Nastiness, Failed Logic of Racism Denial

While we can never make statistically valid claims about who and what is posted in online comments, I believe those comments represent common beliefs more than we’d like to admit.

Possibly the nastiest and most troubling comments occur when I publish something about race and racism, as in this piece in The State (Columbia, SC) about racial inequity in school discipline and mass incarceration.

Let’s consider some of the failed logic:

  • “I don’t believe your statistics and here are some statistics that prove my point”—this comment reveals the power of seeking support for a belief someone will never release. What is also interesting is that this approach almost always shifts entirely the discussion, not actually refuting the original statistical evidence: to reject racism in mass incarceration, for example, single-mother birth rates are cited.
  • Racism denial almost always plays the poverty card, but in the racial inequity of mass incarceration, that point falls flat. Impoverished white males outnumber black males 2 to 1; thus, incarceration is not more significantly a function of poverty than race, since black males outnumber white males 6 to 1 in prison.
  • Racism denial also has a favorite statistic: black on black crime rates. However, white on white crime rates are about the same as black on black crime rates, both over 80%. In fact, crime in the U.S. is typically within race and by someone the victim knows (often family). If within-race crime rates explained mass incarceration, then blacks and whites would be about equally represented in prisons.
  • And finally, I have been told by email that I don’t know anything about being a police officer since I have never been a police officer—these denials are by white former officers who, of course, know nothing about being black (using their logic). Much of what I offer about the racism of school discipline and the judicial system is based on the research and lived experienced of blacks, to me a much more credible source of understanding the inequity.

The raw data on school discipline and mass incarceration are undeniable in terms of racial inequity. As I noted, that requires a careful and nuanced consideration of the many reasons that inequity exists. In the case of mass incarceration, Michelle Alexander has offered a detailed examination that uncovers significant racism in who is arrested, how (and if) people are charged, and what sentences are handed down.

Decades of research also shows racial inequity in school discipline and then high and disturbing correlations between school discipline and incarceration rates.

Denial of racism in school discipline and incarceration, from the nasty to the illogical, is embracing school and judicial realities that mis-serve black children and black young adults—and then mis-serves us all.

Asking why these inequities exist so that they can be eradicated is a call for justice, not a plea for anarchy.

Education Accountability as Disaster Bureaucracy

The puzzle isn’t hard to put together because the pieces are in clear sight and fit together easily, but political, media, and public interest in facing the final picture is at least weak, if not completely absent.

Gerald Bracey (2003) and more directly Gerald Holton (2003) exposed that the stated original intent under the Ronald Reagan administration was to create enough negative perceptions of public education through A Nation at Risk to leverage Reagan’s political goals:

We met with President Reagan at the White House, who at first was jovial, charming, and full of funny stories, but then turned serious when he gave us our marching orders. He told us that our report should focus on five fundamental points that would bring excellence to education: Bring God back into the classroom. Encourage tuition tax credits for families using private schools. Support vouchers. Leave the primary responsibility for education to parents. And please abolish that abomination, the Department of Education. (Holton, n.p., electronic)

The accountability formula spawned after A Nation at Risk swept the popular media included standards, high-stakes testing, and increased reports of pubic school failure.

While the federal report created fertile ground for state-based school accountability, that proved not to be enough for political leaders, who within 15-20 years began orchestrating national versions of education accountability. The result was No Child Left Behind and then Common Core standards and the connected high-stakes tests—both neatly wrapped in bi-partisan veneer.

About thirty years after Reagan gave the commission that created A Nation at Risk the clear message about the need for the public to see public education as a failure, David Coleman, a lead architect of Common Core, exposed in 2011 what really matters about the national standards movement; after joking about having no qualifications for writing national education standards, Coleman explained:

[T]hese standards are worthy of nothing if the assessments built on them are not worthy of teaching to, period. This is quite a demanding charge, I might add to you, because it has within it the kind of statement – you know, “Oh, the standards were just fine, but the real work begins now in defining the assessment,” which if you were involved in the standards is a slightly exhausting statement to make.

But let’s be rather clear: we’re at the start of something here, and its promise – our top priorities in our organization, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about our organization, is to do our darnedest to ensure that the assessment is worthy of your time, is worthy of imitation….

