The Pennsylvania State University
The mechanism through which power is applied has evolved in the last twenty years, with current implementation often done through soft power socialization. Containing a collective of impressionable students at the mercy of the state, the “top-down” model of power is perhaps seen best in the world of education. This study investigates the effectiveness of soft power in molding cultural assumptions, values, and behaviors. Focusing on two socialization methods – curriculum bias in the United States and decentralization in Argentina – it is apparent that those with the privileged status in society are doing what they need to maintain their position. The EDUCO program in El Salvador is provided as an example of how enriching social capital can diminish, although not eliminate, the hierarchical power present and help “marginalized” groups maintain their “cultural sovereignty”.
Keywords: Soft Power, Socialization, Gender, Decentralization
Education as the tool of the state to manage and influence cultural values and accepted behavior has the ability to shield efforts to legitimize the use of power by one group over another. Socialization processes such as grading, tracking, curriculum design, and decentralization provided a means through which “culturally appropriate” values and behavior are presented by the dominant class in society. This paper hopes to hit at the heart of power in education, specifically how the soft power of cultural assumptions are used to make marginalized groups want what they [dominant group] wants. Most effective power is structured in a “top-down” model. This is due to the ability of the authority to control the objective environment, through structural hierarchy, and the subjective environment, through perceived legitimacy. I argue that when social capital is present, local communities can maintain a sense of “cultural sovereignty,” thus limiting the effects of imposed soft power.
The first section of this study will describe and define power. In it, I identify what power is, how it is measured, and the changing nature of power, evolving from hard power to soft power. I then look at the work of Zhu Majie, as he correlates soft power with cultural power. In section two, soft power is connected to education. In this segment, characteristics of soft power are applied to education and clarification is made between the process of socialization and the message of soft power. In addition, I define culture to provide some visible measure to the assumptions of soft power and describe why education is a justifiable realm for this study. Examples of soft power through education can be found in section three. Brief examples of soft power through language, tracking, grading, and testing are provided along with detailed looks at textbook bias in the United States and the process of decentralization with particular emphasis paid to Argentina. EDUCO, a program to improve the schooling in poor, rural areas in El Salvador, is introduced in section four as an example of the impact social capital can have on maintaining local cultural integrity. Social capital is defined with implications for combating “top-down” soft power. A conclusion section highlights significant findings.
What is Power?
A general dictionary definition of power tells us that power is the ability of an actor to control others and get them to do things that they otherwise would not. The idea of power can be seen at any level, whether we compare the interaction of states, the interaction people, or some other type of hierarchical order. Power has further been divided in varying ways. Distinctions have been made between “power over” and “power to”, between behavioral power and resource power, and between hard power and soft power. “Power over” is a controlling power that limits the behaviors and opportunities available of the one in which power is being reigned over. “Power to” is an enabling power that is often seen as more optimistic or empowering, providing the resources and opening opportunities to allow someone to attempt an activity that would otherwise be off limits (Tanabe, 1998). According to Keohane and Nye (1998), behavioral power is the ability to obtain outcomes you want while resource power is the possession of resources that are needed to reach the desired outcome. Finally, hard power is understood as a traditional form of coercive power, getting others to do what you want, often times through force. Soft power, on the other hand, involves a more subtle approach. According to Joseph Nye, who coined the term in 1990, soft power is the ability of an actor to convince others to “want what it wants” (1990, pg. 166). It is soft power that will be the focus of this analysis.
How is power measured?
To measure the effectiveness of power, regardless of the type, one needs to ask how the intent of the action correlates with the resulting outcome. Strong or effective power is found when the intent of an actor to create a desired behavior or belief leads to animation of the intent in the outcome. Weak or ineffective power involves a disjuncture between the intent and the actual outcome. If we apply this to domestic law we can see that there are both strong and weak laws. For example, if a developing country has a law that states all children ages seven to fourteen need to attend school (intent) but in actual practice only 60% of such students attend school (outcome) then it can be concluded that the law is weak because it lacks effective power. One can therefore ask whether this situation includes ineffective power or a lack of power all together. Due to the uncertainty involving weak power, I will be investigating strong power that has a significant positive correlation between intent and outcomes. These examples are most easily illustrated in hierarchical cases where the superordinate actor already holds some level of legitimacy.
