- Human Rights Abuses Continue in Myanmar as Western Governments Ease Sanctions
- The Problem of Anonymity
- Neoliberal Education Reform Is What’s “Not Fair”: A Response to Dana Goldstein
- Selective Journalism: How Western Media Manipulates Information and Context to Conform to Official Narratives on Iran’s Enrichment Program
- Response to Jeff Chang’s “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation””
As the United States engages in multilateral negotiations over Iran’s uranium enrichment program, the Obama administration is discussing imposing further sanctions in the event that Iran is unwilling to meet international demands of transparency and accountability in its nuclear program. The administration is using the threat of further sanctions in order to pressure Iran to acquiesce to U.S. demands in the diplomatic arena. Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the threat of sanctions is unlikely to significantly alter the Iranian position on uranium enrichment.
Since the Iranian revolution in 1979, Iran has been subject to some form of economic sanction. In that time, Iranians have adapted to these restrictions by inventing ways to circumvent sanctions in the form of black market networks. These networks allow goods that would otherwise be blocked from entering the country to be smuggled across the border from neighboring countries like Oman, across the Strait of Hormuz. Alongside these black market goods are items entering Iran via its two largest trading partners, China and Russia. There are currently one hundred Chinese state firms operating inside Iran, with billions of Chinese dollars invested in Iranian infrastructure projects. As large oil importers, both China and Russia are dependent on Iranian reserves to meet their ever-increasing energy demands. For these reasons, Russia and China have been, and continue to be, reluctant to support economic sanctions against Iran.
Even if the Obama administration succeeded in persuading Russia and China to vote for, and uphold, further sanctions in the United Nations Security Council, it is unlikely that the Iranian position on enrichment would alter significantly. The uranium enrichment program has become a potent symbol of Iranian independence, as the nationalization of oil was in the 1950’s. Not even reformist elements within Iranian society are willing to abandon the enrichment program. Iranian officials consistently point to the fact that countries like Israel, Pakistan and India have developed nuclear weapons outside of the Nonproliferation Treaty, without eliciting international ire or the threat of sanctions, to support their claim that enrichment is a right granted to all NPT signatories. As long as uranium enrichment is associated with independence from Western influence, it is unlikely that Iran will readily abandon the program in the face of further sanctions.
In many ways, economic sanctions benefit the dominant regime. Often, such sanctions result in severe humanitarian consequences for average Iranians. Their ability to fight back against the government’s encroachment on civil liberties is hampered by more immediate concerns like access to potable water, and maintaining a steady supply of food and electricity. This strengthens the power and influence of the security and military apparatus, organizations like the Basij militia that were used to violently suppress opposition protests in the aftermath of the most recent presidential election. Western intervention in the form of sanctions also becomes a handy scapegoat for Iranian officials looking to place the blame for Iran’s ills anywhere other than on themselves. Sanctions allow the government to rally the masses in opposition to a common enemy, namely the West. Indeed, over the years the Iranian regime has learned how to use sanctions to its advantage, to the detriment of ordinary Iranian citizens.
Economic sanctions have proven ineffective in altering Iranian behavior. This is a major challenge for the Obama administration as it employs the threat of further sanctions to cajole Iran into making concessions on its uranium enrichment program. Iran’s ability to circumvent sanctions in the form of black market networks and trade with China and Russia, coupled with Iranian pride in the nuclear program, and the government’s ability to use sanctions in order to manipulate public opinion in its favor, all contribute to the futility of the administration’s current policy.
“People’s behavior makes sense if you think about it in terms of their goals, needs, and motives.” Thomas Mann’s assertion is seemingly uncontroversial, and yet it completely escapes us even in a modern, post-enlightenment industrialized democracy. Rather than as a result of the complex interchange between biological/genetic endowment and environmental factors largely beyond the control of the individual, behavior is viewed as stemming entirely from the conscious whim of the actor. Therefore, the individual bears full responsibility for his/her behavior and punishment for those behaviors in violation of accepted norms is justified. This notion is convenient because it offers a clear culprit, while abdicating the responsibility of the collective. In human societies behavior is not autonomous, but stems from complex interactions between people and environments. When the laws or norms of a particular society are violated, every individual within the society bears some degree of responsibility for that violation. Rather than punish or imprison every last individual, the reasonable and just response would be to carefully examine the root causes of the problematic behavior and work collectively to reorganize society so as to eliminate those root causes. This applies to smaller scale communities as well, such as schools.
