The Troubling Neoliberal Overtones of “Undercover Boss” (Or, How Grad School Will Ruin Television For You, Even If It Leaves You Enough Time to Watch It)

Last winter, a serious paper from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives made its way around the Internet and popular American press, garnering mostly eye-rolls. The authors of “Who’s the Boss” argued that the Christmas “Elf on the Shelf” tradition, so popular among parents who want to ensure angelic behavior from their small children in the weeks leading up to Christmas, was a whimsical way to prepare little ones to live in a surveillance state. The authors warned that Elf on the Shelf teaches children to “accept or even seek out external observation of their actions outside of their caregivers and familial structures.” If that doesn’t chill you, the authors raise the stakes: Elf on the Shelf “serves functions that are aligned to the official functions of the panopticon …[and] contributes to the shaping of children as governable subjects” (Pinto & Nemorin, 2014). So Elf on the Shelf is a Christmas tradition that’s less George Bailey and more George Orwell.

I was reminded of that paper last week when, taking a break from homework for my doctoral program, I settled in to take in an uplifting episode of one of my favorite guilty pleasures, “Undercover Boss.” The formula of this reality show is simple: The show follows “high-level corporate executives as they slip anonymously into the rank-and-file of their own companies. Each week, a different executive will leave the comfort of their corner office for an undercover mission to examine the inner workings of their corporation” (“About Undercover Boss”). The show is great fun to watch just for the chintzy wigs they put on the CEOs. And who doesn’t like seeing a white-collar guy break a sweat filling soda bottles or pratfall his way through a loading dock? Each episode ends with the CEO revealing his—yeah, I’ll stick with that pronoun here—true identity to the workers and then, almost invariably, lavishing them with gifts like cash, new cars, scholarships, vacations, or waived franchise fees. The workers often cry (“I just never thought anyone would notice the work I do, but I do it because I love it”) and sometimes, so does the CEO. Television gold, right?

Though I enjoy watching the show—or did, anyway—it has always irked me for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on. Sure, there are the obvious things, criticisms one could lodge about almost any “reality” show: the backstories of the front-line workers seem cherry-picked for ultimate emotional effect, for example. And then there are discomforts particular to this show. The CEOs are almost invariably white males, while the dupes, hourly workers struggling to care for elderly parents or disabled kids, are almost invariably women, immigrants, and people of color.

But the show really started to fall apart for me when I read Henry Giroux’s (2014) Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. I have to confess that before I started studying for my doctorate, I couldn’t have told you what neoliberalism was. In fact, if I’d been approached by one of those Jay Leno “man on the street/aren’t Americans stupid” segments, I probably would have said that neoliberalism was like liberalism, only newer. But learning what neoliberalism was wasn’t so much an experience of learning a new concept as much as learning that there was a name for phenomena I’d observed. Unfailing trust in the invisible hand of the market? Systematic divesting of public programs, dismissal of the whole idea of a safety net for society’s neediest, privatization of everything from ambulances to prisons to zoos, and fidelity to the ideal of individual profit above all? There’s a word for that, and it’s neoliberalism.

Although Giroux (2014) is concerned in this book with the way neoliberalism is gutting the university and rendering it only a hollow imitation of that rich public sphere that encouraged free thought and open debate, he offers a serviceable (if scathing) definition of neoliberalism in the process. According to Giroux (2014), neoliberalism “privileges personal responsibility over larger social forces, reinforces the gap between rich and poor by redistributing wealth to the most powerful and wealthy individuals and groups, … [and] privileges the entrepreneurial subject while encouraging a value system that promotes self-interest, if not unchecked selfishness” (p. 1). If I had to play the neoliberalist’s advocate, I suppose I would say that the ideology puts utmost faith in the power of individuals to succeed. People don’t need handouts—like, say Head Start or WIC—they just need the right attitude.

