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Work, Gender, and Teaching

by Michael W. Apple - 1983

The connections between class and gender must be recognized if attempts to rationalize and proletarianize teaching are to be understood. Behaviorally-specified curriculum, prepackaged programs, and repeated testing and accountability measures represent attempts by state governments and by male administrators to wrest control of instruction from a largely female corps of teachers.


An examination of changes in class composition over the past two decades points out something quite dramatically: The process of proletarianization has had both a large and a consistent effect. There has been a systematic tendency for those positions with relatively little control over their labor process to expand during this time period. At the same time, there was a decline in positions with high levels of autonomy.1

This should not surprise us. In fact, it would be unusual if this did not occur, especially now. In a time of general stagnation and of crises in accumulation and legitimation, we should expect that there will also be attempts to further rationalize managerial structures and increase the pressure to proletarianize the labor process. This pressure is not inconsequential to educators, not only in regard to the kinds of positions students will find available (or not available) after completing (or not completing) schooling, but also in regard to the very conditions of working within education itself.

The labor of what might be called “semiautonomous employees” will certainly feel the impact of this. Given the fiscal crisis of the state, this impact will be felt more directly among state employees such as teachers, as well. One should expect to see a rapid growth of plans and pressures for the rationalization of administration and labor within the state itself.2 This is one of the times when one’s expectations will not be disappointed.

In earlier work, I argued that teachers have been involved in a long but now steadily increasing restructuring of their jobs. I claimed that they were more and more faced with the prospect of being deskilled because of the encroachment of technical control procedures on the curriculum in schools. The integration of management systems, reductive behaviorally based curricula, pre-specified teaching procedures and student responses, and pre- and post-testing was leading to a loss of control and a separation of conception from execution. In sum, the labor process of teaching was becoming susceptible to processes similar to those that has led to the proletarianization of many other blue-, pink-, and white-collar jobs. I suggested that this restructuring of teaching had important implications given the contradictory class location of teachers.3

When I say that teachers have a contradictory class location, I am not implying that they are by definition within the middle-classes, or that they are in an ambiguous position somehow “between” classes. Instead, along with Wright, I am saying that it is wise to think of them as located simultaneously in two classes. They thus share the interests of both the petty bourgeoisie and the working class.4 Hence, when there is a fiscal crisis where many teachers are faced with worsening working conditions, layoffs, and even months without being paid-as has been the case in a number of urban areas in the United States-and when their labor is restructured so that they lose control, it is possible that these contradictory interests will move closer to those of other workers and people of color who have historically been faced with the use of similar procedures by capital and the state.5

Yet, teachers are not only classed actors. They are gendered actors as well, a fact that is too often neglected by many investigators. This is a significant omission. A striking conclusion is evident from the analyses of proletarianization. In every occupational category, women are more apt to be proletarianized than men. This could be because of sexist practices of recruitment and promotion, the general tendency to care less about the conditions under which women labor, the way capital has historically colonized patriarchal relations, and so on. Whatever the reason, it is clear that a given position may be more or less proletarianized depending on its relationship to the sexual division of labor.6

In the United States, it is estimated that over 90 percent of women’s (paid) work falls into four basic categories: (1) employment in “peripheral” manufacturing industries and retail trades, and considerably now in the expanding but low-paid service sector of the economy; (2) clerical work: (3) health and education; and (4) domestic service. Most women in, say, the United States and the United Kingdom are concentrated in either the lowest paid positions in these areas or at the bottom of the middle pay grades when there has been some mobility.7 One commentator puts it both bluntly and honestly: “The evidence of discrimination against women in the labour market is considerable and reading it is a wearing experience.”8

This pattern is, of course, largely reproduced within education. Even given the years of struggle by progressive women and men, the figures-most of which will be quite familiar to you are depressing. While the overwhelming majority of schoolteachers are women (a figure that becomes even higher in the primary and elementary schools), many more men are heads or principals of primary and elementary schools, despite the proportion of women teachers.9 As the vertical segregation of the work force increased, this proportion actually increased in inequality. In the

United States in 1928 women. Work, accounted for 55 percent of the elementary school principalships. Today, with nearly 90 percent of the teaching force in elementary schools being women, they account for only 20 percent. 10 This pattern has strong historical roots, roots that cannot be separated from the larger structures of class and patriarchy outside the school.

In this article, I shall claim that unless we see the connections between these two dynamics-class and gender we cannot understand the history of and current attempts at rationalizing education or the roots of proletarianization and its effects on teaching itself. Not all teaching can be unpacked by examining it as a labor process or as a class phenomenon, though as I have tried to demonstrate in my own work much of it is made clearer when we integrate it into theories of and changes in class position and the labor process. Neither can all of teaching be understood as totally related to patriarchy, though an immense amount of why it is structured the way it is, is due to the history of male dominance and gender struggles.11 These two dynamics (with race, of course) are not reducible to each other, but intertwine, work off, and co-determine the terrain on which each operates. It is at the intersection of these two dynamics that one can begin to unravel some of the reasons procedures for rationalizing the work of teachers have evolved. As we shall see, the ultimate effects of these procedures, with the loss of control that accompanies them, can bear in important ways on how we think about the “reform” of teaching and curriculum and the state’s role in it.