For the most part, it is the institutional role of schools to train people for obedience and conformity, and to make them controllable and indoctrinated, what Foucault called “governable citizens.” Those students unwilling to passively accept the dictates of the teacher, or those who may simply be independent minded, are often labeled “behavior problems.” While students with actual behavior issues do exist, the overwhelming majority of punitive measures are dealt out for failing to conform to established norms designed to manufacture obedience. For example, failing to raise one’s hand before asking a question or offering a response; questioning the wisdom or knowledge handed down by a teacher or administrator; refusing to sit in silence for extended periods of time at an uncomfortable wooden desk; refusing to recite the pledge of allegiance; refusing to conform to the schools’ dress code; unwillingness to perform tasks or complete assignments that hold no intrinsic value or perceived benefit. Those students who do not conform are systematically weeded out and isolated through classification, containment, or placement in a lower track. Before we can talk seriously about effective “behavior support,” we must first recognize that much of what is labeled “problem behavior” is actually promising behavior that should be encouraged rather than stifled. True educators must encourage critical thought, independence, and autonomy.
As for behavior which is truly problematic (i.e. that which threatens physical or emotional harm or infringes upon the rights of other students), the standard consequence focused, punitive approach is untenable. As members of the school or classroom community, we are all partially responsible for that behavior. As a result, we must carefully examine the root causes as well as the outcomes of the particular behavior, and collectively reorganize the environment in order to mitigate or eliminate the behavior. This can take the form of Positive Behavior Supports in which triggers, antecedents and outcomes, and their relationship to the behavior are all identified. Questions are posed such as, what environmental factors contribute to the onset of the behavior? what rewards reinforce and perpetuate the behavior? how might the situation be altered so that the reinforcing outcome is no longer present? These questions are answered through careful observation and collaboration with colleagues and/or students. The desirable outcome is that the behavior is altered, not through the manipulation of consequences, but through a recognition of the role of environmental factors in triggering and reinforcing behavior, and the flexibility to change those factors for the sake of ultimately changing the behavior.
The German Government’s foreign policy in Afghanistan consists of a complex patchwork of overlapping mandates. The Bundeswehr’s current operations in Afghanistan fall under the jurisdictions of three separate mandates. The first of which is the NATO-led ISAF, or International Security Assistance Force mandate, which is responsible for the deployment of some 3,000 German troops into Afghanistan. The second mandate, the ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance and Surveillance program, is closely related to the first and authorizes the deployment of six RECCE Tornado reconnaissance aircraft into Afghanistan along with 200 troops responsible for the operation and maintenance of these aircraft (German Embassy). The third and most controversial mandate, the OEF or Operation Enduring Freedom mandate, is an assertion of the Untied States’ right to defend itself from terrorist threats. Germany’s involvement in OEF is the result of bilateral relations with the United States and is outside the sphere of NATO (Kaim). Although the official records state that no German troops are currently deployed in Afghanistan under OEF, this mandate continues to be a point of friction for many in the Bundestag as well as the German populace as a whole (Bundeswehr). To fully understand the complex nature of Germany’s role in Afghanistan, it is necessary to examine these three mandates in greater detail and to place them in the context of the larger international effort taking place in that country.
On December 20, 2001, roughly four months after U.S. combat operations had begun in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the UN Security Council created the International Security Assistance Force when it adopted resolution 1386 under Chapter VII of the UN Charter (Kaim). Currently, ISAF consists of thirty-seven countries together contributing over 35,000 troops to the task of stabilizing and rebuilding Afghanistan. At first ISAF command was rotated every six months among the thirty-seven member states; however, when this system proved to be too complicated, command was turned over indefinitely to NATO in 2003. On October 5, 2006 NATO-ISAF took command of all international military forces in Afghanistan from the U.S.-led Coalition. ISAF operates five Regional Command Centers throughout the country, as well as twenty-five PRTs or Provincial Reconstruction Teams (German Embassy). These small teams of civilian and military personnel work in Afghanistan’s provinces to provide security for aid workers and help with reconstruction. ISAF’s main roles are the support and extension of the National Afghan Army and the conduct of security operations with the NAA, the support of government programs, the support of the national police, and the reconstruction and development of key infrastructures (Bundeswehr).
