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A Critical Analysis of Political Reform in Education

Issues Exploration Paper

Nick A. Dokkin

University of St. Thomas – Minnesota


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A Critical Analysis of Political Reform in Education


This paper explores the politics of higher education and the direct relationship of current

education reform practices as discussed in The Politics of Education: A Critical Introduction,

written by, Kenneth J. Saltman. First, I will discuss the importance of understanding educational

politics by reviewing three political views. Next, I will overview the literature's key concepts,

arguments and reform framework by analyzing the relationship to higher education. Lastly, I

will provide a critique of the current education reform where there is currently a significant gap

in knowledge within the field of higher education.

Education is a part of life in which many students experience vastly different than one

another. Education has become a field where no one model is accurate in developing the

knowledge of students. Various models, forms, and pedagogical practices of education exist, as

described in, The Politics of Education. Higher education practitioners commonly discuss

institutional politics and how they may influence their institution. However, as educational

practitioners, we are not always aware of the politics that influence higher education systems as a

whole and the relationship of these practices to students. A significant gap exists in the

knowledge we need to engage in civic action regarding the political reform of education. A

simple search of scholarly articles relating to educational politics reveals the gap in knowledge

around this critical issue. Through this textual analysis, I hope to shed light on the issue of

politics in higher education and create the development of knowledge needed to make positive

reform in our contemporary education system.

Political Ideologies

Within the political schema of the twenty-first century, there are many conflicting views

that influence education. Saltman (2014) identifies three political views of education that highly
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influence the model of a twenty-first century education. The liberal view of education has strong

values in social equity and increased opportunity for the common good of society (Saltman,

2014). A liberal perspective of education also views education as a public good in which asserts

pedagogical freedom, dialogue, debate and critical thinking skills (Saltman, 2014). The liberal

view of education is commonly practiced in publicly funded schools throughout the United

States. Public schools often adapt more liberal practices due to the absence of pressures that

come with privately funded institutions. Liberal education has a universally accessible and

valuable approach to educating. This political view values student-centered practices to increase

student knowledge and intellectual capacity through ethical practices. Liberal education works

to be free of capitalistic views by challenging the market-based education system through

minimizing standardization, common core curriculum, and pedagogical freedom in the

classroom. The liberal ideology within education is significantly unrepresented.

Saltman also explores the critical view of politics in education. The critical view of

education approaches education as a theory-based practice. According to Saltman (2014),

critical pedagogy places a strong emphasis on the social justice context and how that process

may denaturalize oppression and influence the decision-making process. This view is theorized

to create a stronger, more just, moral context of decision making and meaning (Saltman, 2014).

The critical view represents a strong sense of making meaning of the situations one may

encounter. The critical theory approach emphasizes that an understanding of contexts may

influence one's decisions to further make change. Additionally, the question critical theorists

discuss is, who will make the reform needed in education and why will that change be made

(Saltman, 2014). This view has a strong foundation in the why behind the what of politics that

influence education today.


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Lastly, Saltman explores the conservative political view of education. The conservative

ideology tends to view the means of education through a financial and critical lens (Saltman,

2014). Conservatives, also known as fiscal conservatives, cultural conservatives, neoliberals,

market fundamentalists, and corporate school reformers, often engage in a problematic, unethical

viewpoint of the education system (Saltman, 2014). This group constructs the means of

education as a private commodity that influences the economy on a private scale through

increasing revenues and market-based privatization. Neoliberals and the conservative interests

lie in which revenues and reforms can be made from the education system of the twenty-first

century. Conservative and liberal ideologies are two distinct viewpoints that often bring up

much controversy in society and influence the political schema of education.

Arguments/Concepts

Throughout The Politics of Education, Saltman (2014) discusses the critical implications

of the democratic, conservative, neoliberal viewpoint of education reform in the twenty-first

century. The conservative view of education tends to view the purpose of education as

hierarchical system in which the private sector of education benefits from public tax dollars

through the process of receiving educational vouchers (Saltman, 2014). According to Saltman

(2014), vouchers serve as a process where private investors receive large tax breaks for investing

in private education, which is then is given in the form of vouchers to shop around for private

schools. Additionally, the rapid expansion of charter schools (publicly funded and privately

managed institutions) has increased the issue of the capitalistic, market-based education reform

(Saltman, 2014). Market-based education reform, or market fundamentalism, is an ideology in

which, Saltman (2014), views business privatization as the solution for all social and individual
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problems. These individuals are known as neoliberals who fund privatization and work to

decrease the public sphere of education.

The neoliberals of capitalistic education reform have been trying to take over the public

sphere of education through privatization and capitalization. Public education is controlled by

many people, in which reflects a model of democracy. Additionally, public education allows

many voices to be heard in the decisions made regarding reform. Due to the fact that public

education is more accessible, fiscal conservatives or neoliberals, struggle with the reduction of

power and control. The narrow, neoliberal party strives to further expand the capitalistic,

market-based economy of education, through the view in which, "education is a private,

consumable service that can be shopped for measuring the cost against quality and that can

improve the way business people attempt to improve business–by squeezing more productivity

out of the labor force while imposing cost-cutting and efficiency measures" (Saltman, 2014, p.

xxii). The issue of the conservative party comes down to a hegemonic power struggle in the

process of education reform.