Furthermore, Giroux warns, neoliberalism’s “unbridled individualism” (Giroux, 201, p. 2), its obsession with private profit, fuels the military industrial complex that perpetuates wars and encourages the increasing infringement of citizens’ privacy and civil liberties. This infringement necessarily causes a widespread feeling of fear, fear that is justified given the expanding role of surveillance in Americans’ lives.

Which brings us back to “Undercover Boss” and its ambush performance reviews. The episode I tuned in to watch the other day was a rerun from 2010 and featured Joseph DePinto, the CEO of 7-Eleven Corporation. The show followed its formula. DePinto donned a wig, called himself “Danny,” and got in the way of several employees including Delores, Waqas, Phil, and Igor, all of whom who were just trying to do their jobs and now had to train this supposed failed realtor while a team of cameras filmed them. These three workers had classically “Undercover Boss” backstories: Delores was slinging more cups of coffee than any other 7-Eleven location while also going for dialysis several times a week and awaiting a kidney transplant; Waqas, an immigrant from Pakistan, worked the night shift in the bakery while pursuing a bachelor’s degree during the day. Phil worked like a dog and spent his shift breaks drawing in his sketchbook and dreaming of being an artist. And Igor, an immigrant from Kazakhstan, spent nights cheerfully stocking his truck and making deliveries to 7-Eleven locations and looking forward to the only two days every week that he got to see his wife.

Lucky for these employees, they performed well under DePinto’s surveillance. And when the time came, each was rewarded. Delores got New York Yankees tickets. Phil got an opportunity to do some “freelance” work in 7-Eleven’s advertising department (paid, I hope). Waqas was offered personal mentorship from DePinto himself. And Igor got a resort vacation with his wife.

By “Undercover Boss” standards, these gifts are relatively modest. CEOs of other companies on the show have been known to dole out large chunks of change (to the tune of $10,000), new cars, rent for a year, or breast augmentation surgery (hey—it was relevant to the employee’s aspirations for success on the job at an institution called Bikinis). Furthermore, touched by Delores’s health issue, DePinto also coughed up a $150,000 donation to an organ-transplant cause and started an organ-donation-awareness campaign in his stores. Inspired by Igor’s up-by-his-bootstraps, nose-to-the-grindstone narrative, DePinto offered Igor his own 7-Eleven franchise and waived the franchise fee. As Igor himself said, “This is American Dream!”

DePinto isn’t the first CEO on the show to discover that his employees are facing hardships and challenges he’s been lucky enough to sidestep. More than one boss, after going undercover, has found that hourly workers are battling health issues, cost-prohibitive childcare, inaccessible education, or all of the above. Moved by these stories, the CEOs usually start emptying their pockets for these employees. And this seeming generosity is exactly what’s problematic: These blue-collar workers’ issues are systematic and widespread, but the bosses on the show address them individually. The show usually includes a clip of the boss returning to his board room and telling his cohorts that they’ve “really got to look into” such-and-such an issue to “better support” the employees, who are the “backbone” of the organization, but that’s about it. How many of these bosses actually revamp their health- or child-care benefits? How many throw money at policies that support continuing education? The emphasis is most certainly individual, not collective—the rewards are designed to address the problems of individuals, not organizations, as if individuals are the cause of, and therefore the solution to, the problem.

In fact, sometimes the gifts lavished on the employees at the end of the show amount to golden handcuffs that serve the ends of the executives while pretending to advance the laborers. Consider, for example, that waived franchise fee for Igor. In the last two years alone, 7-Eleven Corporation has been the object of at least a dozen lawsuits alleging that the company engages in manipulative hardball—and racially motivated—tactics to increase their profits, including illegally spying on franchisees, fabricating sales records, threatening prosecution, and coercing individuals to give up their franchises—so that the corporation can “flip” them for higher franchise fees (Hsu, 2014). Good luck, Igor. This is American Dream.

