of an industrial system of schooling and particular version of the teacher and teaching tied to a progressive response to modernity and industrialism may be equally risky, both empirically problematic and strategically naive.

Australian schools, and their American and British, Canadian, and New Zealand counterparts, now have in place two decades of conservative, neo-liberal governance and managerial reforms. Taken together, these reforms include the following:

devolved school management and a business model of education at the local level, monitored through new standards for institutional performativity; gauged through

universal standardized norm-referenced achievement testing; accompanied by

expanding and often untrained usage of other standardized measures in schools and classrooms; and,

a rapid and ad hoc proliferation of compensatory pull-out programs for dealing with the aforementioned cultural, linguistic and epistemological diversity; relatedly,

a universal and growing expenditure on behavior management programs; in the context of

the slow-cycle implementation of outcomes-based curricula, with voluminous print-based documentation and infrastructure in place in all states; one affiliated total effect of which is

increased usage of packaged and commodified instruction, reinforcing worksheet pedagogic practices.

In sum, the response to the new configurations of student diversity and affiliated differential patterns of achievement has been marketization and an agglomerative approach to compensatory programs that range from classical remediation to mainstreaming, each with specific tied funding and powerful constituency lobby support (e.g., special education, behaviour management, speech pathology, ESL programs, Reading Recovery, counselling and educational psychology). At the same time, there are moves to further standardize and tighten curriculum to deal with variation.

Regardless where any of us might stand vis-a-vis any particular educational analysis of the ideological bases or educational consequences of such developments the change achieved over a decade by both Coalition and Labor federal and state governments in Australia (and in the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand) has been dramatic. Market ideology has been infused into different levels of the educational system in less than two decades. Its extent would almost certainly qualify Australia for IMF structural adjustment funding if we had developing nation status, as countries throughout Asia, the Americas, Africa, and the Middle East are being required to emulate many of these managerial models in the modernization of their educational systems (e.g., Nozaki, Openshaw, & Luke, in press). At the same time, any NGO (i.e., nongovernment organization of the sort that both in the United States and internationally increasingly influence and drive public policy making) suggesting that neoliberal reform is the solution to a paradigm crisis in educational governance and practice would have had to been elsewhere in the last decade.

What is missing here is any attempt to radically reenvision or reinvent pedagogic practice. Conceptually and politically, these are tactical rather than strategic fixes. That is, they are attempts to modify the existing system, to somehow keep it on the road in the face of difficult and unprecedented conditions, without doing the practical policy and development work required by the radical reconstruction of student epistemology and ontology, new forms of knowledge, power and practice, and changing social fields and attendant forms of life.

Taken together, current reforms are demonstrably and visibly struggling to increase the ostensive efficacy of schooling, even as they attempt to redefine the criteria of efficacy in, from the perspective of the social and educational history of assessment and measurement (Shepard, 2000), somewhat anachronistic terms. Suffice to say that these efforts do not align with the lofty goals of systems’ attempts to embrace knowledge economies and global connectivity. Following initial effects and impacts, test scores have stalled in many states (e.g., Calfee, 2003), and how improved numbers actually flow through to expanded educational participation, improved life pathways, employability and mobility, civic decency, and ethical business remains, at best, empirically and conceptually unclear.

Quite the contrary, the largest classroom-based study in Australian education (Lingard et al., 2002) found emergent evidence that the ideological combination of a basic skills curriculum model and local school management as business ethos have the potential at least to exacerbate disparities in educational achievement. In that study, many teachers reported that the testing, basic skills, and accountability push had encouraged a narrowing of the curriculum. This is apparently affiliated with the study’s other key finding: a shaving off of higher order and critical thinking and a lowering of cognitive demand and intellectual depth (cf. Newmann et al., 1996).

To refocus on teachers and teaching, what is most interesting are not the most overt aspects of such reforms─ the change in systems-level administration and school-management to fit mercantile practices and new age metaphors─ but rather the ways in which teaching has increasingly been appropriated both by curriculum and instructional commodities and the extent to which teachers have moved towards consumer-like behavior.

As for teachers’ work, there are two immediate impacts of the suite of reforms noted above: first, near universal work intensification, as teachers struggle to keep systems designed for a different era operating with a veneer of educational efficacy and public credibility. Much of the intensification focuses on the management of diversity, through the planning of multiple lessons and materials, and classroom and behavior management issues, and on the paper and systems compliance activities required by systems accountability and school-based management systems.