The changing nature of power
Within a society or country, the dominant group in power acts to maintain its privileged position. In the United States and throughout the world, we have seen a shift in the use of power by those that control the resources of society from one that used hard coercive power to the use of subtle, soft power. The use of hard power, through open discrimination and threat, is no longer a politically viable option in maintaining the status quo. Identified reasons for this shift include an increase in information available, and the information revolution, led by the increase in access to the internet in the 1990s; all of which have made the use of soft power more important (Nye 2004). As those individuals on whom power was being applied were able to see the intent and to prepare for the impending action those in control have transformed the application of power, convincing others that they want to behave in the prescribed manner. This information revolution also led to interdependence between actors; understanding they depend on one another, actors are more delicate with their application of power (Keohane and Nye, 1998 and Nye 1990). The conversion in the use of power, nevertheless, has not diminished the desire of the dominant class to maintain the status quo. The use of power itself has not diminished; the proportion in which it is applied has simply altered, unveiling soft power as the prevailing central form today.
Soft Power as Cultural Power
Soft power, upon its conception in 1990, was first applied to international relations. As the Cold War was winding down, the power of information became apparent. As the only remaining superpower, in order to expand its influence, the United States must achieve its goals through attraction rather than coercion (Keohane and Nye, 1998). Nye (1990) recognized that intangible forms of power would be more important in the 21st century and saw power moving from “’capital rich’ to ‘information rich’” (pg. 164) countries. America as an “information rich” country was in prime position to take advantage of this shift. Today the spread of American culture is perhaps the best example of the use of American soft power. As a relatively inexpensive source of power, American culture structure a situation so that the appeal of the culture, perhaps through music, movies, clothing, makes others want to comply with the behavioral expectations in order to be included. Although this seems more banal by nature, and is definitely not as overtly conflictual as the use of hard power, Josef Joffe (2006) reminds us that soft power is still power, and therefore its application can be seen in both a positive and negative light by those affected.
Zhu Majie identifies soft power as cultural power because the attraction of a country is epitomized by its ideas, values, and ideologies. It is important to recognize that culture is dynamic; it can change as the ideas and values of a community change. As a dynamic phenomenon, the use of culture as a means to apply soft power can have a debilitating effect on whom it is applied. A legitimate dominant group can reconstitute the culture of the other, resulting in the destruction and possible eradication of previously held cultures. Majie distinguishes five characteristics of soft power: traditional, timely, persuasive, changeable, and interdependent. First, it is impossible to remove soft power from the context of cultural tradition. Cultural movement is less problematic if completed under the umbrella of previous cultural ideas and values. Secondly, soft power is timely, in that its implication has appropriate temporal aspects to ensure effective outcomes. Third, soft power is persuasive and not geographically bound; with the information revolution soft power can spread across geographic, national, and ethnic divides. Soft power is also changeable; it is a dynamic phenomenon. The organization and application of ideas and values are uniquely influenced by human actors and therefore are able to be transformed and transmitted in a short period of time, although with uncertainty due to human error. The last characteristic of soft power is that it is inter-dependent with hard power. To be effective, soft power must be delivered through an apparatus that has the strength to deliver the message at an effective level. For example, the spread of American culture would be less effective without the material power of technological advancements like the internet or the economic power to span the globe through media.
Connecting Soft Power with Education
Soft power is not limited to the international field. The relation of domestic participants attempting to assert their dominant status through cultural assimilation is also an example of soft power. The importance of legitimacy in the enforcement of effective power can be seen in the premise of Tanabe (1998). He states that “in order for an agent to control another agent’s social situation, the first agent must control some aspect(s) of the second agent’s objective situation and/or subjective assessment of his situation” (pg. 145). This understanding explains why desired outcomes are best attained when the first agent is already situated in a structural hierarchy, controlling the objective situation, or is seen as a legitimate authority on the situation, controlling the second agent’s subjective assessment of the situation. The most effective power is seen when both are ascertained. Applied to the world of education, we can see multiple hierarchical relationships – such as state-local, administrator-teacher, teacher-student – that impact the objective situation as well as legitimate authorities – for instance educators seen as “experts”, the state and national department of education – that may mold the subjective situation.
