The Market for a Public High School Degree
Examining the Construction of Core Credential Demand among Periphery Elites
Here, we question the ways in which the preponderance of international students as tuition-paying consumers of public (and private) schools in the core is shifting the model of education, and the vision of citizenship, in the world system. Although significant work has been done to illuminate these dynamics in higher education, we argue that the nascent market at the secondary level is particularly instructive of global trends in late capitalism. A thoughtful consideration of the presence of tuition-paying high school students in U.S., British, Australian, and Canadian public-school systems demands an engagement with the cultural colonization of periphery knowledge systems that accompanies the extraction of all surplus commodified value in service of the idea of development. In the high stakes globalized free market—in which the gap between core and periphery grows ever-larger—core secondary schools become places to attain core credentials, core values, and core belonging. The students’ tuition dollars represent an increasing proportion of underfunded school districts’ revenues in austerity regimes, blurring the line between education as a public good and education as a salable commodity. We empirically demonstrate the dynamics of the market in international secondary education using existing public data, and we explore its contingencies, beneficiaries, and victims. We posit a world system in which commodified children are coerced consumers of core value systems and are credentialed as honorary members of the “haves.” We argue that, in the increasingly zero-sum competitions for artificially scarce resources, inequality drives demand for international secondary school education, which in turn drives inequality.
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