Second is a retrograde recommodification of knowledge, as systems and teachers increasingly turn or return to an industrial model of teaching, with packages, tests, and standardized pedagogic sequences seen as enabling both compliance to new criteria for performativity and, more to the point, simple occupational survival in a work environment of proliferating curricular and administrative bids for time. As I argued previously, the attempts at reform, of variable educational ideology and quality, share an overall agglomerative approach, which, if unattended to, can create an avalanche of systems compliance requirements at all levels. This leads not only to change fatigue and cynicism in the workplace, but it also signals an ostensible difficulty in prioritizing change and coordinating reform at senior levels of bureaucracy and government (Luke, in press, b). For teachers, the result is a volatile cocktail of accountability, compliance, and work intensification that increases the allure of commodity. The effect, I argue here, is to turn teaching into a neoclassical form of commodity fetishism.

Our response as a profession in Australia, and as an intellectual/academic community, has been to reassert the principles of democratic, state education and of egalitarianism─ in effect reassembling the dialectics of Dewey’s (1966) seminal response to the industrial nation state, Democracy and Education, while recovering and defending what from the 1970s on was a key element in the modernisation of Australian institutional and economic life. This agenda turns on an assertion of Australian egalitarianism, about the need for a fair go, about the right and entitlement to education for all, the necessity of a common curriculum, preparation for democratic citizenship (which, in relation to digital and globalized civic spaces, geopolitical secular and nonsecular conflict, we don’t fully understand yet), and the demand for a system that brings together in common experience and cause an increasingly culturally and linguistically diverse community. Analytically, as in various critical projects elsewhere, its sustainability depends on a reconnoitering of Dewey’s neo-Hegelian dialectics: to balance the skilling of a population for gainful and productive labor within a late capitalism that continually warrants critique, while we try to find productive and agentive pathways through, around, within, and against it for ourselves and our students, and struggle to build and maintain a strong, equitable civic sphere and ongoing radical social transformation. Yet as powerful as these arguments should and must be, the profession, whatever it has become, whatever and whomever it entails, wherever it exists, and whomever it actually is, has yet to articulate a powerful, new strategic vision of teachers and teaching for new times. Here I want to argue for a vision of teaching as cosmopolitan work and profession in critical and contingent relation to the flows, contexts and consequences of cultural and economic globalisation. This is the conversation we need to haveFnot a parochial or national one about teacher testing, licensing, or local needs of systems for curriculum implementers or school-based managers but a whole scale reenvisioning of teachers and teaching across time and space, be- yond narrow regional parochialism, state regulation, and ethno/national epistemologies.

What if we considered teaching not as profession, not as a kind of reified, universal phenomenon the characteristics of which we struggle to map onto competency scales and teacher education outcomes statements, teacher education curriculum, and industrial agreements but rather as dynamic social field (Grenfell & James, 1998)? By such an account, we could refigure teaching as a complex set of relational exchanges between heterogeneous and differentially positioned human subjects, as a form of dialogic intersubjectivity that occurs within the constraints of dynamic institutions, instead of the traditional subject/object relations presupposed in the current U.S. push for objective evidence for schooling. Such an approach to teaching also might deparochialize it, without universalising it, looking for confluences, similarities, and points of overlap between teachers working in very different national and political economic contexts.

We could accordingly view the teacher not as psychological composite or sociological ideal type, which so much of the literature on teaching and teacher education does, but rather as situated within and in relationship to institutional fields of regional and national governance, and the capital production of goods and texts, but also in relation to the emergence of larger transnational economies, and their affiliated cultures and identities. We could also expand existing sociological definitions by arguing for the necessity not just of teachers’ cultural capital per se (that is, their internalized and evidenced skills, knowledges, bodily dispositions, intuitions, capacities and so forth), but rather as requiring forms of intercultural capital, that is, the capacity to engage in acts of knowledge, power and exchange across time/space divides and social geographies, across diverse communities, populations and epistemic stances. Accordingly, the questions around teachers and teacher education could become: How would we reenvision democratic education in the conditions of later globalized capitalism? And, accordingly, how would we want to reshape and rework the symbolic, cultural, and social capital of teachers for these new conditions? Or, what could teaching beyond but within the nation be?

What follows, then, is an attempt to move beyond the critique of the neoliberal redefinition and reorganization of teachers’ work and toward a new positive thesis. Here I want to ask how we can reconceptualize teaching and teachers in terms of capital, in terms of their particular baskets or portfolios of capital, in relation to how, where and to what ends such capital might be deployed in new times, with an explicitly normative agenda about the deployment of that capital in relation to an educational agenda that is transnational and cosmopolitan. What if we envisioned as part of our rethinking of democratic education a reconstruction of teachers and students as world citizens, thinkers, intellectuals, and critics and within this context, as national and community-based subjects?


