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E-Political Socialization, the Press and Politics

The Media and Government in the USA, Europe and China


Edited By Christ´l De Landtsheer, Russell Farnen and Daniel B. German

This book examines the state of print and electronic media in the United States of America, Europe, and China. The latest mass communication advances demonstrate that we live in an increasingly media-centric world. The chapters include theoretical and empirical studies that shed light on the meaning of this development. The trajectory of people’s move to electronic communication is a global phenomenon affecting their daily life. Does this trend aid or impede democracy? Is there an emerging digital divide contributing to an increasing gap between the rich and poor people and nations? The four parts of this book explore various aspects of political socialization and its relationship with different media, including print, broadcasting, and the Internet.
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4 Politics, Education, and Paradigmatic Reconceptualism

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Chapter 4

Politics, Education, and Paradigmatic Reconceptualism: US Critical Theory in the 1990s

Russell F. Farnen

Professor (Emeritus) of Political Science, University of Connecticut, Storrs, Connecticut, USA


Within the general context of the US educational “system,” this contribution answers three questions: What are some of the recent and significant trends in critical social science or radical educational theory on social structure, culture, and individual or group behavior? Do these trends (such as ethnographic research and everyday politics) coincide with any current developments in the United States in the domains of political science, socialization, and education? Is there any prospect that critical educational studies will have a significant impact on curriculum, research, or theoretical formulations in American political science, education, and/or socialization? The chapter ends with a discussion of such trends and relevant conclusions stemming from them. In this chapter, “critical” educational theory refers to a diverse group of radical democratic, new left, neo-Marxist, and reconceptualist critics of both classic and social “liberal” and “neoconservative” concepts of schooling (that is, opposed to those espousing what Tomas Englund describes as their “patriarchal” and “scientific/rational” discourses on education).

The American Educational Scene: Current Contexts

Just how conservative is contemporary American political culture and how much influence does business have over US schools? Presently, the US is in the midst of yet another educational “revolution,” revolving around the development of a national curriculum (Smith, O’Day, and Cohen, Winter 1990). This effort will be enforced with a large measure of nationwide testing and performance “report cards” (the original fear many of those involved had when the National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP] began work in the mid-1960s; Anderson, et al., April 1990). However, this has been delayed by the relatively innocuous amounts (less than 1% of total costs) regularly allocated for federal educational funding. The US also enjoyed the beneficence of a chief executive who had pledged to be the “education President.” His aim was to make America “number one” in science, math, and other business-directed processes, such as writing and reading skills. Luckily (or unfortunately, with respect to proper funding and public prominence) for political educators, he had not targeted the civic education curriculum for top-down reform. The administration focused on geography and history revisions, which it considered more “solid” subjects than social studies and civics – a trend common to conservative regimes in the UK, Finland, Canada, and within several American states, such as California. ← 41 | 42 →

America’s conservative climate is also illustrated in popular and administration views on education, achievement testing, and business” role in the schools. It is also evident in the current euphoria about history teaching and unitary notions about CIVITAS, the US Constitution, and calls for education for (historical, not contemporary) democracy. For example, President Bush’s “America 2000” educational reform proposals aimed for state and local implementation of conservative programs (such as “core competencies,” “literacy,” educational “choice,” “flexibility,” “accountability,” and “uniform” national testing). Bush proposed to identify 535 “New American Schools” for reform; this was less than 1% of the nation’s 110,000 schools. He also wanted business to “reinvent the American school” so he could “unleash American genius” to redesign them. He also advised educational innovators to ignore “all traditional assumptions about schooling and all the constraints that conventional schools work under.” However, this was not supposed to cost any more federal money. Optimistically, he hoped that “By the year 2000, all children in America will start school ready to learn” (Tirozzi, May 19, 1991).