In relating soft power to education it must be reemphasized that the intent of the dominant group in any hierarchal relationship is to bring about an outcome that will maintain the group’s position. Proper awareness and use of each of the five characteristics of soft power designated by Majie, therefore, will lead to a stronger correlation between intent and outcome. First, as a dominant actor recognizes the umbrella of tradition, all cultural shifts will be gradual and veiled as long-held or even “standards of universal principals” (Majie, pg. 7) Those agents that attempt radical transformations are more likely to be met with resistance by those affected. The importance of education as a means to mold the values and beliefs of the next generation makes the use of soft power timely and urgent. The consistent need to inculcate through education is due, in part, to the pervasive nature of society. The multiple messages that reach beyond geographic and ethnic lines compete with the world of education for influence and make the legitimacy of “experts” in the field more important. An example of this interaction can be seen in Kottak’s (2000) recognition that with the increased use of television teachers have to compete harder for the attention of their “teleconditioned” students. The fourth characteristic, the changeable nature of soft power, varies depending on the hierarchical context you are examining. While power relations between individuals are generally seen as malleable, larger institutional structures are less likely to change. In education, those that dominate the structure and curriculum creation have evolved little in the past century; this fact makes changing the system of education difficult. Although individual teachers may be able to make some small impact within their classroom, the driving force behind education still attempt to maintain the current cultural status quo. The interdependency between hard power and soft power in education has a great impact on the desired outcome. Groups that want to expand their cultural prowess through education cannot do so without significant material power. By increasing the number of teachers and books, as well as building and renovating school dwellings, groups can significantly amplify their soft power. In most countries, education is publically, controlled leaving the ability to increase hard power in the hands of bureaucrats. With minimal material power, groups subjected to the power of those in charge have difficulty maintaining their cultural distinction and are marginalized.
Clarifying Terms: Soft Power vs. Socialization
In education it is important to distinguish between the use of soft power and socialization. Socialization according to sociologist James Henslin is the “process by which people learn the characteristics of their group – the attitudes, values, and actions thought appropriate for them” (pg 61). Socialization, therefore, is a process that can be applied the same way, regardless of the message. Too often it is assumed in a domestic situation that socialization and the cultural message are one in the same. This may be due to the replication of the message or the lack of recognition of other cultural options. In reality the socialization process can carry a myriad of messages and is therefore objective in nature.
Soft power, like any power, includes both intent and desired outcome. Soft power is employed through the socialization process by the dominant group. It has a value component and is therefore subjective in nature. The cultural message that will bring about the desired outcome of a marginalized group may change as the dominant group adjusts, but the socialization process will stay relatively static. In analyzing the use of soft power in education we are actually evaluating the effectiveness of a given socialization process to meet the desired outcomes of the dominant group. One such example could include deciphering the outcome of ability level tracking (a socialization process) in relation to its initial cultural intent. In this analysis I will focus on the socialization processes on curriculum design and decentralization.
Why education should be the focus
Education should be a focal point when exploring the use of soft power in a domestic situation to reach a desired “cultural appropriate” outcome. Schools are the “instruments of the state…and the major managers of social values” (Stromquist, 1995). They are designed to prepare the next generation for their citizenship in the “real world”. Education provides a bastion of influence for the state, labeling what is “culturally appropriate” for each sector of society. By extension, by constituting the prescribed culture, those in charge of education maintain their position in society and marginalize less powerful cultural groups. In her book on U.S-Mexican youth and the politics of caring in American schools Angela Valenzuela, identifies a process of “subtractive schooling”. Through the structural and cultural institutions at play in American education “subtractive schooling…divests youth of important social and cultural resources” (pg. 3). Schools have the ability to confirm cultural values and beliefs as well as deculturize individuals and groups.
