In neoliberalism, an emphasis on free markets and fiscal austerity, along with a hostility to the commons and the public, coincide with an insistence on the inevitability of capitalism. In education, neoliberalism is associated with the privatization and marketization of schools and districts at the macro level, and an alienation and fragmentation at the level of curriculum, in which knowledge and teaching are reduced to a mechanized sequence of discrete items and acts. As it erodes the relationship between teachers and their work in the name of efficiency, neoliberalism transforms schools into spaces of epistemological and ontological foreclosure. In this context, an approach to curriculum is necessary that is concerned not just with the common senses that education reinforces but also with the basic possibilities for being, knowing, and agency that it makes available. Thus, the deep imbrication of racism in neoliberalism (expressed in the discourse of color-blindness and in state violence) means that in order to imagine alternatives to the latter we need to understand and interrupt the logic of coloniality that has organized capitalism from its origin, and which is intensified in the neoliberal moment. Furthermore, as the ideological work of schooling increasingly inheres in the ubiquitous rituals themselves of neoliberal accountability’s culture of constant assessment and auditing, a liberatory commitment means staging a public curriculum of collective refusal. These broad emancipatory principles suggest that, in practical terms, teachers ought to move beyond private resistance at the classroom level—a form of subversion that leaves intact the material and institutional practices that secure neoliberal governmentality—and begin to participate in larger actions against privatization, standardized testing, and budget cuts. Likewise, at the level of knowledge production, curriculum for liberation should expose the white and Western technicist rationality that undergirds neoliberal education. Affirming epistemological diversity, liberatory curriculum should prioritize non-Western texts and standpoints; explore the links between politics, culture, and spirituality; and ask what it would look like for society as a whole to start from marginalized values and understandings.
Noah De Lissovoy and Alex J. Armonda
Nicholas C. Burbules
Meritocracy is a normative principle directing the distribution of opportunities and benefits based on ability, talent, or effort. It is a central issue in education, which seems centrally concerned with identifying, developing, and rewarding merit. But many have come to doubt the reality of meritocracy, apart from its worth as an ideal; and in a society in which opportunities and benefits (including educational opportunities and benefits) are in fact not distributed based on merit, the belief in meritocracy functions as a kind of legitimating myth. The essay concludes that meritocracy is an ambivalent principle, producing some things that we want and many things that we do not want.
The debate concerning the nature of education, and more particularly the debate as it is directed toward the discourse and logic of schooling, has customarily taken place within the social science tradition. As a result, educational research has been characterized by a modern positivist science which has tended to privilege knowledge relevant to a technocratic evaluation and control of educational relationships and achievements through a process of socialization. From the relationship between student and teacher to the relationship between school and society, the widespread acceptance of quantitative research findings and behavioristic theory reveals that the evaluation of educational issues has been tied to an understanding of reality as ideological as it is “scientific.” What should constitute a scientific inquiry that effectively counters positivist assumptions and what should characterize the inquirer’s relation to the real are still central questions within educational theory and practice in the philosophy of education. In responding to these questions, the positioning of education in the social science tradition has given rise to the politicization of education in an ideologically directed process of socialization which, in turn, has resulted in education, including schooling, being subjected to the idiosyncratic stranglehold and abuse of ideological and cultural considerations propagated in the name of a pseudo-scientific scientism. Furthermore, the problem concerning the nature of education is more authentically situated within the human science tradition than within the social sciences. This argument is grounded on a fundamental objection to positivism and the influence that this has had on the tradition of the social sciences.
“Ideology” has fallen out of favor as a term of art. Terms like “equity,” “bias,” “gap,” “discourse,” “norm,” various “isms,” “consciousness,” “experience,” and “policy” tend to appear in scholarly and mainstream education dialogue when it comes to social-political practices. Yet the term is important both historically and for the present day. After its first formal usage in the 18th century, intellectuals produced several concepts of ideology. Ideology transformed from a science of ideas to propaganda; from critiques of truth and falsity to necessary strategy; from a focus on consciousness to a focus on practice. These transformations impacted educational research, particularly in the postwar period during a renewed emphasis on schooling’s social context. Revisiting the various concepts of ideology, particularly ideology as a practice, is valuable for educators and scholars today.
Klaas van Veen, Jasmijn Bloemert, and Fenna Wolthuis
Educational reforms in the Netherlands have a strong ideological nature. The main reason is that the quality of the educational system is generally high. Due to the ideological nature of educational reforms, teachers and schools are often not involved in the design of the reforms, which constitutes the central cause of reforms failing. The current reform regarding preparing the Dutch educational system for the 21st century also has ideological features, although attempts were made to involve teachers and schools to a large extent, making it more promising to succeed.
Historically, foreign language education in Japan has been influenced by local and global conditions. Of the two major purposes of learning a language—to gain new knowledge from overseas and to develop practical communication skills—the latter pragmatic orientation became dominant toward the end the 19th century, when access to foreign language learning increased and English became a dominant language to learn. The trend of learning English as an international language for pragmatic purposes has been further strengthened since the 1980s under the discourses of internationalization and neoliberal globalization. An overview of the current status of foreign language education reveals that there are both formal and non-formal learning opportunities for people of all ages; English predominates as a target language although fewer opportunities to learn other languages exist; English is taught at primary and secondary schools and universities with an emphasis on acquiring communicative skills, although the exam-oriented instructional practices contradict the official goal; and adults learn foreign languages, mainly English, for various reasons, including career advancement and hobbyist enjoyment. Such observations include contestations and contradictions. For instance, there have been debates on whether the major aim of learning English should be pragmatic or intellectual. These debates have taken place against the backdrop of the fact that the learning of a foreign language—de facto English—is much more prevalent in society in the early 21st century compared with previous periods in history, when access to learning opportunities was limited to elites. Another contradiction is between the multilingual reality in local and global communities and the exclusive emphasis on teaching English. This gap can be critically analyzed through a critical realist lens, through which multilayers of ideology in discourses and realities in the material world are examined. The predominance of English is driven by a neoliberal ideology that conceptualizes English as a global language with economic benefit, while testing and shadow education enterprises perpetuate the emphasis on English language teaching. The political economy of foreign language education also explains the longstanding socioeconomic disparity in English ability.