So far I have made a number of general claims about the relationship between proletarianization and patriarchy in the constitution of teaching. I want to go on to suggest ways we can begin to see this relationship in operation. Some sense of the recent past of the state’s role in sponsoring changes in curricular and teaching practice is essential here.

The fact that schools have tended to be largely organized around male leadership and female teachers is simply that, a social fact, unless one realizes that this means that educational authority relations have been formally patriarchal. Like the home and the office, male dominance is there; but teachers-like wives, mothers, and clerical workers-have carved out spheres of power and control in their long struggle to gain some autonomy. This autonomy becomes a problem for capital and the state only when what education is for needs revision.

To take one example outside of education, in offices clerical work is in the process of being radically transformed with the introduction of wordprocessing technologies, video display terminals, and so on. Traditional forms of control-forms usually based on the dominance of the male boss are being altered. Technical control, where one’s work is deskilled and intensified by the “impersonal” machinery in the office, has made significant inroads. While certainly not eliminating patriarchal domination, it has in fact provided a major shift in the terrain on which it operates. Capital has found more efficient modes of control than overt patriarchal authority.12 Similar changes have occurred in schools. In a time when the needs of industry for technical knowledge and technically trained personnel intersect with the growth in power of the new petite bourgeoisie (those people in technical and middle-management positions) and the reassertion of academic dominance in the curriculum, pressures for curricular reform can become quite intense. Patience with traditional forms of control will lessen.

Patriarchal relations of power, therefore, organized around the male principal’s relations to a largely female teaching staff, will not necessarily be progressive for capital or the state. While they once served certain educational and ideological ends, they are less efficient than what has been required recently. Gender relations must be partly subverted to create a more efficient institution. Techniques of control drawn from industry will tend to replace older styles that depended more on a sexual division of power and labor within the school itself.

Perhaps an example will document the long and continuing history of these altered relationships. In the

United States , for instance, during the late 1950s and 1960s, there was rather strong pressure from academics, capital, and the state to reinstitute academic disciplinary knowledge as the most “legitimate” content for schools. In the areas of mathematics and science, especially, it was feared that “real” knowledge was not being taught. A good deal of effort was given to producing curricular programs that were systematic, based on rigorous academic foundations, and, in the elementary school material in particular, teacher proof. Everything a teacher was to deal with was provided and pre-specified. The cost of the development of such programs was socialized by the state (i.e., subsidized by tax dollars). The chances of their being adopted by local school districts was heightened by the National Defense Education Act, which reimbursed school districts for a large portion of the purchase cost.

That is, if a school system purchased new material of this type and the technology that supported it, the relative cost was minimal. The bulk of the expense was repaid by the state. Hence, it would have seemed irrational not to buy the material-irrational in two ways: (1) the chance of getting new curricula at low cost is clearly a rational management decision within industrial logic, and (2) given its imprimatur of science and efficiency, the material itself seemed rational.

All of this is no doubt familiar to anyone who lived through the early years of this movement, and who sees the later, somewhat less powerful, effects it had in, say, England and elsewhere. Yet this is not only the history of increasing state sponsorship of and state intervention into teaching and curriculum development and adoption. It is the history of the state, in concert with capital and a largely male academic body of consultants and developers, intervening at the level of practice into the work of a largely female work force.

That is, ideologies of gender, of sex-appropriate knowledge, need to be seen as having possibly played a significant part here. The loss of control and rationalization of one’s work forms part of a state/class/gender “couplet” that works its way out in the following ways: Mathematics and science teaching are seen as abysmal. “We” need rapid change in our economic responsiveness and in “our” emerging ideological and economic struggle with the Soviet Union.13 Teachers (who just happen to be almost all women at the elementary level) are not sophisticated enough. Former ways of curricular and teaching control are neither powerful nor efficient enough for this situation. Provide both teacher-proof materials and financial incentives to make certain that these sets of curricula actually reach the classroom.

One must integrate an analysis of the state, changes in the labor process of state employees, and the politics of patriarchy to comprehend the dynamics of this history of curriculum. It is not a random fact that one of the most massive attempts at rationalizing curricula and teaching had as its target a group of teachers who were largely women. I believe that one cannot separate the fact of a sexual division of labor and the vision of who has what kinds of competence from the state’s attempts to revamp and make more “productive” its educational apparatus. In so doing, by seeing these structurally generated relationships, we can begin to open a door to understanding part of the reason behind what happened to these curriculum materials when they were in fact introduced.

