My first publication: The limits of pedagogy: diaculturalist pedagogy as paradigm shift in the education of adult immigrants

I’ve published my first solo article, “The limits of pedagogy: diaculturalist pedagogy as paradigm shift in the education of adult immigrants”! Please find the prepublication “Accepted Manuscript” version of “…” here. Enjoy, share, and give feedback!

the-limits-of-pedagogy_-diaculturalist-pedagogy-as-paradigm-shift-in-the-education-of-adult-immigrants

PLEASE NOTE: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Pedagogy, Culture and Society on November 29, 2016, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/…/10.1080/14681366.2016.1263678

Getting started

It’s a funny title for a post, since I’ve been writing this blog since 2014. However, what began as a scholarly exercise, to be executed faithfully but unhurriedly, has shifted in my mind. The stream of conversation now, in the aftermath of Donald J. Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election, has become a torrent of great anger, anxiety, sorrow, and uncertainty, with smatterings of told you so’s and many predictions for the future. I am writing this now to exercise my voice and to contribute what I can, as a PhD student, a professor, and a reader and writer about immigration and education. As both aspects of the conversation about the future of America very much need defense and advocacy, I commit myself to doing this as much as I can, both here and elsewhere in my work.

screen-shot-2016-11-14-at-10-39-46-am
COALITION OF IMMOKALEE WORKERS PROTEST ON MARCH 10, 2012
SOURCE: HTTP://WAGINGNONVIOLENCE.ORG/FEATURE/WHY-IM-WALKING-200-MILES-WITH-THE-IMMOKALEE-WORKERS/

Last night I read a Truthout article about the increasing influence of big donors on public education. Entitled “Are Wealthy Donors Influencing the Public School Agenda?“, the piece detailed the shifts in education policy at the local and state level that have occurred more and more via the donation of big money from wealthy “reformers” (the discursive construction of the term reform will be the topic of a future post.) These philanthro-barons come to the proverbial table with disproportionately loud voices, silencing participation from smaller (read: less well-funded) participants on decisions relating to educational policy taken by local school boards. Donations from such “education reformers” — who are often not members of the communities to which they donate — have influenced the ways in which school board elections come out, using the power of media representation to undercut messaging from competitors with smaller coffers. Aside from skewing the democratic election process, the influence of wealthier, more powerful donors brings the increasing presence of the values they espouse, which, according to the article’s authors’ background research (see here and here), differ significantly from most people in the United States. These donors tend to hold neoliberal perspectives rooted in market-driven solutions like “school choice” (code for controversial voucher programs and the increase in the number of charter schools, which are meant to provide alternatives to struggling district schools and compel those in existence to ‘step up their game’) and “accountability” (code for highly problematic data-driven decision-making which supports funding cuts and staff reductions for underperforming schools).

2104753_f520
CAT WITH A CIGAR BY LOUIS WAIN, COURTESY OF WIKI COMMONS

The issue resonates with the 2016 presidential election for me, not because of the “fat cats always win” crowing I’m doing along with many other folks. Instead, I see this as part of a conversation we in the United States need to have about the role of the media and messaging in shaping our public discourse. The Truth-Out article includes the story of a local school board candidate who, like me, works in the education of adult immigrants. He states the following:

It [money] changes the discourse…their [the reform candidates] message is the only message. Not just the dominant message anymore. It’s the only message people are hearing.

Why is this the case? Are parents and communities literally unable to get access to a diversity of perspectives in decisions about education? Is it the fact that we are so overloaded at work, so wrapped up in the latest Netflix series that we can’t find the time to talk to the other people on our street or on the bus or subway? The blinding and deafening of corporate media blitzing, which likewise draws strength and influence from the strategic controls of wealth, may have something to do with this. The news tells me the schools are struggling, teachers are not doing their jobs, students are innocent and must be saved, our families are under fire, and other messages that induce panic. We must make change. Enter…reform. Exit community togetherness, dialogue with equal sharing of the mike.

