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Review: Educational Standards: Mapping Who We Are and Are to Become

Author(s): Thomas S. Popkewitz


Review by: Thomas S. Popkewitz
Source: The Journal of the Learning Sciences, Vol. 13, No. 2 (2004), pp. 243-256
Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
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THE JOURNAL OF THE LEARNING SCIENCES, 13(2), 243-256


Copyright ? 2004, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Educational Standards: Mapping Who


We Are and Are to Become

Susan Ohanian. One sizefits few: The folly of educational standards,

Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1999, 154 pp., ISBN No.

03-2500-1588 (paper).

Dianne Ravitch. National standards in American education: A citi-

zen's guide, New York: Brookings Institute, 1996, 223 pp., ISBN
No. 0-8157-7351 (paper).
Richard Rothstein. The way we were? The myths and realities of
America's student achievement, New York: Twentieth Century
Foundation, 1998, 139 pp., ISBN No. 0-87078-417-X (paper).
Commentary by Thomas S. Popkewitz
Department of Curriculum and Instruction
University of Wisconsin

Would it not be a great satisfaction to the king to know at a designated moment every
year the number of his subjects, in total and by region, with all the resources, wealth

& poverty of each place; [the number] of his nobility and ecclesiastics of all kinds, of
men of the robe, of Catholics and of those of the other religion, all separated accord-

ing to the place of their residence? ... [Would it not be a useful and necessary pleasure for him to be able, in his own office, to review in an hour's time the present and

the past condition of a great realm of which he is the head, and be able himself to
know with certitude in what consists his grandeur, his wealth, and his strengths?

(Marquis de Vauban, proposing an annual census to Louis XIV in 1686, cited in


Scott, 1998, p. 11)
This discussion about the views on educational standards in three books

(Ohanian's One Size Fits Few, 1999; Ravitch's National Standards in American
Education: A Citizen's Guide, 1996; and Rothstein's The Way We Were ? The Myths
Correspondence and requests for reprints should be sent to Thomas S. Popkewitz, Department of

Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin, 225 North Mills Street, Madison,
WI 53706-1795. E-mail: tspopkew@facstaff.wisc.edu

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244 POPKEWITZ

and Realities of America's Student Achievement, 1998) starts with the preceding
quote and a discussion about the conditions of governing in the moder state.
This approach might seem at first to be far out in left field, but my purpose is to

place the debate about standards within a historical context of governing and regu-

lation. Educational standards are part of the governing process that is analogous to

creating a uniform system of taxes, the development of uniform measurements,


and urban planning. Standards provide a way to make society legible and manageable for governing. Governing is continually expressed as salvation narratives that
today are in the name of freedom, liberty, global economic competitiveness, and
the inalienable rights of humans. The redemptions flow so quickly and freely. So it
is with the books of this review.

One could say, "What's the beef? " Educational standards are needed to make legible what the schools are doing. One might say further that standards are important
not only for society but also for the community and for parents. This may be so. For
me, the crux of the debate is not arguments for and against standards. My concern is
with the particular way of thinking or frame of reference about how society is made
governable through administering the conduct of the citizen. In this sense of govern-

ing, the call for national standards (Ravitch), the examination of achievement data to
argue a countercase about schools failing (Rothstein), and the counterproposal to na-

tional standards by calling for professional, caring, autonomous teachers (Ohanian)


are not as far from each other as the authors would like to think.

THE ART OF GOVERNING: THE MODERN STATE AND


STANDARDS TO MAKE THE CITIZEN LEGIBLE
The type of reason that travels among the three books first became prominent in the

17th and 18th centuries with the emergence of the modern state. Governing was to
calculate and make people legible so that they could be administrated in the name
of society. In the past and again today, to govern is to develop the right classification and the correct sorting devices for charting a course of action that will change
society for the better and that will prevent any future joining of the ranks that devi-

ate from the norm. A central institution for charting a course of action in the pro-

duction of the citizen is mass schooling.


It is within political and historical context that the present debates about standards can be best approached. The appearance of the new European states in the
17th century involved governing practices that arranged people into populations to
make them administrable. Before these changes, taxes were variable and unsystematic. The state also did not know who fell under its domain, because people had
no last names to be put into the census and tracked. Measurement was almost random, because each local area had its own system of measurement (a hand, afoot,
cartload, basketful, handful, within earshot) that prevented any central administra-

tion (Scott, 1998).