The CEOs on this show often don’t even pretend to have the employees’ best interests, or aspirations, at heart. Waqas, the immigrant from Pakistan, told DePinto-as-Danny that he didn’t see a real future for himself with 7-Eleven. After the reveal, DePinto addressed Waqas’s sense of a dead-end future with the company, praising him for working so hard to earn a bachelor’s degree while working nights. Waqas said that his real ambition was to return to Pakistan and help poor people, to fight for justice and human rights. In response, DePinto told Waqas that if he instead remained in America working for 7-Eleven, DePinto would personally mentor him. And then, as if remembering that a camera was on him, DePinto lamely added, “If you decide to go back to your country, I think we can help you too.” Call me cynical, but I kind of doubt that any meaningful, long-term help will be on offer from DePinto or 7-Eleven as Waqas fights for social justice in Pakistan.

Ultimately, what’s troublingly neoliberal about “Undercover Boss” is the same thing that makes it irresistible television, and that’s the rags-to-not-exactly-riches story. Igor, for example, came to America in the mid-90s unable to speak English, with $50 in his pocket. When viewers of “Undercover Boss” met him, he’d been working for a decade as an overnight driver for 7-Eleven and was not only fluent in English but fluent in upbeat, self-determined cheer. This guy has a master’s degree in electrical engineering, military experience, and a badass work ethic. As a franchise owner, according a Dallas Morning News piece two years after the show’s airing, he was making netting about $600 a week—and those were 60- to 80-hour weeks—which wasn’t much more than he was making as a driver, though he was working many more hours as a franchisee (Mervosh, 2010). Igor may not be impoverished, and he seems downright thrilled with his work, but that isn’t exactly upward mobility.

“Undercover Boss” is evidence that, as Giroux (2014)suggests, a neoliberalist agenda to preserve and widen a class divide has found “legitimation in a popular culture … of cruelty that promotes and expanding landscape of selfishness, insecurity and precarity that undermines any sense of shared responsibility for the well-being of others” (p. 14). The tacit neoliberal message of stories like Igor’s when framed by “Undercover Boss” seems to be this: See? See what he did? If you are an immigrant, or disabled, or poor, or uneducated, you ought not be struggling. You have a job. You ought to content yourself with the low-paying job you have and work your ass off doing it in the hopes that one day a CEO from corporate will descend in a wig and spy on you and reward you for knowing your place and not crying foul at systematic injustices. The reward you get will be one that purchases your fidelity to the organization while simultaneously ensuring that you will never break through the boardroom door yourself.


“About Undercover Boss.” (n.d.). Retrieved from

Giroux, H.A. (2014). Neoliberalism’s War on Higher Education. Chicago: Haymarket Books.

Hsu, T. (2014, June 4). “Franchisees allege hardball tactics, store seizures by 7-Eleven.” [Online news article]. Retrieved from

Mervosh, S. (2012, November 19). “Former 7-Eleven truck driver now runs his own Richardson store—exuberantly.” [Online news article]. Retrieved from–exuberantly.ece

Pinto, L., and Nemorin, S. (2014). “Who’s the Boss?: The ‘Elf on the Shelf’ and the normalization of surveillance.” Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. December 1, 2014. Retrieved January 26, 2015 from

Writing the truth – Connie Hahne

Culture & Truth     The Remaking of Social Analysis
After Objectivism Chapter 2

Renato Rosaldo

Renato Rosaldo is a wonderful writer.  Chapter two was witty, engaging and eye opening. His style of composition makes the book accessible to non-scholars. Through personal anecdotes and examples from prominent ethnographers’ writings, Rosaldo leads the reader through the downfalls of traditional modes of classical research.  The strongest points I took away from the chapter are that by not becoming involved and engaging with participants in my research, I may degrade its validity if my interpretations of actions and speech are erroneous. Additionally it would be frivolous of me to not value and exploit my subjects’ personal insights into their culture and lives.  In final compositions my word choice and level of formality influence and can manipulate the reader’s understanding of my research and the participants.