As the third largest troop contributor, Germany is a major component of the ISAF presence in Afghanistan. Germany’s mandate restricts its operations to the less volatile provinces of the North, namely, Faryab, Jawzjan, Sar-I Pul, Balkh, Samangan, Kunduz, Baghlan, Takhar and Badakhshan provinces. In 2005, the Bundeswehr assumed the lead in the North and, since 2006, has been in charge of Regional Command North with its headquarters in Mazari Sharif in Balkh province (German Embassy). German armed forces are currently managing two PRTs, one in Fayzabad in Badakhshan province and the other in Kunduz in Kunduz province. The objective of these PRTs is to assist the local authorities in reconstruction and maintenance of security in the area (Bundeswehr).
Specific Policy Objectives under ISAF
An overview of the German Government’s policy objectives in Afghanistan under NATO-ISAF can be found in the September 2007 document, “The German Federal Government’s Afghanistan Policy.” It begins with the stated goals of developing state institutions and promoting good governance. Presidential and provincial council elections are scheduled to take place in Afghanistan in 2009, while parliamentary elections are scheduled for 2010 (Auswärtiges Amt). In order to ensure the success of these elections, the German Government is training election officers and preparing the necessary administrative networks which such elections require. The Bundestag is also working to strengthen government on the local level as well as at the parliamentary level. This includes, among other things, fighting the corruption and nepotism which are currently plaguing Afghanistan’s political system, especially at the local levels in the northern provinces. This is being done through the Anti-Corruption Action Plan, which attempts to identify areas of corruption and hold those responsible accountable for their actions (Auswärtiges Amt).
The German Government is also demonstrating concern in the area of human rights. In the North, local power brokers and commanders pose the greatest threat to human rights. Afghan police are also guilty of perpetrating acts of torture and of making arbitrary arrests. In order to curb these blatant human rights violations, the Bundestag will continue to support the reformation and development of the Afghan judicial system. The Bundestag also plans to foster the increase of cooperation between police and the public prosecution office, further training for police and judges and inform the general public about individual rights (Auswärtiges Amt). The German Government will also continue to support the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Another important policy point closely related to the promotion of human rights is the improvement of the standard of living for Afghans. The German Government plans to increase funds in this field to 125 million Euro in 2008 (Auswärtiges Amt). It also plans to strengthen the economy in the northern provinces and create jobs by supporting small and medium size companies. This, together with an educational program that will build more schools and vocational training centers for teachers, is designed to secure a more stable future for the younger, under twenty-five population in Afghanistan, which makes up more than sixty-eight percent of the overall population (German Embassy).
The fostering of dialogue between Afghanistan and its allies in the region is another stated goal of the Bundestag. This includes promoting cooperation with Pakistan on important border issues such as security and drug-trafficking, as well as good relations with Iran, one of Afghanistan’s main economic partners. Admittedly, the crux of the economic relationship between Iran and Afghanistan is the illegal drug market, which is the only source of income for many Afghan farmers. Iran also hosts the largest Afghan refugee community. The German Government will continue to provide funding in 2008 for border control, return of refugees, promotion of the economy in border regions and the development of government contacts (Auswärtiges Amt).
Of course, all of this humanitarian and infrastructure work cannot be accomplished without first neutralizing the security situation. Since the strengthening of the Taliban insurgency in the spring of 2006, the number of security-related incidents has greatly increased throughout the country (Bundeswehr). In the southern Pashtun parts of the country the number of security incidents has doubled. Although the effects of the Taliban insurgency have not been felt as greatly in the North, where German troops are stationed, security threats exist there from other aspects of Afghan society. For example, organized crime, conflicts between local power brokers and power struggles within the Afghan administration all present threats to German troops in the North and their task of rebuilding (Auswärtiges Amt). To combat these, the German Government plans to maintain its troop presence of some 3,000 (exact numbers are difficult to come by), and expedite the strengthening of the Afghan National Security Forces.
ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance and Surveillance Mandate
Turning away from the first NATO-ISAF mandate towards the second Aerial Reconnaissance mandate, the issues surrounding Germany’s presence in Afghanistan become more controversial. This second mandate was issued in February 2007 and, like the NATO-ISAF mandate, came up for renewal in October of that same year (Kaim). The Reconnaissance mandate deployed six RECCE Tornado aircraft to Afghanistan along with 200 troops involved in the operation and maintenance of these aircraft. While it is closely related to the first ISAF mandate, it has sparked more controversy because it allows the aircraft to be used for reconnaissance in NATO operations all around the country and not just in the North. The combat operations which take place in the south against the Taliban insurgency often result in a higher number of civilian casualties (Kaim). Is it exactly these civilian casualties which the German Government, as well as the German populace, does not want to be responsible for or associated with. In fact, according to a poll conducted by the “Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger,” sixty-one percent of Germans oppose the extension of all Afghan mandates (AFP). Despite this opposition, on October, 12 2007 the Bundestag voted 453 to 79 in favor of extending both the ISAF and ISAF Aerial Reconnaissance mandates an additional twelve months (AFP). Another vote is expected in November 2007 on the extension of the OEF mandate, which expires November, 15.
Operation Enduring Freedom Mandate
The third and final mandate, the Operation Enduring Freedom mandate, is easily the most controversial. OEF is an assertion of the United States’ right to defend itself from international terrorism following the events of September 11, 2001, and is authorized under Article 51 of the UN Charter (German Embassy). Germany’s mandate authorizes the deployment of up to 1,800 troops under OEF; however, since 2001 there has only been as many as 100 members of the Bundeswehr’s Special Forces Command, the KSK, operating in Afghanistan under OEF at any time (Kaim). The missions of these elite troops remain classified and, according to official records, there have been no KSK troops in Afghanistan since 2005 (Bundeswehr). OEF is not specific to Afghanistan and Germany’s current contribution to this operation is 250 marines stationed on the Horn of Africa conducting surveillance and protecting naval routes. This operation alone cost the German Government sixty-five million euros in 2007 (Kaim). The OEF mandate is a controversial one because it is strictly a combat operation designed to fight terrorism and has little to do with the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts of NATO. It, too, is focused in the south where combat operations lead to high civilian casualties.
The complex nature of Germany’s presence in Afghanistan often leads to much confusion, especially in discussions over the OEF mandate, where people fail to realize that there is currently no German troop presence in Afghanistan under OEF. Many, however, recognize the OEF mandate as an unnecessary drain on funds which could be better used elsewhere. The abolition of the OEF mandate could also allow for full attention to be focused on NATO-ISAF reconstruction and development operations (Kaim). It is with these beliefs in mind that many in the Bundestag will enter the Reichstag in November to vote on the fate of the OEF mandate.
Bundeswehr. 10. November 2007 <http://bundeswehr.de/portal/a/bwde>
“Germany Extends Afghan Mandate Amid Growing Doubts.” October 12, 2007.
Associated Free Press. 13. November 2007 <http://afp.google.com/article>
Kaim, Marcus. “The Debate on the Mandates Sending German Troops to Afghanistan.”
September 5, 2007. American Institute for Contemporary German Studies, Johns Hopkins University. 10. November 2007 <http://www.aicgs.org/documents/advisor/kaim0807eng.pdf>
“Secure and Democratic Future for Afghanistan: Germany’s Commitment.” German
Embassy Washington, D.C. 12. November 2007 <http://www.germany.info/relaunch/info/archives/background/Afghanistan_factsheet.pdf>
“The German Federal Government’s Afghanistan Policy.” September 14, 2007.