William James’s (1899/2001) prototypical modern treatise on education, Talks to Teachers on Psychology, claimed pedagogy as the ‘‘art and science of teaching’’. It is this tension that aptly defines the current push for objectivist, positivist sciences of education (in the service of what is called evidence-based policy) versus an insistent humanist defense of teaching as meaningful intersubjective action. It is worthwhile to recall that at the point of the founding of educational psychology, James, Harvard’s first self-professed psychologist with an appointment in philosophy, was offering psychological science as a balance to the domination of pedagogy and teaching by a nonsecular moral/philosophic/aesthetic discipline. That is, the earliest scientization of pedagogy was a response and reaction to a nineteenth century educational amalgam that was very much a blend of protestant moral discipline and colonialism.

Drawing from preindustrial economies, we can of course define teaching as craft (e.g., Calderhead, 1988). Craft work entails artisan eye and skill, design, and execution. The power and currency of the metaphor of teaching as craft is that it suits well notions of teaching as master/apprentice relationship, complementary as well to current sociocultural psychology and the focus on communities of practice in the educational change and reform literature. But there are many further applications of the metaphor here. Among them, we could ask whether the teacher as craftsperson actually is engaged in mentoring and apprenticing children into transformative cultural practices, signifying systems, participation in economic fields, and agentive participation in civic life? Or does the craftsperson reproduce craft, as in a master/apprentice relationship. To what degree, where, and how does the craft metaphor enable innovation of design, as well as execution of task? Analytically, the craft metaphor invokes a dialectic of the local reproduction and disciplining of skill, and of the provision of space within that training for design, redesign, innovation, and extrapolation (cf. New London Group, 1996).

Further, as a model of preindustrial work, craft implies a degree of extra-institutional autonomy (e.g., in relation to the guild, but often in cottage industry or unsurveilled settings) that teachers might once have had and probably retain only in rural and isolated one or two room schools. For those who taught up country or in the bush, pedagogical autonomy and the need to work in multiaged settings is a key aspect of teaching in rural and remote schools. The metaphor of craft implies one’s right to select and work with materials, to combine and modify these material resources, to have autonomy in design, in envisioning and shaping the ultimate artefacts that are created, and in making varied rather than uniform products given available resources. But it is important to bear in mind that historically the craftsperson also was tied to productive exchange in an emergent mercantile economy. The craftsperson also was wholly dependent on the exchange value of the goods produced. While the ideal of connecting conception with execution might indeed be Braverman’s (1976) ideal of unalienated labor, no such singular autonomy has existed in teaching qua institutionally governed waged labor for over a century, not incidentally, since the remodelling and expansion of mass state schooling for industrial, urban economies.

Teaching remains tool and semiotic code work, entailing the organization of intersubjective and intrapsychological discourse work with cognitve, aesthetic, and semiotic artifacts. It is nonetheless intrinsically and intimately institutional in character. What this means is that whatever scaffolding and pedagogical orchestration of intersubjective relations we undertake (via direct instruction, authentic pedagogies, or whatever) in the classroom sit within a political economy, a division of pedagogic/discourse labor, and within larger material relations between spatially located and discursively positioned classes of human subjects. That is, whatever craft and aesthetic work remains in teaching, and however ostensibly pure its constructivist aspirations, local task or invention necessarily sit within and index broader social and economic relations. As Yrjo Engestrom’s updating of Leontev’s sociocultural activity theory argues, tool use and skill acquisition, mentoring and scaffolding, necessarily produce and reproduce divisions of labor (cf. Cole, Engestrom, & Vasquez, 1997).

As a result, the crass objectivism and economism of the technocratic and market-oriented educational reforms described above have a self-fulfilling social and economic facticity about them. Hence their commonsense appeal: that the principal purpose of teaching is the seamless reproduction of job skills, needed by economy, by nation, and, by the prospective worker/citizen. Not the least of this is a training and disciplining of students into how to recognize what counts as teaching and, in many instances, to aspire to participate in what is an increasingly pedagogized civic and commercial sphere, where everyone and everybody, from infotainment stars to home shopping, from news readers to Oprah, from politicians to salesmen are involved in overt pedagogic acts. As social fields, the public pedagogies (Luke, 1998) of everyday life overlap and inform teaching and schooling, but at the same time can look extremely school-like in their generic shapes and linguistic registers.