According to Rosaldo (1994), the classic period in ethnography was from about 1921-1971. This was a period when ethnographers were the judges that defined other cultures for society based on distanced and objective observations.  Observations during this time were conveyed using the present tense to make generalizations about the culture’s social life. According to Spradley (1979), Ethnography “involves the disciplined study of what the world is like to people who have learned to see, hear, speak, think, and act in ways that are different. Rather than studying people, ethnography means learning from people” (p. 3).

Rosaldo’s goal “is to speed the process of change already underway in the modes of composition for ethnography as a form of social analysis” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.54). Rosaldo (1994) argues that traditional modes of composition used by ethnographers deteriorate the validity of the researcher’s findings.  Traditional methods of ethnography fail to recognize the individualities of the culture’s members. He refers to this as the “ethnographer’s evaluated, distanced, normalizing discourse” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.51). Distanced objectified observations create erroneous and unreal generalizations of a culture’s social life.  It is assumed that each member of the culture will react and behave equally in any given circumstance.

“Human subjects have often reacted with bemused puzzlement over the ways they have been depicted in anthropologic writings” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.49). Rosaldo (1994) reflects on the validity in ethnographic discourse if it were to describe ourselves. The author’s intended message may be lost if the reader’s response is humor.  Rosaldo (1994) illustrates this through the assessments made by Americo Paredes about Chicanos’ responses to anthropological description about themselves.  The Chicanos often found the writings more “parodic” than offensive. Mistranslations, misinterpretations of humor, unfamiliarity with double meanings in Spanish, and a literal belief in unauthenticated stories and urban legends were among the noted critiques made by the Chicanos.  In order to remediate and avoid such mistakes Rosaldo suggests that ethnographers take the criticisms of their subjects with the same seriousness as those of their academic colleagues.

“The idiom of classic ethnography characteristically describes specific events as if they were programmed cultural routines and places the observer at great distance from the observed” (Rosaldo, 1994 p.55). Although use of the formal and classical idiom of composition can offer rational insights, it can also be very dehumanizing of the subjects it objectifies. Rosaldo voices a need for increased tolerance of diverse rhetorical forms.  Case histories and personal narratives need to be moved from the borders of ethnographical compositions into the body.  This would aide readers in comprehending the anthropomorphic emotions and reactions of the subjects to life situations and events.

Ultimately, Rosaldo (1994) explores the potential for critical reflection and reciprocal reflections from dialogs with the subjects in his research. In order to create a more equal ground, the studied or observed becomes the researcher.  Ethnographers learn from the subject’s perceptions and descriptions about them. To get closer to understanding a culture, the ethnographer not only observes, but engages is meaningful dialog gaining insight into the culture’s ideologies from the perspectives of its members.

            Throughout the various stages of my research, I will review the following questions to be mindful of my purpose in my work and my desired outcomes. What are the truths about a culture?  How does my positionality influence me as an ethnographer and bias my interpretations of my observations?   How do the modes of composition influence the reader’s understanding of the observed culture? Is what I am writing respectful and humanizing of others?


Rosaldo, R. (1994). After objectivism. In Culture & truth: The remaking of social analysis:                       with a new introduction (pp. 46-67). Boston, MA: Beacon Press.

Spradley, J. P. (1979). The ethnographic interview (p. 1). New York, NY: Holt, Rinehart                                and  Winston.





Impact of Mentoring on Student Retention

Salas, R., Aragon, Aragon, A., Alandejani, J., & Timpson, W.M. (2014). Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1-14.


In the article “Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence” (Salas, et al), the authors examined the experiences of Latina/o students who participated in a college mentoring program. The study was designed to look at the overall experiences of students who participated in the program, and evaluate to what extent the experience contributed to their academic success and persistence.


Participants were chosen from a list of current or former mentors. Out of the initial 30 students that were identified as possible candidates, 17 agreed to participate. There were 9 female and 8 male participants. Two of the 17 reported health and family issues, and chose not to participate. Of the 15 remaining, 12 students were from in-state, and 3 were from out-of-state. All participants were either currently serving, or who had previously served as a mentor.