Money massages us into forgetting that we don’t need saving by outside angels. We forget that we have our own tools. Can we recall that in a democratic country all voices should be equal, not some “more equal than others” because they come from throats swathed in silks printed in glossy campaigns that inundate and lure us away from critical thinking and connection to our neighbor?

What immigrants are good for

It’s an interesting question. A crude parallel can be made between this question and the question of bilingualism. Both enrich the host country (the former, the U.S. or any other literal receiving nation; the latter, the “host” of the speaker’s brain/cognitive function), both contribute various forms of diversity, benefitting the economy in the former case and one’s ability to think creatively and adapt to new situations (see here, here and here for examples of associated research), and both add resources in times of deficit and change.

But if you’re not connected to immigrants or a variety of languages through your work or your social environment, why should you care, really? The trope espoused by Donald Trump and others, that immigrants are here to steal work from and violate the native-born, has been soundly defeated by solid research over the years, and yet threads through an American consciousness increasingly clotted with fear and anger as powerlessness and disaffection rise. The brown people he indicts publicly in his displays of chest-beating become a fearsome enemy to be inspected for benefit, briefly, before the doors are shut and walls are built. Demographically overlapping at times though not synonymous with “immigrants,” speakers of languages other than English tend to be found in urban centers, far from the safe belts of White conservatives whose “authentic American” thinking is referred to as politicos and pundits haggle over issues like “political correctness” in critiquing decisions about gender-neutral bathrooms or trans-friendly policies.

In truth, the reasons why foreign-born participants in U.S. society are “valuable” can indict the interests particular to the person listing them. A video showing the fervent arguments of Michio Kaku, a professor of theoretical physics where I study at the Graduate Center in New York, is a case in point. Kaku asserts that foreign-born students benefit the science community in the United States, which struggles with the shoddy fodder provided by our intellectually deficient educational system (with, Kaku states, its rising “stupid index”), buoying up our economy as it is driven by Silicon Valley and other job creators in business. Importantly, the distinction between “immigrant” and “foreign-born” should be made (as it is unfortunately not in the blog post that inspired me to write). Nonetheless, this expresses the neoliberal ideology that defines how we perceive value and normalcy in education, business, and other human pursuits in the 21st century. The value of foreigners, says this viewpoint, is directly related to how they can contribute to our economy, to our ability to compete on the world stage with other major economic powers. Donald Trump himself could not disagree with this, as low-status Mexican workers helped him build major components of his empire. Thus, we can justify their presence here on such apolitical terms that allay American anxiety over the precarious hold we seem to have over our position as leader of the world in so many respects.

Опыт_гидролиза_солей
BY СУБОЧЕВА ЮЛИЯ (OWN WORK) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (HTTP://CREATIVECOMMONS.ORG/LICENSES/BY-SA/4.0)], VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

Is this what immigrants are good for? I can’t answer this question directly but must instead ask another: Would we suggest that our own children are valuable and “good” for the United States for the same reasons, e.g., their fitting into the puzzle of how to remain in our most assumed position of global economic power? What rings as a reductive stance for our innocent progeny seems somehow acceptable for adults who speak and look different from us coming to this country. Kaku may feel passionate about the need to challenge our ignorance of how we maintain global preeminence in science and technology, but his rather romanticized discussion still invokes a discourse that dehumanizes and constrains human potential, agency, and variety in an apolitical and logical course of events. Foreign-born people should not be commodified and sorted according to how much they keep us on top. Arguing from such a perspective reinforces the same neoliberal model in which atomization, dehumanization, and alienation have become commonplace and, worse, increasingly normal.

Discourse, voice, and rightness in an animal rights activist talk

Tonight I attended a talk at the Blue Stockings Bookstore on Allen Street in lower Manhattan with a friend, where we partook in a conversation about animal rights called Animal Rights Campaigning and Racism. Interesting questions framed the talk:

  • How can we campaign for animal liberation while being self-aware of privilege, xenophobia, imperialism, and the ongoing instrumentalization of animal welfare issues by racist parties and groups?
  • Who has the “right” to criticize “other” cultural practices?
  • What role does our language and imagery play?
  • Which targets should we choose?
  • How are we to remain sincere to our anarchist, emancipatory ideals for total liberation?

