Synthesis/Regeneration 5   (Winter 1993)

Public Values and Public Policy

by Jay D. Jurie, University of Central Florida, Orlando

Public education has been falsely portrayed as the development of critical thinking ability based upon the transmission of universal values and objective knowledge. This portrayal obscures not only the wider socioeconomic and cultural context within which public education operates, but also the relatively narrow parameters within which dominant elites shape values, knowledge, and thought.

For instance, "multiculturalism" represents the struggle of women and minorities to widen the context of public education to include curriculum with a much richer and broader range of knowledge and values than that favored by affluent white males. While assaults against so-called "political correctness" by conservative academics and pundits are putatively aimed at countering threats to free speech posed by champions of women and minority rights, in actuality, these attacks are designed to repress encroaching thought and speech from multicultural perspectives outside the prevalent socioeconomic and cultural paradigms, literally, to hold the line against the inclusion of knowledge and values from beyond the pale. Curriculum change which seeks to redefine social and cultural relations not only challenges the misconception that public education somehow represents objective knowledge and universal values, but provides an opening to a much larger public discussion over values and their redefinition.

Struggles to establish multicultural perspectives in public education deserve the active support and involvement of Greens. The demise of the cold war, heightened environmental consciousness, and expectations raised by the election of the Clinton-Gore ticket all provide significant opportunities for mounting progressive challenges to current educational prerogatives. None of the above should be construed as assailing the basic notion of public education, but rather as challenging the ability of the dominant elites to determine public policy. Public education needs to be reclaimed, not further abandoned to budget-cutting politicians or private school voucher proposals.

The process by which educational policy is formulated and implemented needs thoroughgoing revitalization and democratization. The influence of large scale bureaucracies, particularly the military-industrial complex, upon the determination of educational policy needs to be reversed. The self-serving hierarchies of these bureaucratic pyramids have manipulated and distorted almost all aspects of reality to an almost unrecognizable extent. The pervasiveness of "corporate culture" and bureaucratic imperatives is so extensive that many people have no mechanism by which to distinguish their own values from those articulated by the elites.

The rampant commercialism hyped by the mass media and other purveyors of the bureaucratic agenda has become so inculcated that middle-and high school students often form their identity and measure their personal worth by the corporate logos they wear on their clothes. In higher education, rewards accrue to those who bring in the largest grants, and it is no coincidence that the biggest bucks emanate from the Defense Department and giant private sector organizations. A walk across the typical state university campus quickly reveals that the money is to be found in the well appointed suites occupied by business and engineering and not in the downscale quarters of the arts, humanities, or social sciences.

The psychic as well as material damage caused by this state of affairs will in all likelihood take generations to overcome and supplant. Speculatively, it can be argued the situation may be the flip-side of the situation in Eastern Europe, where the edifice of repression crumbled overnight but resulted in the release of democratic aspirations along with latent monarchism, racism and resurgent nationalism.

How might Greens respond to these challenges? A values clarification strategy would enable people to begin to sort out their own values from those which have become ingrained. This is not meant to suggest an approach which is therapeutic in nature, but one which employs various confrontational and educational tactics so that people will be empowered to participate in the redefinition of values and the reconstruction of popular culture. In this respect, educational policy is a contested terrain of the foremost importance.

Pivotal issues, reflecting basic underlying value conflicts, need to be identified and raised. These issues should be central to both the agenda of the dominant elites as well as to the Greens. Take the example of ROTC.

Although ROTC is slated to receive reduced funding with the demise of the cold war, the program is not earmarked for demobilization. For several decades a massive ROTC scholarship program has supported thousands of students through college. These students have been expected to accept commission into military service upon graduation. Greens should wage an active national and local campaign calling for the replacement of ROTC with a scholarship program requiring community service after graduation.

The values which control this aspect of higher education would be laid bare and subjected to public scrutiny and debate. The alternative values of the Greens would likewise obtain wider exposure. People would become engaged and empowered to participate in a wider range of issues, such as military repression of gays, the distortion of the economy by the military-industrial complex, and so forth.

Dick Flacks has argued that progressives are primarily a moral and cultural force at this point in time. The redefinition of public values is the precursor to the successful reconstruction of political action and public policy. The "long march through the institutions" of capitalist society advocated by the late German radical Rudi Dutschke is long overdue.

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