Reflections on hegemony and revolution: A conflicting narrative of hope and skepticism

Why the long winded and cryptic title? It summarizes my feelings about the state of education reform including the recent revisions of ESEA/ECAA and the current state of the resistance movement. In a nut shell I find myself halfway between hope and skepticism. But….as Chris Hedges states in Wages of Rebellion, “half measures” will not suffice to accomplish the changes we wish to see in public education.

I believe the authorizers of the recent ESEA took their ideas from the conceptual playbook of MC Escher. Reading the new legislation, and reading it again (and again) I am left with the feeling that the staircases to new policy lead everywhere and nowhere simultaneously. I see dead ends and endless unknown exits or trapdoors. Will this bring promise or peril to our movement? The answer lies in how we address the central issue of hegemony.

Hegemony is that ten dollar word academics like to use to confuse their undergraduate students. So let’s put this in laymen’s terms:

Hegemony is a system of power that gets people to think and act against their own self-interest. Webster calls it “the social, cultural, ideological, or economic influence exerted by a dominant group.” It uses invisible codes of oppression that are sometimes difficult to pinpoint or to recognize our own participation or complicity with it.

So, what invisible codes of oppression are used to deceive people into perpetuating their own oppression? There are many of course but for today let’s focus on standardized testing as one of those codes. It affects us ideologically, socially, culturally and economically. The volumes of research to its destructive, racist, biased and classist nature are too many to mention here. But you all know…and if you need more fuel for the fight please read the amazing piece by UOO admins Ruth Rodriguez, Denisha Jones and Ceresta Smith at the United opt Out website.

Our societal blind and erroneous faith that standardized testing is necessary to ensure equity and accountability is first and foremost, IRONIC…and secondly, the means by which the hegemony of global corporate colonization keeps itself firmly planted. Our society is deeply conditioned to rely on this false system of evaluation which measures the wrong things and redirects our attention and our resources from the things that really matter. In simple terms, if standardized testing creates equity then Fruit Loops is part of a nutritious breakfast. Some might argue this is quite intentional and not merely the result of stupidity in leadership. Standardized testing is the problem that disguises itself as the solution. Without it, the straw man of corporate and global control loses its weapon of mass destruction. Until we reject the very legitimacy of standardized testing itself and the profiteers who pedal them, the cornerstone of corporate and political self-servitude will remain intact. Hegemony must be ripped out root and branch. It cannot be negotiated with.

So while I remain very disappointed with the changes to existing ESEA legislation, I WANT to be that “half glass full” person. I promise to try because pragmatically it’s what we’ve got to work with whether we like it or not. But if we do not place the systemic hegemony perpetuated by corporate powers who remain comfortably entrenched (opt out clauses or not) as the corner stone of policy, at the fore front of our efforts, we will accomplish little.

The skeptic in me says that even IF we get fewer tests now in the hands of states and out of the hands of the feds, and even IF opting out permitted without punishment to schools…. these are not the end goals we wanted. The hopeful in me reminds me that THEY ARE however THE MEANS toward a much bigger set of goals. It’s what we do with them now that matters–we can we use them to attain the goals we wish to create. I choose hope over skepticism because as Howard Zinn wrote in a statement which begins “To be hopeful in bad times …” that “what we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives” and concludes that “The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory”

I see any legislation crafted at the hands of predatory reformers as little better than the treaties offered to the indigenous nations at the hands of the US government. They were treaties made and they were treaties were broken over and over again. When the mighty and powerful want something, they will promise anything for appeasement…and still take what they want.  We must reject the legitimacy of power brokers, stock brokers, and thieves cashing in on your children. How? REFUSE IT ALL.

REFUSE to give them legitimacy. REFUSE to concede your power to them. REFUSE their shady promises and empty rhetoric. REFUSE the myths we have been spoon fed for generations that standardized testing will protect our children from the ravages of poverty and racism. REFUSE to play THEIR game. REFUSE a seat at their table. Let’s flip their table over and build our own.

It’s your right to revolt by your refusal, and it is, as Hedges suggests, “our moral imperative” to do so- do we have the collective will to grab the brass ring? Are we ready to stop asking “mother may I?” Are we ready to end our dependency on those in so-called power to make changes that would demand they operate counter to their own self interest?  THAT will never happen because as Chomsky suggests, “such ideals as democracy and the market are well and good, as long as the tilt of the playing field guarantees the right folks win.”

Are we ready to take actions that will dismantle the entire system of corruption and claim it for ourselves, our teachers and our children? We have the knowledge. We have the means. We have the resources. We don’t NEED to wait until we are comfortably placed into positions of power bending the ears of so called powerful people. WE are in the position of power. WE are the powerful people. The only thing we still need now is the undeniable belief in ourselves that we can and will take it from them.

Are you ready for the revolution?

(A special thinks to the BATS for inviting me to the BATS Congress July 24th where i presented this keynote address).

Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

2 thoughts on “Reflections on hegemony and revolution: A conflicting narrative of hope and skepticism

  1. Amen, Morna! The power is always in the people, the difficulty is in waking the people up to realize they have this power, then encouraging them to wield it! Over a lifetime of enculturation regarding hegemony, citizens experience extreme cognitive dissonance in casting off invisible shackles of oppression we ironically feel more comforted than constrained by. Embracing change which serves our best interest seems foreign to most, yet intuitive to the the few of us who insist upon choosing a steady diet of justice, compassion, and righteous indignation. In a sense, we are all Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz; the challenge is rousing others from their slumber to realize clicking the ruby red slippers upon their feet are all that’s required to whisk them back to Home, Sweet Home. Thank you Morna for continuing to waive your wand, slowly, but steadily, people are awakening!

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