There is no amount of hand-waving, there’s no amount of saying, “They teach to the standards, not the test; we don’t do that here.” Whatever. The truth is – and if I misrepresent you, you are welcome to take the mic back. But the truth is teachers do. Tests exert an enormous effect on instructional practice, direct and indirect, and it‟s hence our obligation to make tests that are worthy of that kind of attention.

The pieces to the puzzle: Education accountability began as a political move to discredit public schools, and next the Common Core standards movement embraced that above everything, tests matter most.

And now we have the final piece; Gerwertz reports:

In a move likely to cause political and academic stress in many states, a consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics.

Like Naomi Klein’s disaster capitalism—the consequences of which are being exposed in New Orleans, notably through replacing the public schools with charter schools—the Common Core movement is not about improving public education, but a form of disaster bureaucracy, the use of education policy to insure the perception of educational failure among the public so that political gain can continue to be built on that manufactured crisis.

Yes, disaster bureaucracy is an ugly picture, but it is evident now the accountability movement is exactly that.

Common Core is not some unique and flawed thing, however, but the logical extension of the Reagan imperative to use education accountability to erode public support for public schools so that unpopular political agendas (school choice, for example) become more viable.

The remaining moral imperative facing us is to turn away from political claims of school and teacher failure, away from their repeatedly ineffective and destructive reforms, and toward the actual sources of what schools, teachers, and students struggle under as we continue to reform universal public education: social and educational inequities that have created two Americas and two school systems that have little to do with merit.

Accountability built on standards and high-stakes testing (not Common Core uniquely) is the problem because it is a designed as disaster bureaucracy, not as education reform.


Bracey, G. W. (2003). April foolishness: The 20th anniversary of A Nation at Risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(8), 616-621.

Holton, G. (2003, April 25). An insider’s view of “A nation at risk” and why it still matters. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(33), B13-15. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from OmniFile Full Text Mega database.

SC Parents Warned: “no state provision…to opt-out of state-or district-wide testing”

South Carolina is a hard-core right-wing state, often leaning Libertarian and almost always contradictory.

SC politicians push school choice while running against a woman’s right to choose. Now we learn that school choice advocacy in SC does not include parents’ right to choose whether or not their children participate in relentless testing.

According to a memo from the SC Department of Education and to district superintendents:

It has come to the attention of the South Carolina Department of Education (SCDE) that opt-out request forms are circulating around the state giving some parents the belief that they can opt their children out of state and federal testing requirements, among other things. With regard to testing, federal and state laws require that all students be included in South Carolina’s state assessment system.

There is no state provision for parents or eligible students (who are age eighteen or older) to opt-out of state-or district-wide testing….

With regard to any requests from parents for a school district to omit their children’s data from any district submission to the SCDE, neither federal nor state law allows a parent to opt-out of federal or state-required data collection processes, which is safeguarded by the SCDE.

While I have written often about the dangers of idealizing parental choice, it is certainly interesting to recognize the contradictory messages right-wing political leadership in SC sends about their own occasional support of choice (which reveals itself to be no real support of choice at all—only when it serves the interests of those leaders).

Parents, be warned.

Shifting Our Deficit Gaze, Asking Different Questions about Literacy

Poor Kids and the “Word Gap” opens with an important admission by Jessica Lahey: The Horace Mann ideal that education is the “great equalizer” has not materialized (or at least, has eroded). While the impact of education appears powerful within class and race classifications, educational attainment remains ineffective in overcoming social inequity.

As the article title states, however, Lahey turns to the “word gap”—a compelling and repeated entry point for discussing the educational differences among social classes and races of children. Quoting a Clinton Foundation report, the article equates that “word gap” with childhood hunger and food insecurity before detailing the Obama administration’s initiative to bridge that socioeconomic word gap.

Lahey’s article, the Clinton Foundation, and the Obama initiative are all sincerely grounded in good intentions, and all rightfully highlight the need to address the inequity of education in the U.S. that mirrors the social inequities a rising and high percentage of impoverished children experience.

But, once again, the problem persists that we remain committed to a deficit gaze, one that ultimately blames the parents of children in poverty (often the mother) for the “word gap.”

Looking closely at the Clinton Foundation report, in fact, reveals that Hart and Risley’s 1995 research (see chart on page 10) continues to anchor assumptions that the quantity and quality of words are linked to both the socioeconomic status of a child’s home and then the child’s ability to succeed once in formal schooling.