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BOOKS & IDEAS 245

Standards were invented to develop the capacity to have direct knowledge and
access to what was previously opaque. Reliable means of enumerating and locating the population; gauging the wealth; and mapping land, resources, and settlements were produced to intervene and regulate the people of a realm.
Standards are important today for modem governing and the welfare of the citizen. Who would argue against the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, for ex-

ample, which identifies and tracks Legionnaires' disease, toxic shock syndrome,
and AIDS, among others, through its mapping resources?
However, standards involve more than mapping health and territories of the citizen. Standards were also important to Enlightenment notions of the state that oper-

ated with reason and democratically. This relationship between standards and the
citizen is evident in the standards of measurement. Installation of the metric system in the 19th century was at once a means of administrative centralization, com-

mercial reform, and cultural progress.


Standards also constructed the modem citizen. The academicians of the revolution-

ary republic of France, for example, saw the metric system as an intellectually impor-

tant instrument to make France "revenue-rich, militarily potent, and easily administered."(Scott, 1998, p. 32). The introduction of standardized measures was to create an
equal citizen. If the citizen did not have equal rights in relation to measurements, then

it was assumed that the citizen might also have unequal rights in law. Thus, the
Encyclopedists writing immediately prior to the French Revolution saw the inconsistency among measurements, institutions, inheritance laws, taxation, and market regu-

lations as the greatest obstacle to making a single people (Scott, 1998, p. 32).
The creation of standards to produce the equal citizen of prominent in the 18th
century is embodied in 20th- and 21st-century discussions of educational standards. Notions of child development, cognition, and learning instituted in the beginning of the 20th century installed standards that were to make the child legible,
easily administrable, and equal. The standards of development and learning were
to order thought, the mind, and the social interactions of children in the name of the

freedom of the future citizen (Popkewitz, 2001). In this sense, the theories of socialization, learning, and cognition were standards of conduct that the early social

scientists and school system leaders thought would prevent the barbarians from
knocking at the American door.
It is not far from this notion of easily administered citizen to consider current
debates about school standards. The debates reworked the standards of reason

through which the child is made legible for administration.

This leads to my first reaction in reading the three books. Each poses a liberation theology. Salvation is in this world through education and not an afterlife. The

liberation occurs through the ordering of dispositions and sensitivities of what the
child is and should be. Redemption is in the standards that are "setting a new
course in a democracy" (Ravitch) and in rescuing the child through saving the
child's nature from bureaucrats and academics (Ohanian). Rothstein's modest but

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246 POPKEWITZ

important appraisal of national and international statistics is to further debate


about the need to "consider the scandalous socioeconomic conditions" that cause

poor student performance in schools. My concern, however, is not about the salvation stories in these books but with how seemingly opposite mappings of standards

for the conduct of the citizen in fact overlap in their principles of governing the
child. For these reasons, I focus primarily on Ravitch's and Ohanian's stories of the
standards as narratives of the fall and redemption.

STANDARDS AS WHO WE ARE/ARE TO BECOME:


MAPPING THE PERSON

The mapping in each book involves simplifications of the complexity of the world.
The maps are more than simplifications, however. The standards that order the thinking of schooling and the child fabricate kinds of people so that some action can occur.
One does not have to be a rocket scientist to realize that standards simplify and narrow the field of vision in which to think about the possibility of reform. Narrowing of

vision makes the phenomena at the center of the field of vision more legible and hence

more susceptible to careful measurement and calculation. Combined with similar observations, an overall, aggregate, synoptic view of a selective reality is achieved, mak-

ing possible a high degree of schematic knowledge, control, and manipulation.

Simplification can also open new fields of possibility. The genome project is a
simplification of the biology of the individual that at the same time opens up whole

new avenues of practice not available before.


