The world is a complex landscape embedded with multiple forces that impose a tremendous amount of influence on its citizenry. These forces: economic, political, social, cultural, judicial and ideological determine, among other outcomes, the hierarchical positioning of individuals within national and international socio-economic class-systems. There is a widely held assumption proclaiming that institutionalized education is a great socio-economic equalizer, the compass that equips individuals with the necessary knowledge to be able to effectively navigate through complex societal systems. Upward societal maneuverability is often reflected in one’s ability to: climb the socioeconomic hierarchy, gain political power and representation, attain economic prosperity and ascertain social inclusion. The following literature will expose the nature of the education system in North America as one that does not have equity-based and progressive underpinnings, but rather a system that attempts to repress lower class groups all while fuelling the the preservation of economic and political power for a select few. Moreover, this text will expose the education system as a corporate entity with a core mission based on profit margins at the expense of their clients i.e. student. Furthermore, an analysis on the functions of the education system will highlight its role in providing society with a labor force that disregards the individuality and freedom of the student/client. Ultimately, this conceptual framework will expose the education system as one that perpetuates systemic and multidimensional inequities and injustices. The consequences of this repressive system will be viewed in conceptual layers in order to fully comprehend the complexity of this phenomena. Additionally, this text will highlight the macro and micro economic struggles of the middle-class followed by the social, emotional and physical life experiences of being subjected to a debased socio-economic class as a result of this rigged education system system. The final layer of analysis will uncover the sub-group(s) at the bottom of the political-economic-social structure, individuals who are the most affected by this unjust education system i.e. minorities. Results from this conceptual analysis will highlight the plight of minorities and expose the lack of democracy and overt ideological racism embedded in institutions, their policies, curriculum and the overall political economy of nation-state(s). By understanding the manner in which these latter forces impact individuals and how oppressive schooling exacerbates inequity, solutions can be developed. Recommendations will reflect the need for reform and at times complete reconstruction of institutions, policies and ideologies deeply entrenched in contemporary North American institutions.
In order to construct a clear conceptual framework of what schooling is and how it functions, it must be analyzed and understood as an institution connected to society at large. In other words, schooling is not a separate entity disconnected from political, economic and social institutions, but rather interwoven into the mosaic of societal phenomena and structures. Michael Foucault, one of the leading intellectuals of the 20th century precisely identified the placement and function of the scholastic system within society. Primarily, prior to divulging the purpose and function of schooling, Foucault established a simple yet important fact: political power is localized within government institutions that uses entities such as the police, army etc to administer and exercise their prescribed duties. The question becomes, what relationship does schooling institutions have with this political power-centre? Answer: The schooling system is seemingly independent and neutral in its functions, however, as with the latter structures (army, police etc.), the schooling system, although subtly, exercises specific political orders from overarching governments. According to Foucault, the core function of institutionalized schooling, a government controlled system, is to keep the political and economic power in the hands of a select few while oppressing and marginalizing the masses. Government agencies are playing an active role in repressing, marginalized populations via the education system (Chomsky.info, 1971; Michel-foucault.com, 2013). The repression that Foucault is describing is exercised, in part, by the unequal distribution of qualitative knowledge and educative experiences in schools (Anyon, 1981).
Certain groups, excluded from power-circles are exposed to lower-tier scholastic content that is often related to clerical and vocational careers while students from higher strata are exposed to careers and fields that have higher economic returns, namely, managerial, medical and financial careers etc. This unequal distribution of knowledge opens economic and political advantages for one group while fostering future obstacles and disadvantages for another. Henceforth, by definition, one of the key outcomes of schooling is the systematic replication of unequal division of labor (Foster, 2011; Anyon, 1981). The social efficiency ideology presented by Schiro (2013) further crystallizes this concept. This ideology views schooling as a mechanism that is established to provide society with the required workforce in order to carry out societal needs and functions. Within this framework, teachers become disseminators of specific information scribed in curricula that is mandated by government leaders and other stakeholders with political and economic power. In this controlled setting, the learner’s behaviour is conditioned to meet the terminal objective of schooling which is to engineer a population in order to meet the needs of society (Schiro, 2013). Thus, the schooling-system acts as an oppressor that debases standards and information for specific under-classed groups while consciously organizing them into low-socio-economic employment sectors that serve the state’s interests. Ultimately, the unequal distribution of knowledge and socioeconomic organization of groups directly exacerbates inequities throughout North America.