Auswärtiges Amt. 12. November 2007 <http://www.auswaertiges-amt.de/diplo/en/Startseite.html>
“Clearly, we have left the young, as Arendt put it, ‘to their own devices.’ We may not have loved them enough to prepare them ‘for the task of renewing a common world.” In “Liberal Education and the Newcomer,” Maxine Greene offers the utopian image of a “common world” or “shared heritage” informing the youth of a definite past, allowing them to truly experience the present, and revealing to them the myriad possibilities for the future. For Greene, liberal education is that “common world.” But does such a thing exist in the globalized twenty-first century and, if so, would it naturally limit the “potential perspectives through which experience can be viewed” rather than expand them? This was the first question I posed to my discussion group and it established the tone as well as the general direction of our discussion. I chose this question as my opener for several reasons. Firstly, it is an open-ended, thought-provoking question which can reveal much about the person attempting to answer it. The question probes beyond political or theological ideology to get at something deeper. Secondly, throughout my reading of Greene’s article I found this question to be on my mind more than any other, almost as if Greene herself explicitly poses it within the text. Lastly, I felt this question might result in more questions than answers and provide fuel for furthering the discussion. I was not disappointed, as it more than exceeded my expectations.
As the conversation began, I was immediately struck by the varying interpretations of Greene’s “common world.” For me, the “common world” was an external cultural heritage, a shared history, theology, philosophy, art, etc., but many of the group members saw the “common world” as an internal one, existing within the confines of the classroom. For them, the “shared heritage” was a shared classroom heritage and, as a result, “potential perspectives” were as limitless as the classroom culture allowed. The group discussed ways to ensure a diversification of “potential perspectives” within the classroom. We all agreed that a critical step in that direction would be the elimination of a Eurocentric definition of liberal education. Throughout her piece, Greene mentions many prominent figures in Western movements and intellectual traditions including Michelangelo, Kierkegaard, Hegel, Vivaldi, Marx, etc. But what about the rest of the world and human experience? The group reached a consensus that a true definition of liberal education must include multiculturalism. If there is a “common world,” it must be a multicultural one. But where does one draw the line? How inclusive can one realistically be? These questions remained unanswered.
From the “common world,” we moved on to Greene’s charge of pandemic illiteracy among contemporary youth and her attack on technical/professional training programs. I posed the question, “has a desire for ‘prestige’ and ‘security’ pushed young people away from liberal learning towards the ‘pragmatism’ of technical/professional training?” A majority of group members agreed that liberal education has become devalued in our society, while those who seek success through the accumulation of material “wealth” increasingly turn to technical/professional education as a means to an end. A few members argued the merits of technical/professional training but did not deny the unfortunate decline of liberal arts education. I asked the group if, in order to reverse this trend, we must first address our “culture of consumption” and the economic/political forces driving it. This question was met with some suspicion by certain members of the group who may have read in it left-leaning overtones. Perhaps their suspicions were warranted and I was not careful enough in the framing of the question. How do we keep ourselves out of our questions?
I quickly moved to a discussion of Greene’s view of the individual youth and introduced the following quotation from the text, “The young, generally left to their own devices, appear bored, cynical, entangled (more often than not) in what Virginia Woolf described as ‘a kind of nondescript cotton wool.’” I asked the group if they believed, as Greene does, that the individual must establish a relationship to a larger whole in order to find purpose and meaning. They seemed to agree with Greene, arguing that socialization is essential to the development of the individual youth and an important function of education. Personally, I found Greene’s description of the limited capacity of the individual to make connections and discover meaning, without establishing a relationship to something larger, extremely pessimistic. I wanted the group to challenge Greene’s assertion but they felt it to be accurate. I was on my own on this one. My final question was, “does liberal education necessarily ‘humanize?’” I made no attempt to secure Greene’s definition of “humanize.” I wanted group members to come up with their own definitions and then attempt to answer the question. Again, I thought this question would reveal much about the person answering it. Unfortunately, the question was relatively unsuccessful as group members struggled to define “humanize” on their own terms. The question itself was never directly addressed.