The elite’s emphasis in US national educational goals is on science and mathematics achievement. Other competencies in more challenging subject matter (including English, history, and geography instruction, where the abilities “to reason, solve problems, apply knowledge, write, and communicate effectively”) are also targeted. The NAEP now publishes its “content frameworks” and “proficiency standards” in these areas. A national curriculum and testing program would be based on NAEP standards, with state-by-state “report cards.” The current debate is about creating a national educational model (based on ones from Japan or France or states such as California). Even American Federation of Teachers (AFT) union leaders support a competency-based, confidence-producing, national curriculum. Important issues (such as whose goals, whose curriculum materials, accountable to whom, with what flexibility, with what implications for teaching, and under whose governance?) are only now being discussed.

At issue is the continuing existence of pluralistic (public and private) and democratic (local and state) control over educational decision making in the society. The need to dismantle certain existing educational bureaucracies in states and municipalities is being debated. New public agencies may have to be created to devise frameworks; to develop, revise, monitor, and coordinate standards; to produce models; and to both monitor and report findings. Also discussed is the fact that nationwide standards and tests will prompt teaching for them either directly or by rigid adherence to a curriculum blueprint.

Such blueprints endorse certain pedagogical and educational values plus descriptions of what is to be learned. For example, the California history/social science framework ignores the social studies perspective, favoring the historical approach, corresponding with the national trend. The role of exams in any new system will be critical. Paper and pencil, essay, and multiple-choice exams are not ← 42 | 43 → the only available options. Experience with more “authentic” testing formats (in the UK, the Netherlands, and some US states) produced new evaluation formats. These tests measure abilities other than mere factual recall. Open-ended questions evaluate problem solving, data analysis, analytic writing, creative tasks, experimentation, and speaking proficiency. However, the old problems of how to make such tests, how to report results, and how to rank students, teachers, and systems on their results (as well as built-in antiminority biases) are only a few examples of attendant, but seldom-debated, long-term testing conundrums. (For a more complete analysis of America’s educational climate, see Farnen, October 1991.)

The Left/Right versus Center Debate

According to Aronowitz and Giroux (1985), these rightist critics have misdiagnosed America’s ills, provided the wrong solutions, and wrongly blamed education for current social ills. Schools are not responsible for high unemployment, stagnant productivity, foreign competition, deficit financing, and the growing gap between rich and poor. Even the solutions proposed are irrelevant since the kind of polarized, service-oriented, and unskilled society of America-in-the-making has nothing to do with the conservative educational plan. With America near federal budgetary bankruptcy because of its deficit financing of huge and wasteful military expenditures ($3 trillion from 1980 to 1990), the current educational crisis is as much a cause of local and state impoverishment and shrinking resources as it is a result of philosophical and organizational confusion. The New Right’s nostrums for business control of education belie the ethical and public mission of the school as a site for learning about civic participation, social reconstruction, and moral purpose. With their focus on economic goals, conservatives gloss over the schools as arenas for class conflict, sites for lower-class failure, and evidence of the failure of consensus politics. Rightists thereby destroy the moral and political basis for public schooling. Without a democratizing mission, popular support and financing for public schools is at risk. A new public philosophy of education (based on a theory of democratic citizenship education for individual and group empowerment) is needed to provide the necessary antidote for rightist’s poisoning of the American educational wells (Farnen, October 1991, pp. 201-206).

The Political Economy of Education: Carnoy’s and Levin’s Perspectives

Carnoy and Levin analyzed recent educational developments in the US along with changing national demographics and productive capacities. They assert that there are still strong conflicts between the capitalist/reproductive and the democratic/egalitarian dynamics in US society. One example of a social policy time bomb is the fact that more reproductive minority populations now constitute nearly half of the school population in certain states (such as California). Also, at least one-third (a growing number) of the pre-collegiate school population is ← 43 | 44 → disadvantaged because of racial, recent immigration, or class factors. Such statistics indicate the existence of a new underclass that is ill-prepared for the demands of work life and a group which state and business interests cannot long ignore in terms of providing either more social justice, equity, and/or equal access to schooling (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, pp. 44-45).

