Unfortunately, in our brave, new, reformy world, anyone who asserts this glaringly obvious point is "defeatist and fatalistic, not to mention depressing." Heaven forbid the poor plutocrats who run this country might have to waste their beautiful minds on the depressing facts of poverty and social immobility. To insulate themselves, they've replaced real scholars like Anyon with a gaggle of well-paid think-tanky wonks, who push out "studies" that assert the Lake Wobegonian absurdity that everyone can be an outlier.Professor Anyon, who died on Sept. 7 at 72, was one of the first people to study that landscape in detail — and among the first to assert that without accompanying social reforms like job creation, antipoverty initiatives and urban renewal, the problems of education in urban, poor areas would never be surmounted.“The structural basis for failure in inner-city schools is political, economic and cultural, and must be changed before meaningful school improvement projects can be successfully implemented,” she wrote in a 1995 article in the journal Teachers College Record. “Educational reforms cannot compensate for the ravages of society.” [emphasis mine]
Their shallow policy briefs may be endlessly recycled in our ill-informed punditocracy; Anyon's work, however, is what still resonates with those who dare to look beyond simplistic platitudes:
Two things strike me about this study of Anyon's: first, how American schooling is seen almost entirely as a preparation for work, as opposed to a preparation for citizenship. In its quest to cut costs and maximize profits for owners, American business has essentially given up any role in training its workforce. The schools are supposed to do it all, with inadequate resources. Guess what winds up getting short shrift.Professor Anyon joined the faculty at Rutgers in 1976 and first came to wide attention with a 1980 article, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work.” Published in The Journal of Education, the article examined fifth-grade classes in five New Jersey schools across the economic spectrum, from working-class to wealthy districts.The study focused on what Professor Anyon called the “hidden curriculum” of each school — the type of work students were assigned, and the ways they were expected to complete it.In the working-class schools, she found, work entailed the rote following of procedure, with no analytical thought encouraged. In the middle-class school, she wrote, “work is getting the right answer.”In a more affluent school, Professor Anyon found, work emphasized creativity. In the wealthiest school, work meant “developing one’s analytical intellectual powers.”These differences, she concluded, helped recapitulate existing class divisions. The children of blue-collar families, for instance, received “preparation for future wage labor that is mechanical and routine,” while those of wealthy families were taught skills that would help them assume leadership positions.
Second: the "working-class" schools that Anyon wrote of back in 1980 have curricula and practices that eerily mirror the "no excuses" urban charter schools of today. Take, for example, NYC's vaunted Success Academies:
The more things change...
Jean Anyon (1941-2013)
Never heard of her...