It is important not to get carried away with this example about the paradox of
opening-while-narrowing in standards because what is talked about in education is
more than that. The standards of teaching and learning are fabrications about kinds

of people. I use the notion of fabrication in a double sense. Standards are fictions
created to simplify and enable action that responds to something that is worrying

people about the world. The national school content assessments, performance
standards, and opportunity-to-learn standards that Ravitch pushes are such fictions. Whatever their noble purposes, the standards are maps that create characteristics of the child for planning and action. I say that the assessment categories are
fictions because they are made up talk for adults to think about a child as becoming

a responsible citizen.
The fabrication of such standards also creates kinds of people. This not only
permits actions to changes social conditions, but also refashions society, its environment, and the people who become the agents of action (see Hacking, 1995).
One need only look at the biographies established for children who are made into
kinds of people who are "at-risk" or learning disabled, or to follow the programs
and research projects devised for teenage mothers to consider that the fictions are
not only made up, they also make up! Modern statecraft is not merely interpretative

or descriptive. It simultaneously does something to us.

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BOOKS & IDEAS 247

Let me illustrate this dual quality of standards as construing and constructing human kinds. Mapping of child development and childrearing practices for social policy
occurred in the early 20th century. As part of the domestic science movement, maps of

the family and children in the home were created through theories of the family. The

mapping told of the typically immigrant urban parent who was to learn the habits of
sanitation and nutrition methods in the self- administration of the home. The norms

calculated the interactions of the child who would become well-adjusted as a result of
such planning. Such calculations of conduct involve an industry of programs, books,
experts, movies, and theories to guide the family in the making of the American dream

of a well-rounded child that also influenced the bourgeoisie family and that of the ur-

ban immigrant. Today, the innovation of a calculated household is seen as the natural
routine of good parenting procedures, promoted in the popular Dr. Spock books about

childrearing and in the advice of pediatricians, social workers, psychologist, and


teachers. What American middle-class parent does not worry about and take as real the

need for the proper calculations of their childrearing practices or about what to do
when their child reaches adolescence? Yet, these ways of calculating standards of living and domains of life were not imaginable in the early 19th century.
The fabrications of the child in the school are so natural that the fabrications to

make the child legible are reinscribed in Ohanian's book as the standards to oppose
national testing standards. There is no need for testing, Ohanian suggests, as teachers

already know who is achieving and who is not. The teacher knows because the
teacher knows the nature of the child. "Clearly, if high school schedules followed the
dictates of adolescent psychology/physiology rather than the dictates of bus schedul-

ers, everybody would benefit" (p. 149). The notion of the adolescent appears as the
standard about a kind of people that the teacher administers as the agent of action.

Adolescence is not a category natural to the child, however, but was made up to
help think about how to administer the child. Bringing the notion of adolescence into
the scientific study of child development is one of the major contributions of G. Stan-

ley Hall (1905/1969). His major book on the psychology of adolescence brought together political and religious themes to discuss how the child can form the correct
habits to become the proper citizen. Today, that fiction of the adolescent is no longer

merely a fiction about learning, achievement, and development. It travels to define


the experience of teaching and the identity of the teacher and child.

The naturalizing of such notions of adolescence and child development obscures


how such inscription devices of psychology differentiate and divide through the
standards that organize conduct. Hall's studies of adolescence and child development, for example, sustained norms that were based on race, gender, and class (see
Baker, 2001). The "dictates of adolescent psychology/physiology" that now stand as
the standards of the good classroom and teaching are not immune from such divisions. Studies of classrooms and educational sciences continually raise questions
about the notions of adolescence and child development as gendered and embodying
principles of participation and action. These principles about inclusion also exclude.

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248 POPKEWITZ

The exclusion occurs through the normalization of the qualities and capabilities of
who the child is and should be (Hultqvist & Dahlberg, 2001; Lesko, 2001).
The politics of the classifications, distinctions, and divisions of the child are lost
in these books because the discourse focuses on (a) who makes the standards-testings or the local teacher or (b) whether the tests are adequately interpreted. What is
not questioned are the standards and rules of the reason through which the child and

teacher are made as objects of scrutiny, interpretation, and administration.

