Assault on Kids and Teachers

Countering Privatization, Deficit Ideologies and Standardization in U.S. Schools

by Roberta Ahlquist (Volume editor) Paul C. Gorski (Volume editor) Theresa Montaño (Volume editor)
©2018 Textbook XXII, 244 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 523


In Assault on Kids and Teachers, educators from across the United States push back against the neoliberal school reform movements that are taking the “public” out of public education, demonizing teachers, and stealing from youth the opportunity for an equitable, just, and holistic education. Contributors, including teachers, educational and community activists, teacher educators, critical education scholars, and others, expose how racism, economic injustice, and other forms of injustice are created and recreated both locally and nationally through educational policies more intent on turning schools into profit centers and undermining teacher unions than on strengthening public schools. Topics include the privatization of public schools, the growing influence of grit ideology on school practices, zero tolerance policies and the school-to-prison pipeline, Teach For America, the lies behind the charter school movement, and the damage TPAs are doing to teacher education. Beyond leveling critiques at these and other troubling trends and practices, though, contributors describe the many sites and forms of resistance emerging in response to these assaults on kids and teachers from students, parents, teachers, and other concerned people. Assault on Kids and Teachers is both a call for deeper understandings of anti-democratic and regressive school reform initiatives and an invitation into movements for putting the “public” back into public education.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for Antifragility of Islamic Finance
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • List of Tables
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Part I. Privatization
  • 1. The “Empire” Strikes Back with a Neoliberal Agenda: Confronting the Legacies of Colonialism and Popular Resistance (Roberta Ahlquist)
  • 2. “Won’t Back Down, Don’t Know How”: The Fight for Walter H. Dyett High School (Monique Redeaux-Smith)
  • 3. Exposing the Myths of Privatization: Popular Education and Political Activism in a Southern U.S. City (Richard D. Lakes / Lisa Healey / Paul McLennan / Susan McWethy / Jennifer Sauer / Mary Anne Smith)
  • 4. “Getting Up” and Claiming Political Power in Newark: Citizens Taking Action for Radically Democratic Possibilities (Carolyne J. White / Leah Z. Owens)
  • Part II. Deficit Ideologies
  • 5. Poverty Ideologies and the Possibility of Equitable Education: How Deficit, Grit, and Structural Views Enable or Inhibit Just Policy and Practice for Economically Marginalized Students (Paul C. Gorski)
  • 6. Battling Zero-Tolerance in Schools and the School-to-Prison Pipeline (Alan Singer / Eustace Thompson)
  • 7. Educate, Agitate and Organize: One Union’s Response to the Teacher Shortage and Union Bashing (Theresa Montaño / Maria Elena Cruz)
  • 8. Re-Routing the Nightmare: Why We Need Another Movement to Create an Equitable Public Education System in Wisconsin and Across the United States (Virginia Lea)
  • Part III. Standardization
  • 9. From Despair to Hope: reClaiming Education (Julie Gorlewski / Peter M. Taubman)
  • 10. What Instead?: Reframing the Debate About Charter Schools, Teach For America, and High-Stakes Testing (Julian Vasquez Heilig / T. Jameson Brewer / Terrenda White)
  • 11. They Should See Themselves as Powerful: Teacher Educators, Agency, and Resisting TPAs (Erica K. Dotson / Alison G. Dover / Nick Henning / Ruchi Agarwrwal-Rangnath)
  • Contributors
  • Series index

← vi | vii →



Table 5.1Interpretation and Response to Differences in Rates of On-Site Family-Engagement by Poverty Ideology
Table 10.1Community-Based Reform Alternatives to Top-Down Reform ← vii | viii →

← viii | ix →



The penetrating analyses and hopeful vision of educational justice in this volume remind me of the African proverb, “If you want to go quickly, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together.” The authors of each chapter offer us critical correctives for what is wrong with our education—from countering the dispossession of urban communities and the theft of public resources through privatization schemes, to refuting scapegoating cultural deficit ideology, to organizing and movement-building in specific sites of struggle, to rejecting the homogenizing corporate standardization in our schools.

We are fortunate that Roberta Ahlquist, Paul Gorski, and Theresa Montaño have courageously gathered together this timely collection of incisive essays that expose the appalling conditions and the state of public schooling for classroom teachers and teacher educators, critical scholars, activists, and communities. Taken together these essays demystify the neoliberal ideologies that drive reductionist, anti-democratic policies and practices that feed the school-to-prison pipeline, exacerbate the displacement of teachers of color, undermine meaningful teaching and learning through misplaced emphasis on testing and putative accountability measures in local contexts and across the United States.

