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Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and Resistance in Education


reviewed by Rosnidar Arshad & Christine Clark - July 31, 2017

coverTitle: Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and Resistance in Education
Author(s): Zachary A. Casey
Publisher: State University of New York Press, Albany
ISBN: 1438463065, Pages: 236, Year: 2017
Search for book at Amazon.com


As a white American male, Zachary Casey, an Assistant Professor of Educational Studies at Rhodes College and author of A Pedagogy of Anticapitalist Antiracism: Whiteness, Neoliberalism, and Resistance in Education (2016), begins this book by foregrounding his standpoint as individually and systemically highly privileged relative to the U.S. education system. He describes how his ancestors, immigrants from Ireland, “became White” (p. 6): his great grandfather moved from Boston to the West Coast “to kill Native Americans” (p. 5). At that time, the Irish, though European immigrants, occupied a social position akin to People of Color; thus, Casey’s great grandfather’s savagery enabled at least his immediate family to shed their Irish ethnicity, and thereby become raced as white. Casey argues that neoliberalism has driven the erosion of European Americans’ fidelity to their ethnic identity, as it is in their economic self-interest to do so. Having worked with pre- and in-service teachers for ten years, Casey contends that neoliberalism is also eroding the American education system for the very same purpose: to enable the transfer of public monies into private hands for profit, namely of people identified as white, at the expense of those not.   


Casey defines neoliberalism as the “applying [of] the logics of the ‘free market’ to all social spaces and goods, especially those historically considered ‘public’…distorting them into functioning with ‘private’ aims for efficiency” (p. 2). He then describes how neoliberalism operates in the U.S. education system through measurement of student learning achievement relative to knowledge bases and skill sets predetermined by pro-capitalist governments. He argues that this operation is never questioned, perhaps not even fully recognized, by in-service teachers, teacher educators, nor educational researchers. Because racism and capitalism are at the core of oppressive neoliberal practices in schools and society, Casey argues that PK-12 and higher education classroom pedagogy must become unilaterally aimed at dismantling this systemically normalized inequitable and inhumane educational and social order, both in the United States and around the world. He describes this pedagogy as a “discourse of anticapitalist antiracism, a form of antiracism” that reveals how “capitalist exploitation [is] at the center of white supremacy” (p. 10).


Echoing Labaree (1997), Casey problematizes efforts by so-called educational experts, such as the Carnegie Task Force and the Holmes Group, to “professionalize” the teaching profession, arguing this is nothing more than a positivist approach to measuring student accomplishments. Building off the work of renowned Brazilian educator, Paulo Freire (1968), Casey argues for his anticapitalist antiracist pedagogy, which he dubs “Freirean Critical Study” (p. 20), as the path to meaningful teaching and learning. Drawing on Marxist critique of capitalism, Casey describes how standardized educational policy, systems, and related curricula are oppressive, but how the application of his pedagogy at the classroom level can still be undertaken in various ways, to various extents. At the same time, he stresses that no classroom practice is a panacea for neoliberalism in education, nor a pathway to utopian educational outcomes; classroom dynamics are always unique because students and teachers are likewise unique, thus effective educational praxis must always be locally situated. Standardized metrics, he argues, simply reveal how well prepared students are to function as future workers in a capitalist system designed to preserve white supremacy.


Casey’s in-depth analysis of whiteness and engagement of Marxist critique, is astute in challenging the professionalization of teaching, and powerfully supports his case for equitable, transformative teaching practices. Four out of the nine chapters in this book focus on whiteness, reinforcing the central role that white supremacy and racism play in the perpetuation of capitalism, especially its most current neoliberal manifestation in U.S. public education. In Chapters Four through Six, he debates whether or not people who identify as white can authentically embody an antiracist anticapitalist standpoint, or whether doing so requires them to, in essence, unbecome white (Clark & O’Donnell, 1999; Cone, 1970). Given the racial demographics of the teaching and teacher education professions, this powerful pro and con deliberation brings much-needed attention to a topic at once overlooked and not often investigated deeply enough in educational research. Yet the proverbial pink elephant in the room is low income, high minority school communities.


Casey’s bold embrace of Marxism is a welcome departure from the more usual, vague overtures to Marxist ideology in current anti-neoliberal arguments. Casey himself acknowledges this in mentioning that “too few contemporary scholars have truly engaged Marxism in the field of education, or any other field for that matter” (p. 33).  In contrast, in Chapter Three, Casey declares Marxism as foundational to his pedagogy in articulating that “when one begins asking questions of capitalism, there is no better place to turn than to the work of Karl Marx and scholars who have continued in the Marxist tradition” (p. 32). Accordingly, his Marx-inspired anticapitalist critique of the U.S. education system as little more than an obfuscated expression of “commodity fetishism” is both refreshing and compelling (p. 38).


Casey’s arguments against the professionalization of the teaching fraternity is also powerful. He argues that teachers have been drawn into the “prestige” game, seeking to become accepted as on par with more traditionally esteemed career specialists such as lawyers, doctors, and engineers. In this regard, he reveals a contradiction in teacher consciousness: on the one hand, teachers passionately embrace the notion of themselves as “experts,” but on the other hand, teachers vehemently detest the use of so-called rational science in their performance appraisal. Casey also associates the professionalization of the educator role with the masculinization of what he describes as the innately feminine nature of teaching and learning. While essentializing femininity as empathic, and masculinity as analytical is problematic, in so doing Casey excavates how patriarchy is re-imposed on the education system through neoliberalism.