As numerous studies have shown, when the material was introduced into many schools, it was not unusual for the “new” math and “new” science to be taught in much the same manner as the old math and old science. It was altered so that it fit into both the existing regularities of the institution and the prior practices that had proven successful in teaching.14 It is probably wise to see this as not only the result of a slow-to-change bureaucracy or a group of consistently conservative administrators and teachers. Rather, I think it may be just as helpful to think of this more structurally in labor process and gender terms. The supposed immobility of the institution, its lack of significant change in the face of the initial onslaught of such material, is at least partly tied to the resistance of a female work force against external incursions into the practices they had evolved over years of labor. It is in fact more than a little similar to the history of ways in which other women employees in the state and industry have reacted to past attempts at altering traditional modes of control of their own labor.15


The points I have just made about the resistance of the people who actually work in the institutions, about women teachers confronted by external control, may seem straightforward. However, these basic arguments have important implications not only for how we think about the history of curriculum reform and control, but more importantly for how many educators and political theorists have pictured the larger issue of the state’s role in supporting capital. In the historical example I gave, state intervention on the side of capital and for “defense” is in opposition to other positions within the state itself. The day-to-day interests of one occupational position (teachers) contradicted the larger interests of the state in efficient production.16 Because of instances such as this, it is probably inappropriate to see the state as a homogeneous entity, standing above day-to-day conflicts.

Since schools are state apparatuses, we should expect them to be under intense pressure to act in certain ways, especially in times of both fiscal and ideological crisis. Even with this said, it does not mean that people employed in them are passive followers of policies laid down from above. As Roger Dale has noted:

Teachers are not merely “state functionaries” but do have some degree of autonomy, and [this] autonomy will not necessarily be used to further the proclaimed ends of the state apparatus. Rather than those who work there fitting themselves to the requirements of the institutions, there are a number of very important ways in which the institution has to take account of the interests of the employees and fit itself to them. It is here, for instance, that we may begin to look for the sources of the alleged inertia of educational systems and schools, that is to say what appears as inertia is not some immutable characteristic of bureaucracies but is due to various groups within them having more immediate interests than the pursuit of the organization’s goals.17

Thus, the “mere” fact that the state wishes to find “more efficient” ways to organize teaching does not guarantee this will be acted on by teachers who have a long history of work practices and self-organization once the doors to their rooms are closed. As we shall see in a moment, however, the fact that these are primarily women employees who have faced these forms of rationalization has meant that the actual outcomes of attempts to retain control of one’s pedagogic work can lead to rather contradictory ideological results.


While these initial attempts to rationalize teaching and curricula did not always produce the results that were anticipated by their academic, industrial, and governmental proponents, they did other things that were, and are, of considerable import. The situation is actually quite similar to the effects of the use of Tayloristic management strategies in industry. As a management technology for deskilling workers and separating conception from execution, Taylorism was less than fully successful. It often generated slowdowns and strikes, exacerbated tensions, and created new forms of overt and covert resistance. Yet its ultimate effect was to legitimate a particular ideology of management and control both to the public and to employers and workers.18

Even though it did not succeed as a set of techniques, it ushered in and finally brought acceptance of a larger body of ideological practices to deskill pink-, white-, and blue-collar workers and to rationalize and intensify their labor. This too was one of the lasting consequences of these earlier curriculum “reform” movements. While they also did not completely transform the practice of teaching, while patriarchal relations of authority that gave teachers some measure of freedom were not totally replaced by more efficient forms of organizing and controlling their day-to-day activity, they legitimated both new forms of control and greater state intervention using industrial and technical models and brought about a new generation of more sophisticated attempts at overcoming teacher “resistance.” Thus, this new generation of techniques-from systematic integration of testing, behavioral goals. and curriculum, competency-based instruction and prepackaged curricula to management by objectives, and so forth-has not sprung out of nowhere, but-like the history of Taylorism has grown out of the failures, partial successes, and resistances that accompanied the earlier approaches to control.

As I have claimed, this is not only the history of the control of state employees to bring about efficient teaching, but a rearticulation of the dynamics of patriarchy and class in one site, the school.


In the first half of this article, I paid particular attention to the historical dynamics operating in the schools. I would like now to focus on more current outgrowths of this earlier history of rationalization and control.

The earlier attempts by state bureaucrats, industry, and others to gain greater control of day-to-day classroom operation and its “output” did not die. They have had more than a decade to grow, experiment, and become more sophisticated. While gender will be less visible in the current strategies (in much the same way that the growth of management strategies in industry slowly covered the real basis of power in factories and offices), as we shall see it will be present in important ways once we go beneath the surface to look at changes in the labor process of teaching, how some teachers respond to current strategies, and how they interpret their own work.

Since in previous work I have focused on a number of elements through which curricula and teaching are controlled-on the aspects of deskilling and reskilling of labor and on the separation of conception from execution in teachers’ work-here I shall want to concentrate more on something that accompanies these historically evolving processes: what I shall call intensification. First, let me discuss this process rather generally.

Intensification “represents one of the most tangible ways in which the work privileges of educational workers are eroded.“19 It has many symptoms from the trivial to the more complex from no time at all to even go to the bathroom, have a cup of coffee, or relax, to having a total absence of time to keep up with one’s field. We can see intensification most visibly in mental labor in the chronic sense of work overload that has escalated over time.