That calculable institutional systems can be reorganised for the optimal, efficient production of that worker/citizen qua raw material turned into usable capital should surprise nobody. No one could accuse the current versions of the human capital rationale of subtlety or deception about the aims and processes of education that they presuppose. And in the evacuation from grand narratives about the moral and civic purposes of education pre-9/11 (Luke, in press, a), the sanctity and orthodoxy of the human capital model stands apart, dominant as a new form of common sense among bureaucrats, politicians, corporate and business leaders, and parents and students.

But what is so interesting is the degree to which human capital-based educational policy, while it professes to be the relevant and powerful response to new economic and social contingencies, seems to have missed the point about the new work order (Gee, Hull, & Lankshear, 1998) so blatantly. On the one hand, most state educational policies have begun to profess the systemic necessities of new service and semiotic work, networked and globalized regional economies,3 while on the other hand the most advanced systems such as the United States and the United Kingdom appear to have adopted industrial/pedagogic strategies for remaking the teacher and teachers’ work that have their genesis in the early 20th century behaviorism of Watson and Taylor, Thorndike and Skinner. Simply, the attempt to move toward setting in place the conditions for the production or even the imagining of the new teacher has lagged even further behind attempts via curriculum reform to address new economies. The fundamental trappings of preservice and in-service training, practica within industrial-era physical plants, and the management of teachers to optimize curriculum compliance and test score production, the focus on teacher outcome competency/skill taxonomies, and the proliferation of teacher testing, the moves towards a more systematic managerial calculus for the production of the teacher and teaching are simply products of another political economy, another epistemological universe, another institutional era. Notably, to simply add IT requirements and standards or, for that matter, token commentary on linguistic minority or special needs clientele to generic teaching standards underlines the poverty of current teacher education debates.

The story of how this came about is, of course, well rehearsed in the history and folklore of American eduction. The long tradition of the industrialization of teaching as work was begun in earnest by the application of Fordist and Taylorist principles to school architectural design, school administration, curriculum design, testing, and funding in the first two decades of the last century (Callahan 1962). The aim of a comprehensive teacher-proofed package of textbook, student workbook, and teacher guidebook materials long predates 1970s calls for a technology of teaching by Skinnerians. It can be traced to their intellectual forebearer E. L. Thorndike, whose vision of educational progressivism was that an objectivist behaviorism and led to philososphic and practical clashes with John and Edith Dewey at Teachers College. As early as the 1920s, Thorndike envisioned a textbook and teachers’ guidebook that would, in effect, micromanage teacher behavior to maximize the efficiency of teaching, at the same time, devised the prototypes and principles for standardized, norm-referenced achievement testing as the quality control device to assess that efficacy (Luke, 1988).

Given all the current enthusiasm for postmodern theories of knowledge and for post-Fordist models of work both within and outside of schools, it is almost ironic that the terms of our debate over teachers and teaching is a reiteration, almost a century later, of the Thorndike/Dewey debate, shunting between an objectivist, scientific technicism and child-centered progressive humanism, between what James called ‘‘science’’ and ‘‘art.’’ Now as then both justify themselves as committed to reform, as viable structural responses to new economic and social conditions, and as the most powerful responses to educational inequality.

It was Michael Apple’s (1981) landmark work of the late 1970s that applied Braverman’s analysis of the industrial deskilling of work to a critique of the Thorndike/Skinner model of teachers’ work. This led to studies of how teachers use commoditized curriculum packages as part of a larger political economy of textbooks and knowledge construction. More recent work continues to follow this argument, extending it into the study of teachers as consumers of multinational products, with media comarketing. Most recently, the U.S. federal government tied Title I funding to the use of scientifically proven curriculum materials in No Child Left Behind. This has amounted to a defacto endorsement of Open Court Readers and other phonics-based reading series nationally, in effect both shifting and reshaping the multi-billion dollar multinational textbook market towards particular, basic skills orientations to literacy (Allington, 2002). In this regard, while the emergent commodification and marketing industry targets early childhood through a range of cross-media products, and while publishers like McGraw-Hill have begun to provide digital products as adjuncts to print classics like SRA Reading Packages (Luke, Carrington, & Kapitzke, in press)─ the old industrial/print political economy of textbooks has reconsolidated itself in conjunction with the neoliberal reform I have described here. Programs like Open Court become defacto national mandates, with parallels in the mandated literacy materials in Australia and the U.K.