Carnoy and Levin also categorize reconceptual analysts of schooling into autonomous and functionalist varieties which, respectively, assume that schools operate separately from the economy and society (for example, Dewey, Bourdieu, Apple, and Giroux) and those who stress education as producing “human capital,” thereby reproducing class relations in correspondence with society’s economic and social needs (for example, Carnoy, Levin, Bowles, and Gintis). The critical autonomy analysts also see workplace culture reflected in the school curriculum and ideology; however, they insist that schooling is independent of economic production and, therefore, creates values apart from the rest of society. The critical functionalists stress correspondence and reproduction; yet, they differ over ideas (such as the nature and purpose of man, society, and government as well as the meaning of progress) and simultaneously dismiss observed differences between schooling and society as trivial. Carnoy and Levin claim a paradoxical relationship between schooling and work in that they are both alike and different. Schooling makes a difference because “formal education is the principal source not only of values and norms among youth but also of skills and practices of production.” Yet “neither the practices nor the outcomes of schooling correspond directly to the structures and practices of work” (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, p. 37).

The social conflict dynamic pits democratic forces operating through the state to increase the pace of social change, workplace equality, economic security, and participation in decision making. The same forces are at odds in the schools, where the power of competing groups determines which way the balance (capitalist or democratic) will swing. The influence of capitalist production and class conflict is expressed in the hegemonic bourgeois state. Yet, the modern state also plays an important interventionist role in the production process, just as it does in the schools. Education is “responsible for justice and equity in an inherently unjust and inequitable system of production.” Education’s role is to reproduce inequality while trying to produce equality, thereby creating ideological conflicts over status, property, and power. Since such institutional conflict is system-wide, education can influence (and be influenced by) other social institutions operating under the force of capital accumulation (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, pp. 38-40).

Although democratic schools must prepare citizens for their life roles, teaching students about equal opportunity, human rights, civil liberties, participation, and the law is in direct conflict with job-related “skills and personality characteristics that enable them to function in an authoritarian work regime. This requires a negation of the very political rights that make for good citizens” (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, p. 41). Strong, social movements can influence the trend toward equal rights and ← 44 | 45 → opportunities; weak, business interests can predominate by stressing reproduction roles and inequalities. Periods of economic expansion and relative prosperity allow social groups to exert greater influence than do periods of contraction or retrenchment (such as during the 1990s). During the 1980s (and 1990s), education reforms proposed more competition, rigor, excellence, standards, and basic skills as well as improved teacher training, testing, merit pay, longer school schedules, homework, efficiency, and productivity. Gone were the previous emphases on “equity, equality, and access” as well as compensatory education for the disadvantaged, learning-disabled, bilingual, or minority students. Vouchers, tax credits, market competition, aid to private schools, tax reductions, high-tech education, and computer skills were proposed to end previous democratic reforms. Efficiency, competition, discipline, skills, standards, and better management became the new watchwords for the Reagan and Bush years of educational retrenchment and hegemonic control over schooling (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, pp. 41-45).

The Need for a Theory of the State: Macpherson

Critical social scientists” continual emphasis on the state’s key role in the production and education sectors led political scientists such as Macpherson (1977) to both raise the question of the need to go beyond the explanation of political processes to the question of the need for a revised theory of the state in the “grand” classical tradition of great theorists like Bodin, Hobbes, or Hegel. Macpherson reported that the 1970s crop of liberal democrats and empirical and normative theorists said we do not, while social democrats and Marxists said we do. His earlier treatment of “contemporary Marxist lessons for liberal-democratic theory” is still instructive. He proposed that “there is a lot to learn from them. For they do see more clearly than most others that what has to be examined is the relation of the state to bourgeois society, and they are examining it in depth.” This is quite unlike liberal theory which unquestionably accepted both the bourgeois state and society as a single package (Macpherson, 1977, pp. 61-67). The complementary work of Offe and Ronge (1975), Carnoy (1984 and 1985), and Fischer (1990) are evidence of the significance of this trend.

Some Basic and Contrasting Perspectives in American Reconceptualism: Anyon, Apple, and Giroux

A New Civics and the Hidden Curriculum

In contrasting radical perspectives on schooling and society in the UK and the US, Arnot and Whitty (1982, pp. 93-103) delineate three characteristics of the American approach. These are a critique of schooling combined with educational intervention for social change, a commitment to “intellectual and methodological pluralism,” and an interactive relationship between theory and empirical research. ← 45 | 46 → These theoretical constructs are not only linked to, but depend on, European (including British) theoretical underpinnings. In this regard, the work of Anyon, Apple, and Giroux is exemplary.