This has had a number of notable effects outside of education. In the newspaper industry, for example, because of financial pressures and the increased need for efficiency in operation, reporters have had their story quotas raised substantially. The possibility of doing nonroutine investigative reporting, hence, is lessened considerably. This has had the effect of increasing their dependence “on prescheduled, preformulated events” in which they rely more and more on bureaucratic rules and surface accounts of news provided by official spokespersons.20

Intensification also acts to destroy the sociability of nonmanual workers. Leisure and self-direction tend to be lost. Community tends to be redefined around the needs of the labor process. And, since both time and interaction are at a premium, the risk of isolation grows.21

Intensification by itself “does not necessarily reduce the range of skills applied or possessed by educated workers.”22 It may in fact, cause them to “cut corners” by eliminating what seems to be inconsequential to the task at hand. This has occurred with doctors, for instance, where many examinations now concentrate only on what seems critical. The chronic work overload has also caused some nonmanual workers to learn or relearn skills. The financial crisis has led to shortages of personnel in a number of areas. Thus, a more diverse array of jobs must be done that used to be covered by other people, people who simply do not exist within the institution any more.

While this leads to a broader range of skills having to be learned or relearned, it can lead to something I mentioned earlier-the loss of time to keep up with one’s field. That is, what might be called “skill diversification” has a contradiction built into it. It is also part of a dynamic of intellectual deskilling23 in which mental workers are cut off from their own fields and again must rely even more heavily on ideas and processes provided by “experts.”

While these effects are important, one of the most significant impacts of intensification may be in reducing the quality, not the quantity, of service provided to people. While traditionally “human service professionals” have equated doing good work with the interests of their clients or students, intensification tends to contradict the traditional interest in work well done, in both quality product and process.24

As I shall document, a number of these aspects of intensification are increasingly found in teaching, especially in those schools that are dominated by behaviorally prespecified curricula, repeated testing, and strict and reductive accountability systems. To make this clear, I want to draw on some data from recent research on the effects of these procedures on the structure of teachers’ work.

I have argued here and elsewhere that there has been a rapid growth in curricular “systems” in the United States, a movement that is now spreading to other countries.25 These curricula have integrated goals, strategies, tests, textbooks, worksheets, appropriate student responses, and so forth. In schools where this is taken seriously,26 what impact has this been having? We have sufficient evidence from a number of ethnographic studies of the labor process of teaching to be able to begin to point to what is going on. For example, in one school where the curriculum was heavily based on a sequential list of behaviorally defined objectives, multiple skill worksheets the students were to complete, with pretests to measure “readiness” and “skill level” and post-tests to measure “achievement” that were given often and regularly, the intensification of teacher work is quite visible.

In this school, such curricular practice required that teachers spend a large portion of their time evaluating student “mastery” on each of the various objectives and recording the results of these multiple evaluations for later discussions with parents or decisions as to whether the student could “go on” to another set of skill-based worksheets. The recording and evaluation made it imperative that a significant amount of time be spent on administrative arrangements for giving tests, and then grading them, organizing lessons (which were quite often prepackaged), and so on. One also found teachers busy with these tasks before and after school and, very often, during the lunch hour. Teachers began to come in at

7: 15 in the morning and leave at 4:30 in the afternoon. Two hours more work at home each night was not unusual, as well.27

Just as I noted in my general discussion of the effects of intensification, here too getting done became the norm. There is so much to do that simply accomplishing what is specified requires nearly all of one’s efforts. “The challenge of the work day (or week) was to accomplish the required number of objectives.” As one teacher put it, “I just want to get this done. I don’t have time to be creative or imaginative.”28 We should not blame the teacher here. In mathematics, for example, teachers typically had to spend nearly half of the allotted time correcting and recording the worksheets the students completed each day.29 The situation seemed to continually push the work load of these teachers up. Thus, even though they tended to complain at times about the long hours, the intensification, the time spent on technical tasks such as grading and record keeping, the amount of time spent doing these things grew inexorably.30

Few of the teachers were passive in the face of this. Even though the elements of curricular control were effective in structuring major aspects of their practice, teachers often responded in a variety of ways. They subtly changed the prespecified objectives at times, thereby attempting to overcome the separation of conception from execution. They sometimes simply informally refused to teach certain objectives because they could not see their relevance. They tried to resist the intensification as well: first by trying to find some space during the day for doing slower-paced activities; and second by actually calling a halt temporarily to the frequent pre- and post-tests, worksheets, and the like and merely having “relaxed discussions with students on topics of their own choosing.”31

This, of course, is quite contradictory. While these examples document the active role of teachers in attempting to win back some time, to resist the loss of control of their own work, and to slow down the pace at which students and they were to proceed, the way this is done is not necessarily very powerful. In these instances, time was fought for simply to relax, if only for a few minutes. The process of control, the increasing technicization and intensification of the teaching act, the proletarianization of their work-all of this was an absent presence. It was misrecognized as a symbol of their increased professionalism.


