Educational Ethnography and the Politics of Globalization, War, and Resistance
Susan Notes: This remarkable essay, detailing the relationship between politics, the global economy, and school accountability, was the keynote address presented at the 26th Annual Ethnography in Education Research Forum Center for Urban Ethnography, Graduate School of Education University of Pennsylvania, February 25, 2005
Historically, teachers profess to be 'not political.' Read this, and you see that we can no longer afford this stance. Politics is eating us alive, corroding our every act as we fill schools with the language, practices and dispositions of punishment and obedience.
My mailbox is filled with teacher complaints that they don't can't speak out, can't tell parents what's happening, can't protect children. Pauline offers a message of hope and for these teachers, a way to find their voices.
By Pauline Lipman
Within 30 days, two significant events occurred in Chicago. On June 24, 2004, at an event hosted by the Commercial Club, an organization of the city's financial, corporate, and political elites, Chicago's Mayor Daley announced a dramatic new plan to revitalize Chicago Public Schools (CPS). Named Renaissance 2010, the plan calls for closing 60 public schools and opening 100 new schools, two-thirds of which will be charter or contract schools.
On July 16, Mayor Daley presided over the opening of Millennium Park, a new 24.5-acre, $1 billion 'world class' park, sculpture garden, and performance space on Chicago's refurbished lakeshore. Millennium Park is the latest jewel in a new downtown lakeshore landscape of parks, museums, tourist attractions, upscale shops, and cultural venues.
These two events were followed in September by a third. CPS announced a partnership with the U.S. Navy to make part of Senn High School a Naval Academy, the third military high school in the city.
Seemingly unrelated, these events capture the intersection of education and a corporate/ financial urban agenda, globalization, and the U.S. drive for world domination -- or what some have called "empire." I title my talk "Educational Ethnography and the Politics of Globalization, War, and Resistance" because I want to examine this intersection and its implications for our work as educators and ethnographers of education.
Nancy and Kathy's [the conference organizers] excellent call for this conference challenges us to grapple with how educators and students are experiencing and dealing with a time of intense local and global conflict, poverty, gun violence, educational policy demands, and testing. They ask, what are we as educators and educational scholars doing? I share their sense of urgency. I don't think any of us can continue as usual in the face of the current crisis -- and I will argue, opportunity -- in the world today.
I'm going to begin by describing salient features of the political economy and cultural politics of the period we are living through and what is at stake. Then I'm going to discuss the relationship of this social situation to educational policy and practice at the local level through two examples: (1) ideological implications of school accountability post-9/11 and (2) the relationship of school policy to globalization and the politics of race in the city.
I call this sort of work politically engaged ethnography. I am also going to talk briefly about activist research. My goal is to draw implications for how ethnographers of education might respond to the current crises. I'm also going to talk about the politics of hope, not as rhetoric, but as concretely grounded in a dialectic of great danger but also opportunity.
The Conjuncture of Global Neo-liberalism, Resistance, and U.S. Empire
The recent work of David Harvey (2004), Stephen Gill (2003), Robert Cox (2004) and others offers a way to think about these issues. Following them, we can characterize the present situation as the conjuncture of global neo-liberalism, resistance, and the U.S. drive for world domination. I'm going to take some time to talk about this conjuncture because I believe it is crucial to our understanding of what students and teachers are experiencing in schools and outside them and for what we might do as educators and ethnographers.
The world we are living in today is quite different from the period many of us here were born into. Stephen Gill argues that the fundamental political difference is a shift from hegemony to supremacy. He summarizes: the Italian social theorist, Antonio Gramsci, described hegemony as a form of rule in which "the coercive face of power recedes and the consensual face becomes more prominent" (2004, p. 83) as the ruling class persuades other classes to accept its leadership and core values. In the U.S. and Western Europe, Post-WWII through the mid-1970's was a period of relative political stability under the hegemony of the capitalist class with the U.S. in leadership. At the heart of this stability was the social compact between capital and labor. Labor traded increased wages, benefits, and consumer power in exchange for support for imperialism abroad and the capitalist order at home (Ranny, 2004).
This period began to unravel in the early 1970's with the worldwide structural crisis of capitalism. What emerged from this crisis was a shift to neoliberalism as national and global strategy. Its central features are familiar to everyone here: unregulated transnational flows of capital; multinational agreements to liberalize trade (e.g. NAFTA); structural adjustment policies directed against nations of the South by the IMF and World Bank; and cheapening of labor (what some have called the race to the bottom) by lowering wages, breaking unions, reducing benefits, exporting jobs to the lowest bidder, and degrading health and safety standards. Moreover, every sphere of economic, social, cultural, and biological life is now a potential commodity and open to privatization, from education to the human genome to indigenous corn planted for thousands of years by Mayan farmers in Mexico. Political geographer David Harvey calls this "accumulation by dispossession."
