Contemporary public policy influencing children and families: "compassionate" social provision OR the regulation of "others"?

Author:Cannella, Gaile S.

Critical analysis of change in public policy within and across nations recognizes that the education and welfare of children, families, and all citizens is intertwined with economics, politics, and cultural discourse(s). In the United States, increasingly narrow media, judiciary, and academic discourses have supported legislative actions that limit social provision and opportunity for a range of children and family types, including linguistic and cultural minorities (Cannella, 2004a). This narrowing of discourses and shift in policies is not simply a change in U.S. policy toward children and their families within American borders, but is used to support a particular political agenda and represents narrowing of perspectives spreading around the world. As examples, the language of education has shifted from a discourse of equality of opportunity to blame and punishment; rather than focusing on justice and societal inequities, those who are in need are labeled as freeloaders with parents held responsible for all forms of social provision for the health and education (e.g., care) of their children (Lincoln & Cannella, 2004a). In the name of accountability, experts in the administration of achievement and ability tests are 'training and testing the world'--without even a discussion of the embeddedness of transnational capitalism in the testing agenda, monocultural views of knowledge, or even a passing acknowledgement of the conceptual, cultural, and contextual limits of testing as construct (Cannella & Viruru, 2004).

A shift in resources is occurring so that those who "talk the talk" and "play the game" are the recipients of social, intellectual, and material support. A bolstered patriarchal enactment of Empire within U.S. borders, as well as around the world, is generating an even more restricted (both reconceptualizing and reinscibing) form of neoliberal politics that places hyper-capitalism at the for-front. The purpose of this paper is to describe possible (however contingently, and with a postmodern avoidance of the construction of new "truths") disciplinary and regulatory methods that are being used to impose this "new" hyper-capitalism on children and their families. While actually and ultimately impacting all of us, this imposition most often targets children and families from socially excluded and marginalized groups ('those' within the U.S. who have most in common with the 'less powerful' around the world because of their skin color, gender, socioeconomic level, language, and/or religious practices). In the paper, we combine hybrid perspectives like postcolonial critique, feminist, and poststructural analysis to further hybridize our unveiling of these hyper-captialist (and patriarchal) public policy methods. Further, the disciplinary and regulatory methods will be illustrated by focusing our examples on specific revisions or discourses related to Child Health and Welfare, Education and Care, and Family/Cultural/Language Diversity. Finally, we focus on the need for an international network of critical social science research that constructs new discourses and forms of public communication, as well as academic activism.

"Compassionate" Discourses and Constructing the "Other"

Although the U.S. and Europe have for quite some time perpetuated modernist views of the world that focus on neoliberal patriarchy and economic/intellectual forms of empire, over the past 30 years (especially in the U.S.) this practice has emerged with a vengeance as a reconceptualized invasive network of thought that attempts to silence all forms of contestation. Some believe that this purposeful construction of discourses, redistribution of resources, and creation of power networks is in reaction and backlash to the civil rights gains by people of color, the poor, and women of the 1960s (Lincoln & Cannella, 2004a; Berry, 1997; Faludi, 1991). Yet, in his 2000 presidential campaign, George W. Bush introduced a key theme that was again invoked in 2004, the notion of "compassionate conservativism" a phrase that he associated with government helping "people improve their lives, not try to run their lives." (Bush, 2004 Republican National Convention). As educators who are concerned with the ways that public policy influences the lives of those who are younger, we begin (however briefly) by examining the origin and content of that compassionate conservativism. Does it actually create an avenue for understanding the complexity, difficulty, and diversity of people's lives and providing equitable and just social provision? OR Does it create an illusion that would further construct, control, and marginalize the 'other' under new forms of patriarchal capitalism that further limit identities and possibilities?

Compassionate Discourses OR the Grand Illusion

Even according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research website (a well known conservative think tank), the reshaping of thought in ways that would reject the welfare state but support charity and values was being explored long before Mr. Bush used the compassionate conservative terminology in his first campaign for the presidency (Mitchell, 2000). While still the governor of Texas, Karl Rove introduced Bush to Myron Magnet, from the Manhattan Institute and author of The Dream and the Nightmare, a book that proposed that the counterculture and 1960's attitudes were the reason for the existence of the underclass, ideas that Bush embraced regarding culture. Additionally, in 1995, the House Speaker Newt Gingrich was so captivated by the similar work of Marvin Olasky titled, The Tragedy of American Compassion, that he gave copies to freshmen representatives. Olasky, who later became a University of Texas professor and whose book was funded by the Bradley and Heritage Foundations (Media Transparency, 2005), also expressed the belief that the 1960's social revolution was a disaster, labeling the War on Poverty as an attempt to remove shame from government provision (Mitchell, 2000). Karl Rove introduced Mr. Bush to Olasky with Bush claiming that he mainly learned about the concepts from talking with Olasky (as compared to reading the books). Most recently, Marvin Olasky published the book Compassionate Conservatism (with a forward by George W. Bush) that describes compassionate conservatism with seven adjectives: basic, challenging, diverse, effective, assertive, faith-based and gradual (Murphree, 2003). Multiple resources can be found, including the George W. Bush website:

The concept is clearly grounded in distain for civil rights activism, in shaming those whose life conditions necessitate social provision, and in the expectation of faith-based, charitable assistance facilitated through neoliberal hypercapitalism. For some there may be, at least, an illusion of compassion; for most, the discourse serves as a position from which to further impose patriarchal othering (the all-knowing father who enforces "what's best" for his savage, ignorant children).

Constructing the "Other"

Public policy that is embedded within a discourse of compassionate conservativism constructs a wide range of individuals and groups (both children and adults) as the 'other.' The notion of alterity or 'othering' can be understood as both a...

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