We cannot understand why teachers interpreted what was happening to them as the professionalization of their jobs unless we see how the ideology of professionalism works as part of both a class and gender dynamic in education. For example, while reliance on experts to create curricular and teaching goals and procedures grew in this kind of situation, a wider range of technical skills had to be mastered by these teachers. Becoming adept at grading all those tests and worksheets quickly, deciding on which specific skill group to put a student in, learning how to “efficiently manage” the many different groups based on the tests, and more, all became important skills. As responsibility for designing one’s own curricula and one’s own teaching decreased, responsibility over technical and management concerns came to the fore.

Professionalism and increased responsibility tend to go hand in hand here. The situation is more than a little paradoxical. There is so much responsibility placed on teachers for technical decisions that they actually work harder. They feel that since they constantly make decisions based on the outcomes of these multiple pre- and post-tests, the longer hours are evidence of their enlarged professional status. Perhaps a quote will be helpful here.

One reason the work is harder is we have a lot of responsibility in decision-making. There’s no reason not to work hard, because you want to be darn sure that those decisions you made are something that might be helpful. . . . So you work hard to be successful at these decisions so you look like a good decision maker.32

It is here that the concept of professionalism seemed to have one of its major impacts. Since the teachers thought of themselves as being more professional to the extent that they employed technical criteria and tests, they also basically accepted the longer hours and the intensification of their work that accompanied the program. To do a “good job,” you needed to be as “rational” as possible.33

We should not scoff at these perceptions on the part of the teachers. First, the very notion of professionalization has been important not only to teachers in general but to women in particular. It has provided a contradictory yet powerful barrier against interference by the state; and just as critically, in the struggle over male dominance, it has been part of a complex attempt to win equal treatment, pay, and control over the day-to-day work of a largely female labor force.34

Second, while we need to remember that professionalism as a social goal grew at the same time and was justified by the “project and practice of the market professions during the liberal phase of capitalism,”35 the strategy of professionalism has historically been used to set up “effective defenses against proletarianization.”36 Given what I said earlier about the strong relationship between the sexual division of labor and proletarianization, it would be not only ahistorical but perhaps even a bit sexist as well to wholly blame teachers for employing a professional strategy.

Hence, the emphasis on increasing professionalism by learning new management skills and so on today and its partial acceptance by elementary school teachers can best be understood not only as an attempt by state bureaucrats to deskill and reskill teachers, but as part of a much larger historical dynamic in which gender politics have played a significant role.

Yet the acceptance of certain aspects of intensification is due not only to the history of how professionalism has worked in class and gender struggles. It is heightened by a number of internal factors, as well. For example, in the same school to which I referred earlier, while a number of teachers believed that the rigorous specification of objectives and teaching procedures actually helped free them to become more creative, it was clear that subtle pressures existed to meet the priorities established by the specified objectives. Even though in some subject areas they had a choice of how they were to meet the objectives, the objectives themselves usually remained unchallenged. The perceived interests of parents and the establishment of routines helped assure this.

Here is one teacher’s assessment of how this occurs.

Occasionally you’re looking at the end of the book at what the unit is going to be, these are the goals that you have to obtain, that the children are going to be tested on. That may affect your teaching in some way in that you may by-pass other learning experiences simply to obtain the goal. These goals are going home to parents. It’s a terrible thing to do but parents like to see 90’s and 100’s rather than 60’s on skills.37

In discussing the use of the skills program, another teacher points out the other element besides parents that was mentioned. “It’s got a manual and you follow the manual and the kids know the directions and it gets to be routine.”38

Coupled with perceived parental pressure and the sheer power of routine is something else, the employment practices surrounding teaching. In many schools, one of the main criteria for the hiring of teachers is their agreement with the overall curricular, pedagogic, and evaluative framework that -organizes the day-to-day practice. Such was the case in the Gitlin study.

Beyond this, even though some investigators have found that people who tend to react negatively to these prepackaged and systematized curricular forms often leave teaching,39 given the depressed market for new teachers and the conscious decision by school districts to hire fewer teachers and increase class size, fewer jobs are available right now. The option of leaving or even protesting seems romantic.


At this point in my argument it would be wise to return to a claim I made earlier. Teachers have not stood by and accepted all this. In fact, our perception that they have been and are passive in the face of these pressures may reflect our own tacit beliefs regarding the relative passivity of women workers. This would be an unfortunate characterization. Historically, for example, in

England and the United States , the picture of women teachers as nonmilitant and middle-class in orientation is not wholly accurate. There have been periods of exceptional militancy and clear political commitment.40

However, militancy and political commitment are but one set of ways in which control is contested. It is also fought for on the job itself in subtle and even “unconscious” (one might say “cultural”) ways, ways that will be contradictory, as we shall now see. Once again, gender will become of prime import.

In my own interviews with teachers it has become clear that many of them feel rather uncomfortable with their role as managers. Many others are less than happy with the emphasis on programs that they feel often “lock them into a rigid system.” Here the resistance to rationalization and the loss of historically important forms of self-control of one’s labor have very contradictory outcomes, partly as a result of sexual divisions in society. Thus, a teacher using a curricular program in reading and language arts that is very highly structured and test-based states:

While it’s really important for the children to learn these skills, right now it’s more important for them to learn to feel good about themselves. That’s my role, getting them to feel good. That’s more important than tests right now.