As we know, the results have been devastating. In the U.S., while a tiny handful have amassed enormous wealth and a strata of professional knowledge workers at the headquarters of globalization have benefited, the majority of U.S. workers are working longer hours for less pay and fewer social benefits. The National Low Income Housing Coalition reported in December 2004 there are only 4 out of the 3142 counties in the U.S. where a person working 40 hours a week for 52 weeks at minimum wage can afford an average-priced one-bedroom apartment. A vast army of immigrant workers displaced by globalized capitalism fills low-wage service and manufacturing jobs while many African Americans can find no place at all in the new economy. A surplus population from the standpoint of capital, they are driven out of central cities, banished to new urban and suburban Bantustans, and criminalized and controlled by the penal state -- as evidenced by the magnitude of African American incarceration (Brown, 2003; Parenti, 1999). Arundhati Roy (2003) points out that Bangladeshi men have a better chance of making it to the age of 40 than African American men in Harlem.
This is the ground that gives rise to the impoverishment, lack of affordable housing, loss of even minimal social supports, and psychological and physical violence visited on students in our classrooms.
Increasing impoverishment, social dislocation, possibly irreversible environmental damage, intensified exploitation, violence, and unfathomable disparities of wealth and poverty (see e.g., Bello, 2001; Bourdieu, 1998; Castells, 1989; Gill, 2003; Sassen, 1994; 1998) and among nations are undermining neoliberal claims of progress and social betterment.
There is a neoliberal crisis of legitimacy. Internationally, the promise of market driven economics began to unravel with the late 1990s meltdown of neoliberal economies (Argentina is a prime example) and the strength of anti-neoliberal political leaders in South America (Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and now Uruguay, are examples). In short, there is what Walter Bello calls "a crisis of the globalist project."
A powerful dialectic is unfolding. Global neoliberalism is provoking resistance unprecedented in its geographical scope and social diversity. This resistance forced stalemates of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle and the Fair Trade Agreement of the Americas in Cancun. Most significant, these policies have spawned a global social movement of farmers, workers, environmentalists, human rights activists, landless people, women, indigenous peoples, and intellectual and cultural workers that is increasingly defining itself in opposition to capitalism, imperialism, and war. Claiming another world is possible, and coalescing in the World Social Forum, these social movements are challenging the new orthodoxy that there is no alternative to neoliberal social policy and the primacy of capital (Porto Alegre II, 2003). There are now two globalizations -- one from above and the other from below. The stakes in this contest are perhaps higher than at any time in human history.
Parenthetically, there are, of course, multiple forms of opposition, and some are arguably self-destructive and reactionary on a national and international scale. Indeed, part of the success of George W. Bush's appeal to order and rigid moralities and the rise of the religious right may be a response to the insecurities of this crisis. But what I want to focus on here is the seeds of a more just world.
From Hegemony to Supremacy
Political economist Stephen Gill (2003) argues that there is a political shift from hegemony "power based on consensus" to a politics of supremacy --power without consensus. I'm going to talk about supremacy as both a global and a national political process. Internationally, power is organized around a supremacist bloc composed of the G7 states, transnational capital, and a strata of privileged workers at its core. This supremacist bloc uses the coercive pressures of transnational institutions, such as the IMF and WTO, to impose the dominance of the market on all countries and every sphere of social life. When necessary, institutional coercion is also backed up by political and military force.
Gramsci called supremacist rule inherently unstable because it lacks the consent of the vast majority. It maintains power but it lacks legitimacy and thus must increasingly resort to coercion to maintain its rule. As Gill argues, the social contradictions created by neoliberalism "may cause governments to engage increasingly in coercive processes of intensified surveillance" as well as discipline, punishment and incarceration "to sustain order in society" (p. 182). Lo'c Wacquant (2001) develops this point further: "The regulation of the working classes by what Pierre Bourdieu calls 'the left hand' of the State, symbolized by education, public health care, social security and social housing is being superseded (his emphasis) in the United States -- or supplemented -- in Western Europe -- by regulation through its 'right hand,' i.e., the police, courts and prison system...." (p. 1). Thus we see the dramatic growth of new internet and biogenetic technologies for individual surveillance, the proliferation of surveillance cameras in public places including schools, and launching of space technology surveillance. At the same time there is an intensification of the incarceration, policing, and containment of people of color, especially in cities, and particularly in schools.