Schools also provide a gateway to additional opportunities including: employment, further education, and social mobility (Tanabe, 1998). The power relationships present in education decide who gets to pass through the gateway doors and when the advancement is appropriate. As disparities in access to education between genders and ethnic groups became apparent, states, with pressure from outside organizations, started to establish gender parity in enrollment, especially at the primary school level. The acknowledgement of “equal” access to schooling is often used by the state to claim they are a progressive, unbiased institution; however, the structure and curriculum being practiced within the walls of education remains slanted (Stromquist, 1995). Individual teachers may battle against this injustice by challenging students to “search for the common elements of humanity” (Spencer, 1993, pg. 474), but success will be limited in support, and participation is not incorporated throughout the whole community.
The idea that education is an important socialization process through which the dominant group exerts its soft power is not new. Samuel Bowles, in his analysis of the evolution of mass education in the United States argued that schools have evolved to “meet the needs of capitalist employers for a disciplined and skilled labor force, and to provide a mechanism for social control in the interests of stability” (pg. 1, emphasis added). Additionally school systems defined what was “culturally appropriate” for different groups in society, supporting the reproduction of unequal class structures. Furthermore, this trend had to have deep structural roots laid down by the dominant groups of society. Magnifying this formation is the increasing role education plays in the socialization of society. Teachers and schools are no longer expected to simply educate youth; they must increasingly take on the roles and responsibilities of parent, counselor, role-model, baby-sitter, and parole officer.
Before we look at examples of soft power in education, it is important that we understand what outcomes are expected, allowing us to accordingly analyze the strength of soft power through the given socialization process. As expected outcomes are linked to the culture of the dominant group in their attempt to maintain the status quo and thereby retain their privileged position, culture must be defined. Although an academic consensus on culture has yet to be reached, it is generally agreed that culture a) can be constituted, b) is collective in nature (i.e. one individual does not make a culture), and c) is a template for shaping human society from generation to generation (Hoppers, 2009). In their work entitled, Conceptualizing Culture, Stefan Groeschel and Liz Doherty (2000) investigated the meaning of culture across discipline fields and came up with common elements of culture which they illustrated through the metaphor of an onion (See Chart 1).
The visual of concentric rings allows any affect on assumptions to have a snowballing effect on values and behaviors. Since culture is learned, the education system can play a major part in shaping the basic assumption of citizens, hence molding their behavior. Education is therefore an important and common socialization process in which cultural soft power is communicated.
Examples of soft power through education
In the understanding that soft power includes both intent and outcome; the first characteristic becomes troublesome. Intent is rarely vocalized in subtle power relations and only occasionally revealed fully after the attempt at socialization. It can be assumed, however, that those in control of society wish to maintain their privileged position. The dominant group is not worried about absolute but relative gains. Those affected by power may make menial advances, as long as it does not threaten the structural hierarchy of those in control. In education, access is a negligible advance, as long as the structure, curriculum, and implementation of the system can be cast to support those in charge. In short, it does not matter how many “marginalized” individuals you include in the school. When the process of education reinforces the inequities of society “equal access” is simply political fabrication.
Any socialization process used in the education system is a possible haven for the use of soft power; in addition to curriculum bias and decentralization (which are investigated in more detail below) studies have found cultural biases and “deculturalization” in school tracking, testing, grading, and their use of language. Tracking is the practice of placing students in classes based on their “ability group”. This socialization process often leads to self-fulfilling prophecies, as students that are told they have no ability eventually give in to these assumptions. Those tracked in a “lower” group are often minorities. Even when they score high, minorities often find themseselves in lower tracks without access to a lot of the “gate-keeper” courses needed for success past high school. The research of Patricia Kean (2000) provides strong illustration of the use of soft power in tracking. In the mid 1990s, Selma, Alabama hired its first black school superintendent, Dr. Norward Roussell. Dr. Roussell recognized that although 70% of the district was black, a disproportionate amount of black students were in the low tracks. Upon reviewing student files he found that many low track minority students had actually scored higher then their white top track peers. As he attempted to remedy the situation, the white dominant class revolted and through four days of public hearings threatened to withdraw their students. At the end of the year, the white majority school board decided to not renew Dr. Roussell’s contract.
