Official Knowledge: Democratic Education in a Conservative Age 2nd Edition, Kindle Edition
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"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
Is the world really falling apart? Is the ideal of progress obsolete? Cognitive scientist and public intellectual Steven Pinker urges us to step back from the gory headlines and prophecies of doom, and instead, follow the data: In seventy-five jaw-dropping graphs, Pinker shows that life, health, prosperity, safety, peace, knowledge, and happiness are on the rise. Learn more
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Apple attempts to describe a conservative ideological alliance that is actively remaking American public education today. As an example of this, he describes how neoliberal institutions seek to reconceptualize "democracy" to mean the freedom of market-style choice. In such a model, the citizen is reformed as a consumer. Thus, reforming schools means applying the market rules to public education and allowing schools to compete for students. Unsurprisingly, this movement supports voucher and charter movements, and is obsessed with using supposedly objective standardized tests as a means of classifying and stratifying our students into "high" and "low" flyers. In this mechanistic view of school, students are parts to be fashioned for the machinery of the economy; the sooner we can separate the widgets from the lug nuts, the better. He goes on to describe how neoliberal goals align with the values of neoconservatives and authoritarian populists, as well as a new managerial class that serves to carry out the measuring and accountability such a system demands.
The book is not perfect. Apple's goal is construct a grand narrative of how American education arrived at its current state rather than linger too long in the nitty gritty of case studies. When empirical evidence is produced, he focuses on what I would consider to be sideshow targets--the history of state textbook adoption policies, or the rise of Channel 1 for example, rather than, say, examples of how Texas-approved textbooks whitewash curriculum and deskill teachers. In these cases, we're expected to take his word for it.
Nonetheless, the book is remarkable in its prescience. Despite the second edition being written at the turn of the millennium, Apple correctly forecasts the rise of standardized testing as the arbiter of students' "progress" and identifies the conservative alliance advancing an ever-encroaching accountability and market-based "choice" culture that shifts blame for students' performance from socioeconomic conditions to teachers and the students themselves. History has proven many of Apple's theories correct, and makes Official Knowledge well worth reading for anyone interested in education.
Apple does explain notions of Channel One and product placement in public schools, which then dictates curriculum. He also goes into detail about how the media influences education and contemporary society. Nevertheless, he spends more time pointing fingers and telling you what is wrong. However, he never expresses any lucid or tangible means to ameliorate this quagmire facing our youth and public education.
There is a fine line between making a wonderful argument and whining like a baby. Apple does a great job performing the latter. Mind you, Republicans are not perfect politicians by any stretch of the imagination. Just look at some of the things that have happened over the past few years. Yet, Apple's diatribe seems more like whimpering, instead of fighting back, or addressing a solution to all the things, he is complaining about. Overall, this is an interesting read, but Apple is nowhere near the philosophical icon of John Dewey.