Assault on Kids and Teachers goes beyond single-issue analyses to not only expose underpinnings of educational inequity that threaten the well-being of students in the most marginalized communities, but also reveal what is at stake for teachers and school leaders who are victimized when political ideology masquerades as educational reform. In language that is accessible to a wide audience, the authors illustrate educational and liberatory possibilities that are endangered unless people across the social spectrum have the critical tools to defend and radically restructure schools in order to abolish systemic societal inequities. ← ix | x →

What better antidote for these scary times, when many hard won social justice struggles are being attacked, than the inspiring solidarity among the diverse researchers, teachers, students, and community activists in these essays who are showing us how to fight back against the root causes of educational inequity and injustice? With this encouraging volume, we can certainly go farther toward social, educational, and racial justice together.

Joyce E. King, Ph.D.

Past President of the American Educational Research Association

Benjamin E. Mays Endowed Chair for Urban Teaching, Learning and Leadership

Georgia State University

Fall 2017

← x | xi →



Like many books about the corporate manipulation and erosion of public education—of both the democratic notion of “public” and the public practice of schooling—this volume springs from concern and indignation at the continuing attack on teachers and public schooling. The growing neoliberal influence on U.S. schooling is characterized by hyper-accountability, patterns of deficit ideology, and the privatization and corporatization of public schools (conditions that are explored in detail in our first chapter). The assault on teachers and students is a symptom, an illustration, of these bigger conditions. In other words, the question with which we grappled as we composed this book wasn’t simply how public schools were being eroded and teachers scapegoated. We also wondered, What are the sociopolitical conditions in which privatization and deficit ideologies could wrest this influence? How else are these conditions manifesting in schools and the larger society, and to whose benefit?

When we began to ask these questions, unpeeling the onion from the inside out, we started to uncover the sorts of ideological interconnections that underlie a rash of socially and politically unjust conditions in the U.S. and around the world. In order to understand the assault on teachers and kids in full, we need to understand it in context. So we continued digging for questions: What are the conditions in schools and the larger society that would facilitate the mass acceptance of such devastating deficit ideas? How have we—teachers, school leaders, education and community activists—been conditioned to embrace oppressive ideas and practices, often in the name of “diversity,” “multiculturalism,” “equality,” or “inclusion”? What explains the mass (although, of course, not universal) acceptance of deficit notions, not by those who mean to be oppressive, purposeful agents of hegemony, but by those who, as the rhetoric goes, want to see all kids succeed? ← xi | xii →

And, as we found, even these questions are not quite sufficient, as understanding is only the first step toward change. So we also came to ask, What can we do? How might we resist the corporatization and privatization of schools, deficit ideology, and hyper-accountability? How can we organize ourselves and build toward a different, more socially just, educational future? The result—Assault on Kids and Teachers—is our attempt to hasten this discourse towards thoughtful action for just change.

It also is our attempt to create a space for cross-engagement around these concerns. The contributors to this volume include scholars, but they also include classroom teachers and educational activists and people who identify at intersections of these descriptors. In our experience, conversations about educational and social transformation too often happen in not-so-mixed-company: at academic conferences, for example, or in books or journals produced and read largely by a particular target audience. Of course we acknowledge the importance of these different literatures, differently contoured urgencies, varying pragmatics. But we chose for the purpose of this volume to interweave broader perspectives and sight-lines from across the educational landscape—from those whose “data” are collected and analyzed in formal, “controlled,” ways; from those whose “data” comprise the informal and chaotic day-to-day implications of teaching or organizing under the weight of hyper-accountability and corporatocracy; and from those whose “data” fall somewhere on the continuum between the two. We believe the resulting storylines of this volume paint a fuller picture of the contemporary educational assault on teachers and kids than they might have painted had we drawn on a more narrowly defined sample of voices.