My friend, a near-vegan and animal rights proponent, had invited me to join her and I was looking forward to learning something new, especially with such a critical frame. Topics like decolonization, anthropocentrism, and speciesism came into the thread, and some of the important racist dimensions of the construction of animals-as-inferior, which include anti-indigenous and genocidal practices in the past and present, were discussed by the moderators, three young people of color who had studied, participated in, and taught about animal activism.

I struggled with some of the discourse generated by the talk. A recurring theme was the indictment of the White Eurocentric settler colonialist tradition, which is absolutely important to discuss in terms of topics relating to oppression and consumption. Yet at times it seemed reductive. American thinking tends to be very race-centric as a way of constructing difference, and there is so much more to explore when thinking about the cultural relationships we have to our environments as human beings, including geography, religion, economics and labor relations (though capitalism and neoliberalism, in fairness, were referenced a couple of times). At times where someone brought up a point not considered supportive of the overarching theme mentioned above, like a comment by a young woman about food deserts, it was shot down fairly quickly either by the moderators, or with their support.

This is good to observe, as a budding professor and future moderator of conferences (I hope). I felt that the way the moderators spoke implied (a) a strong belief in one’s rightness, which was drawn from what were assumed to be common understandings among the group, and (b) an emphasis on pontification and proselytization. As a participant, this became a sort of drone that I ended up taking little away from.

image

This really signals the important question of voice, which resonated with questions I have about how to manage my classes in a way which is fair and values all participants. Rather than give a blow-by-blow account of the night (it went on too long for my taste, with too much showing-off of knowledge, intermingled with teary accounts of one’s deep convictions and struggles), I’ll just say that events like this are instructive. They remind teachers like me that any leadership posture we have in a group confers power over internal norms and language use, terminology, processes of inclusion and exclusion, and other ways of shaping how the group interacts. And I hate to say it, but after this, I don’t know if I ever want to be a part of a “group” like this again.

Fear and the voice of silence in American education

Every week I try to listen to Clearing the FOG, a podcast created by Washington, DC activists Margaret Flowers and Kevin Zeese which challenges the status quo of corporate greed that has resulted from the rising preeminence of the neoliberal worldview in the United States. Flowers and Zeese welcome weekly guests to discuss the prison-industrial complex, global warming, geopolitics and international trade, and many other topics that bring in local voices and efforts in what seems to be a hope-sapping time.

On March 7th, Clearing the FOG invited Stephen Krashen and Timothy Skelar, internationally known education scholars, to discuss the state of American schooling in a segment entitled “Clearing the FOG and the Attack on Education.” Krashen says much of what we already know as progressive thinkers in the arena of schooling. He articulates salient and continuing issues including the demonization of teachers — who he argues are doing just fine and should, because of their expertise, be sources of insight in educational policy-making, rather than the targets of value-added measurements — and the fallacious conviction that testing is the means by which we should “save our schools” (in quotes because American public schools are some of the best in the world, once you control for issues relating to poverty and its significant impact on the academic and social behaviors of children). Krashen avers that educators, teacher education programs and education research all have been characterized as “broken,” a shift in public discourse which justifies the movement of millions of dollars of federal aid into the pockets of venture funders and other private interests who fund charter schools, teacher academies (which put new practitioners into the classroom after 5 weeks of training), and other “innovative” solutions. It is these private interests, corporations like Microsoft and ExxonMobil with little or no experience with educational theory, practice, or research, who most stand to benefit from the trope that public schools in America don’t work, contributing to what Henry Giroux calls a neoliberal drive to change public education into a private good.

There is so much to say, so much to lament…and yet possibly so much to take heart for. Krashen derides colleagues of his who he says have sold out and conduct research that is funded by big corporate interests like the Gates Foundation that seek to continue the justification for privatization of public schools. No one is protesting except for a few, he says, though some are writing about this. I agree and often feel sadness and resentment in cataloguing those whose voices of resistance are getting out there, including Noam Chomsky, Henry Giroux, Diane Ravitch, Alfie Kohn, Krashen himself, and others. Most of those who speak boldly — and just about all of those whose voices come out loudest — are those who are already established, whose careers cannot be destroyed by a passionate tweet or a fiery blog post.