Overall, I think the discussion was successful and extremely interesting. The group members seemed to respond well to most of the questions and remained engaged throughout. It was enlightening to hear their perspectives on the text and how drastically they differed from my own. I had not thought of a “common world” existing within the classroom and this is significant because such a world can be manipulated and expanded, it is not static like the monolithic cultural heritage I had envisioned. Looking back, there are some things I would probably do differently in future discussions. In the future, I would be less hesitant to interject and reorient the conversation if it is strays too far off topic. There were a few instances when I felt the group had wandered away from the text but, in the interests of free flow and stream of consciousness, I did not attempt to reel them back in. This was probably a mistake. Also, I would be more careful when framing my questions, making sure to keep my personal views out of them as much as possible and not trying to answer the question within the question. Finally, I would listen more carefully to the other members of the group, rather than trying to listen while conjuring the next question in my head. The foolish man talks; the wise man listens.
Review of Kevin Kumashiro’s “The Seduction of Common Sense: How the Right Has Framed the Debate on America’s Schools”
“Common sense does not tell us that this is what schools could be doing; it tells us that this and only this is what schools should be doing.” In The Seduction of Common Sense: How the Right Has Framed the Debate on America’s Schools, Kevin Kumashiro takes on the monumental task of denaturalizing and interrogating the hegemonic assumptions surrounding issues of public education, social class, gender and sexuality, and race in American society. According to Kumashiro, the “Right” has been successful in its efforts to maintain the status quo and undermine progress through an appropriation and manipulation of certain frames about traditional values, safety, innocence, equality, etc. It is the eternal task of the beleaguered and underdog “Left” to expose these frames as vacuous, power-serving distortions of reality, and presumably replace them with their own disinterested, objectively accurate frames. The “Right” is conveniently defined as those interests and organizations fighting to maintain the status quo, whereas the “Left,” inevitably, is defined as those advocating for change in the form of social and economic justice and equality. These facile caricatures of the Right and Left are the greatest weaknesses of Kumashiro’s analysis and serve to undermine what would otherwise be an interesting and thoughtful examination of the ways in which power manufactures truth in order to serve its own interests.
The entire framework of Kumashiro’s argument rests on the foundation that there exists an eternal struggle, almost cosmic in nature, between two diametrically opposed groups, what he labels the “Right” and the “Left,” for the hearts and minds of the people. At the current historical juncture, the “Right,” by virtue of its organization, resources and vision, is winning the fight. To be fair, Kumashiro does grant the Right some complexity; he is not trying to portray the Right as a monolithic devoid of any diversity or substructure. However, the mosaic of the Right he does offer is unsophisticated and severely limited at best. Kumashiro cites Kathleen deMarrais’s delineation of the Right into several subgroups: “the Christian Right, conservative internationalists, the conservative mainstream, libertarians, militant anticommunists, national security militarists, neoconservatives, the new Right, the old-guard Right, paleoconservatives, and social conservatives.” This may indeed be a comprehensive list of the various brands and flavors of the Right in American society; however, the “Right” Kumashiro goes on to talk about in his analysis of the economic, social and cultural frames influencing education policy bears little resemblance to the majority of these groups, and is in fact simply a misnomer for powerful political-corporate interests. The clearest example of this is the complicity of the Democratic party, and a majority of traditionally mainstream liberal or leftist organizations in the preservation of the status quo and the fight against progress and change.
Kumashiro’s fallacy is evident from the first chapter where he identifies five “current initiatives to undermine public education.” The first of these initiatives are tax cuts and privatization, or more specifically “reducing the amount of taxes that the government collects and redistributes in the form of public services (cutting taxes), and restructuring whatever services are being provided into a market-like industry (privatizing).” Such privatization often manifests itself in the form of outsourcing or “the hiring of private companies to provide services and goods.” Since the time of the Reagan administration, the outsourcing of traditionally governmental services to the private sector has accelerated and expanded. This insidious trend has not stopped or even slowed under the Democratic administrations of Clinton and now Obama. Over the past thirty years, politicians aligned with business/corporate interests have worked tirelessly to diminish the public sphere and dismantle essential social services in the name of privatization. From trash collection and parcel services to health care, education and the military, privatization has wreaked havoc on the social contract and placed profits over the basic needs of people, but it has not been the Right at the heart of this onslaught. Rather, it has been those in power, whether on the Right or the Left, and the capital interests they serve.
