Rodolfo Leyva: No Child Left Behind: A Neoliberal Repackaging of Social Darwinism (PDF)

Rodolfo Leyva: No Child Left Behind: A Neoliberal Repackaging of Social Darwinism (PDF)
Journal for Critical Education Policy Studies, vol.7. no.1

It is widely believed that the end of Nazism, and the postwar era brought an end to academic theories and discourses regarding inherent racial inferiority. There was little tolerance Hawkins (1997) argues, for biological justifications for racism, war, and exploitation. The infamous Social Darwinism of key intellectual Herbert Spencer, and its explicit eugenics, racist, and free-market ideology of "Survival of the Fittest," was rendered unfashionable as Western democracies were quick to disassociate themselves with explicitly Nazi-related ideologies (Degler 1992). However, the 1960's and 70's "pop ethology" of Ardrey's African Genesis (1961), Morris's The Naked Ape (1967), and Tiger, and Fox's The Imperial Animal (1971) to name a few, depicted humankind as naturally aggressive, selfish, racist, and sexist, and would go on to heavily influence the emergent fields of sociobiology and evolutionary psychology which Hawkins (1997) and Gould (1977) describe as more scientifically and theoretically advanced forms of Social Darwinism. Leading sociobiologists E.O Wilson and Richard Dawkins repeatedly deny any associations with Spencer's Darwinist interpretations, and maintain that their science is sound, objective, and value-free, but they seem to miss the point that any theory regarding human nature has the historical trend of influencing social policy (Kuper 1996).

And so aside from controversial sub-fields in biology and genetics, Social Darwinism has also resurfaced in neoliberal economics and free-market policies where the similarities between Spencer and Friedman Hayek's (1994) brand of unrestricted markets are almost identical. This paper shall discuss the historical continuities between Spencer's Social Darwinism, and the essentialist ideals of meritocracy, selfishness, and competition that are advanced by neoliberalism, and that underpin the Bush Administration's neoliberal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). According to neoliberal rhetoric, the education system is largely seen as the ultimate arbiter of innate intelligence and ability, as well as the benefactor of hard-work and merit, and so its analysis in relation to contemporary education policies and their overarching philosophy is fitting and should provide for critical retrospective and prospective reflections. Furthermore, I contend that neoliberal policies like NCLB have taken what I will refer to as a Neo-Spencerian outlook on education that has abandoned racial inferiority theories, but continues to celebrate unfettered markets, which have only led to further racialised underperformance (Hursh and Martina 2003). Therefore, structural explanations for racialised educational underachievement are overlooked if not replaced by market-based standards of performance, and thus only serve to give fodder to Spencer's still popular legacy of racial inferiority.

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