Both Apple and Giroux criticize the “monolithic” views of the strict correspondence theory. The mediating role of schools and the resistance to dominance practiced there illustrate the active contestation, struggle, and contradictions which emerge in both educational and workplace settings. The social transfunctional role of schooling allows the possibility of change and emancipatory reconstruction of both schooling and society.

Anyon, Apple, and others showed that school textbooks were designed to be conflict-free, legitimated the social order, and stressed stability and social harmony at the expense of “sordid” reality. The distortions, “silences,” and misperceptions in textbooks are shaped by social realities in which the powerless play no important role in US history; this reinforces their impotence. School texts present an ideology which is designed to produce meanings and which, itself, must be deconstructed. The commodification process of the text production system involves publishers, textbook writers, readers, and other relevant interactions which are beyond mere reproduction theory (Arnot and Whitty, 1982, pp. 96-97; Anyon, 1979 and 1980)).

Similarly, the hidden curriculum as a socializing influence illustrates the implicit and covert transmission of values, beliefs, attitudes, norms, and behaviors through curriculum structures and the social relations of schooling. Once again, the simple economic correspondence model of Bowles and Gintis did not explain conflicts, contradictions, and discontinuities both within and between schools and the economy they were supposed to reproduce. Willis, Apple, Giroux, and others recognized that the very tensions and contradictions in schooling allowed school to be considered a potential site for innovation, change, and transformation. This allowed Anyon, et al. to develop the more complex theory of “the reproduction of conflict rather than merely the maintenance of domination.” For instance, Anyon’s study of classes in five US East Coast elementary schools shows the degree to which resistance and struggle to traditional schooling are both alike and different among students from various class backgrounds (Anyon, 1983).

Since a critical pedagogy to resolve such contradictions is still lacking, Giroux proposed moving beyond reproduction and critique to a transformational, liberation, and emancipatory emphasis (which the hidden curriculum concept promises). In this regard, he is joined by Apple, who also sees the possibility of intervention through schooling against the panoply of technical controls which restrict teachers and which are designed to produce professional consumers for the economic system. Anyon’s studies of schooling also revealed the transformational possibilities of penetration, resistance, and counterhegemony. Like Apple, Anyon sees these possibilities may be limited to particular classrooms, teachers, schools, and sites since curricula, classes, and social expectations vary according to the “curriculum in use” there. Moreover, gender, race, and class are also relevant when ← 46 | 47 → considering such transformational possibilities. These are mainly revealed through ethnographic educational research (Anyon, 1983, pp. 98-102).

Giroux’s work tries to move beyond structural-functionalist and reproductive theory to “a radical pedagogy that connects critical pedagogical theory with the need for social action in the interest of both individual freedom and social reconstruction” (Giroux, 1981a, pp. 7-8). Reproductive rationality is useful, but deficient, because of its “one-sided determinism, its simplistic view of the mechanisms of social and cultural reproduction in schools, its ahistorical view of human agency and, finally, its profoundly anti-utopian stance toward radical social change” (Giroux, 1981a, p. 14). The simple correspondence or “black box” model of schooling is too simplistic in that teachers and students produce as well as conserve knowledge. Resistance, the dialectic, human agency, contradictions, mediation, and opposition are part of the process for recreating and changing the social order, not merely mirroring it. Ideological hegemony can be linked to culture and resistance in schools to expose hegemonic practices to explore transformational possibilities, to disclose structural limits, to reveal contradictions in the lived lives of teachers and students, and to develop a radical pedagogy to allow students to explore the sources and limits of meaningful discourse. Giroux finds that modern pedagogy is “atheoretic, ahistoric, and unproblematic” so that its positivistic outputs are technologically sound, but undemocratic and nonemancipatory. A new curriculum must be based on students” everyday lives and historical and societal dialectics. It should also be reflective, critical, demystifying, transcendent, and reconstructive (Giroux, 1981a, pp. 37, 107, 123, 130-132, 143; Wood, Spring 1982, pp. 63-71; Popkewitz, 1983 and May 1985, pp. 429, 436).

