The Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program
It involved an experimental Cleveland program offering low-income children scholarships to attend either public or private schools. Your education, your choice – what could be more straightforward? Yet it was not just opposed, but vehemently so, by the public education industry. This opposition raises two questions: Why is the public education industry so opposed to this particular experiment and why are they so generally liberal?
The answer to both questions has more to do with economics than education. Begun in 1996 because of unrelenting mismanagement in Cleveland’s public schools, the Ohio Pilot Scholarship Program offers low-income children up to $2,500 annually through eighth grade to pay either a private or on an out-of-district public school’s tuition. No out-of-district public schools chose to participate, so in the 1999-2000 school year all 3,761 students participated attended private schools.
Because 96 percent of program students chose to attend church-affiliated schools, it was hauled before the courts on the grounds of violating the Constitution’s establishment of religion clause under the First Amendment. The federal government’s unqualified extension of higher education assistance – regardless if a student attends a religious school – easily refutes the ostensible objection on religious grounds that caused the suit. More troubling is the public education industry’s persistent opposition to a full range of choice in K-12 that is equal to the range of choice already available for college students.
The public education industry levels three serious charges against giving a full range of choice for students: tuition support is too low, money will be taken from public schools, and the best, easier to educate, students will leave the public school system. However, if you examine all three together the argument falls apart. First however you must ignore the basic unfairness of a willingness to sacrifice an individual’s future to the assertion that they need to be present to help others learn.
Ask yourself two questions: Do people pick colleges for themselves on that basis and would you be willing to limit your child’s opportunity on it? The answer is a resounding “no” to both. Nor do the critics’ charges agree with the facts. According to the U. S. Department of Education, Ohio spent $6,808 per pupil on average in 1997-98 (the national average was $6,662).
Far from being a drain on the school system’s budget, the $2,500 annual amount is a bargain. While evidently already a good deal to the families of 3,761 low-income Cleveland students (or else why did they choose it? , the amount could be increased and still be a good deal for the public school system. Consider: If better students are more likely to participate in the program and they are easier and less costly to educate, then giving them tuition support equal to the full cost of their education would mean that the average cost per pupil remaining in public schools would actually increase. No, the arguments over real school choice go to the macro-, not the microeconomic level. It is about monopoly.
The public education industry doesn’t reflexively oppose choice when it is only within the public education industry itself. It opposes choice when its monopoly position is threatened. That the public education industry is a monopoly is beyond dispute. The failure of monopolies, wherever they exist, can be summed up as economic distortion – high price, poor service, lack of choice, etc. So great is the level of economic distortion in public education that it is difficult to even discern what the participants’ roles should be.
Students and parents are divorced from their payment (taxes), so they are not free consumers. Teachers are divorced from their labor by rigid rules and pay scales, so they are not free producers. The result is that public education is probably the most economically insulated industry in the nation. What exists is a “nonmarket” in which the normal roles are unfilled and from which only the unions benefit from competition’s exclusion. It is not surprising then that the union-dominated public education industry is so opposed to real school choice and so liberal in general.
Liberals favor policies that distort the economy – subsidizing with private sector resources public sector programs. The more liberal, the greater the subsidization. Since public education unions are wholly subsidized by the public education industry, they are its most liberal participant and the most vocal supporter of its status quo. In public education’s “nonmarket” of economic insulation, it is students, parents and teachers who are the losers and only unions that are the winners. The liberal opposition to real school choice is not hard to understand. What is hard to understand is America’s continued toleration of it.
Perhaps the Supreme Court’s decision is an indication that finally the nation has learned its lesson. This brings to the forefront the vexing question of just what makes a place a place like no other place. Phrased differently, what about a place persists and what changes over time. And this is precisely what power struggles over ‘place-making’ are all about; namely who changes what in alternative representations of any place’s present and future and how do these changes selectively appropriate or reject particular elements of any place’s historical past? Smith 2000:115) Place can be defined as relational, historical and concerned with identity… (Auge 1995:77)
Anthropological place is formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, the unformulated rules of living know-how; non-places create the shared identity of passengers, customers or Sunday drivers. (Auge 1995: 101) The City is different. It is an artifact so varied, so profound, so baffling, so significant, so far and away the most fascinating thing ever created by man. Morris 1985:60) Alone with his image of the future product, homo faber is free to produce, and again facing alone the work of his hands, he is free to destroy. (Arendt 1958: 144)
The man-made world of things, the human artifice erected by homo faber, becomes a home for mortal men, whose stability will endure and outlast the ever-changing movement of their lives and actions, only in so much as it transcends both the sheer functionalism of things produced for consumption and the sheer utility of objects produced for use. Arendt 1958: 173) Michael Smith, in his book Transnational Urbanism: Locating Globalization (2000: 115), asks “what makes a place a place like no other place. ” This, as he calls it, “vexing question” implicitly raises another question: what kind of research would make the uniqueness of a place observable, which, in turn, invites us to reflect on the different voices in the discourse of place-making (the resident, the neighbourhood, the municipal politician, the corporate strategist, the architect, and so on).