A key driving force in scholastic repression is derived from capitalism. This economic engine has transformed schooling into a commodity that can be purchased. As with most commodities, there is a strong correlation between the amount of funds expended and the qualitative nature of the product and/or service. Consequently, low-income groups receive low quality knowledge and weak overall school experiences when compared to that of their counterparts (Anyon, 1981). At the university level, the corporatization of education is beginning to take on a whole new era and is more evident than ever. With the rise in technological capabilities coupled with profit-driven interests, online programs have become a growing trend. The capitalistic motives of schooling views online programs to be cost-effective, easily accessible and flexible. The nature and attributes of the online programs are motivated by profit rather than towards qualitative educational experiences of students. In this regard, schooling behaves as a commodity transforming “students into consumers, faculty into entrepreneurs, and institutions of higher learning into storefronts (Chau, 2010, p. 178). Although online schooling may prove to be more accessible and flexible for its clientele, its capitalistic ideals, purpose and function epitomize the corporatization and commodification of schooling. The amalgamation of highly corporatized school systems, reinforced by political, economic and technological forces has created a school system that often considers the learner a client in training devoid of individuality. This debased and empty form of schooling has aggravated political equity, economic equality, and social inclusion of a lower and middle-class citizen.
This highly economic and political form of schooling has played a role in the unfavourable situation of lower and middle-class groups. From a macro-perspective, the middle-class in the United States of America has been aggressively shrinking since the 1980’s. Although income inequality is variable and not as pronounced in Canada, similar results were found by the Analytical Studies Branch of Statistic Canada (Foster & Wolfson, 2009). With this consistent, growing trend, why haven’t governments in North America countered the decline of the middle-class with policies that promote an increase in minimum-wage, job creation and universal quality education? According to Karl Marx, the economic rise of the upper-class bourgeois citizenry is accompanied by corresponding political advances. Consequently, the terminal outcomes of education, political and economic policy reflect the objectives and desires of a select group of stakeholders with political and economic clout with utter disregard for the low middle-class community. The lack of public-policy that adheres to the needs of lower and middle-class citizens coupled with the antecedent schooling framework fuels the socio-economic repression of the nation’s subjugated citizenry.
From a micro-perspective, the consequences of the latter societal phenomena on the individual are equally as severe. Strong direct and indirect correlations have been made between socio-economic status and a plethora of life changing factors namely: educational outcomes (Martens et al., 2014), specifically rates of school completion (Polidano, Hanel & Buddelmeyer, 2013), intellectual quotient (Capron & Duyme, 1989); physical and psychological health (Di Domenico & Fournier, 2014); achievement of occupational aspirations (Gjerustad & von Soest, 2012); political participation and representation (John, 2009); early biological aging (Crimmins, Kim & Seeman, 2009); subjective life expectancy (Mirowsky & Ross, 2000) and much more.
At the bottom of the socio-economic hierarchy, the individuals who are the most severely impacted by the corporatization of education, economic inequality, and political marginalization are minorities. Indeed, the gap between the rich and poor is expanding; it is essential to note that this trend is also occurring along racial lines. In the United States of America for every 1$ a Black family earns a White household amasses a staggering 15.63$. Moreover, overall income earnings, rates of college completion, return on investment from a college diploma, home ownership are all lower for Black citizens in comparison to their White Counterparts (Sullivan et al., 2015). The same data is not as clear in Canada, however many similarities of racial oppression remain within the two countries. Canada is often viewed as less aggressive towards minorities, however, Canada is not exempt from the same ills committed by the U.S. A book written by Robin Winks (1997) titled The Blacks in Canada: A History, indicated that Blacks in both countries suffered through centuries of deprivation. Moreover, society at large, including school systems indoctrinated minorities to think of themselves as second class citizens (see page p.470). Ayers et al., (2008) reaffirmed this concept by indicating, “Whites were taught that they were superior beings, Blacks that they were suited only to a life of servitude. The school curriculum reinforced this perspective, teachers for the most part acceded, and no one was encouraged to challenge any part of it” (p.314). Blacks have yet to recover from these indoctrinated teachings. According to Rediker (2007), the same class-oppression and racism that thrived during slave-era is still present until this very day. Due to institutionalized racism and low political clout, minorities are unable to influence policymakers and curriculum developers to justly represent them in educational content. Blacks and minorities in general are unequally mentioned and misrepresented across curricula. Moreover, with oppressive societal stereotypes and prejudices fuelled by schooling system and media, ethnocultural groups continue to be marginalized ubiquitously in virtually every domain of society.