As Wood points out, part of the problem with Apple, Giroux, Anyon, and other radical critics is the communication and “translatability” of theory into practical educational language and action. In response, Apple proposes that teachers transform their own work lives. They can then regain control and autonomy over teaching and engage in direct political action against proposals, such as tax credits for educational “choice” in schooling. Sponsoring revisions of the history curriculum, worker democracy, and feminist programs, and encountering “possessive individualism” through tapping students” “lived culture” offer other reform possibilities to challenge “the balance of forces within a specific arena” (Apple, 1982a, pp. 88-90, 130-134).

Apple also endorses the “rediscovery” of the “heuristic power” of history and puts the contemporary form of social relations in an historical context. Responding to classical, elitist, and conservative critics of schooling, he advocates considering “critical literacy,” understanding diverse traditions and histories (normally excluded from schooling), and fostering “a democratic curriculum.” This includes using knowledge and skill to create and pursue one’s own interests while being able “to make informed personal and political decisions; and to work for the welfare of the community.” He proposes democratic reforms to insure site management of ← 47 | 48 → schooling, more local initiative and control, greater freedom and flexibility, decentralized examination and textbook selection, and less educational bureaucracy. More collective and cooperative teamwork among teachers, sabbaticals and study periods, and teacher control over teaching/learning innovations are other strategies he proposes. To develop a more democratic educational environment, he suggests salary increases, peer reviews, and greater school-university linkages, along with implementing a new assessment and evaluation plan and engaging students in challenging learning settings. Student empowerment, counter-hegemony, and demystification of inequality are still other features of this political awareness curriculum (Apple, 1988, pp. 11, 189-195).

Other Trends in Critical Social Science and Educational Theory

Some General Observations

Critical educational, radical reconceptualist, and neo-Marxian theories of schooling in the US, Sweden, the UK, France, Germany, and elsewhere represent a serious and useful attempt to intellectually disaggregate what schools do in modern industrial and postindustrial societies. While these theorists disagree on details of the economic-political-cultural-educational nexus, certain basic concepts frequently appear and reappear in their writings. These include terms, processes, and concepts such as social reproduction, qualitative and ethnographic methods, correspondence theory, the hidden curriculum, discourses, contradictions, resistance, institutional sites, human agency, penetration, limitations, ideological hegemony, social and cultural capital, deskilling, the critique of modernism, postindustrialism, positivism, structuralism and functionalism, inequality and oppression, the utility of dialectical tensions, enlightenment, liberation, transformational praxis, and the critical importance of community, class, gender, and race as criteria for identifying social oppression in different cultural sites and social practices.

Three major schools of thought use the economic, cultural, and hegemonic-state reproductive models. The political economy model (Bowles and Gintis, 1976, 1986, and 1988) is the dominant one for the “hidden curriculum,” educational policy, and ethnographic research studies. Bowles and Gintis use correspondence theory to equate school classroom practices with workplace needs and demands. The social division of labor and the class structure are mirrored in schools. The “hidden curriculum” in schools legitimizes the workplace’s authority, rules, values, rationality, and power relationships. Intellectual, hierarchical, and competitive tasks are valued more than manual, democratic, or group/shared processes. Students learn to read, write, and add for productive work, to behave properly to meet job expectations, and to respect the rules and hierarchy imposed by the capitalist order. To this analysis, Althusser (1971) adds an ideological dimension. The day-to-day “culture” of the school is one aspect of this ideology. Its “unconscious” dimension is found in the “meanings, representations, and values” underlying school practices, ← 48 | 49 → shared images, structures, and concepts. Christian Baudelot and Roger Establet see schools as sites of ideological conflict, stemming from external sources. Class culture is seen as the primary source for such resistance; yet, ideology actively involves both dominant and oppositional strains. These contradictions may impede both self- and collective-liberation.