The study took place at a land grant institution in a mountain west state. The institutions minority make-up was as follows – Ethnic minority for all university (13.6%), Latina/o (6.9%), Asian American (3.1%), African American (2.3%), and Native American (1.5%).


Testing consisted interviews, conducted in two rounds with each participant, with a follow up interview 3 to 4 weeks later. The study explored the following questions:

  1. “What meanings did Latina/o students ascribe to their experience in the university mentoring program?”
  2. “How did these students experience their academic program at the university?”
  3. “What effect did participation in the mentoring program have on their persistence?”
  4. “Were there common experiences, stories told, and/or factors that these Latina/o students described as participants in the mentoring program?” (p. 4)

Analysis of the interview was done using an Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which explored individual experiences of the participants and other factors that they identified as contributing to their success. More specifically, the study was to determine, to what extent, Latina/o students were able to transition to college successfully, get involved in leadership opportunities, engage with academic and cultural activities and resources, and persist.


For the most part, participants consistently reported that their participation in the mentoring program helped them to be successful. Participants were better able to navigate the collegiate experience, increase knowledge and appreciation for other cultures, improve time management and time management skills, build relationships, and learn about the various resources available at the college. There were three main themes that were identified as a result of the interviews, (1) common challenges (i.e., being a first-generation student), (2) culture shock, and (3) financial issues. Some other common themes included:

  • Lack of diversity at the university (47%)
  • Financial and time management issues (88%)
  • Feeling a lack of belonging (94%)
  • Out of state issues (18%)
  • Multicultural / biracial issues (18%)

Almost 41% of the participants indicated that the program provided them “with a sense of family and, community, which encouraged them to do better.” (p.8). A very small percentage of students expressed that they felt college was easy ( 6%).

Other common factors included

  • Feeling overwhelmed as they transitioned to the college environment
  • Concerns regarding campus climate
  • Discrimination / perceived discrimination

One of the participants reported the following experience:

“My overall experiences in the mentoring program were very, very positive. It was great to establish relationships with like-minded people, people who had the same values, people who were often academically focused, people who were also involved on campus…it got to give me some positive role models to look up [to]…” (p.8)

Limitations / Recommendations:

  • Study participants were the mentors. Would the results have been any different had the participants not been the mentors? Were they successful because they were mentors, or were they mentors because they were successful?
  • Limited sample size of 15
  • Sample focused exclusively on Latina/o students
  • How might this research be applied to other populations (i.e., students with disabilities, other ethnic / racial groups)?
  • How might a mentor program benefit low-income students?
  • What were the mentors doing that was so effective?

Application to my own Action Research:

A couple of years ago, we created a program at the ASU Downtown campus in which staff, within Educational Outreach and Student Services, were each assigned a freshman floor at our residence hall, Taylor Place. The goal of the initiative was to develop a meaningful connection / relationship with each student as a way of fostering personal and academic growth, and helping students be successful by connecting them to critical academic support services and resources.

More recently, we have considered a more targeted approach with freshman who have challenges beyond just being first-time freshman. These challenges include being a first-generation, low-income, and/or student with a disability. We are also looking at students that enter the university with a low confidence interval (CI) score.

Over the past two semesters, we have seen some good results and have been able to build meaningful relationships with students that we believe will help students be successful and persist throughout their academic careers. Other than academic success (i.e., grades and whether or not students persist from one year to the next), we do not currently have a more effective way of measuring whether our efforts are impacting students. More specifically, we do not have an effective way to measure which factors are most effective (i.e., 1:1 meetings, encouraging participation in activities and events, connecting students to resources and other services, time and financial management, etc.).

