Exclusionary education is becoming more entrenched than ever. As governments across the nation slash budgets and continuously decrease funding for public education we begin to see its effects. Not only is the new paradigm one of test-oriented learning and rote memorization, it is also one of increasingly institutionalized neo-liberal reform.
Public schools are no longer content with providing a well-balanced education, but rather with providing one that is predicated upon false ideas of purely “career-oriented” educational development in which people are fit in pre-defined molds. After all, isn’t the true test of American education how well can we conform? Or is it rather how effective one can be at rising to the rank of an invisible middle manager in Corporate America? Make no mistake about it, our education is being stratified and we, as the whole of society, will be worse off for it.
Let us begin by looking at some of the programs cut.
The first academic programs to be eliminated during fabricated “times of struggle” are arts, music, language, and general enrichment programs. This may not seem like a major issue, but it reflects a greater division in our society regarding the role of arts and the individual. While public schools cut these programs, private schools and other such institutions actually increased their cultural curricula and offer more choices to the children of the elite. In fact, the number of students in private schools learning languages is 50% higher than in public schools. There is no shortage of empirical evidence to corroborate the value of these programs and studies are constantly released showing the benefits of language learning in terms of both cognitive development and career success.
What this differential prioritization does is clearly establish that “cultured” personal development is a privilege meant only for those willing and able to pay the exorbitant price. It was already hard enough to find public school graduates in ages past that could interact with art of any form in a productive capacity, but now that is guaranteed to never occur.
In fact, what this really boils down to is a continued exclusion from cultural capital. Many people erroneously think that climbing the economic ladder is just about learning about math and reading. But it is actually just as much as learning about the culture—meaning the arts, music, language(s), as well as norms and mores—of the wrung one would hope to reach. Jobs are never usually earned by CVs alone, but also by personal connections, communication on a cultural level, jokes during an interview, and a bevy of other intangibles that can only come from shared experiences, which includes an education based in the development of the individual as a whole.
This stratification and exclusionary difference mirrors the rise of the neo-liberal culture and its desire to measure, quantify, classify, and judge people in a systemic and “dispassionate” way. However, it does not pass any sort of litmus test in regards to its impartiality, but instead quite brazenly ignores already extant privileges built into our society across cultural, social, and economic lines. It is quite obvious for one to see the differences between private and public schools, but few people realize the extent of its influence and continuation into people’s careers and jobs. According to Center for American Progress (CAP) report on social mobility, the United States ranks in the middle of the pack, with the Scandinavian and Western European countries leading the way. This is no aberration and clearly shows the result of our American school system, which has been stratified and has not only created a tiered education system, but by extension, a tiered social, economic, and political landscape that affects all facets of our lives.
Clearly, the elimination of arts funding in our public schools is a reflection of the larger capitalistic project to legitimize the rule of the elites by making certain subjects and domains of knowledge inaccessible to the greater part of people in America. It also further creates two types of people for the coming generations: the publicly educated, cog-in-the-machine worker and his well-educated, renaissance-man-esque master with impeccable credentials. After all, the most elite institutions in our nation are the private/charter schools and universities that serve as feeders for the C-level executive and political class. This also speaks to the greater issue of nepotism, which will be addressed in an upcoming article.
Make no mistake. The line has been drawn and the battle for the minds of America’s children has begun. Will the great majority of people be able to rise up and hold back the tide of school budgets cuts? The quantification of intangible critical learning skills? Will we as a nation, be able to educate our children in a complete, classical Renaissance manner—to nurture a whole person? Or will be content with what we have and decide that Chopin, Picasso, Bach, Verdi, Bizet, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Debussy, Klimt, and many more will hold no role in our lives? Will learning languages not make our children more learned and erudite individuals? Perhaps the battle is lost, and we have already been dealt our death knell. Or maybe, just maybe—we can still change things.
Harold Alexander Mesa (Staff Writer, Rutgers University) Harold Mesa is a Rutgers University alumnus who received his B.A. in 2013 in History. He was born in Medellín, Colombia and lived the second half of his childhood in New Jersey. His interests include post-colonialism, linguistics, Marxian political thought, feminism, and Buddhism—amongst other things. He enjoys playing and discussing soccer.