Bourdieu’s (1973, 1977, 1984, and with Passeron, 1977 and 1979) cultural-reproductive model posits the dominant culture of the ruling class as the hidden basis for maintaining class interests, hierarchy, and domination. Since schools are relatively autonomous, they are perceived as being “neutral” in transmitting cultural capital and rejecting less-valued, lower-class culture. The school’s curriculum, language, and positive behaviors are actually those of the dominant culture (that is, the ruling class). The historical conditions (“habitat”) and deliberately cultivated, durable, individual dispositions (“habitus”) of persons enable schools to dominate the “unconscious” of young workers so completely that they willingly accept their predetermined lot in society. Structural conflict is possible in Bourdieu’s theory, but it is rather mechanistic, just as his views of class are overly homogeneous. His rejecting conflict, struggle, and resistance within different classes and his ignoring both the active reconstruction of ideologies and resistance to their imposition through counterideologies are other shortcomings of his analysis, according to Aronowitz and Giroux (1985, pp. 85-86). He is also ignorant of the oppressive burdens of material conditions and other economic constraints which impede the growth of working-class students and, at the same time, limit their possibilities for critical thinking and emancipation (Shirley, 1986).

If the nexus between the state and capitalism was illuminated in Antonio Gramsci’ s writings, that between the state and schooling is explained by Apple (Spring 1979, Spring 1980, 1982b, 1983, 1985, and with King, 1983, and with Weiss, 1983). They use the state hegemony model to explain the process of class domination over the political and educational system as well as the economy and its cultural superstructure. Gramsci saw hegemony as primarily the expression of the ruling class’s and their allies” world view and, then, as the forceful imposition of a dominant ruling ideology over the consciousness, everyday lives, knowledge, and culture of subordinate groups. The state itself consists of both a political and civil society, which use “official” ideology to eliminate opposing views. Ideological hegemony must be continuously maintained by force, consensus, and/or domination. This is true even if it meets resistance from those refusing to be incorporated or unwilling to give “active consent” to the rulers. The state represents class, power, interests, rule, struggle, domination, and divisions, all masquerading as “normality” and “nature.” Different ruling class factions may quarrel over specific public policies, but not over fundamental power and economic relationships. These remain unquestionably supportive of the capitalist order. State rulers defend the economic and moral order and engineer the consent of the ruled through false promises of opportunity, democracy, and happiness. They also ← 49 | 50 → “rewrite history” and destroy class opponents amidst obvious ideological contradictions found in everyday reality (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1985, pp. 87-92).

Schooling is used to reinforce society’s dominant ideology, culture, and economic practices. Schooling highly values positivism, science, mathematics, basic research, competence, credentials, vocational education, national history, and other production-related output products which support economic efficiency and allow for “capital accumulation.” Planning, bureaucracy, and rationality keep children in school and off the streets and label deviants (victims) responsible for their own failures. This is the alternative to illuminating the social and economic causes of “failure” or allowing the masses to share in decision and policy making. The capitalist state allows a liberal democratic ethic of individual rights and responsibilities to operate in schools. This philosophy assumes that the state is neutral. Conflict is rationalized at the individual (rather than the more-threatening class) level and is, thus, made more impotent. Laws undergird the school system, force change, ensure conformity and compliance, and indirectly quash resistance. However, such an analysis may also be a bit abstract while ignoring the role of resistance to domination through counterhegemonic practices (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1985, pp. 92-98; Giroux, 1981a, pp. 91-109).

Aronowitz and Giroux (1991) also appropriated elements of the postmodern critique into their explication of class, race, gender, and sexual preference questions in contemporary American and Western societies. For example, Giroux (1991, pp. 1-59 and 217-256) looks to a grand synthesis of liberal freedom, postmodern particularism, feminist everyday politics, and democratic socialist solidarity and civism into a new unity in diversity. This “difference within unity” goes beyond radical critique, intellectual redefinition, and democratic pedagogy to a new form of democratic “cultural politics” devoid of any master narrative or grand discourse and focusing on resistance and the democratic struggle to achieve “justice, freedom, and equality” (Giroux, 1991, pp. 56-59).