Parenthetically, what is the place of the voice of the theorist as one of the voices oriented to understanding the making of a place in the city? Place — the ide a and practice of ‘place-making’ (Smith 2000), the difference between place and space (Casey 1997; De Certeau 1984; Auge 1995), the separation of place and space in modern life (Giddens 1991), the increasing irrelevance of place in contemporary life (Long 1989), the increasing dominance of non-place in Auge’s sense above — has become problematic and so topical in this contemporary period (of globalization? f advanced capitalism? of media penetration? of super-modernity? ). The city by its very being makes place problematic; through its expression and encouragement of mobility and cosmopolitanism, the city has, through history, challenged the fixity of place. Yet, the loyalty and love Socrates showed for Athens, shown in his refusal to leave it even under pain of death, is one way the particularity of ancient Athens has entered history.
The city, as a made place, expresses the world of homo faber, as Arendt describes this actor. Cities, the most fascinating thing ever created by humans (according to Morris), like all other human-made objects, possess a durability “which gives the things of the world their relative independence from men who produced and use them, their ‘objectivity’ which makes them withstand, ‘stand against’ and endure, at least for a time, the voracious needs and wants of their living makers and users” (Arendt 1958: 137).
Thus, on the one hand, the city can take the shape of a home which provides the stability of durability, that resists the endless cyclic swing of the biological nature (Arendt 1958:136-174): it can even be what the “world is always meant to be, a home for men during their life on earth,” where human artifice makes “a place fit for action and speech, for activities not only entirely useless for the necessities of life but of an entirely different nature from the manifold activities of fabrication by which t he world itself and all things in it are produced” (Arendt 1958:174).
Or, on the other hand, cities can take the shape of an alienated place where, as Marx contended, economic laws appear “to be like natural laws, that they are not made by man to regulate the free acts of exchange but are functions of the productive conditions of society as a whole where all activities are leveled down to the human body’s metabolism with nature and where no exchange exists but only consumption” (Arendt 1958:209).
The modern alliance of the city with capitalism (Marx 1847/1965 and 1848/1970), and now of the globe with capitalism, raises the question of whether there is any place for making a place in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Dublin and Berlin. Sassen’s (1991) approach and analysis suggests that cities in today’s globalized economy serve as command and control centres increasing the social and spatial polarization.
While they may be based in Toronto or Dublin, the mobile financiers travel and live in many cities but, more importantly, expect the same kind of lifestyle services (restaurants, cafes, theatres, etc. ) everywhere. According to some (Urry 1995), place has become a site to be consumed (i. e. through tourism) and a site for consumption (i. e. Temple Bar in Dublin, multiculturalism in Toronto, the wall in Berlin, the new Molson Centre in Montreal).
In this special issue, Anouk Belanger makes the point that Montreal “is caught in this double bind between striving to become a ‘world class city’ and preserving a nd cultivating a specificity, a distinctiveness. ” Montreal, like Toronto, Berlin and Dublin, among others, “is going through a series of urban redevelopment projects including developing new vocations for the old industrial district and port, the gentrification of certain areas and the spectacularization of the downtown core. These and similar developments across North American cities pushes them into “… a generic North American model, or a homogenized model, where every city has its Planet Hollywood, its Imax cinema, its Paramount complex, and its new multi-purpose mega entertainment complex, among other things. ” Can contemporary cities that desire a place in the global economy also claim to be “a place like no other place”?
Yet the cities of Montreal, Toronto, Dublin and Berlin are all places in Auge’s sense in that they are “formed by individual identities, through complicities of language, local references, and unformulated rules of living know-how. ” As we see from the papers presented here, identity, history and relationality, all markers of place-ness according to Auge, are issues and concerns in these cities. Are these histories, and more importantly, the places that embody these histories, in danger of becoming mere ‘gestures’ for consumption or nostalgia?
Or are the changes which all of these cities are undergoing a form of power struggle over ‘place-making’? Are we dealing with a time-compressed version of homo faber’s freedom both to produce and to destroy? This problem of the hermeneutics of place is an important theme in The Culture of Cities research project. The Culture of Cities: Montreal, Toronto, Berlin, Dublin is a fiveyear project funded by the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) as part of its Major Collaborative Research Initiatives program.
