The Way It's Going: Neoliberal Reforms and the Colonization of the American School

The Way It's Going: Neoliberal Reforms and the Colonization of the American School

Brian Charles Charest (The Nova Project, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 23
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-2101-3.ch001
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Abstract

In this chapter the author argues that those concerned with the “the way it's going” in public education can learn much from post-colonial theory about the relationship between education research and assessment technologies and education reform policy, curriculum development, and knowledge formation. The author argues that current neoliberal education reform in the US can best be understood through the frame of neocolonialism, where schools and communities take the shape of internal colonies, where teachers, students, and parents have little or no say about the technologies, curricula, and standardized examinations foisted upon them. Education research that supports the current policy paradigm largely benefits researchers, corporations, and policy makers, while ignoring the effects of such policies on students, teachers, and local communities. Such practices, the author suggests, are rooted in a type of colonial thinking and acting that have been rearticulated through the prevailing logic of neoliberalism.
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Introduction

The title of this chapter comes from a talk given in Dakar some years ago by the Beninese philosopher and politician, Paulin Hountondji (1992). In his talk, later reprinted under the title, Recapturing, Hountondji (1992) challenged the scientific community by asking the assembled researchers, educators, and economists the deceptively simple question: “Are we satisfied or not with the way it is going?” (p. 238). This chapter explores what might happen if this same question were posed today to public educators, university researchers, and other advocates for public education across the country. Are educators currently satisfied or not with the way it’s going in public schools today?

Hountondji (1992) followed up his question by saying, “As long as we look upon the problems of scientific research only from the angle of the individual performance and career, we have almost nothing to criticize” (p. 238). As his talk continued, however, it became clear that Hountondji (1992) had something besides individual accomplishments and careers in mind: he wanted his audience to look beyond individual performance and examine the value and purpose of their work for the greater good; he wanted his colleagues to look closely at the relationship between what they did and the effects of their work on local communities; finally, he wanted his fellow scientists, researchers, and educators to examine their connections to the industries, corporations, and economies in wealthy Northern countries—particularly those of former colonial powers.

Hountondji (1992) then invited his audience to carefully consider the ways in which their research and the development of individual careers had been used to advance only certain economic, political, and educational goals. Who had benefited (and who had not), both economically and politically, from the results of this work? What changes are needed, he asked, when we consider the social and political context, the consequences of our work for local communities, and the destination and uses of the results of our research and the development of new technology?

These questions led Hountondji (1992) to further explore how research and economic development had helped redefine the value of certain types of knowledge in society. Hountondji (1992) wanted to know how the results of these activities could embed themselves in the society that had produced them, while at the same time ignoring or devaluing local ways of knowing and doing.

How did society manage to appropriate the results of research and the development of new technologies and to what end? Each of these questions, Hountondji (1992) explained, “would require researchers to reassess the social and political context of scientific research, the use of technology, and the production of knowledge, in order to better understand the relationship of these things to society” (p. 238). Doing so, though, would require widening the scope of inquiry to include the collective benefits (or costs) to the larger community—costs and consequences embedded in research and technological developments. And, it would require a new understanding and acknowledgement of the way in which “disinterested” scholarship and technological development was complicit in reproducing a system of exploitation and inequality, even when certain individuals clearly seemed to benefit from this arrangement. In other words, Hountondji (1992) wanted the researchers to interrogate and critique their own work, in order to evaluate their projects and better understand the implications of such work.

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