This process of commodification has several profound educational effects (Decastell, Luke, & Luke, 1989). First, it has translated educational practice into a form of commodity fetishism. That is, it predicates the efficacy of educational policy, the practice of teaching, and particular versions of student outcomes on product use. The operational assumptions are that the right method, textually encoded into a particular commodity and, and then decoded and remediated into a normalized set of behaviors around the text/ commodity constitute an optimal educational practice and experience. This translates teachers’ work into what Marx (1976, p. 711) termed productive consumption. Marx distinguished ‘‘final production’’ and ‘‘productive consumption’’ from the ‘‘individual consumption’’ undertaken by human subjects as market consumers outside of their waged labor (Fine, 2002, p. 64). However, in postmodern semiotic economies more generally, the relation- ships between productive and individual consumption have become blurred. To return to our model of craft, for the preindustrial craft or for industrial production alike workers principally were involved in the consumption of raw materials to produce goods with exchange or market value. In the case of semiotic and postindustrial work like teaching, teachers actually become the consumers of marketed commodities that are themselves semiotic production. As teaching is necessarily text/discourse work, teachers become the handlers, recyclers and potential remediators of textual products. They may act as ciphers and ventriloquists for the already written and coded messages of packaged curriculum. In this regard, marketized pedagogy involves a coequation of teachers’ work and teachers’ consumption.

What I am outlining here is something more than economism and marketization, broadly described. It involves an historical convergence of:

neoliberal management and administration;

a reassertion of early 20th century logical positivism as the official science underpinning testing/assessment to curriculum;

a huge national and regional multi-million dollar state/statutory enterprise in the production, specification and construction, enforcement of grids of outcomes, however contested and subverted, for students and teachers;

a reinvigorated political economy which brings together policy production and textbook production, the latter a multibillion dollar industry dominated by transnational knowledge and media corporations; with

a redefinition of educational research as market commodity qua objective product testing and market research; leading to the reframing of educational policy as commodity testing, purchase and endorsement.

In terms of teaching, this represents a new synthesis of the technocratic/ industrial model of education, with huge potential for large-scale deskilling and deprofessionalization of yet another generation of teachers. Since the powerful critique mounted by the new sociology of education in the 1970s and 80s, this seems to be hardly new news, either theoretically or empirically. But the dimension I have focused on here is the recasting of teachers themselves as commodity fetishists─ as lacking, wanting, and desiring consumers─ and the reframing of pedagogy not simply as enacting a deskilled script, which Apple explained in his original 1981 analysis, but moreover of pedagogy as a relationship between consumer and product, with the semiotic re/presentation and redeployment of this to a third party, the student, in the scaffolded social and discourse milieux of the classroom. In this way, the subject/object, teacher/commodity dualism I referred to earlier has been repunctuated yet again. The curricular commodity is discourse-producing subject and the teacher is constituent object of these discourses. At once, the teacher is desiring subject and object of the market, with the curricular commodity as object of desire. At the same time, this move has transformed educational research, driven by universities desperate to substitute commercial activities and contract research for the same public disinvestment in education noted at the onset of this essay, into a kind of market research in the service of these new forms of commodity fetishism. Hence, the recent important and lively internal debate amongst the editorial board of Reading Research Quarterly on the ethics and publication protocols for research on commercial product developed, endorsed, or sponsored by the researchers.

The response to this kind of model in critical policy debates and among teacher educators has been to reassert a model of teacher as professional, implying models of self-governance, autonomy, self-surveillance, and trusted management of the self. There are, of course, extensive and contending definitions of what counts as a professional. But to return to Bourdieu’s metaphor of trust and honor, the professional gains ostensible autonomy and trust that accompany autonomy, through demonstration in the habitus of having internalised an epistemological self-surveillance. That is, the symbolic capital requisite for a professional is that of trustworthiness, having acquired the demonstrable self-discipline to profess, an act that, Derrida (2002) recently argued, is more about an evocation, a ritual doing and performing of education than the constantive claim of having or transmitting knowledge. Accordingly, to do profession implies just that, the capacity to publicly and performatively stand for and on behalf of a particular form of life, rather than knowing something or having specific skills per se. This─ in an environment where to be a teacher may entail the visible possession and manipulation of commodity, whether that be textbook or software, worksheet or package.

Credentialling, the deeming of institutional capital, is a key component for verifying that the professional in question has embodied the normative practices, discourses and disciplines required to be able to operate in loco parentis, without overt and direct surveillance either by parents, by governments, and so on. But increasingly the accountability functions of educational governance suggest that that the teacher also operates in loco politicus, as a stand-in for bureaucratic governance. In each case, specialized discourses─ the law, medicine─ are deemed as requiring specialized knowledge that laypeople and clients in and of themselves cannot sit directly or daily in judgment, both from lack of access to specialized cant and also because it would impinge on the daily flow of work and the specialists’ capacity to do the work.