As Dudley-Marling and Lucas emphasize, the foundational study by Hart and Risley and pathologizing the language of impoverished students are misguided and misleading because of the essential deficit perspectives embedded in each, perspectives reflecting and perpetuating stereotypes. “Pathologizing” language means that the language itself is seen as a “sickness” and thus what must be “treated”—including the concurrent implicating that the host of the language, the child, is also diseased and must be treated.

As well, research in the UK reveals that the dynamic among literacy, social class, and educational attainment is complex, but also powerful. Pleasure reading and even the quality of that reading appear to increase literacy in adults, Sullivan and Brown detail.

Sullivan reaches two important conclusions: the need to protect the library and the importance of books in the child’s home.

This focus—on strategies for enriching the literacy of children born into impoverished homes—offers important ways for shifting our deficit gaze away from blaming the victims of poverty and toward systemic causes for characteristics (“word gap,” for example) so that we can develop policy to prevent the conditions in the first place and also create contexts for alleviating inequity that already exists.

The great challenges facing the U.S. and our disturbingly high percentage of children living in poverty are social inequities linked to classism and racism. We must admit these problems, and then we must address them directly (and not by clinging to idealistic beliefs such as education will be the “great equalizer”).

But we must also address directly the existing inequities reflected in the homes and education of impoverished children.

Let’s not blame high-poverty mothers; instead, let’s develop policies that provide books for children in their homes while we commit to social programs that allow impoverished families the sort of security and opportunities supporting them in their roles as a child’s first teachers.

Let’s not diagnose and then treat impoverished children and their literacy; instead, let’s insure that all children have rich and engaging formal schooling experiences

The deficit gaze fails because it focuses on people and not the conditions within which people find themselves (through no fault of their own).

Regardless of good intentions, we must shift our deficit gaze and begin to ask different questions so we can create new and more humane answers.

Unpacking Education and Teacher Impact

Among media, political, and public claims driving calls for education reform, two beliefs are dominant: (i) education is the single most important lever for lifting anyone above the circumstances of her/his birth, and (ii) teacher quality is the single greatest factor in whether that educational experience accomplishes the first belief.

As I have increased my contribution to public debates about education reform, I have witnessed that media, political, and public comments are often knee-jerk and simplistic either/or responses to complex research.

For example, when I note that 40 years of research reject grade retention, responses tend to discount that research with “So you want us just to pass them on?”—suggesting that social promotion is the only alternative to grade retention (which, of course, it isn’t). Similarly, when I share that 60 years of research on corporal punishment also refute spanking—that, in fact, there is no debate on its use—responses immediately include, “So we are just supposed to let children do whatever they want?”

But I have also discovered that in my education courses, students challenge many research-based conclusions, although the students are more thoughtful—particularly when I share the evidence on the impact of education and teachers [1].

Consider the follow body of evidence below; and then, in the context of this evidence, I want to unpack what education and teacher impact actually entails.

Is teacher quality actually the single greatest factor in student achievement? Di Carlo details what research shows:

But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms (see Hanushek et al. 1998; Rockoff 2003; Goldhaber et al. 1999; Rowan et al. 2002; Nye et al. 2004).

Also consider Donald Hirsch’s research on the UK for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation: “Just 14 per cent of variation in individuals’ performance is accounted for by school quality [emphasis added]. Most variation is explained by other factors, underlining the need to look at the range of children’s experiences, inside and outside school, when seeking to raise achievement.”

We see here two important points: (i) out-of-school factors dwarf measurable influences of teacher quality, and (ii) teacher quality is a subset of school quality. Thus, school and teacher quality is not even close to the most important measurable factor in student achievement.

Now, what is the evidence on social mobility in the U.S., notably in terms of how educational attainment influences the relationship between social class or race and that mobility?

Social mobility appears fairly sticky in the bottom and top quintiles:


From Pew’s Economic Mobility Project data; analysis by Bruenig, 2013, June 13: “As far as income mobility goes, you are 10x more likely to wind up in the richest fifth as an adult if you were born there than if you were born in the poorest fifth.”

Fig 11

From Pew’s Economic Mobility Project data; analysis by Bruenig, 2013, June 13: “As far as wealth mobility goes, you are more than 5x more likely to wind up in the wealthiest fifth as an adult if you were born there than if you were born in the least wealthiest fifth.”