I am left with a thought. Who else in academia has both relative amounts of safety as well as access to resources to do the research that is not being shared and get the word out that is not being heard besides tenured professors? Graduate students. It is true that we must pass our classes, build our committees, develop relationships with faculty and make connections with other programs and departments where we hope we’ll be hired in the future. Yet we can experiment, explore, push boundaries, and challenge status quo in conferences, graduate workshops, student publications, and local organizing. Of course we worry about what all of these actions might mean to our future prospects. But not committing our efforts, even in a small and collaborative way, might mean a darker, colder future for all of us, including not only our students but also our colleagues and ourselves. Without the political commitments we study in the abstract, without consistent ethical reflection and revision, our work will remain self-serving, a means of competing for jobs rather than taking up one of many waiting torches.

What will this look like? I’m not sure. I have friends who say we all have different skills, different voices to lend to the cry for change, and some are better behind the scenes. This is true. But I also know that silence can act as a voice when no words are spoken.

 

The Philosopher and the Pragmatist: Common Sense, Nonsense, and Rightness in the Modern Conversation about Non-Profit Adult Education

Modern debates about American education have addressed important topics including the growth in public schools of standardized testing to monitor student progress, of value-added measurements designed to determine the “value” that teachers contribute to their students’ education (the term is placed in quotation marks to indicate the subjective nature of such a prospect), of the purchase of prepackaged materials and curriculum designed by “edu-business” (Ball, 2013), of private takeover of public schools and of the charter school boom. These new modes of analysis, delivery, and corporate involvement have been introduced via a relatively recent trend in education, that is, a market-based way of managing schooling. Such a trend stems in part from the Great Recession of 2008, though policy-making back in the 1970s, when globalization and technology expanded rapidly. The modern market-based response to social ills is nowadays considered a commonsensical way of resolving problems according to a capitalist viewpoint – often typified by the ethos a free market is necessary for a healthy economy and, thus, a healthy and free nation – and it attends to concerns at the highest level of our national existence, including that of education. Questions about the widely lamented “failure” of American schools, first documented in “A Nation at Risk” (The National Commission on Excellence in Education, 1983), in comparison to those in other countries vis-à-vis the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores are being discussed at all levels of governance, from local school districts up through the U.S. government, and it seems that at the core of this conversation is a strong desire to maintain American preeminence in economic and geopolitical terms in the face of rising global challenges to our empire. The messianic free-market proposition, which prioritizes competition, efficiency, accountability, and predictability, has thus been welcomed at the table of politicians and power players as a silent partner in negotiations across board rooms and budget meetings in the education world; such a viewpoint has, increasingly, seeped into common consciousness in the media through punditry, advertising and persuasive journalism on all channels. (McChesney, 2001)

This slow, yet powerful, sea change in thinking reflects the growing dominance of what is known as neoliberalism, an economically-based mode of thinking rooted in Milton Friedman’s work in the Chicago School in the 1950s, which has come to dominate conversations about a vast network of issues in American society, including the topic of education. (Lipman, 2006) A well-known progressive and public intellectual, Henry Giroux decries American neoliberalism as “the selling off of public goods to private interests; the attack on social provisions; the rise of the corporate state organized around privatization, free trade, and deregulation; the celebration of self interests over social needs; [and] the celebration of profitmaking as the essence of democracy coupled with the utterly reductionist notion that consumption is the only applicable form of citizenship.” (Giroux, 2014) Critiques like this are often met with counterattacks from conservatives and corporatists claiming that such a perspective is “political” and even anti-American. (Guerlain, 2002) In the field of education, too, progressives are finding themselves faced with an American public increasingly blasé about the influence of corporate moneys and fiscally driven decision-making in schooling. Such resistance to perspectives that seek to interrogate the dominance of neoliberalism may be due to the fact that such widespread acquiescence occurs when an ideology is raised from the “supra-social” status of a hegemony – Gramsci’s (1971) term to describe a self-replicating set of morals defined by the powerful, which in turn act to establish social control over the functioning of the rest of society’s members – to the even-higher level of a doxa, that is, “an unquestionable orthodoxy that operates as if it were the objective truth” as described by Chopra (as cited in Patrick, 2013).

