Framing ‘choice’ in language education: the case of freedom in constructing inequality

Elisa Hidalgo McCabe, Noelia Fernández-González.

In: Martín Rojo, L. & Del Precio, A. (Eds). Language and Neoliberal Governmentality. Routledge.

Year of publication: 2019

In the last decade, the Madrid Regional Government has carried out an educational policy based on two main axes: on one hand, the extension of parental choice as a new model that organises the school choice experience of families; and, on the other, the promotion of the Spanish-English Bilingual Programme (BP) across the network of state and charter schools. This chapter examines how new economic principles have transformed the field of public education within the paradigm of neoliberal governmentality (Foucault, 2008), imposing the need for schools and students to be competitive and profitable. Drawing upon ethnographic data gathered from in-depth interviews with teachers and school leaders in three state schools, we show how this competition scenario positions schools that participate in programmes such as the BP as “the better ones”, placing other schools and programmes as “less valued ones”. Moreover, emerging linguistic value hierarchies are identified in the BP as students are streamed into one of two bilingual strands in secondary: High- and Low-Exposure. Under such conditions, the critical approach we take in this chapter explores the problematic assumptions of freedom of choice, equity and equal opportunity taking place amid the interplay of the BP and parental choice.