Can the Study of Governmental, Economic, Social Forces on Educational Practices of the Past Illuminate Current Reforms? A Comprehensive Study of Democracy and its Relation to Educational Practices and Policy

Date of Award

Spring 2007

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




In the first chapter of this thesis, I examine the similarities between the concept of "democracy" as understood by progressing educators as Francis Parker, Carleton Washburne, George Counts, Paulo Friere and Henry Giroux. I argue that all think that the notion that democracy can only be realized through the full development of humans in attainging knowledge and through the mutual respect and responsibility for all. However, there are differences between these educators' concepts of democracy due to their time and place in history. These differences stem from the educator's beliefs with regards to how schooling is shaped by outside economic influences such as industrialization, and neoliberalism. The differences also stem from the language these educators use when understanding the unequal balances in power in society. I argue that because Francis Parker and Carleton Washburne did not find industrialization threatening to democracy, they solely looked to "child-centered" teaching as a means to foster democratics ideals. They view industrialization as unproblematic and did not see a relationship between schooling and the economic order. Therefore, they believed that the methods and practices of teaching in the classroom were enough to foster democratically minded citizens. They also did not have in their vocabulary, a language in which to question the relationship between power and knowledge. George Counts was wary of industrialization and believed that educators needed to address the unequal economic levels in society which were created by industrialization. He called for imposing in schools, the desire to create a new economic order, so as to change the world into one that is more socially just. However, he did not have a language in which to question the relationship between power and knowledge. The critical progressives, Paulo Friere and Henry Giroux, view industrialization and later, neoliberalism, as threatening to democracy. They believe that educators must critically understand the role that the economic order, as well as the social and cultural order has with regards to schooling because this order is threatening to democracy and must be transformed if one wants to continue towards the democratic ideal. They urged teachers to elevate students' consciousness regarding the purpose of schooling and their role as creators of knowledge, capable of transforming the oppressive conditions inside and outside the classroom, which negate democracy. They had a language with which to analyze the relationship between knowledge and power. When understanding the value all these educators bring to the teaching of children and the creation of humane pedagogical institutions, it is imperative that we question what schooling has become in its current form and what purpose if serves. The dreams of all these men are overshadowed by the current economic order, neoliberalism.

In the second chapter I will examine the current dialectical relationship between schooling and neoliberalism. Neoliberalism i a current ideology that seeks to commodify all public spheres, not only public education, and also desire that individuals look to the market to solve their problems rather than join together in creating new alternatives to this ideology. Friere and Giroux all spoke of this notion of neoliberalism and that it is imperitive that alternatives to neoliberal ideology are sought for, in and out of the classroom because neoliberalism is antithetical to democracy. I will be using many of their works in this chapter. By looking at how out current economic order, neoliberalism, is shaping one of the many public spheres in our society, schooling, I strive to show the reader that it is necessary for teachers to understand the complex interrelation between education and neoliberalism and aspire to transform this economic order through promoting and imposing democratic ideals inside (child-centered teaching) and outside the classroom (social activism). When teachers are able to understand the complex relationship between schooling and the economic order, they are better able to accept the notion that we must all take a political stand through our teaching and through our actions outside the classroom in order to keep the democratic ideal alive.


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