Critically conscious teachers and teacher educators in particular, may be quickly moved to embrace Casey’s arguments and anticapitalist antiracist pedagogy, despite aspects that seem at times contradictory and overly idealistic. Generally, Casey expresses awareness of the structural constraints faced by teachers in schools under what he perceptively describes as the oppressive neoliberal-oriented U.S. education system. However, in Chapter Eight, Casey paints a picture of a classroom environment in which teachers exercise complete freedom in applying equity pedagogy (Banks & Banks, 1995), regardless of the larger educational policies and systems exerting influence on them, their classrooms, their students, and students’ families. Casey is understandably against teachers using so-called best practices, model methodologies, or recommended strategies, but, at the same time, seems to forget the current daily reality of many classroom teachers, especially those working in underserved school communities. These teachers are time-pressured to “cover” curricula, to ensure students can “demonstrate mastery” of the required market-driven neoliberal knowledge and skills via standardized assessments, and to guarantee their own salary and continued employment. Teachers who do not abide face similar fates as their students: remediation, reprimand, and possible suspension, lending dimension to the fast-growing body of research on how schools function as prison feeder systems, commonly described as the “school-to-prison pipeline” (Porter, 2015). In these contexts, opportunities for Freirean Critical Study between and among teachers, as well as students and families, are few and far between. Increasingly, time in classrooms and schools is regimented in manners akin to factory assembly lines; it does not operate in favor of teaching and learning for either teachers or students.


While sociopolitically-oriented, experienced teachers may, in fact, be able to astutely integrate anticapitalist antiracist praxis concomitant with the appearance of fidelity to the neoliberal educational project, beginning teachers, as they are currently being prepared in most places in the country, will face a tremendous difficulty in attempting to blend anti-oppressive pedagogies with the reality of their early classroom and school lives. When these novice teachers turn to mentors or experienced peers for advice, if they are not supported they might become frustrated and give up on teaching entirely. If they do, neoliberalism wins, leaving behind only those teachers without the desire to challenge hegemonic schooling.


In Chapter Nine, Casey provides some degree of remedy for concerns about potentially unrealistic expectations for teachers and teaching. This remedy is hope. In this final chapter, Casey re-affirms the real challenges faced by educators and articulates that even if neoliberalism in education is dismantled, new educational challenges will emerge. Accordingly, he articulates in truer Freirean spirit than comes through in his associated Critical Study, that teachers must develop hopeful dispositions to enable their perseverance, no matter what.


Throughout the text, Casey provides powerful criticisms of the U.S. education system driven by neoliberal capitalism situated within, and perpetuated by, white supremacy and racism. Notwithstanding the caliber of his analysis, any attempt to offer a solution to such an entrenched political and economic arrangement has the initial appearance of utopianism. However, in offering hope in the face of educational oppression, he at least partially indemnifies himself by theorizing a solution.   


Finally, although Casey highlights the neoliberal orientation of the current assessment systems in the United States, as well as on the global stage, he makes no recommendation for transforming these systems. His only recommendation is pedagogical—using anticapitalist antiracist pedagogy to disrupt and dismantle racism, capitalism, and neoliberalism at the classroom level. While this makes sense in terms of situating his recommendation in the educational sphere, in which teachers have the most control and influence, it also fails to acknowledge just how prominently assessment also figures into classroom spaces. Building on Casey’s ground-breaking work, researchers and practitioners should consider how Casey’s Freire-inspired “pedagogy of hope” might simultaneously drive transformation of learning assessment in seeking to establish classrooms as liminal sites in which teachers, students, and school communities unbecome white, and decenter whiteness, perhaps through a renewed, radical love for Blackness.


References


Banks, J., & Banks, C. (1995). Equity pedagogy: An essential component of multicultural Education. Theory into Practice, 34(3), 152-8.


Clark, C., & O’Donnell, J. (1999). Becoming and unbecoming white: Owning and disowning a racial identity. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.


Cone, J. (1970). A Black theology of liberation. Ossining, NY: Orbis Books.


Freire, P. (1968). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury Press.


Labaree, D. (1997). How to succeed in school without really learning: The credentials race in American education. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.


Porter, T. (2015). The school-to-prison pipeline: The business side of incarcerating, not educating, students in public schools. Arkansas Law Review, 68(1), 55-81.




Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: July 31, 2017
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22108, Date Accessed: 12/5/2021 6:44:04 PM

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About the Author
  • Rosnidar Arshad
    University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    E-mail Author
    ROSNIDAR ARSHAD served the Singapore Ministry of Education as a teacher from 1989-2002, and as a Subject Head for Malay and Tamil Language from 2002-2016. In 2016, Arshad was awarded the Singapore Ministry of Education National Day Long Service Medal. Arshad is a Graduate Assistant in the Ph.D. program in Curriculum and Instruction with an emphasis in Cultural Studies, International Education, and Multicultural Education (CSIEME) in the Department of Teaching and Learning in the College of Education at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Arshad served as a departmental Graduate Assistant from 2013-2015 while completing her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction with a concentration in Multicultural Education. Arshadís research interests are focused on the development of pedagogies that equip students to contribute to their community, the environment, and the world using holistic knowledge, skills, and values that enable them to navigate adult life; and transforming current systems of assessing student learning.
  • Christine Clark
    University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    E-mail Author
    CHRISTINE CLARK, Ph.D., is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, Senior Scholar for Multicultural Education, and Founding Vice President for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She coordinates masterís and doctoral level specialization programs in the Cultural Studies, International Education, and Multicultural Education (CSIEME) program in the Department of Teaching and Learning/College of Education, and is co-principal investigator on the Abriendo Caminos/Opening Pathways for Students of Color into the Teaching Profession: Giving Back to the Community through Teaching project, funded by the Nevada Department of Education (NDE) Great Teaching and Leading Fund (GTLF). She has a three-tiered research agenda that focuses on: white antiracist identity development and multicultural teacher education preparation; the prison industrial complex and implications for urban educational leadership; and multicultural curriculum transformation in P-12 and higher education across disciplines.
 
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