Next, Bruenig (2013, June 13) concludes:

One convenient way to describe what’s going on is that rich kids are more likely to get a better education, which translates into being richer and wealthier as adults. It is certainly the case that richer kids are more likely to get a college degree, and it is certainly the case that getting a college degree leaves you much better off on average than not getting one. But this does not explain the full picture of social immobility [emphasis added].

And thus, social mobility appears more strongly connected to the social class of a person’s family than to education (a function of combined school and teacher quality):


From Pew’s Economic Mobility Project data; analysis by Bruenig, 2013, June 13: “[Y]ou are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated.”

The consequences of the dynamic between social class and education are, as Matt O’Brien explains, as follows:


Data from Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill. O’Brien concludes: “Even poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong.”

Now, consider the relationship between educational attainment and race. First, in Closing the Race Gap, O’Sullivan, Mugglestone, and Allison (2014) detail that blacks with some college earn about the same as whites with no high school diploma:

Table 2 copy

O’Sullivan, Mugglestone, and Allison (2014)

From this report as well, Susan Adams explains: “African-American college students are about as likely to get hired as whites who have dropped out of high school.”

Significant income disparities exist along racial lines despite educational attainment, as Bruenig (2014, October 24) shows:


Bruenig (2014, October 24): “First, understand that blacks and Hispanics have lower incomes than whites up and down the educational spectrum. On average, black families at a given level of educational attainment receive incomes that are just 66% of what white families at the same level of educational attainment receive. For Hispanic families, that figure is 79%. Naturally, when education-controlled income disparities like this exist, education-controlled wealth disparities will exist.”

The impact of education (school and teacher quality), then, when placed in the context of both social class and race refutes the opening claims: (i) education is the single most important lever for lifting anyone above the circumstances of her/his birth, and (ii) teacher quality is the single greatest factor in whether that educational experience accomplishes the first belief.

When I offer these measurable facts to either the public or my students, often I hear: “So you are saying that education and teachers do not matter?”

Here is the hard part.

First, making claims that measurable education and teacher impact exists is problematic. Thus, I absolutely support that both education and teachers matter, but I also caution that this impact is not singular, direct, or easily quantified.

Part of that problem is that the impact of any person’s education or the influence of any teacher or teachers tends to occur over long periods of time, and we are hard pressed to tease out and measure specific teachers or practices since that impact is cumulative, interrelated, and multi-faceted (consider that a student can learn a valuable lesson from a flawed lesson or a weak teacher).

Our first conclusion, then, is that making claims about education being the single or sole factor in success or that the teacher is the single most important factor in achievement is misleading, overly simplistic.

But, there are fair and accurate claims we can make about the importance of education, leading to our second conclusion.

Our second conclusion is that within social class and race, educational attainment has significant influence, but that education alone appears less effective in overcoming large social inequities such as classism and racism.

From this, I think we have several important lessons:

  • Media, public, and political hyperbole about education and teacher impact does a disservice to public education, teachers, students, and the public. Overstating the impact of education and teachers assures that we will continue to fail our students and the promise of universal public education.
  • In our endless quest for education reform, we would be better served if we moved away from mostly measurable data points for making claims about and policies in education. Education is messy and complicated; quantified data are in fact simplistic and misleading.
  • Until we confront the corrosive influence of class and race in the U.S. and until we admit that education alone is not enough to overcome classism and racism, we are perpetuating social inequity.

Let’s be clear: Education and teachers matter. But, regretfully, they simply do not matter in the ways most people claim or believe, and certainly not in ways that are easy to identify.

The good news, however, is that there is much we can do to change this, if we have the resolve to confront the evidence, accept the ugly truths, and then to do something different.

See Related: If social mobility is the problem, grammar schools are not the solution, Gaby Hinsliff


[1] This post is in debt to my current, fall 2014 EDU 111 course at Furman University, a group of students fully committed to engaging with the topics, challenging claims, and seeking to understand the complexity of education. They are proof that teaching is an act of learning, if the teacher is there to listen as well as talk.

Media Fail, 10,000 hours, and Grit: The Great Media-Disciplines Divide, pt. 2

In his The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists: Why the APS Observer Needs Peer Review When Summarizing New Scientific Developments [1], K. Anders Ericsson makes several key points about how the mainstream media present disciplinary knowledge to the public, focusing on Malcolm Gladwell’s misleading but popular 10,000 hour rule.