This is not to say that strategies of persuasion and consent are dead, for example, through a school curriculum of official knowledge and the increasingly global role of the corporate media to manufacture consent for the "new world order." But the point is to recognize in education and other social spheres the implications of a politics of supremacy that is supplanting as well as operating alongside the production of compliant, self-regulating individuals and the ideology of freedom and economic opportunity. Indeed, coercion and surveillance are justified with talk about defending democracy and a system of economic opportunity.
How does U.S. foreign policy and the war and occupation of Iraq fit into this? In part, these policies are ideologically driven by a bunch of neoconservatives in the White House. But the U.S. drive for Empire is also a specific response to geopolitical economic realities. U.S. economic dominance is on the decline. Over the past 30 years the U.S. economy has increasingly come to rely on financial capital over production. One result is a huge trade deficit. At the same time, there are new rival, regional concentrations of economic power, particularly in Asia and Europe, but also Latin America and potentially in Africa with S. Africa at its helm. Moreover, an economy driven by speculative financial capital and marked by fake accounting schemes --as we saw with Enron and now Fannie Mae (the nations largest Mortgage broker) --is inherently unstable.
What we are seeing is a military strategy to reassert U.S. dominance. The neo-conservatives who ascended to power in the Bush administration are attempting to establish a new U.S. imperialism (Harvey, 2004; Tabb, 2003) based on unilateral and preemptive use of a massively superior military power. Michael Moore was basically right. September 11 provided a fortuitous opportunity to demonstrate U.S. military force in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most important, it provided the opportunity to occupy Iraq and reconstitute the Middle East in order to dominate the world economy by controlling Middle East oil resources (Chomsky, 2003; Harvey). As David Harvey succinctly puts it, "The U.S. has given up on hegemony through consent and resorts more and more to domination through coercion" (p. 2001). In the process it has evoked a rising tide of world opposition reflected in demonstrations by over 15 million people worldwide in Feb. 2003 against the Iraq war. This is a force to be contended with.
The shift to a "shock and awe unilateralist imperial strategy" of preemptive war and regime change-- (Tabb, 2003) has already evoked domestic opposition, as well. To sustain the huge monetary and human cost of militarism and war requires military-like discipline at home. Surveillance and repression of civil liberties are tools to contain resistance to neoliberal policy (Gill, 2003, also Brown, 2003) and to war. Again, 9/11 provided a rationale.
Politically Engaged Ethnography
How does all this affect education and what might be our response? I am not arguing that what happens in schools is determined by this broader context. Schools are far too complex and the power of competing ideologies too great for that. There are local agendas, multiple interests, micro politics, residual ideologies and structures. But I am arguing that we cannot fully analyze what is happening in schools and other educational sites without examining relationships to this broad context. Dave Rannny, in his book Global Decisions, Local Collisions argues that jobs, housing, living wages, and democratic participation in local government can only be addressed with reference to global economic and political processes. I would add education to that list.
I am proposing ethnography that politically engages the dialectical relationships between cultural and social processes and policies in schools and this larger social situation. I am also supporting activist research that is aligned with teachers, students, and community members as they act against the effects of neoliberal economic and social policy, militarism, and repression. I'm going to illustrate this agenda with several examples. I present them by no means as models, but as a way to open a conversation.
9/11 and the threat to democracy
The first example is ideological implications of education accountability in the post-9/11 context.
Under the premise of the "War on Terrorism," the U.S. government has set in motion a material and ideological process that seriously threatens democracy and civil liberties. The legal basis has been laid, and significant steps taken, to erase fundamental civil liberties, vastly increase government surveillance of individuals and organizations, and incarcerate people indefinitely without legal recourse. Thousands of people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent have been harassed and detained. University and high school teachers have been disciplined for expressing views critical of U.S. foreign policy. Peaceful demonstrators are fenced off in "protest pens" and swept up by police and arrested without cause or provocation (as were over 800 people in a Chicago anti-war demonstration in March 2003).
These actions depend on securing silence if not acquiescence from the majority. This ideological process is fueled by the manufacture of fear and grounded in a new common sense, a "fortress mentality" that frames repression as security, substitutes suspicion and fear for whatever sense of collectivity exists, and creates rigid divisions between "us" and "them." Marking off "dangerous others" is not new in a country founded on slavery and built on imperial conquests. Nevertheless, a specific justification and a particular ideological climate must be cultivated. A crucial aspect of this process is social practices in everyday life that reinforce simplistic binaries, repress critical thought, and teach people that systematic surveillance and repression are acceptable, necessary, and normal.