Another primary grade teacher, confronted by a rationalized curriculum program where students move from classroom to classroom for “skill groups,” put it this way:

Kids are too young to travel between classrooms all the time. They need someone there that they can always go to, who’s close to them. Anyway, subjects are less important than their feelings.

In these quotations, resistance to the administrative design is certainly evident. There is a clear sense that something is being lost. Yet the discomfort with the process is coded around the traditional distinctions that organize the sexual division of labor both within the family and the larger society. The woman’s sphere is that of providing emotional security, caring for feelings, and so on.

Do not misconstrue my point here. Teachers should care for the feelings and emotional security of their students. However, while these teachers fight on a cultural level against what they perceive to be the ill effects of their loss of control and both the division and intensification of their labor, they do so at the expense of reinstituting categories that partly reproduce other divisions that have historically grown out of patriarchal relations.41

This raises a significant point. Much of the recent literature on the role of the school in the reproduction of class, sex, and race domination has directed our attention to the existence of resistances. This realization was not inconsequential and was certainly needed to enable us to go further than the overly deterministic models of explanation that had been employed to unpack what schools do. However, at the same time, this literature has run the risk of romanticizing such resistances. The fact that they exist does not guarantee that they will necessarily be progressive at each and every moment. Only by uncovering the contradictions within and between the dynamics of the labor process and gender can we begin to see what effects such resistances may actually have.


I have paid particular attention here to the effects of the restructuring of teachers’ work in the school. I have claimed that we simply cannot understand what is happening to teaching and curriculum without placing it in a framework that integrates class (and its accompanying process of proletarianization) and gender together. The impact of deskilling and intensification occurs on a terrain and in an institution that is populated primarily by women teachers and male administrators, a fact that needs to be recognized as being historically articulated with both the social and sexual divisions of labor, knowledge, and power in our society.

Yet, since teachers are primarily women, we must also look beyond the school to get a fuller comprehension of the impact of these changes and the responses of teachers to them. We need to remember something in this regard. Women teachers often work in two sites-the school and then the home.

Given the modification of patriarchal relations and the intensification of labor in teaching, what impact might this have outside the school? If so much time is spent on technical tasks at school and home, is it possible that less time may be available for domestic labor in the home? Other people in the family may have to take up the slack, thereby partly challenging the sexual division of household labor. On the other hand, the intensification of teachers’ work, and the work overload that may result from it, may have exactly the opposite effect. It may increase the exploitation of unpaid work in the home by merely adding more to do without initially altering conditions in the family. In either case, such conditions will lead to changes, tensions, and conflicts outside of the sphere where women engage in paid work.42 It is worth thinking very carefully about the effects that working in one site will have on the other. The fact that this dual exploitation exists is consequential in another way. I believe it opens up possible new avenues for political intervention by socialist feminists. Showing the relationship between the home and the job and the intensification growing in both may provide for a way of demonstrating the ties between both of these spheres and between class and gender.

Thinking about such issues has actually provided the organizing framework for my analysis. The key to my investigation in this article has been reflecting about changes in how work is organized over time and, just as significantly, who is doing the work. A clearer sense of both of these-how and who-can enable us to see similarities and differences between the world of work in our factories and offices and that of semiautonomous state employees such as teachers.

What does this mean? Historically the major struggles labor engaged in at the beginning of the use of systematic management concerned resistance to speedups.43 That is, the intensification of production, the pressure to produce more work in a given period, led to all kinds of interesting responses. Craft’ workers, for example, often simply refused to do more. Pressure was put on coworkers who went too fast (or too slow). Breaks were extended. Tools and machines suddenly developed “problems.”

Teachers-given their contradictory class location, their relationship to the history of patriarchal control and the sexual division of labor, and the actual conditions of their work- will find it difficult to respond in the same way.

They are usually isolated during their work, and perhaps more so now given the intensification of their labor. Further, machinery and tools in the usual sense of these terms are not visible. And, just as important, the perception of oneself as professional means that the pressures of intensification and the loss of control will be coded and dealt with in ways that are specific to that work place and its own history. The ultimate effects will be contradictory. In essence, therefore, I am arguing that, while similar labor processes may be working through institutions within industry and the state that have a major impact on women’s paid work, these processes will be responded to differently by different classes and class segments. The ideology of professional discretion will lead to a partial acceptance of, say, intensification by teachers on one level, and will generate a different kind of resistance, one specific to the actual work circumstances in which they have historically found themselves. The fact that these changes in the labor process of teaching occur on a terrain that has been a site of patriarchal relations plays a major part here.