THE ALCHEMY OF SCHOOL SUBJECTS1


A central assumption of today's standards is the measurement of children's learning of

school subjects that is called academic learning. Rothstein assumes the organization of

school subjects in his examination of testing to suggest that schools are not failing.
Ravitch argues for performance standards and opportunity-to-lear standards to develop national, normative standards for children's learning of school subjects. Ohanian
rejects the national standards but, like the other authors, assumes that the manner in

which the school subjects are constituted is natural and reasonable. The only problem
of reform is to find the committed, creative, and dedicated teacher, with Ohanian serv-

ing as the exemplar, to produce children who "scored above grade level in usage, punc-

tuation, and spelling and also engage in literacy activities" (p. 141).
Are these arguments and counterarguments actually different? Are the rules and
standards for Ohanian's creative teacher, in which children learn grammar, punctuation, and spelling of the subject called literacy, any different from the set of rules

proposed by Ravitch to govern the conduct of the child? My guess is they are not.

In reading Ravitch's book, I think that she would approve of such statements but
would still call for more public information to identify these creative, dedicated
teachers whose kids' score high.
The assumption in the three books, with some variations in the technologies of
learning, is how best to get children to learn what is given in school subjects. None
of the books discusses the standards through which school subjects are understood.
To insert the standard of children's scoring "about grade level" as the distinction
between good and bad schooling is to inscribe the fictions of school subjects as
part of the continuum of values. These values order and differentiate cultural and
social categories in the calculations to define children's growth and development.
Why talk of the fictions of school subjects as alchemies? Analogous to the sorcerer of

the Middle Ages who sought to turn lead into gold, the alchemy of school subjects is to

transform the knowledge of the disciplines into social spaces of schooling. The new
spaces of interpretation and regulation in pedagogy conform to the expectations related
to the school timetable, conceptions of childhood, and, in today's language, through such
IThe notion of alchemy is discussed in relation to standards-based reform in Popkewitz (in press).

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BOOKS & IDEAS 249

terms as concept mastery, psychological registers about cooperative small-group learning, and concerns about the motivation and the self-esteem of children.

Except for the name and formal propositions of the disciplinary knowledge, school
subjects have little relation to the intellectual fields that bear their names. Perhaps this

has to be so, because children are not physicists or mathematicians. My concern is the
particular transformation that occurs in curriculum theories to affect the alchemy. The

alchemy moves disciplinary knowledge into particular discourses of psychology that


were invented to manage children and not to understand disciplinary practices. Standards of curriculum are fundamentally about the psychology of the child: the ability to

think (informed decision-making, problem solving), skill in communication (defending an argument, working effectively in groups), production of quality work (acquiring

and using information), and connections with community (recognizing and acting on

responsibilities as a citizen). The problem-solving pedagogies of mathematics education, for example, are arranged through psychological studies of age-related learning.
Similarly, music education standards that might seem different from those of mathematics in fact deploy similar categories to administer the sensitivities and dispositions

of the child: Psychological categories of development order the performances of the


child, that is, to sing, compose, arrange, demonstrate, read, identify, recognize, use,
and in one place in the current standards, invent "a system of nontraditional music no-

tation" (Popkewitz & Gustafson, 2002).


The education standard of inventing any system of music notation-traditional
or nontraditional-points to the alchemy that transforms disciplinary knowledge
into a calculated knowledge about the administration of the child; it is no longer

about music. Consider that systems of music notations involve a long historical
process of development in which the formal registers of music overlap with cultural and social practices, through which the tonalities of the music are given plau-

sibility and intelligibility. To ask a child to create a system of music notation is to


switch attention to the administration of the child as the pedagogical focus through

making notational systems is technical and trivial. For how can it be possible to in-

vent notational systems through a school lesson plan unless the plan was made into

instrumental tasks? What also is lost in such denoting of standards is how music
was brought into the school as religious instruction to bring God to people.2 However, that is another story of the curriculum.

Why Is the Alchemy Important?


First, the alchemy of school subjects is a fabrication organized by psychologies of
the child. The only thing of disciplinary practices that is saved in the school is the

name-physics, history, music.


21 appreciate Ruth Gustafson's help in understanding this relationship.

