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Michael Apple Speaks on Democracy in Education

Michael Apple, the John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, presents a Great Speakers Lecture at TC.

Most people in education would feel honored to introduce Maxine Greenec, William F. Russell Professor Emeritus in the Foundations of Education. It is a special person who has the honor of being introduced by her. That special person came to Teachers College to present a Great Speakers Lecture. His name is Michael Apple, and Greene was his doctoral advisor when he was a student at Teachers College.

Greene introduced Apple, the John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies at the University of Wisconsin, as "a colleague in the long struggle for democracy in education." The attitude that "whatever is public is bad and whatever is private is good," Apple told the audience of faculty, students, and administrators, is a recent trend which threatens the idea of democracy in education. This is leading to education being marketed as a commodity, and the belief that if those served by schools are treated as consumers, the "buyers" will determine which schools best suit their needs. Those schools, he said, will thrive. The schools that don't service the "consumer", will go out of "business." Proponents of this method of providing educational excellence believe that the market will sift the wheat from the chaff and only the best schools will remain.Apple sees other possibilities. "Competition is assumed to enhance responsibility of schools and give kids opportunities they do not now have," he noted.

For one thing, he said, "If you want to see what the market can do, walk outside this building." He was referring to the poverty in some of the communities in Harlem to which the economy has not been kind. The question he raises is what will a school have to do to become a top school and what will be the profile of the students in attendance. "Only those schools with rising performance indicators are worthy," Apple said, "and students who can demonstrate they are a ?good' investment will be a part of those statistics." Other students, those who are not as gifted, or even those with special needs, would serve to ultimately drag down the performance indicators of a school. So they would be less desirable as "consumers" and therefore, not provided with the services they need and are seeking.

In England, school choice led to conditions which "delegitimized more critical models of teaching and learning that parents and teachers wanted in their school," Apple explained. More emphasis was given to gifted children in fast-track classes and an alarming rate of students were being excluded from schools by the intense pressure to demonstrate higher achievement. "School choice is the school's choice," Apple added. "This presents a shift in emphasis not openly discussed as it should be-from what the school does for the student to what the student does for the school."

Unfortunately, he told his audience, objectives in education include expansion of the free market, reduction of government responsibility for social needs, instructive mobility in the school and the lowering of expectations for economic security. "These tendencies reinforce each other and cement conservative educational positions in our daily lives," he said.

In England and other countries, which have adopted similar means of school reform, Apple said, more power is spent in maintaining a good public image and money is taken away from curriculum and teaching.Teachers are experiencing less autonomy and schools are becoming increasingly similar in order to attract the best students. The curriculum, he said, becomes a mono-cultural curriculum.

The danger in this is described in his newest book, Cultural Politics and Education, where he writes, "what we may actually be witnessing is the revivification of more traditional class, gender, and especially race hierarchies." He told his audience at Teachers College, "One of the clearest things we have found is that the transformation of responsibility from public to private severely reduces the quality of education for the majority of children."

In nearly all of the countries studied, Apple noted, the market did not encourage diversity and it consistently exacerbated differences on race, ethnicity and class. Middle class and affluent parents are the most advantaged in this kind of reform, he said. Schools seek out children from these backgrounds, and parents in these families have both the informal knowledge and the skill to use markets to their benefit. Affluent parents can also take the time to visit more schools and don't have to rely on mass transportation to have access to better schools. "They are able to drive their children across town to the better schools," Apple said. The confidence that middle class and affluent families have is their most effective asset. And that, Apple says, is not neutral. "If you got money and power, you know the rules; if you don't, you don't," he said.

In Cultural Politics and Education, Apple says that it is necessary to look closely at the false economic "reality" being offered by economically powerful groups. They are, he says, exporting "the blame for the economic crisis onto the schools?to convince the public that schools are to be interpreted only in terms of their effects on the production of ?human capital.'" He adds that educators at universities have to be aware that, "Too many of ?our' efforts amount to well-paid fiddling while Rome burns. Too many of them are not about anything of public importance." He concludes, "For, in the end, we are talking about the lives and futures of our children."

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