An area which I feel we are lacking in our current approach, and in which I shall explore through action research, is the viability of a freshman mentorship program at ASU. Over the past two semesters, we have seen some success, students are persisting, yet concerns about fully engaging students in a meaningful way remain.

Every student that comes into higher education is unique. They each bring their own values, identities, academic foundation for learning, as well as their own limitations. Mentoring has been shown to effective in bridging the gap. By exploring the viability and effectiveness of a mentoring program at ASU, we will be able to determine not only the general impact, but more specifically, which factors most effectively impact the students we will be focusing on.


Salas, R., Aragon, A., Alandejani, J., & Timpson, W.M. (2014). Mentoring Experiences and Latina/o University Student Persistence. Journal of Hispanic Higher Education, 1-14.

Equally Inclusive to All – Connie Hahne

The newspaper heading every week for the last 20 years could have read as follows, “Education leaders looking for a fix to student underachievement!” Placement of the blame would most likely change weekly.  Ideas for educational reform include more funding, better teachers, smaller class sizes, Common Core Standards and more rigorous assessments. Does a fix really exist within the walls of the school building? How inclusive of all students are the present educational reforms?

I believe most educators and administrators are unaware of or understand how racism affects students’ ability to receive an equal and fair education in today’s schools.  Racism in not an issue of the past, nor was it a passing problem resolved during the Civil Rights Movement.  According to scientist and paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, “Racial prejudges may be as old as recorded human history.”(p.32)  “All American culture heroes embraced racial attitudes that would embarrass public-school myth makers.” In his book, The Mismeasure of Man. Gould identifies Thomas Jefferson, Plato, and Benjamin Franklin as scholars that published articles about the inferiority of people labeled in present times as minorities.  American school age children learn about these men as the country’s founding fathers, greatest inventors, and philosophers that shaped ways of thinking and living today.  Many contemporaries may state that their racial views hold no detriment on modern society. On the contrary, looking at the current state of our school systems and the struggling students which have been identified as low-income, minority, at risk, and English language learners; it is evident that past racial beliefs from these American cultural heroes has seeped down into school practices, teaching methodologies, and mainstream beliefs about student achievement and behavior.

In his article, Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients for Critical Teacher Reflection, Professor Tyrone C. Howard refers to DuBois'(1903) prediction that racial issues would plague the 20th century is even more unsurpassable in the 21st century. All data on student achievement or lack thereof, directly segregates levels of academic success between racial groups.  The dominate culture scoring the highest and the minority groups still struggling and filling up the seats in the alternative placement and special education classrooms.  “Between 1990 and 2012, the educational attainment rate of 25- to 29-year-olds who received at least a high school diploma or its equivalent increased for Whites (from 90 to 95 percent), Blacks (from 82 to 89 percent), Hispanics (from 58 to 75 percent), and Asians/Pacific Islanders (from 92 to 96 percent). The percentage of Whites who received at least a high school diploma or its equivalent remained higher than that of Blacks and Hispanics.” (NCES 2013).

To increase the quality of education for non-dominate culture and non-mainstream students, schools and classrooms need to embrace alternative pedagogy that is inclusive of all students with assessments that are nonbiased to any specific group of students. (Garcia and Ortiz, 2008) Educational reform includes teaching both experienced and new teachers how to best work with diverse populations of students. “Teachers critically analyze important issues such as race, ethnicity, and culture, and recognize how these important concepts shape the learning experience for many students. More specifically, teachers must be able to construct pedagogical practices that have relevance and meaning to students’ social and cultural realities.”(Howard 2011). Students are viewed as valued contributors in the classroom.  The role of learner and teacher bounces back and forth between students and teacher.

True mindfulness, acceptance of a problem, extensive education, and retraining of educators and policy makers are possibly the only ways to break the cycle of centuries long racism.  Martin Luther King believed that all people are ultimately connected. He said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”We are intimately connected.  We cannot continue to ignore a segment of the population and hope the problem will disappear.  Eventually, racism and inequality in education will be detrimental to all.