In his discussion of privatization, Kumashiro identifies two particular education initiatives which he associates with the Right, vouchers and charter schools. According to Kumashiro, charter schools “look more like private schools than public schools, with outsourced management, corporate funding, selective enrollments, and even religious bases.” They, along with vouchers, are another front in the battle to privatize public education. However, Kumashiro acknowledges that some Leftist groups support charter schools and voucher programs for their potential to “affirm cultural differences and strengthen communities,” as well as localize decision making. In other words, Rightist groups support charter schools and vouchers because they align with their eternal goal of dismantling the public sector while increasing corporate profits, but Leftist groups only support these initiatives for the purposes of cultural preservation and community control. This is an all too convenient analysis, and one which does not hold to scrutiny. The Seduction of Common Sense was published in 2008, right before Barack Obama took office. If Kumashiro were writing this book in 2010, he would have to account for the fact that the Obama administration, along with many organizations on the Left, is pushing heavily for the expansion of charter schools and voucher programs under the pretense that they do more with less money. The argument made by people like Arne Duncan, Obama’s education secretary, is that traditional public schools are failing America’s youth. These ardent reformers point to declining standardized test scores in low-income urban communities and elsewhere as proof that the status quo is not working. Of course, questions are never raised about the root causes of this regression: poverty, limited access to healthcare, malnutrition, incarceration, etc. because fixing the problem is not the goal of these liberal reformers. Rather, the goal is to pave the way for the continuous march of privatization in the name of corporate profit making.
Moving away from initiatives undermining public education, Kumashiro begins his analysis of the power of frames with a discussion of “traditional” family and core values and how this particular frame has been appropriated and manipulated by the Right. Here, Kumashiro’s argument is weakened further by his association of the Right with the Republican party. He discusses the “strict-father” family model and defines it as “one in which the father is the leader of the family, knows right from wrong, protects his family from the dangers outside, but does not dote on his children…” In Kumashiro’s view, the Right, particularly Republicans, have adopted this model and “metaphorically” framed its issues around it. For example, just as the father is the leader of the family, so too is the United States the leader of the world family and, like the father, the U.S. knows what is best for the family. This metaphor conveniently justifies U.S. imperialism and corporate expansionism. The United States protects itself and its family with a strong military, expensive weapons systems, and implements economic protectionism in the form of import tariffs and subsidized exports. Domestically, the U.S. protects its citizens with a robust prison system (the largest in the world) and tough sentencing, particularly for nonviolent drug offenses which account for one quarter of those currently incarcerated (roughly 500,000 people). Like the strict-father, the U.S. government does not dote on its citizens with social welfare programs like single-payer healthcare and universal state pensions, the trappings of a “nanny state.” With respect to civil rights issues like same-sex marriage, the strict-father model denies equal rights to all human beings out of a visceral fear that the traditional family would somehow be undermined. In the realm of education, the strict-father pushes standardization and accountability in the form of adequate yearly progress for school districts and merit pay for teachers. All of these, Kumashiro argues, are Republican issues and policies, but how do these differ from the issues and policies of Democrats? Democrats support continued U.S. imperialism (Obama’s expansion of the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan for example). Democrats have no intention of reducing the bloated Pentagon budget or cutting military spending, nor do they have any interest in implementing fair trade policies. Democrats are not reforming drug laws to decriminalize usage and possession, or attempting to scale back the massive, tax gorging prison system, and Democrats have not made any meaningful steps towards granting equal rights to LGBT citizens. How, then, is the strict-father frame strictly a Right, Republican frame?