The reassertion of professionalism by teachers thus is an ironic move in the forms of solidarity and class consciousness that it signals, given the encroachment of the aforementioned accountability, standardized commodity and testing on industrial wage and status conditions. The defense of teaching as profession versus industrial work is progressively less tenable, as we move increasingly towards a new dialectics of surveillance and self-surveillance across professions. One of the most interesting moves is the degree to which doctors, priests, lawyers, and CEOs, as they drop down the most trusted opinion polls, now face stricter regulatory regimes, direct inspection, and surveillance (one could imagine a competency grid for priests, or an Educational Testing Service credentialing benchmark for CEOs and stockbrokers but I’m certain they’ve been considered). Consider also recent debates over the relationships between medical practitioners and the pharmaceutical multinationals. Here issues have arisen about the patterns of corporate sponsorship, marketing, and product endorsement and the degree to which these mark out a new terrain of the general practitioner as paid or sponsored commodity endorser, user and dispenser.

As with the craft model, the actual working contexts on which the concept of professionalism was founded have been destabilized and historically superseded. I would argue that the concept of professionalism has in fact become a regulative rather than constitutive principle of teachers’ work, attempting to reassert a defacto model of autonomy and independence as a defense against the encroachment of commodity fetishism. But in and of itself this does not provide sufficiently clear normative grounds for the actual kinds of capital─ cultural, social, and symbolic─ that might be necessary to rebuild teaching as work in a reenvisioned model of democratic education. I conclude with some preliminary notes on that task.


Where to after the ‘‘pedagogical juggernaut’’ (Ong, 1958) of corporate, marketized and rationalized texts and education? To critique the commodity fetishism of textbook products and the production of performance indicators as an assault on the democratic ideals of universal state education is hardly novel or clever, here or in educational sociology and philosophy more generally. Such critiques remain necessary analytic and political moves. But they don’t suffice for a new positive thesis about teaching as work and as social field in relation to the configurations of state and capital, culture and community.

Teaching and schooling historically have been developed as technologies of nation, nationality, and nationalism. This means that they have been juridically territorialized. That is, teaching and schooling have been defined, regulated, and, quite literally, fenced in by powerful statutory responsibilities to the local. Deans and program directors are constantly reminded of this by the restrictions on practicum placements and by increasing direct pressure by local employing authorities and state bureaucracies to gain control over content of curriculum methods courses (e.g., the current push in California to inspect and monitor curriculum content in reading courses in the state universities’ teacher education programs). In many international sites teacher education is increasingly becoming a narrow training in how to do a particular educational jurisdiction’s curriculum and how to work its particular assessment grids and systems. Its craftlike apprenticeships are conducted in local sites, allowing a production and reproduction of the parochial, however inexact that initiation into the regulative behaviours, interactional norms, discourses and forms of discipline might be. In this regard, the teacher qua professional is prepared and entitled to profess the local, the regional, and the national. While our critical analyses might argue for new forms of democratic education, we rarely question this structural isomorphism that defines and constrains a priori the epistemological parameters of teachers and teaching: that teachers are trained, however explicitly or implicitly, as advocates of the nation state, and to varying degrees, the region, province and local district. Teachers are licensed to practice locally, and the vast majority of them stay within the territories and jurisdictions where they were trained.

There are several interesting historical contradictions at work here, particularly as these school systems attempt to shift human capital production in response to transnational information/service economies. First, educational systems of the North/West have begun to move to produce world kids with GATT-transportable, generic skills, knowledge, and competences. As the ongoing EU credentialing negotiations have shown, the transportability of the professional degrees, credentials and registration is a substantive free trade/tariff/boundary issue (cf. Marginson & Considine, 2000). That is, one response to new conditions is to construct an educated human subject who has transportable and generic characteristics rather than those that solely entitle and enable participation in a relatively static local employment market.4 At the same time, there has been a subordination of moral and ethical training to the production of job skills.

A second, further knowledge effect of the local regulation of teacher education and teachers’ work is to limit the hybridization and blending of forms of professional habitus by delimiting the social fields that count as legitimate for teaching practice. That is, teacher training, practica, and local statutory regulations on licensing have the effect of circumscribing the social fields for training and thereby limiting the kinds of cultural and social capital that will count as entitling one to profess, to teach, and to educate. In many teacher training programs, this means that curricular content and field experience are narrowly local or regional in character, with all that this might imply in terms of the setting of epistemological horizons and engagement with other life worlds of teaching and learning. The regionalism and localism, further, is often aided and abetted by pleas for local relevance and connectedness as motivational tools and curricular goals (Luke & Carrington, 2001).

