School Choice, Cultural Diversity And The Logic Of Social Restriction

Year: 2015

Author: Windle, Joel

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper develops an analysis of school choice as an expression of what I have termed the logic of social restriction. The papers argues that the failure of school choice regimes to adequately address cultural diversity must be understood as situated in the historical expansion of secondary education. This argument is developed by mapping the connections between systems of secondary school curricula and examinations, on the one hand, and a socially restricted student population, on the other. I argue that school choice takes the socially restricted school as a model for the entire system to follow. The kinds of families sending their children to such schools also provide a cultural model against which others are judged and valued (or excluded). This is part of a broader logic in which elite populations are granted educational autonomy, while working-class and ethnic-minority populations have a different standard of schooling imposed upon them.
The paper begins with a comparative approach, discussing the treatment of migrant populations in French schools, the history of cultural alienation within Indigenous education in Australia, and the transnational commercialization of curriculum provision in Brazil. The paper then moves to closer analysis of the social and cultural geography of Melbourne, a city where more than one in five students is from a language background other than English. It shows how choice works differently in an inner band of neighborhoods dominated by extremely socially restricted schools compared to middle- and outer-band neighborhoods. Elite schools subtly select students on cultural and racial, as well as academic, grounds. Parents in middle- and outer-band neighborhoods face more socially and ethnically polarized options; however, the paper challenges the thesis of racial and social prejudice as the main driving force behind educational efforts. The paper shows how families without choice options, or who are not interested in school choice, are positioned within a highly marketized school choice regime. The situations of refugees and working-class families in disadvantaged neighborhoods are analyzed in relation to the concept of scholastic culture. The experiences of these groups suggest that parents are not the main drivers of marketization, and that they are either resentful or indifferent toward it. The paper casts doubt on the theses dominating the English and US literature that school choice is driven by the middle class and that traditional institutional actors have been sidelined by neoliberal policy processes.