The second book on my fall 2012 reading plan was Ideology and Curriculum by Michael Apple. I read the Third Edition, which includes two post-9/11 chapters. Dr. Apple is a professor at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where one can peruse his biography. I found this book an illustrative example of an archetype I see in academia: the Hero of Hypocrisy. Unfortunately, I don’t mean a Disposable Hero of Hiphoprisy, who in 1992 published the song Television: The Drug of a Nation. That song is more authentic than this author. To understand why, we need to consider the book’s major claims and then how Dr. Apple fails.
One major claim of the book appears on page 2, that schools preserve and distribute economic inequality and cultural capital. It repeats in many other places, like on page 41, “[Schools] teach a hidden curriculum that seems uniquely suited to maintain the ideological hegemony of the most powerful classes in this society.” Hegemony saturates consciousness and allows for a selective tradition. This causes “structural inequalities of power and access to resources,” according to page 61. Upper class children prepare to become professionals and receive different opportunities than lower class children trained for the working class. The interview expands on the forces he sees behind the control of schools, his opponents. They include economic neo liberals; halcyon neo conservatives; religious authoritarians; and “experts for hire”, researchers and evaluators who analyze and profit under the current system.
In opposition, Apple argues for collective commitment from a neo-Marxist perspective. His goal is less conservative than Rawls, “increasing the advantage and power of the least advantaged,” he states on pages 10, 149, and elsewhere. He suggests that speaking about conflict within and between groups would encourage collective commitment, bemoaning that fields like Black Studies and the history of science focus only on those that stayed within the legitimate bounds of protest, not the sharper debates.
Some of my problems with this book come from its age. Apple wrote most of the chapters in the 1970s, when academia differed. Black Studies today talks about Malcolm X. I don’t know if technical and positivistic forms had cultural status in 1975, but they don’t in 2012. There’s no positivistic ideal. Academic is predominantly negative and critical. In that way, he has triumphed; he remarks on those gains in the ending interview. (I appreciate his recognition on pages 192 and 193 that quantitative work has some benefit.)
Overall, though, I find that this book fails because Michael W. Apple pretends to have no power, when he actually has quite a lot. Earlier, I wrote about Paolo Freire. I wrote my concluding quote after starting Dr. Apple’s book and thus intentionally mentioned Madison:
I can see why guiding fully engaged learners into social change appeals to academics. It sounds exciting and rewarding. Perhaps those people in comfortable, well-paid jobs with permanent employment could move to developing places, where those conditions exist. It’s certainly not true in Cambridge or Athens Georgia or Madison.
Freire was jailed by the Brazilian military dictatorship. I didn’t agree with the hypotheses about educational control, because 2012 America is a world where almost all would classify as Freirean oppressors. But I respected him, because he made actions expressing his beliefs.
On the other hand, Dr. Apple is a professor with tenure. Since he’s paid by the people of the state of Wisconsin, we can look up his salary. Go ahead. Enter Apple as the name and select the Madison campus. You’ll see Apple, Michael W twice, because he has a joint appointment. His 2009-10 salary? $135,172. For comparison, there are three other Apples on the list, all full time positions. Their combined salary is $130,575. What type of person that wants to “contribute most to the advantage of the least advantaged” takes as much money from the public as three other workers? $135,000 could support several impoverished families. Desperate, I searched online to see if Dr. Apple had a foundation to which he contributed most of his salary, or a record of constant charity work. His CV had no such listing. I did find a reference to constant travel, including “lecturing and doing some political work in Chile.”
That doesn’t sound like true commitment. What true Marxist takes $135,000 from the people each year? An income in the world top 1%? Instead, it sounds like pretending to support the disadvantaged while maintaining one’s highly advantaged status, with lots of money and protected employment. Professors try this frequently. I refuse to let professors put on an powerless act. Professors have lots of power. Ask students like myself! Ask anyone seeking tenure in his department!
It’s easy to pretend to support the underprivileged. You can cite some story from teaching about Joseph, who was held back and went to jail and how terrible that is. Surprisingly and thankfully, the tale includes the real reason Joseph failed. Joseph didn’t participate in gym. “The things that students were asked to do in gym were, to him, ‘lame’.” (page x, introduction) In what system does fourth grade gym subjugate boys? This book does little except exploit people’s concern through big academic words, making Dr. Apple wealthy and privileged. When he takes my salary, which you can find here, then I’ll start to believe. When he fights with his administration to let him volunteer in a developing nation, like I am, then I’ll start to believe. It doesn’t even have to be North Korea. For now, though, I’m more Marxist than him. Dr. Apple becomes a Hero of Hypocrisy. After all, as the Disposable Heroes titled their first album, Hypocrisy is the Greatest Luxury.