The fact that neoliberal solutions to putative problems in education and other industries have become the commonsensical response of an America stepping back from the precipice of the Great Recession indicates that those who seek to interrogate the logic, relevance, and ethical implications of “neoliberalism-as-savior” are suggesting an almost Sisyphean feat in challenging the public to see from a critical perspective what they assume is true and good. Such important critical thinking is often undertaken in philosophical circles; reflection, according to John Stuart Mill, is the means by which we avoid “intellectual pacification” and attempt at all times to think freely so as to break the “mental despotism” of whatever age we happen to be in. (Mill, 1860, pp. 36-37) It must be conceded, though, that this absence of vision among the hoi polloi is not without an understandable explanation due in part to membership in any particular society; Russell Means (1980), for example, might argue that because we are members of Western society, our views are necessarily restricted to the options that fall under the Western ideological superstructure (a cultural history perhaps deserving the term “doxa” as well). But in the face of many crises in modern American society, an unrecognized crisis might in fact be a general lack of philosophical thinking as a common activity among both leadership and its constituents. It often seems that our decision-making around issues of unemployment, poverty, crime, prejudice, and other problems has lacked vision, especially in the last decade, except insofar as the dollar is concerned; we’d rather simply aim at short-term economic targets than consider the long-term impacts of decision-making in social, cultural, educational, economic, and even historical terms. A prodigious question that is notably absent in these broad-based and widely impactful decisions made by our government in terms of the environment, the role of policing and prisons, taxation, democratic representation, social programs, and of course education is this: What sort of nation are we constructing?

The original prompt for this paper was to write about what we learned from doing the presentations of our findings and network charts in our class with Dr. Spring, especially as this learning could assist us as PhD candidates, academics, and/or professionals in the future. My network chart (see Appendix A) reflects the political and ideological connections between the power players – various funders, corporate partners, local governance, and educators – through my previous employer, Jewish Vocational Services in Boston, MA, and their potential impact on the coursework, pedagogy, program design, and outcomes provided to the low-status students who take classes there. In creating the chart, I sought to establish that not only was it important to consider the connections between these power players but also focus on their communication through the discourse of philanthropy (specifically charity and service work) and on the resulting prioritization of neoliberal outcomes over all others (e.g., democratic, advocacy/social activist-minded, etc.) in adult education in non-profit organizations like JVS. (The concept of discourse as mentioned above will not be further explored here; however, the concept as it is intended here is derived from Michel Foucault’s theories as outlined in his 1966 publication Les mots et les choses (The Order of Things, published in 1970 in English).

Two particular outcomes of this project held great significance for me. Firstly, I found myself resisting the simple drawing of connections between single entities in the chart, preferring to consider the discourses within which each entity was nested. The power circles of local, state, and federal government, the world of philanthropy, and the business world overlapped under the heading of mainstream American society, and I found that some actors could be placed into several categories at the same time (e.g., government and business, etc.). I suggest that these entities interact through the broader discourse of philanthropy, establishing relationships and influence over the educational projects within the non-profit organizations they support politically and/or financially. Further, I argue that because non-profit organizations like JVS have corporate partners that will potentially hire the low-status students – who are most often immigrants from north and central Africa, Latin America, and South and East Asia and who are low-income, have disabilities, may be living in a shelter or even homeless, and often have children to support – that study in these non-profit organizations, the form of education that takes place there prioritizes the market-driven need of these corporate partners for low-status workers (line cooks, retail workers, certified nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians, etc.) over all other potential needs, goals, or potential these students might have.