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250 POPKEWITZ

Second, the alchemy stabilizes school content to enable the administration of


kinds of people, such as the adolescent child discussed earlier. The alchemy of
school subjects shapes and fashions the kinds of people that children are and are to
become. Mathematics or science education is not about these disciplines but the order of the capabilities and dispositions of the child. The alchemy of school subjects
works on the relations between the state, society, community, and individuality.
Similar discourses of child psychology and classroom management provide
sets of standards about the child that cross school subjects. At the same time, it is
important to recognize in the alchemy that the mode of governing in school subjects may embody different performances that inscribe divisions about student
capabilities, such as that between conservatory music or honors classes in high
school. This entails, as I will discuss later, principles generated that qualify and
disqualify individuals to act and participate.
The alchemy directs attention to a certain awkwardness of the discussion of
standards in the three books. Although it is possible to consider the location, the
procedures of delivery, and the adequacy of the test results, the discussions omit
the standards that matter-what knowledge is brought into the school and fabricated into the rules of conduct that make what children are and are to become.
MAKING KINDS OF PEOPLE: THE HIGH STAKES ARE
NOT ONLY IN TESTING
One central strategy in national standards is the call for high-stakes testing. I want

to consider this in relation to previous research about statistical reasoning in mak-

ing administrative kinds of people and biographies (Hacking, 1986, 1995). That is,
inventories or profiles of students described through achievement tests and the
rates, tables, graphs, trends, and numbers make classes of people, such as the low
achiever, the minority child in school, the teenage parent, and the at-risk child. The

differentiations in magnitudes represent and order a class of people so as to make

these classes intelligible and calculable for policy and social intervention.
High-stakes testing embodies a particular system of reasoning about deviancy
and normality. Ravitch's citation of the National Educational Progress (NAEP) is a
case in point. The tables of trends in achievement for mathematics, science, writing, and reading and differences between minority versus nonminority graduation

rates, SAT scores, patterns of course-taking in high school, and so on, are made in
the name of reform. They are to correct failing programs, teachers, students, and

schools (all are treated equally here). The distinctions and categories of the NAEP

are practices to divide and identify deviance that become programs for
remediation. Rothstein's critical argument about testing uses the same population
categories as the NAEP (race, ethnicity, and gender), then relates them to different
types of communities (advantaged urban, disadvantaged urban, inner city) to identify differences in school achievement. Using the categories of the population as a

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BOOKS & IDEAS 251

frame of reference, Rothstein says that no credible evidence exists of declining


achievement, lack of minority aspirations in schooling, the failure of schools to
provide for adequate workforce skills, or the relative international failure of U.S.

schools when compared to other nations.


To explore the assumption of deviance in the administrative kinds of people, I
turn to two sacred categories that appear in the three books-the kinds of people
who are minorities and the idea of groups of people as a community. The catego-

ries in the discussion of testing are about the kind of children who are
deviant-who fail, who are delinquent, whose parents do not read enough to them,
or who somehow fail in characterizing unspoken norms.
The importance in schooling of the concept of community is related to the Chicago School of Sociology's descriptions of socialization and education processes
among the immigrant groups in the first decades of the 20th century. Community
marked the populations that were deviant from the unspoken norms of the average.
The classification of minority, which is overworked in statistical reporting, is what

Bourdieu and Wacquant (1999) called afolk concept imported into theory and statistics. Certain groupings of people are placed together as minorities and targeted
for state intervention whereas others are outside of the classification. Descendants

of Puritans in the United States and of the aristocracy in the United Kingdom are
not named minorities or referenced as communities targeted for state action. It can

be rightly pointed to how such categories of minority and community are classifi-

cations used for political mobilization to rectify social wrongs, such as the use of
the category of minority to frame education discussions about diversity and multi-

culturalism. However, the mobilization is formed through notions of deviance that


make it difficult for the population ever to be "of the average."
The significance of high-stakes testing, then, is not merely about whether or not
it is used. Rather, high stakes testing involves the inscription of a system of reason

that normalizes administrative kinds of people that are deviant. The stakes of
high-stake testing are in what constitutes the kinds of people targeted for action in

policy and research and the pathways established about the nature of social problems and the people who fit into the social spaces in a form suitable for state intervention. For example, one can think of the categories minority and ethnicity as folk
categories inserted in research and testing for the administrative purpose of target-

ing state intervention. The classification of the human kinds (ethnicity, minority),

however, are administrative kinds of deviant people that are to be corrected to


achieve progress, normality, and amelioration. (Popkewitz & Lindblad, 2001). The
categories differentiate the population as something different from some other
children who are not spoken about but are silently present as the comparative
norms and values in the categories. Descendants of Puritans in the United States
and of the aristocracy in the United Kingdom are social minorities, but that is not
the cultural politics of the category. Even in educational research that seeks to establish minority groups as aggregated models that are not considered deviant, the

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252 POPKEWITZ

category of minority stands as a marker that reestablishes the abnormality of the


human kinds. Like it or not, discourses of testing are particular practices that inscribe divisions, norms, and values of distinctions.