It is an interdisciplinary research project bringing together researchers from the Humanities and Social Sciences in universities in Canada and Europe. The focus of the project is to treat the city “as an object of analysis for developing, extending and applying the concept of culture” (The Culture of Cities 1999:4). The concept of culture is interpreted in the broad sociological or anthropological sense as that which refers to “the definitions, understandings and symbols that people use to locate themselves in physical and local space. Such understandings include “affirmations of values, expectations and frames of reference that serve to regulate and differentiate a collective from others” (The Culture of Cities 1999: 4). Our project proposes that this sense of culture (or, in Auge’s term s, this sense of place) is recognized in the contestation and conflict that emerges in the face of the hopes and fears raised by the prospects of the kind of changes described above, which are now features of the contemporary city.
This contest can be read as the attempt of any particular city, as a collective, to struggle with the “values, expectations and frames of reference that serve to regulate and differentiate” that city from others. Thus, in this issue, the problem of a sense of place in precarious neighbourhoods in Dublin, Toulouse, London, Lisbon and other European cities (Corcoran); the struggles over municipal government amalgamation in Toronto and Montreal (Nielsen et al. ; understanding the struggle over “the places of memory” like the hockey Forum in Montreal (Belanger); the tensions between place identity and local identity in culturally divided Guben/Gubin in the Berlin-Brandenburg region (Durrschmidt and Matthiesen); or the performance of the past in the present in the shape of the Neue Wach e and The Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe memorials in Berlin (Grenzer), are all examples of conflicts which raise, in specific ways, the problem cities (as collectives) have with their regulation and differentiation.
The choice of this research project to examine cities that are not primary global centres (such as New York, London, or Tokyo — Sassen 1991) is based on the expectation that the historical distinctiveness and inheritance of non-primary centres is challenged by the hospitality and openness such cities show to the technological and economic influences all contemporary cities have to face.
For example, dramatic demographic growth coupled with relatively recent amalgamations in Montreal and Toronto (Nielsen et al. ), the centrality of Dublin to Ireland’s ‘Celtic Tiger economy’ (Corcoran), and the dramatic re-organization of Berlin as Germany’s newly re-united capital city (Grenzer), all point to the changes the four cities are undergoing which will bring to view, in a host of different areas, conflicts about the meaning of the city in ways that are amenable to interpretive research.
As Belanger said about Montreal, such changes raise for examination the specific ways the common tension between a city’s commitment to its own sense of uniqueness as a particular place (as expressed by appeals to its particular history, architecture, geography, population, street life, etc. ) and to its hope to prosper in its collaboration with new and global forces.
The papers show Dublin and Toulouse, Toronto and Montreal, Berlin and Guebn/Gubin to be engaged with the sruggle between the city as durable (inviting us to preserve and conserve a world handed down from our own living past ) and the city as a site of sheer productivity, where everything “solid melts into air. ” The tension between the city as a stable home which enables a meaningful connection between past deeds and future renewal, and the city as an un/willing participant in the celebration of constant change and consumerism, is expressed in the papers that follow.
The comparison of the way this tension is differently expressed in different aspects of each of these different cities raises for collective consideration both universal issues (e. g. the tension between space and place in an age of mobility and time-compression) and the issue of universality (e. g. can universal claims about a city be developed in an age when everything, especially the city, is treated as nothing but a sign — Blum 2003). The idea that nothing universal can be said (in a way that is demonstrable) about the city in general (e. . that the city today is essentially nothing but a focal point of global market forces) or about cities in particular (e. g. the difference between Toronto and Montreal is that the former expresses in its everyday practices a permanent compromise while the latter expresses an irresolvable cause) is itself a research concern of this project (see Gadamer 1975: 5-39 on the relation between claims to universality and the methods of the human sciences).
Thus, tensions raised by claims to universality on the part of citizens of Montreal opposing amalgamation, or residents of Dublin complaining about the encroachment of a drug and crime culture into their neighbourhood, or about the question of attachment to place shown by case studies of two people in a small, divided city outside of Berlin, are intended to be taken seriously in their particularity and in their universality as the theorist’s way of demonstrating the part icular/universal relation.
For example, in the paper Everyday Milieux and Culture of Displacement: A Comparative Investigation into Space, Place and (Non,) Attachment within the German-Polish Twin City Guben/Gubin, Jorg Durrschmidt and UlfMatthiesen argue that “metropolitan regions [like Berlin or Montreal] and borderland regions [like Guben/Gubin] are of similar significance” for “detecting new patterns of culture within the shifting landscapes of an emerging global cultural economy. ”
In this regard, the linguistic barrier and the problem of an economically dominant (though possibly gastronomically weaker! German culture resonates with the linguistic tensions that, as Nielsen et al. show, surface in the amalgamation debates in Montreal. Boundaries have legal and/or social significance, and mark the diversity of cities along a variety of sociocultural lines. While Nielsen et al. look at the amalgamation debates in light of a functional democratic polity that both participates in the debate and uses its legalrational authority to impos e its view, Durrschmidt and Matthiesen show that developments on the larger political scale (within the Berlin-Brandenburg region and the European Union) do not necessarily take hold at the grassroots level.
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