That word—assault—and our decision to build this book’s title around it, begs attention, as well. From the neo-conservative Tea Party to the Hoover Institution, from the Koch brothers to President Trump’s pick for Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, the rhetoric imploring our support for corporatocracy’s meddling in supposedly public spheres such as public education floats to us, it seems, in a never-ending loop. The language itself is insidious, full of corporate ideas wrapped in language meant to draw upon people’s deepest socializations as “American” champions of liberty, freedom, democracy, capitalism, and justice: “free market,” “Race to the Top,” “No Child Left Behind,” “school choice,” “merit pay.” As educator-activists, we are concerned particularly about the ways much of the discourse among advocates for educational equity and social justice has come to reflect this rhetoric; how the discourse about school reform has become mired in de-contextualized test scores, merit pay, and achievement gaps. In fact, there are few more poignant examples ← xii | xiii → of deficit ideology’s infestation of public education than this achievement gap discourse, which tends to locate the “problem” of, say, unequal educational outcomes as existing within economically marginalized communities, communities of color, communities in which people speak languages other than English at home, and other disenfranchised communities. And it does so by drawing upon simplistic mental models such as “grit” and the “culture of poverty,” which project stereotyped and, as Gorski details in his chapter on deficit ideology, inaccurate perceptions of their parenting, their attitudes about education, and their access to mentors while rendering systemic inequities such as systemic racism and economic injustice invisible. One function of this discourse—and, as contributors to this volume will attest, a purposeful function—is to train the collective scornful gaze down the power continuum so that efforts to reform public schooling focus squarely on “fixing” marginalized communities rather than redressing the policies and practices which marginalize them. Meanwhile, these policies and practices, from closing or under-funding neighborhood schools to redistributing resources out of public schools and into semi-public charter schools, independent schools, and private enterprise, continue to wreak havoc on marginalized communities. But as much as this, they threaten the very existence of the public sphere. And this, we contend, is assault on a massive scale. It is an assault on thought, an assault on opportunity, an assault on the possibility of an equitable and just world. It is an assault on all of us, but it is an assault most of all on children who are compelled to participate in it simply by being students in our public schools.

One of the purposes of this book and its conversation among a diversity of educators, activists, scholars, administrators, and parents, then, is to uncover and document this assault—to trace the educational roots of privatization, deficit ideology, and standardization, and to explicate and challenge their consequences. A second and equally critical purpose is to invite readers into a process of imagining a different future for public education, to consider ways of resisting the assault and constructing something more equitable and just. In this spirit, every contributor to this book has been asked, not only to provide a critical analysis along one or more of these lines, but also to imagine a just alternative and recommend paths of resistance.

Certainly we do not claim that we have covered these complex topics and their many contours exhaustively. In fact, as we prepare this volume for print, we find, as in any ardent attempt at inquiry, we often have uncovered more questions than answers. Thusly is laid the path toward real change. It is our hope that with this book we may nudge ourselves and readers onto, or a step or two further along, that path. ← xiii | xiv →

Organization and Snapshot

Although we have organized Assault on Kids and Teachers roughly around its three major themes—privatization and corporatization, deficit ideology, and standardization—these are inexact descriptors. Due to the interrelated nature of the topics covered in this book, several chapters address two or more of these themes or focus on points at which they overlap.

We begin with Roberta Ahlquist’s introductory chapter addressing the privatization of schools and of the public good. “The ‘Empire’ Strikes Back with a Neoliberal Agenda and Popular Resistance” is a brief historical overview of privatization and charterization and the role of corporate players in this ‘reform agenda’. Ahlquist outlines a variety of forms of popular resistance that teachers, students, and communities can take to disrupt the assault.

In Chapter 2, Monique Redeaux-Smith, a teacher-activist, describes her participation in a hunger strike with teachers, students, and community activists to keep Dyett High School, a public, neighborhood school in the Bronzeville community, from being shuttered. Their actions were partially successful in that the school was not closed and monies were provided to support the continuation of the school. It is a tale that exposes the racist and discriminatory face of education privatization and celebrates the resilience and power of communities committed to resisting it at all costs.


XXII, 244
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
racism critical pedagogy neoliberalism deficit ideology classism
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XXII, 244 pp., 2 tables

Biographical notes

Roberta Ahlquist (Volume editor) Paul C. Gorski (Volume editor) Theresa Montaño (Volume editor)

Roberta Ahlquist has been a professor at San Jose State for over 30 years, supervising prospective high school teachers. Her areas of research include critical race theory, unlearning racism, critical multicultural education, indigenous education, and postcolonial studies. Paul C. Gorski is Associate Professor of Integrative Studies at George Mason University where he coordinates degree programs in social justice and human rights. He is the founder of EdChange and the Equity Literacy Institute. His other books include Reaching and Teaching Students in Poverty: Strategies for Erasing the Opportunity Gap and Case Studies on Diversity and Social Justice Education. Theresa Montaño is an associate professor of Chicana and Chicano studies at California State University Northridge. She teaches courses to prospective teachers in the area of equity and diversity in school, Chicano/a childhood and adolescence, and research in Chicano/a education. Her areas of research include the schooling of Chicano/a-Latino/a students; critical pedagogy; teacher activism; and bilingual/ELL instruction.


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