Education Reform as the New Misogyny: A Reader

While watching The Wolverine (2013) starring Hugh Jackman, I noticed that along with Wolverine’s adamantium claws, Jackman’s nipples were featured prominently, leading me to search for the film’s promotional poster. And my suspicions were confirmed:

The Wolverine (2013)

Apparently Eva Green’s thinly-veiled nipples are not only more dangerous than the gun she is holding in the new Sin City sequel, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, poster, but also more offensive than Jackman’s nipples (despite the violence and extended sequences of a topless Jackman, the film is rated PG-13 “for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, some sexuality and language”).

This contradiction highlights Hollywood’s perverse double-standard that includes tabooing female nudity while also disproportionately objectifying women in gratuitous sex and nudity in films, and then speaks to the remaining systemic and institutional misogyny throughout the U.S.

Along with Hollywood and the complicit media, the central elements of education reform in the U.S. share one important thread among the repeated blaming of “bad” teachers, “bad” teachers unions, and the urgent need to fire those teachers by dismantling those unions.

That thread? Teaching remains a field dominated by women, and one we can assume the public identifies with women. As Nancy Flanagan explains:

But–as Solnit deftly points out–a great deal of bias goes unrecognized and unacknowledged in ordinary life in a male-dominated culture. Folks in education–male and female–just don’t see it, or feel it. Or the huge imbalance in power and influence is obscured by a handful of women who serve as highly visible role models.

Do the math, however–about 84% of K-12 teachers in the United States are female, a rapidly increasing disproportion.  Combined with the fact that the modal level of teacher experience is currently one year, it’s easy to see how major shifts in curriculum, instruction, assessment and hiring have been accomplished. Nobody’s pushing back.

I am struck that of all the professions in the U.S., why is there no urgent call for no “bad” doctors, no “bad” lawyers, no “bad” CEOs, or no “bad” politicians? And I must note that each of these remains male-dominated—both in numbers and in social perception.

As well, teaching as the work of women has been traditionally monitored by a demand that teachers remain politically quiet, passive, and now in 2014, education reform is the new misogyny.

The surface elements of education reform that currently target teacher quality and teachers unions are as thin veils as Green’s nightgown, but socially, the U.S. appears offended only by the exposed breast on a film poster.

But once we remove that veil, it seems irrefutable that education reform is driven by a 21st-century misogyny that must be confronted. I offer, then, this reader:

In Acts of Resistance, Pierre Bourdieu nearly 20 years ago recognized:

In the United States, the state is splitting into two, with on the one hand a state which provides social guarantees, but only for the privileged, who are sufficiently well-off to provide themselves with insurance, with guarantees, and a repressive, policing state, for the populace. (p. 32)

Only a decade later, New Orleans was ground-zero for disaster capitalism’s end game: The entire public school teacher workforce was fired, a workforce dominated by African Americans and women, a representation of the so-called middle class that U.S. political leaders claim to cherish.

Bourdieu adds:

In all countries, the proportion of workers with temporary status is growing relative to those with permanent jobs. Increased insecurity and “flexibility” lead to the loss of modest advantages…which might compensate for low wages, such as long-lasting employment, health insurance and pension right. (p. 37)

While teaching as a profession has remained relatively low-pay, teachers have often been pacified by the mirage of “fringe benefits,” but now it seems, that as the circumstances of all workers are reduced (the Walmartification of the U.S. workforce as part-time with no benefits), the next phase of that reduction is the lowest rungs of the professional ladder—those professions held mainly by women.

As Bourdieu explains by way of Max Weber, “dominant groups [read: white males in the U.S.] always need…a theoretical justification of the fact that they are privileged. Competence is nowadays at the heart of that” justification, which for teachers is the rise of proving teacher quality through measurement—something that those in power do not need to do since they maintain the public’s gaze on the demand for others to prove their worth (p. 43).

Systemic and institutional racism, classism, and misogyny are protected by repeating pacifying and distracting narratives, as confronted by Bourdieu:

I’m thinking of what has been called the “return of individualism,” a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy which tends to destroy the philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility….The return to the individual is also what makes it possible to “blame the victim,” who is entirely responsible for his or her own misfortune, and to preach the gospel of self-help, all of this being justified by the endlessly repeated need to reduce costs for companies. (p. 7)

Racial minorities, women, and children remain disproportionately disadvantaged in the U.S., the wealthiest and most power nation in human history. But that wealth and advantage also remain disproportionately hoarded by a white and male leadership that demands everyone proves her/his worth.

Education reform is the new misogyny as well as the new racism and classism.

The commonality we are failing to recognize and mobilize is that most of us are and always will be workers. To protect and honor the field of teaching is to protect and honor all workers—just as to protect and honor the field of teaching is to call for an end to misogyny.

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9 thoughts on “Education Reform as the New Misogyny: A Reader

  1. Pingback: Education Reform as the New Misogyny: A Reader – @ THE CHALK FACE
  2. There are so many legitimate aspects to the failure in Urban Education that we miss the Failure Elephant in the room.

    Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm ?
    …The Elephant

    SEE https://www.facebook.com/ACEsT
    (June 17, 2014)

    We all must start with a MAJOR paradigm shift in Urban Education. Incremental adjustments are (as David Sciarra said re Education antics in Philadephia): rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

    The customer , child must be first, even for those who insist on a charter ‘business model’.

    Bona fide, successful businesses start with the consumer. If the Child, consumer is first, then the MAJOR shift in the urban education paradigm is to deal with the whole child, starting with chronic, urban, or complex trauma and it’s neurobiological effects.
    .

    We must TOTALLY restart.

    We have been “incrementalizing” around the edges. (Charter Schools, Common Core, “Technology”, Standardized Testing, Curriculum tweaks, more funding, less funding, cut Teacher pay, increase Teacher incentives, Longer School days… whaaa ?).

    None of the above will generate the orders-of-magnitude improvements we all seek. None address the injuries, The Elephant.

    When we ignore The Elephant, we ignore the key variable. It renders analyses impotent at best, and destructive at worst.

  3. Thanks for the very good set of sources accompanying your interesting argument. I have a lot of ideas running around in my head right now, but they would not make a coherent response, so perhaps more later.

  4. Thanks Paul for clearly explaining the connection between current ed deform and misogyny.

    The teachers are manifesting symptoms of abused women in a bad relationship who live in denial in order to survive.

    So damn sad.

  5. Pingback: Can Corporations Be Trusted To Reform Society?
  6. Pingback: Obama Education Agenda and the Tone-Deaf Follies | the becoming radical
  7. Pingback: empathyeducates – Obama Education Agenda and the Tone-Deaf Follies
  8. Pingback: ESPN, Mansplaining, and the U.S. Media | the becoming radical
  9. Pingback: Education and Gendered Cheese – Nipples + Misogyny | mainstreamsen

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