Christopher B. Crowley
The study of the curriculum and educational knowledge is a study of ideology. The curriculum is never neutral. It always reflects or embodies ideological positions. Ideologies present within the curriculum are negotiated and formulated through multilayered processes of strategic compromise, assent, and resistance. And as such, the curriculum ideologies become operationalized in both overt and hidden means—constructing subjects and objects of knowledge in active as well as passive ways. Teaching is always a political act, and discussions and debates over curriculum ideologies have a long history within the field of curriculum studies. In terms of its function related to the organization and valuing of knowledge, it remains important to recognize not only the contested nature of the curriculum but also how such contestations have ideological dimensions in the framing of the curriculum. Curriculum ideologies manifest in terms of what might be thought of as values, visions of the future, and venues or forms. This is to say, the curriculum is imbued with processes for valuing assumed choices related to its design, development, and implementation. These choices draw from ideologically based assumptions about the curriculum’s basis in political, economic, historical, sociocultural, psychological, and other realities—whether they be discursive or material in effect. Additionally, these curriculum choices also pertain to the means by which the curriculum achieves these goals or objectives through the formulation of designed experiences, activities, or other forms of learning opportunities. The curriculum—in certain regards as finding principle in the conveying of knowledge through a system of organization related to an outset purpose—has, as a central component to some degree, a vision of a future. The curriculum is something simultaneously constructed and enacted in the present, with often the expressed purpose of having implications and ramifications for the future. The curriculum’s role and purpose in constructing both tested and untested or imagined feasibilities again has to do with some type of vision of learning inflected by ideology. This may even take the form of envisioning a future that is actually a vision of the past in some form, or perhaps a returning to a remembered time that may have existed for some but not others, or by extension a similarly romanticized remembering of a mythic past, for instance. Ultimately, the curriculum, whether translated into practice or in being developed conceptually, is in all likelihood never exclusively one of these, but instead is in all probability an amalgamation of such to differing degrees wherein a multitude of possibilities and combinations exist. Among the key questions of curriculum studies that remain central in terms of both analyzing and theorizing the curriculum are: Whose knowledge counts and what is worthwhile? These questions help to raise to a level of concern the ideological underpinnings of all curricula in ways that through sustained critical dialog might work to collectively build a more sustainably just and equitable world.
Wenyang Sun and Xue Lan Rong
Language education is becoming an increasingly important topic in education in Asian countries, especially as schools in Asian countries have become more multilingual and multicultural as a result of rapid urbanization and globalization. A comparative analysis of the issues in language education reform in Asian countries—using China, India, Japan, South Korea, and Singapore as examples—shows that, historically and currently, English language education policies are shaped by various underpinning ideologies such as linguicism, nationalism, and neoliberalism. English can serve as a vehicle for upward socioeconomic mobility, or an instrument of linguistic imperialism, or both, in Asia contexts. These ideologies, through language education policies and reforms, impact the status as well as the pedagogy and promotion of the English language. There is a trend and a need with regard to addressing critical consciousness in English education in order to counter the forces of linguicism and neoliberalism in an increasingly multilingual, multicultural, and globalized world.
Vivian Maria Vasquez
Changing student demographics, globalization, and flows of people resulting in classrooms where students have variable linguistic repertoire, in combination with new technologies, has resulted in new definitions of what it means to be literate and how to teach literacy. Today, more than ever, we need frameworks for literacy teaching and learning that can withstand such shifting conditions across time, space, place, and circumstance, and thrive in challenging conditions. Critical literacy is a theoretical and practical framework that can readily take on such challenges creating spaces for literacy work that can contribute to creating a more critically informed and just world. It begins with the roots of critical literacy and the Frankfurt School from the 1920s along with the work of Paulo Freire in the late 1940s (McLaren, 1999; Morrell, 2008) and ends with new directions in the field of critical literacy including finding new ways to engage with multimodalities and new technologies, engaging with spatiality- and place-based pedagogies, and working across the curriculum in the content areas in multilingual settings. Theoretical orientations and critical literacy practices are used around the globe along with models that have been adopted in various state jurisdictions such as Ontario, in Canada, and Queensland, in Australia.
Jeff Share, Tatevik Mamikonyan, and Eduardo Lopez
Democracy in the digital networked age of “fake news” and “alternative facts” requires new literacy skills and critical awareness to read, write, and use media and technology to empower civic participation and social transformation. Unfortunately, not many educators have been prepared to teach students how to think critically with and about the media and technology that engulf us. Across the globe there is a growing movement to develop media and information literacy curriculum (UNESCO) and train teachers in media education (e-Media Education Lab), but these attempts are limited and in danger of co-optation by the faster growing, better financed, and less critical education and information technology corporations. It is essential to develop a critical response to the new information communication technologies that are embedded in all aspects of society. The possibilities and limitations are vast for teaching educators to enter K-12 classrooms and teach their students to use various media, critically question all types of texts, challenge problematic representations, and create alternative messages. Through applying a critical media literacy framework that has evolved from cultural studies and critical pedagogy, students at all grade levels can learn to critically analyze the messages and create their own alternative media. The voices of teachers engaging in this work can provide pragmatic insight into the potential and challenges of putting the theory into practice in K-12 public schools.