In 2002, when I was finishing up a study of schools experiencing high stakes accountability policies (Lipman, 2004), I was struck by the convergence of what I observed in Chicago elementary schools and the ideological climate that was being produced in the U.S. post-9/11. This took me back to my data to ask: If, as Stuart Hall suggests, education is a means "by which men and women are formed and shaped as social individuals," then, what social identities are being developed through current education policies grounded in accountability and centralized regulation of schools? And what ideologies are instantiated? Drawing on these studies, I argue that the constellation of language, practices, and dispositions which constitute the regime of education accountability normalize surveillance, punishment, and obedience to authority; constrain critical thought and agency; and undermine social solidarities. Let me take these one at a time.
Legitimating Obedience to Authority
First, I argue that high stakes testing, scripted curricula, and institutionalized punishment via school probation, student retention, and teacher evaluations based on test scores contribute to the legitimation of surveillance and punishment by the state as a normalized practice.
The teachers I studied, especially those in schools on probation, experienced accountability as a system of intense monitoring and punishment by powerful state authorities. It eroded processes in which educators and communities were beginning to work together to evaluate their schools in order to improve them (Lipman & Gutstein, 2004). To varying degrees, a culture of coercion and fear stifled oppositional voices. A teacher described the climate in her school:
"And then I have wanted so badly to rally parents, to talk with and inform them, but knowing that what would most likely happen is that the administrator would find a reason to fire me. You have to do something pretty awful to get fired from the Chicago Public Schools, unfortunately you have to do something pretty awful, and I have a feeling that someday I might have been accused of having done something pretty awful in order to get rid of me (5/2000)."
What is operating here alongside discipline as a form of Foucauldian self-regulation, is surveillance as open coercion. For teachers, the monitoring eye of the state and its ability to mete out punishment is explicit. The implications do not stop at the school door. Adjusting our lenses to align images of authoritarianism in schools and in society brings into focus the ideological implications of an education regime of regulation and surveillance.
Constraining Critical Thought and Agency
Second, as many others have noted, high stakes tests and the practices that surround them, especially in low-scoring schools, undermine critical thought and agency. I want to suggest that this has new implications in the present political landscape. Popen (2002) argues that we need to examine the discourses of containment that have stifled public debate about 9/11 and the wars that followed. One such discourse is literalism, a claim to truth as ahistorical, authentic, authoritative, and closed to debate. Literalists control the meaning of Sept. 11 by drawing on the rhetorical power of absolutes (Popen, p.390) "good vs. evil," "American vs. anti-American."
On one level, this is an artifact of Christian fundamentalism in the White House. But this way of thinking is also cultivated and valorized by seemingly non-ideological literalist social practices that teach us to think in simplistic binaries and that reinforce the epistemological authority of those who claim the power to name what is true and correct. Education accountability is a literalist discourse of one-right-answer test, predesigned standards, scripts, and test-preparation curricula. They rule out contextualized knowledge and critical analysis just when we need it most. I observed students who were practicing for the ITBS disagree with the answers in the test preparation booklet, that the teacher was using in place of the classroom text. Despite their convincing rationales, their teacher reminded them, "this is the answer they want you to give." Therefore, it was correct.
The certitude with which people and schools are officially and publicly sorted into categories of "failing" and "successful" and punished or rewarded reinforces moral absolutes and normalizes public acts of denunciation, eliding all complexity, history, and development. One administrator told me, "And if they're not able to master what's on that Iowa [high stakes test], I don't care what other things you're taught. Looking at it from what Bush is looking for, you're not taught. You are a failing school"(Interview, 1/2001).
The new authoritarianism is both material and ideological. Its import is magnified when we look at it through the lens of the U.S. Patriot Act, Total Information Awareness, racial profiling as national policy, and an orgy of jingoistic patriotism and fact creation in what passes for the nightly newscast, including on my NPR station.
Undermining Solidarity and Collective Action
Third, education accountability is part of a process of undermining social solidarities and collective action. Since 9/11 the government has claimed sole authority to define and police the public interest while promoting suspicion and mistrust among us. The federal round-ups, detentions, deportations, and persecution of people from Arab, South Asian, and Muslim countries after 9/11 and the continuing harassment, arrests, and impounding of Palestinian relief funds represent a new round of racial profiling cultivated on the fertile ground of racism and justified by supposed threats to "our way of life." People are being convinced to trade civil liberties for the promise of protection from dangerous "others" in our midst. The new security state solution plays to people's real fears in a world made insecure by economic and political policies that rob countries and regions of their resources and self-determination.