As I write of this first outcome, it is important for me to recognize the ineluctable influence of the doxa of neoliberalism as it creeps into my mind. Why not help these students find a better job? such a voice asks, reminding me of the Platonic view that any progress should be embraced, that the improvement in the lives of struggling people is a good one. What harm is there in wanting to help them improve their lot? And if the byproduct of this is to help high-growth industries in our economy like health care, food service, and others meet their needs, why should this be seen as a negative thing? The chiding voice continues: Why do academics always have to critique, theorize, and break down what is working well?

In fact, when I presented this network chart to the rest of my class in Dr. Spring’s class, I feel I received a polite version of this very response, which leads me to my second significant outcome in doing this project. My classmates, who are often more pragmatic than I am, were certainly interested and appreciated both my work as an adult educator in non-profit organizations and on the project itself. However, I think many of them couldn’t see the point I was trying to make, a fact which I suggest stems from the very reason that the neoliberal doxa has made itself the objective lens via which we perceive our choices in education. This was my point, made more clear perhaps in written form: Why should the education of adults in the non-profit world contain less of the critical thinking we progressives are attempting to apply in addressing the consequences of rampant standardized testing, teacher evaluation through value-added measures, the charter school boom in public PreK-12 schooling, and other forms of privatization and corporate involvement? Why is it that non-profit adult education is perfectly acceptable as a form not only of training, but also of subordination, of preparation for low-status employment that largely benefits the wealthy? These questions spawn many more: Is this form of thinking due to the fact that we see adults as already fully formed, so to speak, socioculturally, emotionally and cognitively? Is it perhaps because of inherent biases that we may have against immigrants and other low-status groups, because we believe (perhaps unconsciously) that they are a burden on the social safety net and even take jobs from native-born Americans? (American Civil Liberties Union, 2008) I believe that these questions are of great significance in considering the relatively apolitical (or, better put, politically overlooked) world of adult education in non-profits; equally important is the fact that few have asked such questions because neoliberalism has taken such a firm hold on the American consciousness.

Thus, I will end this essay with a vow that I make for myself, for my fellow educators, and for my students: I promise to continue to think philosophically about the important and often overlooked field of non-profit adult education, all the while building my own fluency, my own form of “critical sociopolitical literacy,” for building bridges and better understandings with the pragmatists, while working to mediate and change the relationship between the power holders in society and those who are subject to their will. As academics we, too, belong to a powerful sociocultural group, able to act as bridge-builders and communicators as well as critics of the neoliberal status quo. I must understand that within the powerful hegemony/doxa of neoliberalism rest many enshrined “truths” that cannot be easily moved from their thrones, including the powerfully influential discourse of philanthropy as a form of apolitical good. I must be clear in my use of terminology and be willing to understand things from the other side; I must be clear, too, that in seeking to understand what education is and can be – no matter whether it be for children or adults, native-born people or immigrants – my role must be to remind my colleagues that our goal is educating within a democratic vision (if not a truly democratic version yet) of our society. Just as we progressives argue that American children are not simply future workers but future participants in a(n) (ostensibly) democratic nation, so too must we remember that immigrants – including some of the parents of these American children for whom we so passionately advocate – who come to live in our community, society, and country deserve more than a dehumanizing, prescribed, circumscribed version of a neoliberally defined future.

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. (2008, April 11). Immigration Myths and Facts. Retrieved December 10, 2014, from https://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/immigration-myths-and-facts

Ball, S. J. (2013, June 19). Global Policy Networks, Social Enterprise and Edu-business: New Policy Networks and the Neoliberal Imaginary. (1st Edition). Routledge.

Foucault, M. (1970). The Order of Things. London, U.K.: Tavistock/Routledge.

Giroux, H. (2014, October 19). Henry Giroux on the Rise of Neoliberalism. Truthout.org. (M. Nevradakis, Interviewer)

Gramsci, A. (1971). Selections from the Prison Notebooks (Reprint ed.). (Q. Hoare, & G. N. Smith, Eds.) International Publishers Co.

Guerlain, P. (2002). Americanization and Globalization: The Power Behind the Words. Annales du monde anglophone , No 15.

Lipman, P. (2006). “No Child Left Behind”: Globalization, Privatization, and the Politics of Inequality. In E. W. Ross, & R. Gibson (Eds.), Neoliberalism and Education Reform (pp. 36-37). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, Inc.

