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Title:Schools, Social Change, and the Politics of Paralysis
Author(s):Wood, George Harrison, Ii
Department / Program:Education
Discipline:Education
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Degree:Ph.D.
Genre:Dissertation
Subject(s):Education, General
Abstract:This study examines potential roles for American public schools in deliberately altering the social order. To do this it is first necessary to attempt refutation of arguments by school critics who contend that the only role schools play is that of reproduction of the existing social arrangements. The two schools of thought which most clearly represent this position are the "deschoolers" and the "neo-Marxists." It is argued herein that not only do these positions misunderstand the reality of schooling, they further develop political paralysis among progressive educational practitioners.
The inquiry is guided by the assumption that schools are not culturally neutral institutions. Rather, they are profoundly political social formations which reflect numerous social, cultural, and economic concerns of the social order at large. With this in mind, attention focuses upon the deschoolers' and neo-Marxists' understandings of these pressures and how that analysis, while limited, might be of assistance in formulating strategies for social change through public schools.
Deschooling is illuminated through a synthesis of the works of Ivan Illich, Everett Reimer, and Joel Spring. They argue that schools not only reproduce the inequities of the existing social order but also work to prevent social change by enforcing dominant social myths. To further understand this position, its philosophical roots in New Testament Christianity and libertarian philosophy, as set forth by Robert Nozick, are outlined. Major faults are found with deschooling in its failure to produce significant empirical support, the inability of its political program to produce social change, and its philosophical shortcomings in understanding social forces.
The neo-Marxist argument of Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis contends that schools, by reproducing the social conditions of the workplace, recreate the necessary social consciousness for the reproduction of the American capitalist order. This analysis is the positivist/empiricist interpretation of Marxism which yields the structuralist notion of economic determinism. Louis Althusser's works, which have most fully developed this position, are considered as a theoretical base for the critique of Bowles and Gintis. This theoretical base is precisely where the major failure of the neo-Marxist critique is found as it avoids serious inquiry into the daily functions of schools, profoundly misreads the historical Marx, and posits a direct correspondence between work and school which is limited in its explanatory powers.
Beyond the direct theoretical evidential failures of these schools of thought, the limiting political practice they generate is explored. Discussed as the "politics of paralysis," this is the cynical social attitude taken by educational practitioners as these analyses posit neither a role for schools nor a role in schools in bringing about social change.
To oppose these positions recent works in critical theory which discuss student opposition to the educational paradigm are discussed. These models, put forth by Paul Willis among others, discuss student resistance to the curriculum and are thus titled "resistance theory." In addition, the students' need of intellectual tools and cultural capital to change the social order is explored as articulated by Antonio Gramsci. Also considered are ways in which the public schools serve as "incubators" of social change with regard to racism, sexism, and treatment of the handicapped.
In concluding, a series of practical suggestions for public schools are put forth in order to provide students, as citizens, with the tools to control their social environment. Included among these are tools in the social studies with regard to curriculum and instruction, and to teacher training. Beyond this, suggestions are made as to how citizen groups, parent groups, and teacher unions/associations might be conceived of in this matrix.
Issue Date:1981
Type:Text
Description:125 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
URI:http://hdl.handle.net/2142/68769
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8203641
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-15
Date Deposited:1981


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