But the ascendance of the security state as a common sense solution is also grounded in the erosion of social solidarities over the past 20 years. As neoliberal policy privatizes the public sphere and shifts responsibility for social problems onto individuals, it is undermining whatever ethic of social responsibility and collective action was forged by labor and social movements in previous decades.
School accountability is the lived experience of shattered solidarities. From the magnified consequences of individual failure or success, to competition over test scores, to an elaborate hierarchy of surveillance, accountability, and blame, the policies pit people against each other and promote individual interests against collective action. In schools I studied I found a circular culture of blame for low scores that pitted administrators, teachers, students and parents against each other while teachers vied for the highest scoring students.
In this sense, social practices produced by school accountability contribute to a larger ideological shift that erodes our capacity to act together for the common good. This has important implications for the growth of the Security State.
In particular, the policies provoke an intensification of racism and racialized blame against African American and Latino students who are held responsible for bringing down a school's test scores. In schools I studied, desegregating data by race did not provoke an examination of underlying ideologies, structures, school norms and practices, and dominant assumptions that marginalized students of color. Instead it led to teachers and administrators blaming those students and their families and provoked increased attention to their supposed deficits. Moreover, scripted instruction and rote, test-driven curricula are reserved mainly for low-income African American and Latino students. The schools subject to the strictest regulation and control and the communities stigmatized by low test scores are African American and Latino (Lipman, 2002). The process of testing, sorting, and displaying failure becomes a spectacle of the supposed dysfunction of these students and their communities. By employing the vocabulary of the prison system -- probation, retention, and supervision -- accountability contributes to a culture of punishment and incarceration directed communities of color.
I am not arguing that school accountability was specifically designed to serve a politics of surveillance and coercion. In fact, it is actually an internationalized policy regime. I am arguing that the essence of educational accountability and centralized regulation of schools is the imposition of the authority of the state on the work and consciousness of adults and children and this has specific ideological implications in the post-9/11 U.S.
Chicago's Renaissance 2010 and A Corporate/ Financial Agenda
The second example is the relationship of education policy to globalization and the politics of race in the city. Here my example is a study of Chicago's "Renaissance 2010" Plan
Renaissance 2010 is the most recent step in a corporate/financial agenda for Chicago. It will open up a sector of public education to the market by offering school choice, weaken school employee unions, and eliminate local school councils (LSCs) in the schools affected. LSCs are elected governance bodies composed primarily of parents and community members. Whatever their weaknesses they institutionalize pubic participation and are one of the very few official forms of local democracy in the city.
With Renaissance 2010, the role of corporate and political elites in public school policy is explicit and is infiltrating the structure and culture of the central office. The Plan's outline was laid out in a Commercial Club Report -- called "Left Behind"-- published in June 2003 which articulated an ideological and pragmatic commitment to marketing public schools.
Mayor Daley announced Renaissance 2010 at a Commercial Club event, and the Commercial Club agreed to raise $100 million for the project. In exchange, the mayor appointed a shadow cabinet comprised of corporate and bank CEOs and CPS leaders. This unelected body has the authority to choose Ren 2010 school operators and evaluate the schools. A CPS staff member told me confidentially that the shadow cabinet is the "real decision-maker" at CPS headquarters. CPS also created a new top leadership position, and gave the job to David Vitale, former Vice President of Bank One and CEO of the Chicago Board of Trade. And the school board contracted with A. T. Kearney, a leading corporate consulting firm, to develop the Renaissance 2010 "message and communications timing." Kearney promised to "provide a unique business perspective" and "thought leadership" to CPS leaders. It proposed a McSchool "franchised model" for "less bureaucratically controlled schools" run by "venders" with a "regional business services center" in place of the current Area Instructional Officer. The business center will service "clients," in place of teachers and administrators. (See Kearney, 2004, October 7, 2004, May 6.)
The CCC's direct intervention is an indicator of how strategic schools are in a corporate/financial agenda for the city -- an agenda that leads to greater social, economic, and spatial inequality. This agenda grows out of changing global economic conditions in which cities compete directly in the global economy. Here schools play a key role. "Good" schools, as defined by test scores, certify that the city can provide a workforce with the skills and disciplined dispositions to meet the needs of employers. Excellent schools are also essential to attract the knowledge workers and professionals at the center of global economy. But the point I want to focus on here is the connection between school policy and gentrification.