Testing biases have been found at the local, state, and national level. Terminology used on exams often reflect the dominant culture, at times making it difficult for “marginalized” groups to understand what the question is, let alone answer it. Even after the SAT exam was screened by the Educational Testing Services for racial bias statements such as “dividend is to stockholder” and “oarsman is to regatta” remain. The latter question was answered successfully by 53% of whites but only 22% of blacks (Chideya, 1995).
The teacher-student relationship in grading provides authoritative control of the objective environment. The recognition of the teacher as the “expert” in the field and his or her ability to mold the self-images of students provides some control of the students’ subjective assessment of the situation (Tanabe, 1998). Grading can then limit future opportunities and shape the assumption students have about themselves and their place in society. Language, as a means to identify, label, and include people is also an avenue of power in education. Schools have historically not reinforced students’ native language skills, challenging the core of their identity. James Baldwin (1993) stated that language is a “political instrument, means, and proof of power” (pg. 373). By removing their ability to communicate effectively, Hispanic students struggle through a process of “de-ethnicization” which designates their language and culture as second rate in society (Valenzuela, 1999). The ability of the marginalized group to maintain their cultural identity is largely one of definition. In order to be self-determining, a group must first be self-defining (Bosmajian, 1993). As long as the dominant culture has the ability to define through language, “marginalized” cultures will always be labeled as subordinate, unable, or ignorant.
Soft power through curriculum
School curriculum is designed by “experts” in the field with an impact on education that cannot be ignored. Curriculum and textbooks are increasingly hard to separate. Currently, in addition to textbook manufacturers distributing textbooks, they supply all the necessary “support” material. “Support” material may include: a) additional readings, b) premade tests, c) aligned lesson plans, d) differentiation for various abilities, and e) other goods the teacher previously had to collect independently. Therefore it is not a surprise that in Rae Blumberg’s (2007) meta-analysis on textbook bias, she found that teachers use textbooks for 70 to 90 percent of class time, and students are engaged in the textbook 80 to 95 percent of the time. A majority of teacher’s decisions are also based on the textbook. Textbook bias, then, will have a substantial impact on the growth of students. Those controlling the textbook companies in the United States, generally upper-class, English speaking Anglo-Saxons, have at their disposal a powerful socializing agent through which to use soft power.
Gender bias in education
A focus on the gender dimension of education, specifically that of females, gained considerable ground in the 1990s for good reason. A 1994 UNESCO report estimated that at the beginning of that decade approximately 300 school age children did not have access to primary or secondary schooling, of which 2/3rds were female (Stromquist, 1995). The United Nations acknowledged this problem, and incorporated it into their Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). MDG goal three involves promoting gender equality and empowering women. Target four under this goal is specific to education: “Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005, and in all levels of education no later than 2015.” (Blumberg, 2007) Unfortunately, as the universal goals on gender in education related solely to access once gender parity was achieved, countries considered the opportunities available in education equal between the sexes and dismissed the “gender question”. Examples of the secondary nature of education in gender equity once gender parity was established can be found in the regional meeting on discrimination held prior to the 1995 Beijing Conference. Upon ranking their gender priorities, the regions of Europe, North America, and Latin America do not mention gender as an issue (Stromquist, 1995).
In her work on gender and power in education Nelly Stromquist (1995) identifies five generalizations about educational policy as it pertains to women. First, states recognize the need for women’s equal access to education. Second, states engage in sexual conditioning and “the educational system serves as a primary channel to perform this function” (pg. 452) Third, states will more easily give into providing access, however, more engrained and transformational movement that may shift the values of a society will be met with resistance. Fourth, states that do respond to the demands of equal rights provide legislation that is then poorly implemented. Lastly, educators assume that access equals equality and often ignore “the state’s subtle but pervasive manipulation of gender identities through schooling and mass media” (pg. 454). These general statements about how policy impacts the outcomes of education can be applied more specifically to gender bias in textbooks.
