The Rochambo of Paradox, Conundrums, Dilemmas, and School Bureaucracies

The below is pp. 185-186 (Chapter 9) of my book Schooling, Childhood, and Bureaucracy: Bureaucratizing the Child. Other extracts can be read here at Ethnography.com

here, (Leaky First Graders, etc.)

here, (How the Rich Educate their Children: A Swiss Hogwarts)

and here. (Children as Raw Material on the Bureaucratic Assembly Line)

Or better yet, you can ask your library to get you a copy, hopefully by getting them to buy a hardcover copy from my publisher, or a used copy from Amazon.com. If you could also send an email to the publisher urging them to issue a cheap soft cover version, that would be appreciated, too.  In either case, I really hope that more people will buy it—besides the fact that I get a 2% (two percent) cut of net revenues, I really like it when people read my books!

Schooling Childhood Cover

The Limits of the Modern American School: Rock, Paper, Scissors

Bureaucracies, while well suited to deal with matters of the rational mind that pragmatic American habitus celebrates, are in fact ill-suited for matters of the heart. Thus, bureaucracies created to undertake the tasks bump up against the three values identified long ago by de Tocqueville and that are at the heart of many continuing American dilemmas. These include first the dialectical tensions over equality, individual rights, and utilitarianism.

They are the rock, paper, scissors of the American educational system. This chapter is about how this game of rochambo is played out in recent decades. In describing the swings, I will move between demands

to eliminate the inequalities of race and poverty, protection of individual rights, and most recently, the appeal to business ethics in the administration of education programs. Three examples will illustrate the dissonance between these three values: The persistence of inequality, the persistence of radical individualism, and the persistent connection between education and business practice.

Paradoxes, conundrums, and dilemmas underlie the cultural habitus of the American school that drives the dreams of parents, teachers, administrators, and ultimately children. But the experimentation that began in the nineteenth century and was designed to lead to an ever more perfect school system, ultimately has practical limits rooted in the nature of its Schooling, Childhood, and Bureaucracy intertwined habitus. And this is where limits to how egalitarian, how individualistic and how efficiently schools can be managed. Because schools ultimately seek to provide equality in a society that is not equal, individuality in an environment that is group focused, and efficiency in an institution in which inputs be controlled, the product defined, nor flawed goods discarded

In the case of the American school, the limits are most identifiable when institutions bump up against the underpinnings that form the habitus of thought and deed of both individual and the society they create. In the United States, these limits are found particularly in how schools continue to wrestle with the most salient features of American society and how it views its children. Prominent is the persistence of inequality rooted in both socioeconomics and race and the preservation these contradictions in the context of American-style business models; oddly enough, this happens in the context of an insistence on the uniqueness and rights of every individual child to seek their own potential. And so like a rochambo game of rock, paper, scissors, one wins and one loses, but the game never really stops. Egalitarianism individualism, and utilitarianism echo through the schools, pushing each other aside, but only temporarily.

Thus when a school becomes more egalitarian, it loses its capacity to recognize individual differences, as indeed happened in the 1980s. When it focuses on pragmatic service to the business community it tends toward inequality, which is what happened as millions of immigrants, African Americans, and others were sorted and tracked into vocational tracks during the twentieth century. And when a school begins to respond to individual needs, it becomes less efficient, and given the inequality in the American social system, it advantages the rich. In other words, over the decades, the American school system has played a game of rochambo as the tensions between the habitus of egalitarianism, utility, and individualism play themselves out.

American Sociological Association Declares Victory and Dissolves. Starts Over Tomorrow.

(GPI Washington)  American Sociological Association (ASA) President Talcott Webber today announced that the ASA was dissolving, effective immediately. In the ASA press release, Webber explained that

We have come to the realization that virtually every other discipline has adopted the sociological approach to not only the social sciences, but also the humanities and some of the natural sciences. All of this is really just sociology under a different name. There is Institutional Economics, Social Psychology, Organizational Theory, Cultural Geography, Ethnography, Literary Theory, Communication, Cultural Theory, Musicology, Socio-cutural Anthropology, Socio-biology, Mirror Neuron stuff, Gender Studies, Ethnic Studies, Evolutionary Psychology, and a host of other disciplines which are nothing but rewarmed Sociology.  Even History has given up their old hagiographic tricks, and come over to do comparative and social history.

 

As for the applied social sciences like Social Work, Education, Public Administration, Geographical Information Systems, Marketing, and so forth, what are they but Social Problems courses? Zuckerberg even once admitted that Facebook is as much sociology as it is technology.  It is clear that imitation is the best form of flattery—and Sociology has won the game!

 

We’ve even had a Sociology major elected to the US Presidency, as well as a First Lady.  A Sociology Professor was even one of the key figures in the United States Senate in the twentieth century.  And look at the op-ed page of the New York Times today.  Krugman is not really an economist, he’s a sociologist focused on issues of economic inequality. Brooks is the ‘conservative’ who quotes Marx, and is really just a closeted Marxian, Weberian, or whatever,

In light of this, ASA is declaring victory. Webber in his characteristically blunt approach explained,

Look, we won, they lost. They are us, so now we can go home, which is why ASA is closing shop. At some point you need to quit while you are ahead.  Why should we wait for a bunch of bean-counting Deans to shut us down when we are the most successful shop on campus?

Webber seems to think that it is problematic that despite the obviously widespread acceptance of the Sociological Imagination, hardly any of the daughter disciplines actually ask their students to take actual Sociology classes. “But what’s the point of having our own discipline, when we are everywhere? If our discipline is everywhere, we need to be everywhere, too.”

In light of this announcement, the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) has announced that it will support the immediate closure of all Sociology Departments in the United States, and the reassignment of tenured, untenured, and adjunct faculty to the appropriate daughter disciplines. The purpose of this policy shift will be to sharpen the sociological skills in the many departments which have been teaching sociology all along.  To assist with this shift, AAUP is recommending that all adjuncts be granted tenure.

“Look,” said an anonymous source from AAUA.

Why should a retired p.e. coach from the Education Department be teaching ‘Education and Society’ when you can have a well-trained sociologist? Or for that matter, why should some molecular biologist who’s never read Max Weber on social stratification be teaching a course in human cultural evolution? Or someone who’s never read Adorno teach a course in Marketing? Sociologists are the ones who get all this. And I’ve never understood what there is about the ‘socio’ in socio-biology that the Dean of Biology does not understand!

The Association of Post-Modern Sociologists was particularly excited about this development. “Whoa, does this mean we can move into the Business School and teach them about simulacra, consumer culture, and McDonaldization? The Business School—that’s really who needs us. I’m glad to shake the dust off my shoes, and put my backside to the quantoids. Give me Marketing, or give me death!”

As for the statisticians in the discipline, they too were relieved. An anonymous source commented,

You mean we can finally join the Department where they design Student Evaluation of Teaching forms? We can definitely show them a thing or two about reliability and validity of social measures. This will be far better than teaching a bunch of sophomores who hate the obligatory social statistics courses.

As for the ASA’s prime office space on K Street in Washington DC, the ASA is looking to sublet it to their Republican lobbyist neighbors.  There was even a rumor that the resident sociologists from Fox News might move down the street so that they can take advantage of the prestige associated with the academy’s most successful discipline.

After concluding his news conference, President Webber pledged that the institution will reconstitute itself tomorrow with a new name and mission.  “After all,” he said, “bureaucracies, even the ASA, are among the most enduring of all social structures.”