The hegemonic dominance and power struggle of education reform has created a war on

the structure of education. The war of education reform continues to increase the oppression in

which students and educators are living today. The neoliberal viewpoint of consuming power

continues to create the process of privatization through practicing education as an industrial

commodity (Saltman, 2014). The privatization of education has further funded the private

education management organizations (EMOs) who influence this practice. Market-based reform

surfaces through the process of standardizing testing, private publishing, common core

curriculum, private funding, underfunding public suburban schools, and influencing positions of

economic power (Saltman, 2014). The influence of the private, market-based, education reform
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is continuing to benefit the private, wealthy sector and further repress the low-middle racial class

of society. Saltman (2014) identifies cultural politics as the struggle of making meaning across

competing parties. The power struggle of education reform continues to influence the negative

cultural and political environment.

The continued reality of oppression in education is a clear distinction of the

misrepresentation of knowledge around the political environment of education. Students, parents

and educators continue to live the harsh reality of the capitalistic education reform because

society may identify a sense of normality in the system. The misunderstood reality of education

reform has allowed the private sector to grow and further capitalize the private market. Students

of lower income, racial backgrounds, and underprivileged regions continue to live the reality of

oppression. However, the private sector of education continues to capitalize their share, which is

created for the privileged, white, wealthy, higher social class American. Social class influences

the private market share by increasing access to more money and people of power, who lead to

more opportunities.

The individuals responsible for creating this capitalistic reform are not diverse, ethically

responsible leaders making change in education. Market-based reform continues to structure

their work of creating common core curriculum, standardized testing, and textual publishing not

for the common advancement of knowledge, but through exercise of control (Saltman, 2014).

The neoliberal, market school reformers influence the standardization of testing, publishing, and

core curriculum to meet the needs of privileged populations. The conservative practice in

education reform has further marginalized minority backgrounds, creating a dramatically uneven

playing field. American students continue to live the oppressed sense of life in education

because it is what they know and ma have little knowledge of conservative reform in education.
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Critique

Twenty-first century American education is at a crucial point in the future of reform.

Educators need to challenge the methods of the market-based education reform. However, in

order to do that, higher education practitioners have a responsibility to make a place for politics

in higher education. Saltman (2014) shares, "if schools were to teach beginning with what

students experience, then a meaningful and relevant pedagogy and curriculum could help the

students theorize, interpret, and act to change their own experience and communities" (p. 77).

Minimal discussion or knowledge of the political environment, in which has an immense effect

on education, exists in schools or curriculum. Educators have a responsibility to enact a place

for politics in their pedagogical practice. Far too often, individuals view political discussion as

negative and show a lack of intertest in the discussion. Politics are an increasingly controversial

topic; however, they affect every part of education. We as educators, can no longer discuss the

lack of interest or personal affection in politics. After analyzing the text, The Politics of

Education, I believe that we have a responsibility to educate on this change and use this a tool to

inform our practice.

Analyzing education reform may be a difficult process to navigate given the current

environment of education. However, Saltman (2014) discusses the critical theory of education

reform that may be a positive method in approaching positive change. The critical ideology

places a strong emphasis on social justice, relationship of knowledge and thought formation, as

well as the common effort of denaturalizing the state of oppression (Saltman, 2014). Using the

critical theory to influence a liberal education reform may be critically applying this practice

within the context of educational politics. If educators become aware of the education reform
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issues, they may then, at least, be able to navigate the oppressive culture and understand the

importance of influencing social change in and outside of the classroom.

Though we are currently living a market-based, neoliberal, conservative reality, there is a

need to educate students and staff on the politics of education. A solution as simple as

discussing the implications of market-based education reform within the curriculum creates an

opportunity to expand knowledge. I firmly believe that being aware of the political reform

situation is enough to increase social engagement around the issue. The reality of the political

environment is not normal or natural in anyway. After reviewing The Politics of Education, I

developed a strong interest in making this issue more prevalent in today's education. It is

possible to instruct entire courses on the education reform and I think that needs a greater priority

in our curriculum. Assuming that students and staff are politically engaged and informed is a

disservice to the field of education.

Conclusion

Capitalistic, market-based, reform of the conservative, neoliberal party is significantly

affecting the current education system. There is minimal political practice in curriculum, and as

educators, we have a responsibility to inform our peers of the oppressive education reform crisis

that we are living. As, Saltman (2014), discussed, "in order to address this public problem,

citizens need to be educated to understand that capitalism and its imperative for unchecked

pursuit of profit results in the pillage of nature. Profit cannot be relied upon to solve the

problems that profiteering has created" (p. 43). Educators can make a significant difference in

the lives of students and increasing the political engagement is a crucial beginning.
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References
Saltman, K. J. (2014). The politics of education: a critical introduction. Boulder, CO: Paradigm.