Neoliberal Dis/Investments at a Charter School Teaching the Whole Child

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There has been a robust and ongoing investment in demystifying the discursive and material conditions of neoliberalism. Scholars in communication have done much work to explore the various rhetorical effects

There has been a robust and ongoing investment in demystifying the discursive and material conditions of neoliberalism. Scholars in communication have done much work to explore the various rhetorical effects and processes of neoliberal discourses and practices. Many of these case studies have tethered their concerns of neoliberalism to the conceptualization of the public sphere. However, most of this research rests on the absence of those that try to “make do.” By privileging rhetoric after the fact, such studies tend to provide more agency to ideology than everyday bodies that engage in their own rhetorical judgments and discernments. In addition, scholarship across the board tends to treat neoliberalism as something dangerously and uniquely new. This framing effectively serves to ignore the longer history of liberalism and liberal thought that paved the path of neoliberalism the United States is now on.

With these two broad concerns in mind, this study centers a case study of a charter school in South Phoenix to focus on the vernacular rhetorics of those on the ground. Guided by public sphere theory, critical race theory, and intersectionality, I take up rhetorical field methods to explore how those involved with this charter school navigate and make sense of school choice and charter schools in the age of neoliberalism. Within this context, field methods permit me to locate the various discourses, practices, and material constraints that shape running, being educated at, and selecting a charter school. These various rhetorical practices brought to the forefront an interest and concern with the school’s whole child approach as it is rooted within Stephen Covey’s (1989) seven habits. Additional qualitative data analysis brings about two new concepts of neoliberal scapegoating and dialectical vernacular complicity. Finally, I discuss the implications of these findings as they speak to how rhetorical field methods, supported by intersectionality and critical race theory, invites critics to center more agency on people rather than ideas, and how that makes for a more complicated and nuanced neoliberal reality and modes of resistance.