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In this society we say in a thousand and one ways that money, security, power, and ultimately fulfillment reside in these disciplines and not in the Arts, Humanities, and Philosophy. We valorize scientists, and even when they speak on subjects outside their domain of expertise, we take their opinions and pronouncements as definitively authoritative. When Science speaks, people listen. This hegemonic attitude towards Science and other subjects that require the exercise of our rational and intellectual faculty is reflected in educational research as well.

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Link Either by signing into your account or linking your membership details before your order is placed. Description Table of Contents Product Details Click on the cover image above to read some pages of this book! One crucial element missing from the discussion of fake news is the way that both professional journalism and fake news disavow the politics of knowledge behind claims to truth. Mainstream journalism effaces its own framing assumptions and theoretical presuppositions behind the framing of narratives, the collection of facts, and the interpretation of the meaning of those facts.

Rightist critics of media began describing mainstream journalism as fake news, alleging that mainstream journalism is a collection of false facts rather than criticizing the values, assumptions, and positions that underlie the narratives. Trump got this right, but for the wrong reasons. The missing element from both perspectives is consideration of the theory behind the organization and interpretation of fact. The lie of disinterested objectivity is the same lie built into standardized tests and curriculum. Another popular press explanation for the crisis of truth has to do with the nature of the Trump supporters.

This perspective suggests that the real promise of Trump was one of subverting the elite establishment. Like critical theorists, the Trump voter is deeply suspicious of appearances. However, the critical theorist wants to take experience, appearance, and claims to truth on a detour through theory. Theory provides an examination of the values, assumptions, and ideologies that undergird claims to truth. It allows facts to be interpreted and situated in terms of broader structural and systemic patterns, history, and context.

Theory also allows one to comprehend how the interpretive scaffold of the subject is formed by the social and how the social is formed of subjects. Theory expands political agency, and political agency is crucial for a democratic society. The Trump voter employs conspiracy rather than theory. Conspiracy imagines that there are superagents endowed with the ability to secretly determine outcomes.

Within the logic of conspiracy, those on the outside of the conspiracy are left with spectatorial agency—able to get a glimpse of the conspiracy but without the tools to make sense of what produced a particular social phenomenon or experience. Bad superagents, the conspirators, conspire to conceal fact, propagate lies, and shape history in the shadows.

Only good superagents who allegedly embody truth, such as a charismatic and strong leader, can reveal the conspiracy that is, fabricate it and then shape history on behalf of the victims of the conspirators.

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The conspirators, on the other hand, do not simply speak untruth; they embody untruth. It was who they were, their essence, their nature. The problem for Trump and the alt-right is not radical Islam but Muslims themselves—hence the ban on travel from Muslim-majority countries under the pretext of security, despite the fact that there had been no terrorist attacks by individuals of those nations since before September For conspiracy, the identity-based grounding of the enemy is not a coincidence but rather consistent with the need to give a material grounding to anchor the accusation.

The body functions like numbers in the world of alienated fact, providing an aura of foundation to scapegoating and lies. In a culture in which positivism suggests the supremacy of the fact, fact is decontextualized and dehistoricized, appearing to come from nowhere—to be all powerful and yet deeply suspicious. In such a context, the repetition of baseless assertion and lies flourishes. Such a view could be seen in popular discourse when George W.

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Rove claimed that, by acting, those in power make a new reality. Critics of this mainstreaming of postmodern truth view refer to the material limits of epistemological uncertainty. Facts matter like the fact of gravity when jumping out of a window. As in science, these positions share a comfort with truth being provisional, antifoundational, and fallible and with the best theoretical assumptions, arguments, and evidence winning until better ones can displace them. How do we make sense of this glaring contradiction between, on one hand, the imperative for positivism in which the fact is positioned as the supreme self-evident value and, on the other hand, the abandonment of fact, evidence, or even truth itself when it comes to speech and policy?


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  • Critical theory has a long tradition of analyzing how dogma sediments in social consciousness. German social theorist Theodor Adorno, for example, drew on the sociological analysis of George Simmel to offer an explanation for the allure of positivism.

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    Adorno explained that in a capitalist world in which everything is for sale, everything loses its value other than as a means of abstract exchange. Numbers promise to restore the solidity and certainty lost through alienation. We can think about this with regard to standardized testing. Standardized testing has now been dominating public education for nearly twenty years, since No Child Left Behind was launched in Knowledge is decontextualized and truth claims are delinked from their conditions of production in the standardized test.

    That is, by disappearing those who make claims to truth, their interests, and social and ideological positions, standardized tests ground knowledge claims in the institutional authority of the test. Yet the attachment of numbers to the test performance provides a scientistic aura of certainty that recontextualizes knowledge and the test taker within a system of educational exchange that leads through academic promotion to a promise ultimately of economic exchange. The attachment of numbers to truth claims and their false promise of certainty and solidity has resulted in a now dominant way of thinking about learning as earning.

    Numerical quantification applies not science but a guise of science or scientism, invoking a careful and systematic process of measurement. It also suggests disinterestedness, objectivity, and universality. It provides a feeling of control by invoking abstract objectivity and universality.


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    • While numbering things offers a response to the alienation of market exchange everywhere, it is also alienating in its tendency to delimit the relationship between subjectivity and the objective world. Numbers do not promise certainty and solidity in certain contexts. Think about your closest relationships, the people you care most about. Imagine those you love providing a numerical rating for your affections.

      What these examples highlight is that our pleasures for human intimacy and intersubjective connection are contrary to the promise of numerical control offered by positivism. Quantification as a remedy for alienation simultaneously offers a guise of control while creating more alienation. Those suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder OCD often have a need to apply numerical rituals to experiences.

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      For example, to leave a room, someone with OCD may need to open and close the door a certain number of times or count the number of steps to the door. The counting provides a temporary feeling of control otherwise experienced as lacking in these individuals. The numbers do not fix the obsession; they just briefly soothe the anxiety. Is not the ideology of positivism a kind of collective OCD offering a soothing yet false promise of control over a physical world experienced as slipping away, as melting in air?

      The alienation of fact involves the disappearance of the conditions of production of fact, the mystification of fact, and the treatment of fact as dogma to be transmitted and received. What stands behind the absence of evidence and reasoned argument in educational policy and practice is faith—a faith in markets. The faith in markets is not only the result of decades of neoliberal ideology and the promotion of the there is no alternative to the market; TINA thesis but also of decades of schooling in which knowledge has been positioned as true by virtue of the authority of the claimant.

      The era of standardized testing has effectively accomplished this equation of truth with authority by alienating truth claims, making them appear to come from nowhere and having authority by virtue of their anonymous authorship. Standardized tests do not come with the tools to question or dispute; they defy dialogue and follow the logic of monologue.

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      In my book The Failure of Corporate School Reform, I discussed the relationship between the new uses of positivism in education and market fundamentalism or capitalist dogma. What I termed the new market positivism is typified by the reinvigorated expansion of long-standing positivist approaches to schooling: standardized testing, standardization of curriculum, the demand for policy grounded exclusively in allegedly scientific really scientistic empirically based pedagogical reforms, the drumbeat against educational theory and in favor of practicalism.

      The new market positivism signals the use of these long-standing approaches toward the expansion of multiple forms of educational privatization. In the Fordist era, positivism neutralized, naturalized, and universalized social and cultural reproduction under the guise of the public good, the public interest, but also individual values of humanist education.

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