In his subsequent discussion of neoliberalism, Kumashiro recovers somewhat from his previous lapse in critical analysis. Here, he recognizes that both Republicans, the mainstream Right, and Democrats, the mainstream Left, are complicit in the myth of the “free market” and universal prosperity through deficit reduction, privatization, deregulation, reductions in corporate tax, etc. In Kumashiro’s own words, “the ‘Washington Consensus’ became so taken-for-granted that although the U.S. presidency and Congress have since shifted back and forth between being controlled by Republicans and Democrats, U.S. economic policy throughout has remained firmly within neoliberal ideology.” Kumashiro notes that, on the surface, neoliberalism appeals to notions of equality and freedom with its emphasis on personal responsibility, and its equation of hard work with success and prosperity, but he fails to expose the utter hypocrisy behind this appeal. Neoliberalism operates to undermine freedom and democracy by concentrating capital into smaller and smaller segments of society while diminishing the public sphere and transferring decision making to within unaccountable private tyrannies (corporations). Privatization is a potent weapon in the neoliberal’s arsenal. Within education, current reform efforts emphasize an increase in school vouchers and public-private partnership schools. Both of which are designed to use public tax dollars to subsidize the profits of private educational institutions, thereby undermining public education while enriching the private sector. According to the neoliberal philosophy, public services like education and social welfare programs are burdens to the economy and barriers to the accumulation and consolidation of capital. This system, of course, is inherently unequal and undemocratic, however, as Kumashiro notes, frames are often successful enough in their duplicity to portray themselves as opposite of what they truly are.
From frames about “traditional” family and core values, Kumashiro moves on to a discussion of the appropriation of frames about “safety.” Specifically, the safety of LGBTQ students in schools, which “has become the focal point of initiatives on policy, research, funding, training, and student organizing…among the most visible organizations on the Left.” In this area, Kumashiro is critical of the Left and their focus on safety with respect to LGBTQ issues. He cites several drawbacks to this approach. First, the frame of safety focuses attention on homophobia and fails to interrogate the normalization of heterosexuality. Heterosexuality is left unexamined as a culturally constructed phenomenon which relies on the marginalization of non-heterosexuals to justify its own correctness and moral superiority. In this way, heterosexuality is naturalized and homosexuality denaturalized. Second, “the focus on safety can be interpreted as advancing assimilation…” In other words, there would be no attacks on LGBTQ students if there were no LGBTQ students in the first place, or if those students were less flagrant about their gender-nonconformity. This is also a way of placing blame on the victim for inviting the abuse through “antagonistic” behavior. Finally, the Right has played on the notion that the abuse of LGBTQ students, or those suffering from “same-sex attraction,” keeps them in their “bondage to sin” by exacerbating their feelings of inadequacy. To abuse or bully LGBTQ youth is to prevent them from overcoming these feelings of inadequacy and recognizing the wrongness and immorality of their lifestyle. For all of these reasons, Kumashiro is right to be critical of the Left’s appropriation of frames about safety with respect to LGBTQ issues. However, as throughout most of his analysis, Kumashiro is unclear about who exactly the “Left” and “Right” are here. Presumably, the “Right” is the evangelical Christian Right and its spokespeople in government, and the “Left” is all of those organizations working to combat abuses against LGBTQ citizens, however, this is never explicitly stated.
Throughout his analysis of the hegemonic assumptions surrounding issues of public education, social class, gender and sexuality, and race in American society, Kumashiro fails to accurately define the “Left” and “Right.” In his introduction, Kumashiro posits that the “Left” is that which fights for progress and positive social change, whereas the “Right” is that which fights to maintain the status quo. These definitions are far too convenient and fail to place these terms within the context of the complex historical, socio-political landscape from which they grew. Stalinists fought to maintain the status quo in Soviet Russia, just as Libertarians in the United States fought for the expansion of individuals’ civil liberties. It is as though Kumashiro intentionally “reframed” the traditional Right/Left dichotomy to advance his own agenda. This is the greatest weakness of what would otherwise be a thoughtful examination of the ways in which power frames debates and manufactures consent. For it is power that Kumashiro refers to when he talks about the “Right,” and the disempowered when speaking of the “Left.” This is the reason the “Right” has been so successful in its campaign to undermine freedom and democracy; the “Right” has all the power in the form of capital, resources, media, etc. because it is power, and the survival of power depends, above all else, on the maintenance of the status quo and the suppression of progress.