Explanations of the broader dialectics of globalization are characterised in the literature in terms of local/global, push/pull effects whereby global flows are remediated and recontextualized by local communities and regions in less than readily predictable ways (Burbules & Torres, 2000). My point is that the structural relationships of teacher education and neoliberal educational reform that I have described here have a contradictory territorialising effect. At once, they push the construction of the generic teacher as accountable and compliant consumer across national and regional boundaries; at the same time, they define the production and disciplining of the teacher as a local and regional activity. This is occurring precisely at a time when both the ethical and moral demands on education, as well as the changed conditions of human capital production I have described here, are requiring broader critical engagements with globalization, with cross- and trans-cultural knowledges, and with the complex synergies between geopolitical, economic and local events and knowledges. Simply, while new economic and geopolitical conditions are requiring a new teacher with critical capacities for dealing with the transnational and the global, current policies have turned the teacher into a generic consumer of multinational products with a narrowly local, regional and national epistemic standpoint.

What is needed is nothing short of the reenvisioning of a transcultural and cosmopolitan teacher: a teacher with the capacity to shunt between the local and the global, to explicate and engage with the broad flows of knowledge and information, technologies and populations, artefacts and practices that characterise the present historical moment. What is needed is a new community of teachers that could and would work, communicate, and exchange─ physically and virtually─ across national and regional boundaries with each other, with educational researchers, teacher educators, curriculum developers, and, indeed, senior educational bureaucrats. What is needed is a teacher whose very stock and trade is to deal educationally with cultural ‘others’, with the kinds of transnational and local diversity that are now a matter of course (Chua, 2004).

The term ‘‘cosmopolitan’’ is attributed to Immanual Kant’s essay To Perpetual Peace (1795/2001). Like most of his contemporaries, Kant would scarcely have traveled beyond his village, much less national and regional boundaries. Writing at the point of the emergence of the European nation state and empire, when Prussia and France were concluding the Peace of Basel, Kant attempted to define a transnational, worldly citizenry. In his ‘‘third definitive article of the eternal peace’’ he talks about the necessity of ‘‘Cosmopolitan or World law’’ which would depend upon a ‘‘universal hospitality’’ (p. 448). At the same time, he critiques colonialism, describing the ‘‘inhospitable conduct of the civilized, especially of the trading nations of our continent, the injustice which they display . . . to foreign countries goes terribly far’’ (p. 449).

In the 18th and 19th centuries, travelers across national borders were a curious mix of active agents of empire and its discontents (e.g., soldiers, bureaucrats, but equally priests and missionaries, scientists and teachers), and those who were its unwilling diasporic victims, slaves, guest workers, scientific objects, and refugees. In transnational, late capitalism, that mix has become more a complex blend, with an increasing proportion of the world’s population on the move at any given time, whether willingly or not, in search of work, better forms of life, more stable and safer political conditions, and so forth. Hence, we are increasingly part of what anthropologist James Clifford (1997) has termed traveling cultures, with economic and social conditions for the cultural, linguistic and epistemological diversification and, potentially, hybridisation of the very educational institutions where we work.

To rebuild teaching as a cosmopolitan form of work requires a major rethinking of teacher education. It would entail an exploration and articulation of the ethical and moral dimensions of teaching as work in relation to globalized flows and economics. The task is in part a matter of honor, of rebuilding and maintaining the status of the profession in the face of reductionist attempts remove any remnants of industrial and intellectual autonomy of teachers:

The interest at stake in the conducts of honour is one for which economism has no name and which has to be called symbolic . . . . Just as there are professions, like law and medicine, whose practitioners must be ‘‘above all suspicion,’’ so a family has a vital interest in keeping its capital of honour, its credit of honourability, safe from suspicion. The hypersensitivity to the slightest slur or innuendo, . . . and the multiplicity of strategies designed to belie or avert them, can be explained by the fact that symbolic capital is less easily measured and counted than land or livestock. (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 191)

It is indeed difficult, if not impossible to reduce teachers and teaching to crude measures. For us to recover, reframe, and rebuild teaching as work in postmodern democratic education may indeed require a reassertion of strong vision of what is distinctive about each of our nation’s education systems, arguing for a new versions of democratic entitlement and new visions of what schooling can enable. But to simply argue that teachers should become more activist is to beg a prior question: Such activism requires a strong normative analysis of the limits of teaching as national and regional project. My sense is that calls for professionalism and activism may not be enough to restore the honor and symbolic capital of the community of teachers in a time of major economic and cultural change. Without a cosmopolitan, intercultural vision and new (local and regional, national and transnational) social contracts around issues of cultural reconciliation and cohesion, immigration, and, indeed, geopolitical responsibility and ethics, such moves risk reclaiming, however unintentionally, a parochial nationalism and a restorationist industrial strategy.

