Educating the “Right” Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2nd Ed.)
reviewed by Rita Verma - May 07, 2007
Title: Educating the “Right” Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality (2nd Ed.)
Author(s): Michael W. Apple
Publisher: Routledge, New York
ISBN: 0415952727 , Pages: 376, Year: 2006
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In the second edition of Educating the Right Way: Markets, Standards, God, and Inequality, Michael Apple, through thoughtful analysis and careful critique, argues for the necessity to closely examine and strategically interrupt the conservative agenda and its oppressive policies in education. The second edition expands on key arguments that were made in the first edition, and it contains compelling new chapters on No Child Left Behind, home schooling, and gender realities. In this book, Apple offers yet another closer look at the conservative trends that are having an impact on teachers, schools, and communities and offers powerful alternatives that provide both hope and purpose for those who feel the burden of the many issues that he critically examines.
In the opening chapters of the book, Apple engages the reader in a thoughtful discussion on understanding what Rightist movements have done and why they have been successful. The marketization of education through voucher plans, high stakes testing, national and state curriculum and a pressure to return to a Western tradition and common culture altogether push the Rightist agenda. Apple reminds the reader that understanding how and why this has occurred will be key to mobilizing opposition and interrupting the Right. Similar to the first edition, Chapter 2 Whose Markets, Whose Knowledge? describes the four ideological movements of the hegemonic alliance of the Right: neoliberals, neoconservatives, authoritarian populists, and the new middle class. Apple argues that the contradictory impulses of these groups come together in very creative ways as is evidenced by centralized standards, content, and tighter control through voucher and choice plans. As stated by Apple, market rationality based on consumer choice will ensure that the supposedly good schools will gain students and the bad schools will disappear. This assemblage is embodied in many of the impulses behind No Child Left Behind, for example (p. 50).
Apple also speaks at length about counterhegemonic alliances and strategically thinking and interrupting these Rightist movements. He reminds the reader that critical pedagogy cannot occur in a vacuum and will have little effect on counterhegemonic common sense. This can only be accomplished by paying attention to the material and ideological transformation of the Right and the building of large scale counterhegemonic movements that connect educational struggles to those in other sites and assist in creating new struggles and defending existing ones. Apple states it is our task to collectively help rebuild it by reestablishing a sense that thick morality and a thick democracy are truly possible today (pg. 82). Providing a sense of hope and concrete direction will be important to accomplish this. Apple also urges us to learn from other nations. He provides examples from other nations such as England and New Zealand that illustrate important paradigms about the hidden differential effects of two connected strategies: neoliberal-inspired market proposals and neoliberal-, neo-conservative-, and middle-class-managerial-inspired regulatory proposals.
Chapter 4 Who No Child Left Behind Leaves Behind is a new chapter in the second edition that offers a powerful critique of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Michael Apple brings forth a poignant and much needed discussion of the nuances and impact of this legislation that has led to a loss of local control and local democracy. He points out the key controversies in NCLB and its tendencies about what counts as legitimate knowledge, literacy, success and failure, and good teaching. Under NCLB, school has become a site of profit versus a site of public service. The fear of the racial Other has played a role in the discursive construction of the problem public school and has had damaging consequences for dispossessed groups.
Apple calls the policing and controlling of core aspects of education audit cultures. Further stated by Apple, it is important that we see the linkages between its [NCLB] focus on audit and constant public scrutiny and evaluation on the one hand and its somewhat more hidden commitment to and openings for privatization on the other (pg. 108). These audit cultures also carry dangerous and unacknowledged assumptions about race. Although NCLB is not forgiving to dispossessed groups, there are minority groups that have embraced many aspects of neoliberal policies such as voucher plans. Also in Chapter 4, Apple discusses many of the ironic tendencies and views of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO).
Throughout the book, Apple revisits the case of Porto Alegre, Brazil as a positive example of educational policies based on thick democracy. The journal Rethinking Schools and Michael Apples book Democratic Schools are also presented as examples of successful and strategic counterhegemonic work.
In the latter sections of Educating the Right Way, Apple takes a closer look at the authoritarian populist movement and visits issues of school prayer and teaching evolutionary science. He also includes a very detailed chapter on home schooling and its indication of the suburbanization of everyday life and segmentation of American society (p. 189). The last chapter of the book provides an honest discussion about the complex challenges before us and the tasks we face in interrupting the Right.
This book is extremely valuable. As novice teachers ask why and feel increasingly vulnerable and stripped of agency in their own classrooms, they deserve to understand critically what has happened to the classrooms in which they teach. Why are we in this state of affairs? Most often, teachers are not encouraged to engage in critical analysis of the current trends in schools such as NCLB, the teaching of intelligent design, or mass recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Instead of just accepting the current trends as the way it is or giving in to the demands to teach the Right way, Apple provides an eye-opening critique of the ways the new Right has successfully created alliances and has become increasingly influential in our public institutions. With the knowledge gained in this book, educators can be well informed and empowered to become agents of change.
The deskilling of teachers and the movement away from transformative teaching and learning practices can leave a sense of hopelessness for educators both veteran and novice. The book Educating the Right Way provides a sense of hope and reminds the reader that we must understand what the Right has done in order to strategically interrupt it. As Michael Apple states, our children, our teachers, and our communities deserve something better (p. 262).