Identifying bias in textbooks includes more than simply reading the words; four characteristics of a textbook must be investigated to unveil the “hidden curriculum”. First, the importance of language must be acknowledged as it plays a defining role on self worth and identity. Second, stereotyping must be identified and actively opposed so it does not continue to permeate civil society. Third, imagery is important. The pictures present expectations in how to act, dress, eat, walk, when to talk, appropriate eye contact, amongst other things. Lastly, occupational roles need to be dissected to see if they play a limiting factor on future endeavors. Education is designed to prepare students for their future as productive citizens; the occupational roles represented in textbooks may open access or close doors to career opportunities (Blumberg, 2007). These four characteristics can be used to search for discrimination of any group, from gender to ethnicity.
With the passage of Title IX in the United States in 1972, the feminist movement was in full swing. By the mid 1970s activists had recognized a pattern of bias in educational curriculum and successfully lobbied the Texas State Board of Education to adopt a proclamation of equal presentation in textbooks. Unfortunately, as one of the pioneers in recognizing the socializing ability of textbooks, the United States has seen very meager gains in the past thirty years. In looking at American history textbooks, Clark and Mahoney (2004) found only moderate improvement for women: in the 1960s women had been only 4.9% of the names found in the index; thirty years later that number had climbed to 16.3%. A follow up study (Clark et al., 2005) showed a similar trend in World History textbooks with female representation climbing from 3.2% in the 1960s to 10.6% in the 1990s.
Comparing gender bias in children’s illustrated books, Davis and McDaniel (1999) found no growth towards equality from the mid twentieth century to the present and actually identified an eight percent increase in male “characters portrayed through pictures”. Teachers are also subjected to the soft power pressed through textbooks. Of a study of 23 teacher training textbooks published from 1998 to 2001 “women-related coverage” was a mere 3.3%. When broken down further into methods books (reading, science, math, and social studies) the percentage actually decreased to 1.3% (compared to 7.3% for introductory books) with reading texts only amassing 0.3% (Zittleman and Sadker, 2002).
The consequences of gender bias in textbooks are recapped in Blumberg’s (2007) meta-analysis, and any advances towards equality are moving at glacial speed. Regardless of the country, income level, level of instruction, subject matter, or date of publication, there were significant findings related to universal content. Women continue to be underrepresented in textbooks. The use of male dominant language still permeates curriculum and designates all of humanity (i.e. mankind instead of humankind). Traditionally stereotypes are also evident throughout textbooks identifying appropriate occupation, activities, and interaction for males and females. The reality of all these studies point to a change in intensity of bias. No longer is gender discrimination filled with overt messages such as “the women’s place is at the home”; instead covert, more subtle messages are shaping the “culturally appropriate” behavior of women. The power imposed by the dominant party has not disappeared; it has simply transformed. Coercive hard power has evolved into more politically viable soft power implemented through the socialization process of education.
ESL bias in education
As alluded to earlier, minority cultures in America often have soft power imposed on them through the socialization processes of language and tracking; additionally studies on ESL (English as a Second Language) textbooks show imbedded biases designed to “Americanize” the minority population. Hispanic students are the fastest growing minority group in the United States and therefore most likely to be impacted by this process. Once again the dominant class has enacted textbook bias as a means to maintain the current power structure.
Influence through curriculum is even more essential to newcomers that are trying to acculturate themselves to their new surroundings. Elavie Ndura (2004) points out that for immigrant students, instructional materials play the “role of cultural mediators as they transmit overt and covert societal values, assumptions, and images” (pg. 143). In her study of six ESL textbooks currently used in the western United States, Ndura discovered three major forms of bias that not only stereotype the Hispanic culture, but teach students larger lessons on American values and expected behaviors. An example of stereotyping is illustrated through the story of two white explorers with a black and an Indian helper. This story typifies ethnic relations as minorities in service of white leaders.
In addition to stereotyping, ESL texts demonstrated bias through invisibility and unreality. The most obvious omission found in the study was the consistent exclusion of religion in the curriculum. There seems to be a resolute effort to hide the role of religion and the impact it has had on people’s attitudes and behaviors. Although Hanukkah and Christmas are mentioned in one book, there is no recognition of their religious meanings. Unreality, avoiding or masking controversial topics with idealistic or utopian overtones, is also seen in this study, as none of the six textbooks discuss anything unsettling about the status quo, including: intolerance, discrimination, racism, divorce, or war. Not only will the cultural soft power applied through this socialization process further remove these students from their traditional culture, but they will create skewed perceptions of the world around them, reinforcing the present social stratification.