UNEQUAL PLAYING FIELD


Standards, then, are not only maps of the territory of the child. The standards of the

characteristics and capabilities of the child are normalizing and dividing practices.
The norms that divide are not only in the testing categories but also overlap the distinctions of diversity and flexibility that characterize the child. In her discussion of

the child and the role of the school, Ohanian places the teacher's role as fostering
the natural development of the child. Salvation is in the teachers' saving "everything human" and recognizing "a child's reality."
What can one make of this nature given by Ohanian? Referencing something as
the nature of children is to universalize particular historical attributes of children as

independent of historical time or social location.


However, the standards about the capabilities and characteristics of the child are
not universal but are the effects of power. Some research, for example, directs attention to how particular distinctions in manners and tastes are made into universal prin-

ciples as effects of power. Social groups are able to consecrate their sensitivities,
tastes, and cognitive ordering as universal, global, natural, and essential (Bourdieu,
1979/1984).3 Earlier, I discussed that one part of this nature was placed in the notion

of adolescence, whose universal nature disguised gendered, racial, and class distinctions. Further, the contextual example of the creative teacher who nurtures the nature

of the child inscribes a model of teaching that does not recognize the standards ap-

plied. The very distinctions about urban or inner city education involve normalization that positions and divides the urban child as different from what is not named,

that is, the child who is not urban and normal (Popkewitz, 1998).
THE NEW EXPERTISE

The discussion of standards in these books deploys a particular type of expertise

that is continually made into popularist themes of democracy and freedom.


Ravitch is a historian and former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Ed-

ucation who wants to make America safe for its children through more rigorous
national testing standards and assessments. Ravitch wants this institution of stan3These differences are in the production of different habitus and occur through distinctions and
manners available to different groups, from tastes in what is eaten, read, watched, bought, talked about,

and seen as valuable and useful. They are found in the tastes we have in newspapers, movies, and books,
as well as in the food eaten and the manner of eating. These sensitivities, distinctions, and differentiations are the effects of power.

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BOOKS & IDEAS 253

dards brought through democratic participation in a decentralized system as differ-

ent actors work together to decide on the proper national standards and testing.

Ohanian's popularism is about individual choice and local decision making in a


community. She argues that those who make decisions should be those most directly affected by those decisions. However, this popularism centers around the as-

sertion of an expertise expressed as Ohanian's credentials as an English


"teacher-writer." The latter phrase is continually introduced to signify the writer as

standing against the "standardistos" of bureaucrats and academics as well as from

the mere teacher, who presumably is not a teacher-writer. The result is an


antiintellectualism professed as the creative professional teacher who can save the
nature of the child that the standardistos will destroy with big words, because
"They do not get it, school is about kids."
The "wisdom of the expert teacher" that pervades Ohanian's book should receive the
same scrutiny as high-stakes testing. Against abstractions of academics, Ohanian institutes abstractions in the name of children's nature and needs and "the

deprofessionalizing and de-skilling of teachers"-high-order abstractions and products


of academic work by anyone's count. The abstractions about the child are standards that

appear as something else. They appear as the professional teacher who exists in a partnership with the community and whose role is to professionally investigate, map, classify, and work on the territories that make the nature of the child's lifelong learning. The

wisdom of the teacher who maps the child's nature, however, is not some natural expression of the teacher but deployment of a system of classifying kinds of people that differ-

entiates, normalizes, and divides (see, e.g., Popkewitz & Bloch, 2001).