I do not want to suggest that once you have realized the place of teaching in the sexual division of labor, you have thoroughly understood deskilling and reskilling, intensification and loss of control, or the countervailing pressures of professionalism and proletarianization in teachers’ work. Obviously, this is a complex issue in which the internal histories of bureaucracies, the larger role of the state in a time of economic and ideological crisis,44 and the local political economy and power relations of each school play a part. What I do want to argue quite strongly, however, is the utter import of gendered labor as a constitutive aspect of the way management and the state have approached teaching and curricular control. It is the absent presence behind all of our work.


1 Erik Olin Wright and Joachim Singelmann, “The Proletarianization of Work in American Capitalism,”

University of Wisconsin-Madison , Institute for Research on Poverty, Discussion Paper #647-81, 1981, p, 38.

2 Ibid., p. 43. See also Michael W. Apple, “State, Bureaucracy and Curriculum Control,” Curriculum Inquiry 11, no. 4 (Winter 1981): 379-88. For a discussion that rejects part of the argument about proletarianization, see Michael Kelly, White Collar Proletariat (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).

3 Deskilling, technical control, and proletarianization are both technical and political concepts. They signify a complex historical process in which the control of labor has altered, one in which the skills employees have developed over many years on the job are broken down into atomistic units, redefined, and then appropriated by management to enhance both efficiency and control of the labor process. In the process, workers’ control over timing, over defining appropriate ways to do a task, and over criteria that establish acceptable performance are all slowly taken on as the prerogatives of management personnel who are usually divorced from the actual place in which the work is carried out. Deskilling, then, often leads to the atrophy of valuable skills that workers possessed since there is no longer any “need” for them in the redefined labor process. The loss of control or proletarianization of a job is, hence, part of a larger dynamic in the separation of conception from execution and the continuing attempts by management in the state and industry to rationalize as many aspects of one’s labor as possible. I have discussed this in considerably more detail in Michael W. Apple, Education and Power (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982). See also Richard Edwards, Contested Terrain (New York: Basic Books, 1979). and Michael Burawoy, Manufacturing Consent (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979).

4 Erik Olin Wright, “Class and Occupation,” Theory and Society 9, no. 2 (1980): 182-83. 5 Apple. Education and Power.

6 Wright, "Class and Occupation.” p. 188. Clearly race plays important part here too. See Michael Reich, Racial Inequality (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981); and Mario Banera, Race and Class in the Southwest: A Theory of Racial Inequality (Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1979).

7 Janet

Holland . “Women’s Occupational Choice: The Impact of Sexual Divisions in Society,” pamphlet no. 3 (Stockholm Institute of Education, Department of Educational Research, Reports on Education and Psychology, 1980), p. 7.

8 Ibid., p. 27.

9 Ibid., p. 45.

10 Gail Kelly and Ann Nihlen, “Schooling and the Reproduction of Patriarchy,” in Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education: Essays on Class, Ideology and the State, ed. Michael W. Apple (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982). pp. 167-68. One cannot fully understand the history of the relationship between women and teaching without tracing the complex connections among the family, domesticity, child care, and the policies of and employment within the state. See especially Miriam David, The State, The Family and Education (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980).

11 For an interesting history of the relationship among class, gender, and teaching, see June Purvis, “Women and Teaching in the Nineteenth Century,” in Education and the State Vol. 2: Politics, Patriarchy and Practice, ed. Roger Dale et al. (Sussex: Falmer Press, 1981), pp. 359-75. I am wary of using a concept such as patriarchy since its very status is problematic. As Rowbotham notes, “Patriarchy suggests a fatalistic submission which allows no space for the complexities of women’s defiance” (quoted in Tricia Davis, “Stand by Your Men? Feminism and Socialism in the Eighties,” in Silver Linings: Some Strategies for the Eighties, ed. George Bridges and Rosalind Brunt [

London : Lawrence and Wishart, 1981], p. 14). A history of women’s day-to-day struggles falsifies any such theory of “fatalistic submission.”

12 Jane Barker and Hazel Downing, “Word Processing and the Transformation of the Patriarchal Relations of Control in the Office,” in Education and the State Vol. 2, pp. 229-56. See also the discussion of deskilling in Edwards, Contested Terrain.

13 For an analysis of how such language has been employed by the state, see Michael W. Apple, “Common Curriculum and State, Control,” Discourse 2, no. 4 (1982): l-10: and James Donald, “Green Paper: Noise of a Crisis,” Screen Education 30 (Spring 1979): 13-49.

14 See, for example, Seymour Sarason, The Culture of the School and the Problem of Change (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1971).

15 Apple, Education and Power; and Susan Porter Benson, “The Clerking Sisterhood: Rationalization and the Work Culture of Saleswomen in American Department Stores,” Radical

America 12 (March/April 1978): 41-55.

16 Roger Dale’s discussion of contradictions between elements within the state is very interesting in this regard. See Roger Dale, “The State and Education: Some Theoretical Approaches,” in The State and the Politics of Education, E353, Block 1, Part 2, Units 3-4 (Milton Keynes, England: The Open University Press. 1981); and idem, “Education and the Capitalist State: Contributions and Contradictions,” in Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education, pp. 127-61.