Decentralization, as a type of educational structure, has become increasingly popular with the global push of neo-liberalism and democracy. It is important to understand, however, that there are cultural assumptions behind the presentation of structure, and these assumptions, as well as the resulting structure, are designed to legitimize the current global and local power relations. Decentralization is defined as the transfer of decision-making authority from the central government to the regional or local level (Cuellar-Marchelli, 2003). Aligning with neo-liberalism, decentralization is a move to reduce the control of the central authority and improve technical and social efficiency through localized specialization. Moreover, decentralization is supposed to provide a voice for the local people, allowing them to actively take part in the shaping of the institution. Overall, decentralization has been met with mixed reviews. Regional disparity in a country can make for different results within the same society, at time strengthening the effective response of government, while others see an expansion in the inequality within and between regions (Fox, 1995).
Three types of decentralization are generally found in education: decentration, delegation, and devolution (Cueller-Marchelli, 2003). Decentration occurs when responsibilities are transferred to the lower levels with only limited decision making authority. Delegation is a horizontal move that shifts responsibilities from one government entity to another. Devolution is the complete reallocation of responsibility and authority to the lower level. Decisions that may be granted to local authorities comprise of the organization of instruction, including textbooks, curriculum, and teaching methods; personnel management, including the hiring and firing of teachers and administrators; planning and structures, consisting of the selection of programs offered and the creation or closure of a school; and resources as well as budgets and improvement plans. Winkler and Gershberg (1999) make use of these four areas of decision making authority to describe the structure of decentralized education in various Latin American countries (see Table 1)
Argentina decentralization and school councils
After years of dictatorship, the ‘90s brought democracy to Argentina; education decentralization followed with the 1993 Law for the Transfer of Educational Services, which transferred fiscal and administrative responsibility from the national to the provincial level. The new structure of school in Argentina made the local school and community the primary actors of education. Original intentions of the movement included both the transfer of authority and the transformation of financing to democratize local education while reducing the monetary burden at the federal level. Diana Rhoten (2000) in her study on the effects of decentralization in Argentina identified three variables that would impact the influence of decentralization on the local community. The interpretation of decentralization depends on the community’s integration into the larger economy, as well as their ability to financially support an education system. The degree to which policies of decentralization are adopted depends on the extent the local political identity matches the national intentions. Finally, the way in which decentralization is adapted is determined by the amount of social capital accumulated in the local community.
Jujuy, a remote province, has had difficulty adopting decentralization due to local political culture conflicting with national intentions. 20% of actors surveyed in the province agreed that education decentralization did not really exist in practice; these citizens did not see a distribution of responsibility or authority away from the state. One teacher summarized the situation stating that:
“The obstacles to decentralization in this province are not economic, as
one might think. The province is not of want of money. Clearly, our
problems are political problems; problems with power. Our politicians
are facades. There is no real commitment to decentralization or to
democratization in terms of sharing power and responsibility. There
never has been…it is not how we do things here.” (Rhoten, 2000, pg. 613
Decentration illustrates the type of decentralization present in Jujuy, a province that has added responsibility but lacks the decision making authority that would make it effective and seem more authentic.
Central to Argentina’s decentralization policy was the implementation of school site councils. Councils were intended to provide voice to the local community by including parents, teachers, and other citizens in the decision making process. In their study on the achievements of school site councils, Monica Pini and Sonia Cigliutti (1999) found only partial success in a limited number of provinces. Policy dictated that councils only be applied on an optional basis, leaving those with the power to effectively adapt decentralization to local needs to gain from the possible benefits and those without to struggle and feel subjected by the ruling authority. In Buenos Aires, school councils did not see a significant increase in participation as most school councils did not have local autonomy. Several factors contributed to the limited possibilities resulting from these councils. The most striking of these factors was a disfavorable sociopolitical context. Poor families are largely unable to take time to volunteer with school councils. Furthermore, underserved areas generally did not implement this optional policy, and those at the local level that pushed for change had little political power to make it happen. The veneer of participatory involvement in Argentina permits groups that dominate state policy to publicly declare they are creating a forum for equal opportunity at the same time as they retain their position in society.