Gentrification, African American Exclusion, and Middle Class Colonization of the City
The initial target of Renaissance 2010 was the Bronzeville area on the South Side, historic center of Black cultural and intellectual life. Over the past 30 years, Bronzeville has been devastated by deindustrialization and public disinvestment. The massive high rise public housing complexes that lined the expressway at the edge of Bronzeville had one of the highest concentrations of poverty in the U.S. All that is history. Under the guise of creating mixed income communities, 19,000 units of public housing in Chicago are being demolished. Most of it is completed. According to a report by Suhir Venkatesh, most of the displaced African American residents have been dispersed to other extremely low-income, racially isolated urban and suburban areas, and few have been relocated in new mixed income housing. With the landscape scrubbed clean of the buildings and the people who lived there, new luxury housing complexes are rising up in their place. Bronzeville is one of the hottest gentrifying areas in the city as reflected in two indicators: rate of increase in housing prices and rate of house sales.
Bronzeville also had the highest concentration of proposed school closings under Ren 2010 until CPS withdrew its proposal under community pressure. At the many community meetings, rallies, public hearings, and picket lines I participated in, parents, community members, teachers and students denounced CPS for closing their schools and gentrifying their community. Many of them contended that the accountability system set them up to be closed down. Parents described a revolving door of programs, principals, probation partners, and central office interventions. As one LSC leader said, "You can't separate the failure in these schools from what's been done to them by CPS." A parent asked the school board, "How do you expect us to trust you after what you've done to our children?"
A pervasive theme is that the city is using the school closings to drive out low-income African Americans and support gentrification by opening new schools of choice to attract middle class residents. Bronzeville protesters picketing outside the Board of Education chanted, "We're not blind. Just follow the dollar sign."
About a week ago, I was at a meeting in a church in Englewood, another South side African American neighborhood where schools are being closed. Every speaker who confronted the CPS official sent out to respond to the community was crystal clear about the history of disinvestment in their schools and community and the gentrification and removal of low-income African Americans that is driving Renaissance 2010. To quote a community member, "We're being pushed out of the city under the guise of school reform." The closing of schools is both concretely, and symbolically, linked to the destruction of these communities. Englewood High School is the signature school in the community. The community meeting was filled with its former students. One of them said, "When you destroy a community's school, you destroy a community." This refrain has been repeated around the city. On the West Side, a resident of North Lawndale, called Ren 2010 "an act of war on the community." The significance of this community analysis is illuminated by looking at global economic and political forces shaping the city.
Gentrification as Global Urban Strategy
In an environment of global capital mobility, cities engage in what David Harvey (2001) calls aggressive "space marketing" (see also Brenner & Theodore, 2002). Chicago's ubiquitous new boulevards and wrought iron fences, its massive lakeshore remake, and now Millennium Park exemplify this strategy. Gentrification is a crucial aspect of marketing the city, and Neil Smith argues that it has become a central motive force of global urban economic development, "a pivotal sector in the new urban economies" (Smith, 2002, p.447 ).
Unlike housing-centered gentrification of the past, the new wave of gentrification transforms whole landscapes. It includes gentrification "complexes" of consumption, recreation, culture, and public space as well as housing. Smith argues that "[G]entrification as urban strategy weaves global financial markets together with large- and medium-sized real-estate developers, local merchants, and property agents with brand- name retailers, all lubricated by city and local governments." (Smith, p.443). Nothing could more clearly describe what is happening in Chicago.
The key producers/investors in gentrification are consortia of global financial capital. But the consumers are the middle and upper-middle classes. In this sense, new gentrification complexes represent the middle class colonization of the city, and quality schools are a key part of "space marketing" specific neighborhoods to the middle class. The class nature of this process is, as Smith points out, hidden in the language of regeneration and revitalization -- or in Chicago's case "renaissance." Gentrification is cast as a positive strategy for urban decay and the achievement of social stability through mixed income communities with mixed income schools. The implication is that there cannot be good working class schools and communities. Where mixed income housing has been built, on the site of the former Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago, former project residents are few in number, carefully selected, and subject to a separate set of behavior rules.
Race is obviously central here. And in the post-civil rights era it is conflated with class. A CPS press release announced that schools to be closed (all in low-income Black communities) exhibited a "culture of failure." The discourse of failure and "cleaning out" and "rebuilding" is rooted in the demonization of those to be displaced. This is the significance of closing schools and reopening them with new names and new identities.