The standards of governing in Ohanian's case are less obvious than those in
Ravitch's because they are directed to govern the child's and teacher's characteristics and capacities. However, the nature of expertise is practiced in relation to less

and less. McEneaney (2002) argued, in examining the school science curriculum,
that greater student participation has occurred over time, with a shift to greater per-

sonal relevance and emotional accessibility. This would make it seem that the
school is becoming more democratic and participatory. With the iconic image of
the expert changing, the child is imbued with expert status-but not at the expense
of the professional expert. The new curriculum inserts the expert knowledge of the
disciplines as the arbiter of truth itself. The curriculum embodies narratives that as-

sume greater participation of the expertise of science and widened claims of the
natural world as ordered and made manageable through science.

ELIDING THE STANDARDS THAT GOVERN: MYTHS OF


CENTRALIZATION AND DECENTRALIZATION
The reasoning that makes children, as future citizens, legible so they can be governed is obscured by a founding myth of local control and decentralization. The

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254 POPKEWITZ

language of professional curriculum standards in these books creates a binary between standards of the conduct of individuals in local participation and standards
of conduct that emerge from some centralized system of administration. This binary is typically expressed as that between a centralized and decentralized system
of governing.4

When simple common sense is applied, the distinction between centralization


and decentralization falls apart. When not looking at the state legal-administrative

organization of schools, few could mistake the school when traveling between
New York and California, and few could mistake the talk of teachers and school
administrators across the nation. Take away the topological scenes of differences
and regional dialects and behold a national school system of reason. The system of
reason is formed through the discourses of psychology (learning and development,

self-esteem) that classify the nature of the child; school management (lesson planning, assessment) that orders classrooms; and the discourses of cultural deviance
(the at-risk child, the urban child) that work together to form the space that consti-

tutes schooling. When decentralization is talked about, it assumes actors who have
internalized the system of reason and of the reasonable person as the principles for

action and participation.


Thus, standards are a condition of life. There is no way out of working with
standards, because they are built into the very language and system of reason that
makes legible schooling, teachers, and children. There should be no fuss here.
I end this article by asking about the redemption and salvation embodied in these

works. Rothstein and Ohanian are correct in arguing that social and economic char-

acteristics interact with pedagogical practices to produce success and failure. Once
that is said, it is important to consider the specific strategies and practices effected
through the administrative kinds of people. Educational thought embodies rules and
standards that order and divide, thus normalizing certain types of conduct and action.

The alchemies of school subjects and the theories of deviancy transported in schooling appear to be natural and universal, but they are not. To talk about centralization
and decentralization misses an important element of the standards through which the

art of governing fabricates what the child is and will become.


It should come as no surprise that the utopian dream of administration is never
all that it seems. The system of household taxes in France that existed into the 20th

4It is easy to take sides, as often found in political philosophy between the collective obligations
as exemplified by the state and that of the individual, in a Lockean notion of society born by the social

contract. The two historically go together, as I argued earlier in linking administration and freedom.
At a different level, there are times when you want centralized action organized by the state in the

name of a moral good, such as with racial discrimination. There also are times that local decision
making is needed, but within some collective notion of the moral, ethical, and just. These relations
are historically and pragmatically formed. The irony of the two most opposite books is that Ohanian
wants the moral codes legislated through the naturalizing of the child's development; Ravitch is more

pragmatic in this sense.

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BOOKS & IDEAS 255

century counted the doors and windows in a dwelling. To counter this system,
peasants redesigned their dwellings with as few openings as possible, which had a
long-term effect on their health. Mono-cropped scientific forestry developed from
about 1765 to 1800 to bring an administrative grid of straight rows of trees for
more efficient growth; such growth was stunted, however, by the second planting

because the nutrients produced with mixed growth were eliminated. And what of
the cosmopolitanism of the city produced through the military mapping of gridlike
city streets to provide rational control of spatial order (Scott, 1998, p. 58)? With the

spatial ordering are also the images of anonymity, alienation, and feeling of loss of

community. The dark images of Ex-Impressionism in the 1920s and Fritz Lang's
silent film Metropolis testify to this other side of life in the city as well.

My landsman or someone from the same place as us might ask, "So, should we
have standards?" My answer is that standards are a part of the modernity in which
we live. There is no freedom without administration. There is no inclusion without

exclusion. And there are continually ambiguities, conditionality, and unforeseen


consequences in the planning of progress. That is not the problem. It is that how we

talk about school standards intern and enclose possibilities but without ever engag-

ing the question of standards.

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