El Salvador: EDUCO and Social Capital
In 1991 as an element of its decentralization efforts, El Salvador created the EDUCO program with the objectives to expand the access of basic education in the poorest rural areas. Through EDUCO, academic decisions are transferred to Community Education Associations (ACE), while the national department of education retains control of education funding. ACEs are created when communities with a school population of 28 students per grade and have no education services available apply to the state for the financing needed to generate the needed schooling. Once approved, monthly state funds are distributed based on the number of students in the community. Although the EDUCO program is seen by some as an effort to assure government control over an expanded area in the “popular education movement”, it has been honored by the international society, including the World Bank and the Inter-American Bank, as a successful experience of community management. Success of the program is often attributed to the creation of educational institutions from the “bottom up”, facilitating community building, superior social cohesion, and institutionalizing participation (Cuellar-Marchelli, 2003).
The level of success of EDUCO programs vary with the community’s accretion of social capital (Cuellar-Marchelli, 2003). Social capital is defined “by its function in group or network structures” (Valenzuela, 1999, pg. 27). It is not intrinsic but resides within the existing web of social relationships and norms that facilitate cooperation, accountability, and institution-building (Fox, 1995). The acquisition of social capital is not automatic nor is its accumulation over time guaranteed; however, when capitalized, social capital can “thicken” civil society and strengthen local culture. Social capital can therefore help dispel some of the “top-down” soft power purported by the dominant group by changing their subjective assessment of the situation and decreasing the “pull” of the dominant culture. Success is determined by the ability of the relationships and norms to generate mutually beneficial collective action amongst the agents involved (Uphoff and Wijayaratna, 2000). An example of the successful organization of social capital can be seen in Juan Seguin High School in Houston, Texas where immigrant children maintain their cultural links by working together in networks of two or more for the mutually beneficial outcome of academic accomplishments (Valenzuela, 1999).
Soft power is the ability of actors to control a situation by convincing others to “want what it wants”. It is subtle in nature and often consists of cultural shaping of assumptions, values, and behavior through the socialization process. The effectiveness of power is measured by the correlation of its intent and desired outcome in a given socialization process. Intent is rarely vocalized in subtle power relations and only occasionally revealed after the socialization process is complete. It can be assumed, however, that those in control of society wish to maintain their privileged position. Table 2 is used to conceptualize soft power through the socialization processes of textbook bias in the United States and decentralization in Argentina. When asking the question, why is soft power effective or ineffective in the world of education, we must identify how much control the first agent has over the objective situation; perhaps through a structural hierarchy and how much legitimate authority they have, controlling the second agents subjective assessment of the situation. The most effective power is seen when both are ascertained. We must also recognize the influence Majie’s five characteristics of soft power (traditional, timely, persuasive, changeable, and inter-dependent) have on determining the desired outcome for the dominant group. Schools are especially important because, as Stromquist noted, they are “instruments of the state…and the major managers of social values”. They are designed to mold the next generation to effectively operate in a “culturally appropriate” manner in society. By altering a “marginalized” culture’s basic assumptions, you can transform their values and behavior, convincing them that they desired that outcome and abandone past cultural practice.
Decentralization is a socialization process that provides an expanded sense of control for the national government. Although it is designed to increase economic efficiency and expand voice in education, the reality is often a shift in economic burden to the local level where the power of democracy goes unfulfilled. In Argentina, some local groups saw the attempt of the government to decentralize as merely a front for power politics. In addition, voluntary school site councils further separated economic classes as those with the education, time, and influence increased their stake in the control of society, while those already “marginalized” were left with deteriorating schools and an inflated bill.
The EDUCO program in El Salvador is often christened a success in community building and a model for the extension of educational opportunities to those without current access. A key to local achievement has been the capitalization of social capital. As groups network to create a mutually beneficial outcome, they strengthen the perceived pull of their culture. Social capital, once recognized and actualized, can reinforce the boundaries of “cultural sovereignty” (Majie, pg. 5) and limit the ability of the dominant group to use the socialization process of education to validate their cultural soft power.