Ericsson’s key point includes:

Although I accept that the process of writing an engaging popular article requires considerable simplification, I think it is essential that the article does not contain incorrect statements and misinformation. My primary goal with this review is to describe several claims in Jaffe’s article that were simply false or clearly misleading and then discuss how APS might successfully develop successful methods for providing research summaries for non-specialists that are informative and accurately presents the major views of APS members and Fellows. At the very least they should not contain factually incorrect statements and avoid reinforcing existing misconceptions in the popular media.

Through the Gladwell/10,000 hour rule example, Ericsson provides an important argument relevant to the current (and historical) public debate about school quality, teaching and learning, and education reform.

Much in the same way Gladwell has misrepresented research (which is typical within the media), and how that has been uncritically embraced by the media and public (as well as many if not most practitioners), a wide array of issues have received the same fate: learning styles, “grit,” collaborative learning, progressive education, charter schools, school choice, language gap, and so on.

Even when a claim or practice has a kernel of research at its source, popular oversimplification (often by journalists, but practitioners as well) and then commercialization/politicizing (creating programs and policies through publishers, “star” advocates, and legislation) significantly distort that research.

Education Has Failed Research, Historically

John Dewey represents an odd paradox in that he is possibly the most mentioned educator in the U.S. (either as the source of all that is wrong in education or idealistically cited as all that is right about how school could be), despite the reality that Dewey is mostly misunderstood and misrepresented; and thus his philosophy, progressivism, remains mostly absent in U.S. public schools.

Dewey can be blamed, in part, for this reality because he refused on principle to allow his experiments in education to be carefully catalogued because he believed no educational practice should be come a template for others.

Throughout much of the twentieth century, Lou LaBrant, a vigilant progressive educator, spent much of her career practicing and advocating for progressive literacy instruction, but LaBrant also confronted the many instances of how progressivism was misrepresented.

Broadly, and early, LaBrant recognized the public confusion about progressivism:

Two adults speak of “progressive education.” One means a school where responsibility, critical thinking, and honest expression are emphasized; the other thinks of license, lack of plans, irresponsibility. They argue fruitlessly about being “for” or “against” progressive education. (LaBrant, 1944, pp. 477-478)

But she also confronted how progressivism was mostly distorted in its application. LaBrant’s criticisms still reflect why education has failed research, and why research has not failed education.

Credible educational research-based philosophy, theory, and pedagogy are often corrupted by oversimplification.

In 1931, LaBrant published a scathing criticism of the popularity of the project method, an oversimplification of Dewey that resulted in students doing crafts in English class instead of reading or writing:

The cause for my wrath is not new or single. It is of slow growth and has many characteristics. It is known to many as a variation of the project method; to me, as the soap performance. With the project, neatly defined by theorizing educators as “a purposeful activity carried to a successful conclusion,” I know better than to be at war. With what passes for purposeful activity and is unfortunately carried to a conclusion because it will kill time, I have much to complain. To be, for a moment, coherent: I am disturbed by the practice, much more common than our publications would indicate, of using the carving of little toy boats and castles, the dressing of quaint dolls, the pasting of advertising pictures, and the manipulation of clay and soap as the teaching of English literature. (p. 245)

Credible educational research is often corrupted by commercialization/politicizing, reducing that research to misguided programs/legislation.

“[L]anguage behavior can not be reduced to formula,” LaBrant (1947) argued (p. 20)—emphasizing that literacy growth was complicated but flourished when it was child-centered and practical (for example, in the ways many privileged children experience in their homes because one or more of the parents are afforded the conditions within which to foster their children’s literacy).

By mid-twentieth century, LaBrant (1949) had identified the central failure of teaching reading: “Our language programs have been set up as costume parties and not anything more basic than that” (p. 16).

For at least 80-plus years since LaBrant fought this fight, the same patterns of media, political, public, and practitioners failing educational research have continued

Oversimplification, Commercialization/Politicizing: Recovering the Evidence

The list is incredibly long, too long to be exhaustive here, but consider the following: sloganism (“Work hard. Be nice.”), silver-bullet ideologies (“grit,” 10,000-hour rule), miracle schools (KIPP), evidence-based programs (Dibbles, 4-block, 6-traits), common sense claims and policy absent evidence (Common Core), and trendy legislation (3rd-grade retention policies as reading policy, merit pay) as well as politicized government reports (National Reading Panel).

