Conservative Alliance Building and African American Support of Vouchers: The End of Brown's Promise or a New Beginning?
by Michael W. Apple & Thomas C. Pedroni - 2005
A new kind of conservatism has evolved and has taken center stage in many nations, one that is best seen as "conservative modernization." Although parts of these conservative positions may have originated within the New Right, they are now not limited to what has traditionally been called the Right. They have been taken up by a much larger segment of government and policy makers and have also even been appropriated by groups that one might least expect to do so, such as African American activists in cities like Milwaukee. In this article, we examine a growing phenomenon: the growth of seemingly conservative sentiments among some of the least powerful groups in this society. Perhaps the most significant organization to emerge has been the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). It has mobilized around voucher advocacy for urban working-class communities of color. BAEO has attracted significant attention not just for its iconoclastic alignment with conservative educational reform, but also for accepting funding from far-Right foundations. This article analyzes the complexity of the discursive and sociopolitical space that BAEO occupies. The organization's awareness of its critics, allies, and the limited range of educational options within which low-income African American families must act belies the notion, put forward by some, that BAEO is simply a front organization for the educational Right. Nevertheless, BAEO's importance to the larger rightist project in education cannot be overstated. At the core of our analysis is a concern about what is at stake for all of us if a rightist educational agenda succeeds in redefining what and whose knowledge is of most worth and what our social and educational policies are meant to do. Yet, no matter what one's position is on the wisdom of BAEO's strategic actions, this case provides a crucial example of the politics of how social movements and alliances are formed and reformed out of the material and ideological conditions of daily life. A critical but sympathetic understanding of groups such as BAEO may enable us to avoid the essentialism and reductionism that enters into critical sociological work on the nature of ongoing struggles over educational reform. It can provide a more nuanced sense of social actors and the possibilities and limits of strategic alliances in a time of major conflicts over educational reform during a period of conservative modernization.
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