Bronzeville is a valuable piece of land, but its development is impeded by its construction in the white cultural imagination as a space of danger and lawlessness. A population that has become expendable in the restructured labor force ("unskilled" and "unmanageable") and "dangerous" in the city's global city image of middle class culture, sophistication, and stability, must be removed and/or contained and regulated. The dispersal/ removal of low-income African Americans is facilitated by closing the schools and forcing children to transfer to schools in other neighborhoods, some across gang lines.
At the same time, the regulation of students of color is accomplished through militarized neighborhood high schools and public military schools. These schools help establish a new "truth" -- if schooling is going to work for urban youth of color, it will need to be highly regimented. Providing discipline for Senn High School students is part of the discourse of local business owners and developers who support the Naval Academy.
In short, Renaissance 2010 exemplifies how education policy can serve the agenda of financial capital and the city's political leadership by responding to and promoting gentrification, undermining unions, weakening democratic community participation, and expelling and regulating people of color.
However, Renaissance 2010 it also exemplifies a global dialectic playing out on the local level. As school policies are implicated in a larger neoliberal agenda of financial speculation, privatization, union busting, gentrification, and racial regulation it draws together social sectors and communities that have not been working together. Ren 2010 is a work in progress with CPS constantly shifting targets in response to community pressure. It promises to be a long, complicated struggle with no certain outcome. But there are the beginnings of a nascent alliance of African American and Latino communities on the West and South sides, parents, LSCs and LSC Federations, teachers and other school employee unions, students, progressive teacher organizations, and school reform groups. Hundreds of teachers, students, and community residents showed up to challenge CPS leaders and naval recruiters at Senn. When naval representatives tried to show a recruiting video, many turned their backs. Despite community hearings, rallies, and demonstrations, CPS approved it. Blatant disregard for community voice and the transparent link to gentrification and removal of people of color has galvanized opposition in multiple communities. An Englewood High School student told a CPS official: "Your whole plan is to push us out to those beat up suburbs. We're going to stay in this city. We're not moving."
We are presented with both danger and opportunity. The stakes are high. At the Englewood church meeting last week, the reverend closed his prayer/ manifesto with these words to the CPS representative: "We're not going to allow disrespect without consequences. In god's name." Ren 2010 is a bold plan to redesign schools to redesign the city. It emanates from the pinnacles of financial and political power. It is not only about schools but also about who will live in the city, who will have a voice, what kind of city it will be, and who will have what kinds of jobs. This is an example of what some have termed "glocalization" -- the dialectics of the global situation unfold in local contexts. Without exaggerating what is happening in Chicago, I want to suggest that Ren 2010 demonstrates that education issues, in the present situation, have the potential to be a lightening rod for opposition to neoliberal agendas. People make the links because the issues are linked.
Opportunities for activist research
Finally, I want to talk briefly about opportunities for Activist Research
My study of Renaissance 2010 is a product of a hybrid methodology: one part critical policy analysis, one part qualitative research, and one part activism. It is grounded in past qualitative work and analysis and informed by my participation in numerous school board meetings, public hearings, community and school meetings, rallies, press conferences, picket lines, planning sessions, coalition meetings, and forums over the past six months. During this time I have had on-going conversations and working relationships with parents, students, teachers, school administrators, community organization leaders and members, members and heads of local school councils, the director and staff of a city-wide parent organization, congressional staff, representatives of teachers and school employee unions, school reform organizations, and community research groups. I have not only observed but also strategized, testified, and organized.
In this work I am looking for ways to engage in activist-oriented research in concert with community organizations. A graduate student and I collaborated with geographers at the University of Illinois - Chicago to produce maps that depict the intersection of gentrification patterns and Renaissance 2010 school closings. Community organizations took these maps and the policy briefs we wrote door to door in the community. Our next step is to collaborate on vignettes in which students, teachers, and families speak about the effects of CPS policies on their schools. Our research blurs borders between activism and ethnography. It is both partisan and methodologically rigorous, committed to accuracy and complexity and to social justice.
The people affected by these policies know what is happening in their schools and communities. They have an historical perspective grounded in lived experience and developed analyses of the race and class forces at work. They have data, multifaceted strategies, articulate spokespeople, and political will. They also have the input of lawyers, school reform organizations, and community research groups with well-researched information. There is much to learn from them. I have been speaking with them at community hearings and forums. What my research can add is a political economic analysis and engagement with a global perspective. I think it's important, but it's just one piece. I understand that activist research means collaboration under the direction of the communities affected, and that what we know is just one piece.