Each of these can be traced to some kernel of research (sometimes robust bodies of research, and sometimes cherry-picked research), but all of these represent a current and historical fact: Education has failed research, but research has not failed education.

When educational research is reduced to scripts or programs/legislation, that knowledge base is invariably distorted, corrupted—as Ericsson details well above.

Journalists, politicians, and commercial education entities have all played a fundamental and crippling role in this reality; thus, as Ericsson argues, educators, scholars and researchers must not allow the fate of educational research to remain primarily in the wrong hands.

We have a public and professional obligation to confront these oversimplifications as well as the commercialization/politicizing of educational research. And we must do this through our public work that speaks to those failures and the public simultaneously.

As LaBrant and Ericsson reveal, unless we take that call seriously, we too are part of the reason education continues to fail research.


LaBrant, L. (1949). A genetic approach to language. Unpublished manuscript, Institute of General Semantics, Lakeville, CT.

LaBrant, L. (1947). Um-brel-la has syllables three. The Packet, 2(1), 20-25.

LaBrant, L. (1944, November). The words they know. The English Journal, 33(9), 475-480.

LaBrant, L. (1931, March). MasqueradingThe English Journal, 20(3), pp. 244-246.

For Further Reading

U.S. and Education Reform Need a Critical Free Press

My Open Letter to Journalists: A Critical Free Press, pt. 2

NPR Whitewashes “Grit” Narrative

Shiny Happy People: NPR, “Grit,” and “Myths that Deform” pt. 2

How I Learned to Distrust the Media (about Education)

My (Often Painful) Online Education

[1] See original and downloadable link to the paper here.

Bankrupt Cultural Capital Claims: Beware the Roadbuilders, pt. 3

Mathematics may well be simple, but the complexities of race and culture are often irreducible. They cannot be wholly addressed in a single essay or book or television show or movie.

Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist

The Department of Education Reform (DER) at the University of Arkansas (and funded by the Walton family) is apparently no longer content with pretending to be educators and researchers. Just in time for Halloween, they are pretending to be sociologists*—and continuing to do all of this quite badly, except for the masking.

First, shame on the journal of Sociology of Education, and next, shame on the DER for continuing to hide culturally insensitive claims behind the veneer of conducting “a large-scale experimental study” and publishing in “the highest ranking educational research journal.”

Continuing their tradition of perpetuating racism/classism and stereotypes while claiming to address the needs of minority children (supporting “no excuses” ideologies and charter chains such as KIPP), the DER now claims:

“We found that, when students are primed through some initial exposure to a cultural institution, this interacts with indicators of students’ disadvantaged status that are associated with low cultural capital and produces higher gains in attitudes toward future cultural consumption,” Kisida said. “Cultural mobility is likely driven, in part, by disadvantaged children becoming activated to acquire cultural capital, thus compensating for family background characteristics and changing their preferences.”

The problem? Here, as I have outlined about how we use deficit perspectives to marginalize impoverished children and blame their parents, this study focuses on “cultural capital” in a way that is bankrupt in terms of cultural sensitivity because the claims include that impoverished children, once again, lack something valued in society and that their parents, once again, are to blame (thus, fix the children mis-served by their inadequate parents, but nothing about the social forces placing both those parents and their children in poverty).

Behind the masks of experimental research and publishing in selective research journals, we find deficit views, stereotypes, and enough shades of the Great White Hope narrative to fuel yet another horrible Hollywood film on the renegade teacher brave enough to take poor or minority children on a field trip to the local museum.

Deficit perspectives and reducing children to “cultural capital” are tone deaf, bankrupt insensitivities that discredit whatever research claims to measure when conducting “a large-scale experimental study” and publishing in “the highest ranking educational research journal.”

Once again, the DER has offered us not objective research but more evidence of Thomas Jefferson’s warning about bias (and privilege, ironically): “The moment a person forms a theory, his imagination sees, in every object, only the traits which favor that theory.”

This study of “cultural capital” is just that—a privileged quantifying of how the world is and should be (“primed” and “activated” children for “future cultural consumption,” for example), a version ultimately deforming, not informing.

This Halloween, then, beware the roadbuilders coming to a school near you.

See Also

The Strangest Academic Department in the World, Gene Glass

It’s Privilege (and Race), not Effort

* This year’s costume: Pierre Bourdieu!

Although one might imagine Bourdieu’s concern about this research:

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….

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. (Acts of Resistance, pp. 7, 32)