Considering the multilayered challenges that minorities and low and middle-class citizens are experiencing, suggesting that schooling is a vital means to disrupt the system may be shortsighted. As depicted, the schooling-system itself is part of the power-structure that oppresses the masses. Rhetorically, how can a system that organizes lower-class citizens, namely minorities into the lowest-tiers of society that is inherent racist, be a mechanism by which economic, political and social equity can derived? In order for schools to be a mechanism of justice and for the purpose, function and curriculum to change, institutionalized racism must be exterminated. The decline of racism must start by a political system that represents all citizens equally. Consequently, ministries of education, economics, social, cultural services and others must visibly represent the diversity of Canadian/American society. According to Ellis & Wilson (2014), visual minorities in political leadership positions are more likely to understand and implement policies that are in sync with minorities groups. Without minorities in political/ administrative leadership positions, advancement towards equity will need to derive from the grassroots. One thing’s for certain, a social movement for justice must be lead by those who have suffered the most. As illustrated in this context, the lead must come from minorities themselves. To spawn an inclusive approach, minorities must unify with the population at large and act against the broader economic, political and social power-struggle ( Rediker, 2007).
Freire (2000) argues that the weakest should lead the charge, “only power that springs from the weakness of the oppressed will be sufficiently strong to free both”(Freire, 2000). In this context, Freire philosophically suggests that the dominant colonizing culture is by definition inherently violent, oppressive and diabolic. Consequently, the oppressed should not endeavour to gain power and become oppressors, but rather to restore humanity for all (Freire, 2000). The leading theme herein continues to drive the notion that minorities/the weakest in society must lead the convoy towards change.
Reform would commence by establishing ministries that democratically represent the diversity of its peoples. From a political perspective, programs would be established to engender an increased participation and leadership role for minorities in political positions of power. Strategies such as decreasing the amount of funds required to run a campaign, erasing bureaucratic red lines and others would be implemented. In addition, policies would be introduced to mitigate the current consequences of centuries of slavery and educational exclusion. These policies would range from subsidized education, low-interest small-business loans, financial assistance on home ownership, tax credits, increase in minimum wage, investment in health, social and cultural services etc. Furthermore, public and private companies would need to meet diversity quotas in management and upper-management positions. Judicially, policies would be implemented to overhaul the judicial system and war on drugs. Overall, these and other equity-based policies would mitigate the economic, political, social, judicial struggles of minority groups. However, it does not solve the capitalistic intentions and social efficient functions of the schooling system.
The challenge of changing the education system has hope if the aforementioned political and economic policies are implemented. With increased economic and political power, diverse curriculum developers are more likely to implement equitable and diverse content. The curriculum would be progressively overhauled to ensure that all populations are equally and fairly represented based on a set criteria that evaluates ethnocultural population numbers and historical significance to Canadian society. Moreover, teachers would be required to hold masters degrees in face-to-face educational classes whereby they would understand the political, economic (capitalist), social, racial, cultural etc environment they are teaching in. Furthermore, educators would be required to not only have knowledge of these elements, but be able to critique them.
Schooling can certainly play a role and has played a role in driving equity. However, considering the multi-dynamic struggles minorities and low-middle class populations are up against, broader economic and political strategies and policies must be implemented in order to arrive at a more equitable and just society. Furthermore, the student-clientele has been largely alienated from their creative and innovative instincts due to the corporatization of education and the lack of critical thinking and advocacy from teachers, minorities and the low-middle class as a whole. If change is to come, it must stem from minorities groups; they are the weakest and according the Freire and others, they are also the ones who hold the true power to drive the change required to make the world a more just and equitable place.
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