Beyond critique, the power of the World Social Forum is that it beginning to demonstrate concrete alternatives to the neoliberal discourse of inevitability that claims there is no alternative to capitalism and the market. Community leaders against Ren 2010 are beginning to say the key thing we need is an alternative.
The oppressiveness of high stakes testing, racism, and militarized public schools have given rise to social justice education projects around the country. We need to study, theorize, and document them. There are powerful examples at this conference. I will list three more.
First, in Chicago, there is a new social justice high school born out of a hunger strike by Mexican mothers and grandmothers. Researchers and community people are documenting its development.
Second, the UCLA Institute for Democracy, Education and Access (IDEA) sponsors a powerful summer seminar for high school youth of color to learn to do critical social research. Ernest Morrell is both co-director and ethnographer of that project. His documentation and analysis provide theoretical and practical direction for similar projects.
Third, I am working with graduate students and teachers to study, theorize about, and develop a small social justice academy in a Chicago public high school. Tomorrow, they will be discussing their research and practice. These projects illustrate the role of activist-oriented research in the development of a new education agenda.
Hope Grounded in the Dialectics of the Present Situation
I want to end by returning to the dialectic that I began with. We are in a dangerous period. The forces that dominate the world: politically, economically, culturally, and militarily are enormous. Hope would be idealistic if it were not grounded in this social dialectic.
Stephen Gill argues that the diverse social movements that have developed in response to global neoliberalism are beginning to form what Gramsci called "an organism, a complex element of society" that is beginning to point towards the realization of a "collective will." It's a global political movement with no center or clear leadership structure. It cannot be easily decapitated. It seeks to combine diversity with new forms of collective identity and solidarity in and across civil societies. (Gill calls this movement "the post-modern prince," building on Gramsci, who, in his prison writings, referred to the working class movement as the "Prince.") Although the many movements are local in nature there is a broad recognition that local problems may require global solutions. Gill concludes: "So whilst one can be pessimistic about globalization in its current form [and I would add about U.S drive for empire) this is perhaps where some of the optimism for the future may lie: a new set of democratic identities that are global, but based on diversity and rooted in local conditions, problems and opportunities."
Resistance to militarization of schools, oppressive testing and accountability regimes, school closings for gentrification, and privatization of public education are part of this. As are the nascent social justice schools, projects in which youth do critical social research in their communities, the teachers helping students learn to read and write the world with mathematics, and so on. These projects create new educational discourses.
Our work does not stand outside this dialectic. I'm proposing that we think more about how we can engage it. I am also supporting activist research that challenges -- together with students, teachers, and communities -- ways in which schooling is being used to further a dangerous agenda of political coercion, economic and social inequality, racial exclusion, war, and the commodification of social life and research that examines in complex, nuanced ways the possibilities of projects that bear the seeds of an alternative future.
I'm going to finish by talking about a movie. I just saw the film "The Take" about a movement of factory workers in Argentina who are taking over and running factories that were closed down by their owners in the crash of the Argentine economy, when the neoliberal dream turned to nightmare. The film examines the web of neoliberal economic and social relations that gave rise to unemployment and impoverishment. Argentina had the largest middle class in Latin America; now 50 percent live below the poverty line, and whole families in tattered designer clothes pick through the garbage. The film focuses on the movement of factory occupations. Workers occupy the factories, get them running again, and operate them collectively with no bosses. The slogan of this movement is "Resist. Occupy. Produce." This is not an ideological movement. These are the factories where the workers worked until they were closed, left idle, and in some cases the machines sold as the economy crashed and transnational investors pulled out their capital. With no jobs, the workers have really no other choice. Under worker management and control, they are proving to be more efficient, to run more smoothly, to charge less for their products, and of course to be more equitable.
The film follows the workers through this process. It examines what the factory means to them, what work means in their lives, how the occupations have united the community, and how they have changed how the workers see themselves. All good ethnographic questions. It also explores the enormous difficulties and uncertain future of this movement. The film is a nuanced analysis of global and national social forces, the constraints of the present world order and the possibilities. One garment worker said at the end of the film that their movement showed that another world really is possible and she asked, if we can run the factories this way, why can't we run the society like this. This experience is the basis for a new set of social relations and a new discourse of agency and social justice. I thought it was a very good ethnography.
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INDEX OF RESEARCH THAT COUNTS