Critical Theory: From Michael Apple’s Perspective (Review)
Apple, M. (1995). Education and power (second edition). Nueva York: Routledge. isbn: 0–415–91309–8
Apple, M. (2009). Global crises, social justice and education. Nueva York: Routledge. isbn: 0–415–99597–3.
We have to confess the initial thoughts we had when we started to read the book Education and power written by Michel Apple. We definitely were expecting an optimistic discourse on how education could lead minorities to gain control and power over their circumstances, and therefore mobilize them from precarious contexts to a better social economic status. However, when reading it, we realized that this was not the author’s intention.
Far from being optimistic or pessimistic, Apple based this book on a critical and thoughtful understanding of education and its relationship with society at large. He refused to accept the simplistic view of educational criticism and the “almighty” power of the hidden curriculum in a context where the school is a passive mirror of society, which simply reproduces unequal societies without any process of resistance.
Methodically, he focused his analysis on the way that the State and the producers of educational material have transformed the organization of the school and the main role of teachers and students. In this review, we will emphasize on three central aspects stressed by Apple in his book. It is important to keep in mind that during his discourse he considered multiple and contradictory aspects of society and education while avoiding an attempt to create a grand narrative. For him, it is unrealistic to talk about education without understanding its interconnection with three systems: culture, government and economy.
He, as a critical teaching specialist, recognized the redefinition that educational policy suffered after World War ii, and how education is no longer seen as a system that provides educational opportunities to minorities in order to equalize and increase mobility.
Furthermore, his discourse reflects his contemplation of the strategies used by policy makers to blame schools for social crises such as the loss of economic competitiveness and the decline of values and standards in family, culture and education.
What we found fascinating about his analysis is that he questioned his own beliefs and values as a follower of the critical theory. This theory endorses the idea of defining the interaction of these three systems as a conspiracy made by a small group of industries, in order to keep school as a “moppet” or —as he defined— “a mechanism for reproduction of the division of labor” (Apple, 1995, p. 35), and to “teach norm, values, dispositions and culture that contribute to the ideological hegemony of dominant groups” (p. 38). In this sense, Apple partially agrees with the perception.
However, we would like to highlight three aspects he disagrees with. First, he does not think that everything is a conspiracy made by a few industries. On the contrary, he blames structural causation. Second, he believes that critical theories are ignoring an important characteristic of school, which is its capacity to produce knowledge. Certainly, the school is not just an institution made only to distribute knowledge. Third, he rejected the simplistic idea of considering students as passive products of knowledge. This last disagreement is the basis for the next central aspect that we will focus on.
Apple believed that seeing school as a mere reproductive institution can be seriously illogical. History shows us how workers have created systems of resistance in the past. They have showed “disobedience” to authority and have gone on strike over wages and benefits. This scenario can be identical to the classroom, where students have elements of contradiction, resistance, relative autonomy and transformation.
“Social reproduction is by its nature a contradictory process, not something that simply happens without a struggle” (Apple, 1995, p. 84). Therefore, students adapt their environments so they can reject the explicit and hidden curriculum.
The third central aspect we want to highlight is the redefinition that the school system has experienced due to the influence of the State, policy makers, and educational material producers. In this sense, Apple compares the transformation that school structure has undergone to management concepts (types of control: simple, technical and bureaucratic). Policy makers have influenced curriculum organization by creating standardized content and examinations.
They have put a lot of pressure on the educational system in an effort to force it to teach according to industrial needs. By having standardized tests and content the school is encoded, and therefore can be more easily controlled. Consequently, the student’s role is modified. There is little interaction required and the outcome expected from them is very technical and binary…