McChesney, R. (2001). Global media, neoliberalism, and imperialism. Monthly Review , 52 (10).

Means, R. (2012, October 22). For the World to Live, Europe Must Die. Mother Jones. San Francisco, CA.

Mill, J. S. (1860). On Liberty. Harvard Classics Volume 25. P.F. Collier & Son (Copyright 1909).

The National Commission on Excellence in Education. (1983). A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. Washington, DC.

Patrick, F. (2013). Neoliberalism, the Knowledge Economy, and the Learner: Challenging the Inevitability of the Commodified Self as an Outcome of Education. (T. A. Betts, T. Carvalho, & R. Pasnak, Eds.) ISRN Education , 2013.

Introduction to Final Paper (Intro to Research Methods): Research Proposal for Mixed Methods Study

The controversial influence of neoliberalism in modern society, sometimes seen as destructive and dehumanizing, others a savior to the sinking of American global preeminence, is a topic of conversation for many American progressives in the 21st century. This powerful hegemonic discourse prioritizes, among other things, “the selling off of public goods to private interests; the attack on social provisions; the rise of the corporate state organized around privatization, free trade, and deregulation; the celebration of self interests over social needs; [and] the celebration of profitmaking as the essence of democracy coupled with the utterly reductionist notion that consumption is the only applicable form of citizenship.” (Giroux, 2014) The very fact that neoliberalism constitutes a form of hegemony (a self-replicating set of morals defined by the powerful, which in turn act to establish social control over the functioning of the rest of society’s members) or even a doxa (Patrick, 2013) means that it reproduces itself by acting from within the trajectory of our country’s sociocultural, political, and economic development while seeming a logical, even necessary progression.

The ways in which neoliberalism impacts and shapes American society in general, and American schooling in particular, has found traction in impassioned dialogue about PreK-12 education in recent years (see Shannon, Whitney, & Wilson, 2014 and Ross & Gibson, 2006 for examples). However, a similarly critical and reflective conversation about our society’s shift toward free-market-centered values is largely missing in the field of non-profit adult education, which has remained over the last decade the site of the now-popular “workforce skills training,” which aims to meet the demand of several key high-growth industries namely, elder care, food service, and hospitals, among others for new employees, while “increas[ing] the competitiveness of American workers.” (Greenstone & Looney, 2011, p. 4) This reflects the still-present struggle brought by the Great Recession of 2008, which caused our country to shift its narrative to include concerns about economic stability and the need for citizens to be connected with jobs in a time of scarcity. (The White House, 2014) While public schools are battlegrounds for parents who resist the trend toward standardized testing and other forms of privatization, the lack of either critical thinking or political awareness in the field of non-profit adult education has left organizations, educators, and especially learners vulnerable to ideological influences that redefine outcomes vis-à-vis complicated, less-than-humanitarian intentions.

Civilized societies tend to have a longstanding social view of non-profit charity and service organizations as beneficial, generally helpful in ameliorating problems relating to areas of social life including: agriculture, food, and nutrition; employment and job training; public safety and disaster preparedness, housing, and youth development, among others. (Directory of Charities and Nonprofit Organizations, 2014) While in America workforce skills training organizations in particular espouse the improvement of their clients’ lives, it is important to consider that the purported goal of such specialized education to provide skills training for learners who seek better employment opportunities may also encode certain hidden agendas, biases, and expectations for the low-status students typically undertaking this form of education (immigrants, people of color, people who are low-income, and people with disabilities). This coded set of assumptions can occur in non-profit adult education in the form of curriculum, pedagogy, program development, and partnerships with affiliate organizations that accept the graduates of these programs for further training or employment; such assumptions, if they do indeed exist, they may well reflect the powerful influence that “corporate-style managerialism” (Patrick, 2013) has had in adult education as well as ideologically-situated views of the role of education and of the learners themselves. The purpose of this research is, then, to discover these assumptions and their role in workforce skills training courses as a description of the influence of American neoliberal discourse, and its power to subordinate low-status learners, in non-profit adult education.