17 Dale, “The State and Education,” p. 13.

18 I have examined this in greater detail in Apple, Education and Power. See as well Edwards, Contested Terrain; and Daniel Clawson, Bureaucracy and the Labor Process (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980).

19 Magali Larson, “Proletamanization and Educated Labor,” Theory and Society 9, no. 2 (1980): 166.

20 Ibid., p. 167..21 Ibid. Larson points out that these problems related to intensification are often central grievances even among doctors.

22 Ibid., p. 168.

23 Ibid.. p. 169.

24 Ibid.. p. 167.

25 Apple, Education and Power. See also C. Buswell, “Pedagogic Change and Social Change,” British Journal of Sociology of Education 1, no. 3 (1980): 293-306.

26 The question of just how seriously schools take this, the variability of their response, is not unimportant. As Popkewitz. Tabachnick, and Wehlage demonstrate in their interesting ethnographic study of school reform, not all schools use materialsof this sort in the same way (see Thomas Popkewitz, B. Robert Tabachnick, and Gary Wehlagc, The Myth of Educational Reform (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 19821).

27 This section of my analysis is based largely on research carried out by Andrew Gitlin (see Andrew Gitlin, “Understanding the Work of Teachers,” Ph.D. diss.,

University of Wisconsin Madison , 1980).

28 Ibid., p. 208.

29 Ibid.

30 Ibid., pi 197.

31 Ibid., p. 237.

32 Ibid., p. 125.

33 Ibid., p. 197.

34 This is similar to the use of liberal discourse by popular classes to struggle for person rights against established property rights over the past one hundred years. See Herbert Gintis. “Communication and Politics,” Socialist Review 10, no. 2/3 (March/June 1980): 189-232. The process is partly paradoxical. however. Attempts to professionalize do give women a weapon against some aspects of patriarchal relations, yet there is a clear connection between being counted as a profession and that profession’s being populated largely by men. In fact, one of the things that is very visible historically is the relationship between the sexual division of labor and professionalization. There has been a decided tendency for full professional status to be granted only when an activity is “dominated by men-in both management and the ranks” (Jeff Hrarn, “Notes on Patriarchy: Professionalization and the Semi-Professions,” Sociology 16, no. 2 [May 1982]: 195).

35 Magali Larson, “Monopolies of Competence and Bourgeois Ideology,” in Education and the State Vol. 2. p. 332.

36 Larson, “Proletarianization and Educated Labor,” p, 152. Historically. clash as well as gender in the professionalization of elementary school teaching in

England , a large portion of Barry Bergen has shown in his recent study of the growth of the relationship between class and gender in the professionalization of elementary school teaching in England , a large portion of elementary school teachers were both women and of the working class:

‘Teaching, except at the university level. was not highly regarded by the middle class to begin with, and teaching in the elementary schools was the lowest rung on the teaching ladder. The middle class did not view elementary teaching as a means of upward mobility. But the elementary school teachers seemed to view them selves as having risen above the working class, if not having reached the middle class. . . . Clearly, the varied attempts of elementary teachers to professionalize constitute an attempt to raise their class position from an interstitial one between the working class and middle class to the solidly middle class position of a profession.

See Barry H. Bergen, “Only a Schoolmaster: Gender, Class, and the Effort to Professionalize Elementary Teaching in

England . 1870-1910,” History of Education Quarterly 22. no. 1 (Spring 1982): 10.

37 Gitlin, “Understanding the Work of Teachers,” p. 128.

38 Ibid. 39 Martin Lawn and Jenny Ozga, “Teachers: Professionalism, Class and Proletarianization,” 1981, Mimeographed, p. 15.

40 Jenny Orga. “The Politics of the Teaching Profession,” in The Politics of Schools and Teaching, E353, Block 6, Units 14-15 (Milton Keynes, England: The Open University Press, 1981). p. 24.

41 WC need to be very careful here, of course. Certainly, not all teachers will respond in this way. That some will not points to the partial and important fracturing of dominant gender and class ideologies in ways that signal significant alterations in the consciousness of teachers. Whether these alterations are always progressive is an interesting question.

42 While I have focused here on the possible impacts in the school and the home on women teachers, a similar analysis needs to be done on men. What changes, conflicts, and tensions will evolve, say, in the patriarchal authority structures of the home given the intensification of men’s labor? I would like to thank Sandra Acker for raising this critically important point. For an analysis of change in women’s labor in the home, see Susan Strasser. Never Done: A History of American Housework (New York: Pantheon, 1982).


Clawson , Bureaucracy and the Labor Process, pp. 152-53.

44 Apple. Education and Power; and Manuel Castells, The Economic Crisis and American Society (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1980).

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 84 Number 3, 1983, p. 611-628
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 836, Date Accessed: 5/19/2022 8:49:56 AM

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  • Michael Apple
    The University of Wisconsin-Madison
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    MICHAEL W. APPLE is professor of curriculum and instruction and educational policy studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Among his recent volumes are Ideology and Curriculum (1979), Cultural and Economic Reproduction in Education (1982), and Education and Power (1982).
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