Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rofes and Bush

In “Charter Schools as the Counterpublics of Disenfranchised Communities” Rofes and Stulberg discuss charter schools by using the theories of educational theorist Pierre Borudieu to illustrate how social classes are reproduced through schooling.  Rofes uses Bourdieu’s argument that the “habitus” of the privileged classes is reaffirmed through the organization, interactions, language, and curriculum of systemized schooling. (247) Thus, the success of students within privileged classes is guaranteed.  Rofes also alludes to the fact that privileged students bring “social capital” to the classroom which is what schools are ultimately trying to instill in their students. Therefore, privileged students start with a distinct advantage over poor students who lack social capital, and a system of reproduction is confused for a system of meritocracy. Within this system, schools do not promote social mobility (what we’re told they do), but instead provide certification for the outside capital that privileged students bring into the classroom. 
Later in the chapter the idea of choice is described as the most central mechanism by which “symbolic violence” occurs. It is seen as a way that dominated classes continued to be dominated without the need for enforcement by the dominant class."(251) While aiming to assist their life chances, the opening up of school choice options serves simply as a mechanism for the dominated classes to guarantee their own domination." (253) This idea of choice discretely funnels masses of people into social classes. Once in these social classes people internalize the blame in an effort to explain how they got there. When looking at school choice and its affect on IBI's Bush takes a long look at the relationship between IBI's and choice. He realizes that charter schools and the voucher system pose a tremendous threat to IBI's due to their political backing. This leads Bush to conclude that charter schools and the voucher system will most likely lead to the demise of IBI's; however he sees the risk as a risk worth taking due to the fact that the levels of African American students failing is the ultimate concern. 
When analyzing how Bourdieu would change the schooling system in the United States, Rofes suggests that we should develop a form of public education that will avoid reproducing the status quo. Within this system charter schools would act as "mechanisms of resistance" as opposed to mechanisms of reproduction. These charter schools as mechanisms of resistance would have two main tasks. The first would be to develop strong academic skills without basing those academic skills on the culture of the dominant class. The second is that they instill a critical consciousness of how "power circulates, cultural groups and communities are valued and devalued, and capitalism functions as a colonizing force."(257) 
I believe that the idea of social capital and its role in our schooling system today is one that needs to be addressed. There is no reason why students of privileged classes should be given any bigger of an advantage over poor students. We constantly hear how "education is the number one way to access social mobility" however, it continues to reproduce inequality. Funneling certain groups of people into low social classes instead of giving them access to the upper classes. If we ever want education to have the capability of providing social mobility for people we must level the playing field. The idea of eliminating social capital from the classroom is one of many things we must do if we truly want to grant equal opportunity in schools.


  1. I agree with Ryan that it seems paradoxical that schools, seen as the democratic gateway to prosperity, are actually doing just the opposite: reinforcing preexisting social stratification. However, I disagree with Ryan when he says, “eliminating social capital from the classroom is one of many things we must do if we truly want to grant equal opportunity in schools.” I think (and suspect that the pessimistic Bourdieu would agree) that it is impossible to eliminate social capital from schools because it is not something we intentionally create; it is just a reality of life. Even if designing a school void of social capital were realistic, it would matriculate students unable to decipher the world around them.

    However, it does seem that there are ways to address social capital in order to increase mobility. Rofes mentions several previous scholars (Lisa Delpit, Frantz Fanon) and how disenfranchised students can be given “tools” to “grapple with the mainstream ‘culture of power’” rather than being taught just in their “home culture,” as some Independent Black Institutions (IBI’s) and black charter schools encourage (Rofes, 158). I do think it is very important to educate children in a way that is culturally relevant to them. Bush cites this as a goal of many IBI’s (393). That being said, and fearing I sound idealistic, I think it best to educate in democratic ways that would enable the “dominated” students to access social capital while understanding it in the context of their own history; Rofes cites Henry Giroux, who argues that this is key for social change (258).

  2. The separation between community and schools is one of the main reasons why charter schools and even public schools are failing kids. There is a lack of voice for these students, which translates to the lack of voice in our community. As my classmates above has stated one way to start closing that inequity gap is involving those who are disenfranchised to have a say in things that directly affect their lives. Almost creating that freedom that the authors point out. Another theme that these articles talk about is the idea of choice, charter schools are the only choice for low income families. This is almost contradictory, saying that low income families have the choice to enroll their children in a highly selective lottery to get into a school that is their “Choice”. However inevitably when there are no other options than how is it the parent’s choice to enroll their kids in a specific school. This goes back to that idea of the systematic control over disenfranchised groups. The system places the idea in minority groups that they are receiving equal opportunity however it is not the case.

  3. The readings argued against charter schools, but from a different perspective. The Rofes article gave good insight as to how Charter schools reproduce inequality and thrive on a sense of false hope. I linked the Rofes article to the Bush article in the sense that the disintegration of independent black institutions are connected to the rise of charter schools put together in order to help black children. Unlike the IBI’s, charter schools want to indoctrinate black students into the system already in place; “In some ways, this harkens back to Lisa Delpit’s discussions of equipping students of color to grapple with the mainstream ‘culture of power’, rather than providing them with an education on their home culture and no keys to unlock the culture that controls the vast resources and opportunities (Rofes, 258). Is it better to keep the system alive, or would be better to resist and educate students in more holistic ways? As we saw in Harlem Children’s Zone, this charter was created to serve black children living in Harlem and their school focus is achievement according to the standards put in place by the culture. We discussed, however, that this system is designed to only let a few students thrive and to weed out those students who cannot adjust. The IBI’s served as a way for Black educators to better serve their students mainly because they understood the cultural factors better than white institutions could. Although I am not advocating for segregated schools, IBI’s filled the void that other institutions overlooked. As mentioned in the article, White missionaries saw the recent freedom of slaves as an opportunity to save blacks. They were met with a community that was strong and wanted to uplift their children. Slowly IBI’s are dying because people are led to believe that other educational institutions can do better for their children; this is how this system essentially reproduces inequality in a way that is manipulative.

  4. The idea of “choice” in the education system seems ironic to me. As we discussed in our class last Wednesday, we are made to feel as though we have a choice in everything, including education, when in reality all we have is a choice of which product we consume, not a choice in the production. As we see throughout these readings, low-income families realistically only have the “choice” for public schools and possibly charter schools depending on the lottery. How is social and economic mobility supposed to occur when the only schools that the low-income have to choose from are failing ones? There is such a disconnect as Brian said between the community and the schools that these children are attending. Things do not match up and this is not easy for the children and the families of these children. These students are made out to be people and students that they may not be, just because of how administration wants to run the system. This is completely unfair to students who are told year after year that they are not good enough, and are failing. The charter schools are allow for the system to tell these children that they have a choice when in reality that could not be further from the truth.