Garcia, S.B. & Ortiz, A.A. (2013). Intersectionality as a framework for transformative

research in special education. Multiple Voices for Ethnically Diverse Exceptional Learners, 13(2) 32­47.

Fast Facts. (n.d.). Fast Facts. Retrieved May 26, 2014, from

Gould, S. J. (1981). The mismeasure of man. New York: Norton.

Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy: Ingredients For Critical Teacher Reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (2013). The Condition of Education 2013 (NCES 2013–037),

Reflections on Scholarly Writing – On Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

Tyrone Howard begins an article from 2003’s Theory Into Practice by talking about the inherent need for the development of culturally sensitive teaching methods. The growing diversity of the population in the United States will require teacher training to fundamentally alter to include new or updated “skills and knowledge” that will allow teachers to “effectively educate today’s diverse student population.”

On the surface, few would question the veracity of Howard’s claim; the idea that the public education system has an implied obligation to promote the achievement of the greatest outcomes for the greatest number is one that may be assumed as embedded in the ethos of American culture. And while, pragmatically, his argument is one that is difficult to deny, I would like to question his very first assertion that “…the nation must be prepared to make the necessary adjustments to face the changing ethnic texture of its citizens.”

If the nation does not meet Howard’s stated challenge – the culturally sensitive education of a diverse student population – what will happen? What assumptions are being made about the public education system that might deserve investigation in the opening paragraphs? Is it the case that the normative role of the public education system is the culturally sensitive, culturally aware presentation of legislatively prescribed curricula?

Throughout the twentieth century, one can look to the development of standardized testing and its concomitant critiques to see that the intent of these types of exams was to remove any effect of a heterogeneous testing population. This may not, on the surface, seem like an insidious attempt at homogenizing the population, there are more explicit examples of education being used as a tool of assimilation. The Ford Motor Company ran an “English School” for immigrant workers wherein a Melting Pot commencement ceremony was held with graduates emerging from a staged pot to represent their “graduation” into American culture.  And although it seems likely that one would be hard pressed to find a public school with a melting pot as part of their commencement exercises, there are still wildly polarizing debates on the role of the Pledge of Allegiance and whether or not it ought be compulsory in public schools.

All of that is to say that there is some evidence to suggest that – at least at some point, to some group of people – the normative role of the public education system was in fact quite the opposite of providing a culturally sensitive platform for the creation of critical thinking young adults with a mind framed in the impressions of social justice; it was to assimilate, inculcate, and create a very specific set of values often framed in terms of nationalism and patriotism.

To be clear here, I agree with Howard’s article.  I find it to be well-presented, thoughtful, and thoroughly cited with material to support the assertion that race (and culture) matters, and that in order to ensure that public schools meet the needs of newly and increasingly diverse populations, there must be an “upstream” attempt to prepare teachers to meet the demands of the students that are and will continue to be in their classrooms.

I did find, however, that the opening paragraphs, and the assumptions therein, provided a fantastic opportunity to pause and analyze the complications of scholarly writing. We will be engaged in a highly specialized field of inquiry with an audience that is likely speaking the same professional language and operating from the same frame of reference as we are. Must we be careful to draw out and justify the assumptions implicit in our writings? Are we to assume that each reading of our work is to be subject to a fine-toothed exegesis that may reveal we have failed to justify a premise in our argument?  Or may we assume that our shared frameworks and language influence an understanding of the “spirit” of our writing?

Quite clearly, there is a fantastic component of Access from the Access, Excellence, Impact theme here: is the public education system in the U.S. one that is inherently designed to provide access (and therefore impact) to all students on terms that most effectively meet their needs and help them achieve, or is it a tool of assimilation and inculcation? For my own purposes, the most interesting part of this read for me was that I was immediately disarmed by the “wait, is that right?” question I had when beginning the article, and the subsequent attempt at trying to figure out to what standard we will be held.


Howard, T.C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagogy: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory Into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.