The educational contract argued for in Democracy and Education (1966) was Dewey’s attempt at a pragmatic Hegelianism. It was built around an educational model that both committed to the advancement of industrial capital, and therefore for American economic empire, but also for transformative models of democratic citizenship through the extension of universal educational rights to independent and critical thought, to social engagement, enfranchisement. However naı¨ve such a position might have been, Dewey hoped this would generate the kinds of active citizenship to sustain social transformation, without defining a priori what such a transformation might entail.

Bourdieu (1990) goes on to warn that the defense of reputation and symbolic capital in the face of new material conditions ‘‘can lead to ‘economically’ ruinous conduct.’’ Analysing patrimonial and matrimonial family ties to land, he argues that the modes of ‘‘symbolic capital’’ are ‘‘inseparable from tacit adherence . . . to the axiomatics objectively inscribed in the regularities of the (in the broad sense) economic order’’ (p. 121). The professional reputation, status and position that teachers strive to protect and restore is tied in some ways to the regularities of industrial, modernist capital. I have here argued that the tying of teachers into the expansion of capital principally has entailed two retrograde and self-annulling moves: a model of performativity that positions them as commodity fetishists and thereby implicates them in the production and reproduction of what appear to be increasingly outdated forms of human capital in the face of new economic, social and cultural dynamics. My case is that the rebuilding of symbolic capital of teachers and teaching requires an engagement with and redefinition of new material and economic conditions.

The task of self-redefinition of teaching needs to be part of a transnational strategy for democracy and education, which directly takes up challenges of globalization, geopolitical instability, and multinational capitalism. We would have to begin exploring the conditions for intercultural and global intersubjectivity by both teachers and students, an engagement in glocalized analyses that continually situate and resituate learners and teachers, their local conditions, social relations, and communities, in critical analyses of the directions, impacts and consequences of global flows of capital, bodies, and discourse. This constitutes a kind of teachers’ intercultural capital─ that is, a distinctive species of cultural capital that is not a simple restatement of the parochial and restricted, national or regional cultural capital that we see produced and reproduced in outcome competences and skill taxonomies (which, ironically, begin to all look alike after a while) and deemed in our current systems of credentials. Rather it would be an attempt to continually push the boundaries of the social fields of teaching. It would aim to constitute the kinds of embodied skills, competences and knowledges that are requisite for modelling for students an agentive engagement in flows across cultures, geographies, and sites. This might be the beginning of learning to teach and learn beyond the nation.

The author wishes to thank Donna Alvermann, Naomi Silverman, Peter Freebody and Pat Thomson for comments.


1 The comments were made in a 15-minute talk by Lyon at the Council for Excllence in Education-sponsored meeting, ‘‘Evidence Based Education Forum with Secretary Paige.’’ The incident was widely reported in the educational press and corroborated in a later apology by Lyon to an International Reading Association forum at Rutgers in 2003. See accounts by Susan Ohanian at www.substancenews.com/jan03/threats.html; by Kenneth Goodman at  tlc.ousd.kl12.ca.us/~acody/Goodman.html; and Lyon’s apology reported in the International Reading Association’s newsletter Reading Today at www.reading.org/publications/rty/0308_urban.html.

2 In Queensland, where I worked as Deputy Director General of Education and Chief Educational Advisor to the Minister (Luke, in press, b), the teaching workforce for state schools is well over 30,000, with an additional 10,000 employed by private and religious schools. This would make public education the largest single employer the state. Similar workforce scale exists in many other American and Australian states.

3 See, for example, strategic policy statements on Web pages of the OECD, most Australian state ministries, and policy statements on the websites of many countries and provinces, including Canada, India, Hong Kong, and Singapore.

4 The emergence of the English as a second language teacher as a transnational and postcolonial guest worker with international certification and credentials (e.g., Cambridge language certification) is a case in point (Pennycook, 1994).


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 7, 2004, p. 1422-1443
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11578, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 11:21:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Allan Luke
    National Institute of Education, Singapore
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    ALLAN LUKE is Dean at the Centre for Research in Pedagogy and Practice, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. His most recent book is Struggles Over Difference: Curriculum and Pedagogy in the Asia Pacific (with Yoshiko Nozaki and Roger Openshaw, State University of New York Press, 2003).
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