A “border pedagogy” of antiracism is needed to empower students to decode knowledge and power relationships within different cultural settings using historical and cultural analysis, lived experiences, democratic authority, justice, and power interrelationships along with redefining constructs such as “the other” and “otherness” both in and out of schools (Giroux, 1991, pp. 247-256). In this setting, schooling becomes one form of “cultural politics” and is linked to democratic public life; teachers become “engaged intellectuals and border crossers” who develop “. . . forms of pedagogy that incorporate difference, plurality, and the language of the everyday as central to the production and legitimation of learning” (Aronowitz and Giroux, 1991, p. 187). However, this postmodernist view of the radical reform project comes under severe criticism for its fashionable amalgam of several popular discourses as well as for its confusing call to politicize teachers in the absence of a well-argued and principled case for redemptive justice, “self-enlightenment,” ← 50 | 51 → equality, and an ideologically sound conception of “utopian universalism” which will have meaning for many teachers in the US and Canada.

The US: Bowles ’ and Gintis ’ Dynamic Views

With Ivan Illich’s (1970) notion of deschooling society, Marxist reproduction theorists created a dismal portrait without any hope for reforming schools, either from within or without. As Willis (1981, p. 63) notes, the new convention deals with those proposing radical educational change within the classroom as being optimistic proponents of liberation, praxis, and enlightenment. By contrast, those pessimists adhering to reproduction theory eschew any possibility for educational change in the absence of economic and social reconstruction along truly egalitarian lines. For example, Wood (Spring 1982, pp. 56 and 63) labels the reproductive school of Marxism as the philosophy of “paralysis” and “cynicism.” As examples of reproductionists, Bowles and Gintis (1976) accept Althusser’s (1971) characterization of schools as “ideological state apparatuses.” There, oppressed students accept their fate as products of the “false consciousness” developed through capitalistic schooling. While liberal theories of development, integration, and democracy are content to justify schooling as preparation for later life, reproduction theorists claim that cognitive skills learned in school have little relation to the actual requirements of work life. Capitalistic society uses a hegemonic ideology which persuades students that their job roles are ethical, necessary, “natural,” or right. Schools legitimate this nonparticipatory, undemocratic, and hierarchical order while developing a consenting consciousness among their pupils. The schools both reflect and are modeled on the workplace, with its “hierarchical division of labor.” This is the “structural correspondence” theory in operation. It promotes “subordination,” “powerlessness,” inequality, and hegemony. Bowles and Gintis (1976, p. 224) originally perceived “a strong prima facie case for the causal importance of economic structure as a major determinant of educational structure.” Economic reform was, consequently, a prior condition for any educational transformation.

Schooling in capitalist societies diverts attention from the need for equality and liberation by imposing a “false consciousness” and ideology of hegemony on students, rather than addressing the need for “a revolutionary transformation of economic life.” However, “revolutionary educators” can serve as a vanguard of the proletariat role by pressing for educational democracy, dissolving the workplace-education correspondence, rejecting “simple antiauthoritarianism and spontaneity” as principles, creating “class consciousness,” and practicing transformational “political work” for short- and long-run change (Bowles and Gintis, 1976, pp. 127-134, 265, and 286-287; Wood, Spring 1982, pp. 55-63).

Wood’s analysis of Bowles’ and Gintis’ and Althusser’s work subscribes to Bernstein’s (1978) earlier critique of the latter’s neo-Marxism by labeling the lot with terms such as structuralist, positivist, economic determinist, empiricist, and ← 51 | 52 → being advocates of pseudo-scientific “laws.” As the dominant “educational ideological apparatus,” schools join the police and military as a “repressive state apparatus” to ensure capitalist domination and hegemony. Liberal social humanists mistakenly underwrite repressive testing, ordering, and empirical social science positivism, as well as cultural reproduction, according to these radical educators of the American left. In Wood’s (Spring 1982, pp. 61-63) view, this verdict encourages “paralysis,” cynicism, negativism, disillusionment, and silence among other educational practitioners. It also ignores the democratic, egalitarian, liberating, and social transformation mission of American schooling, as well as the possibility for resistance to hegemonic forces. To fill this gap (between the “authoritarian” impetus of reproduction theory and the realities of schooling), a second group of radical critics (for example, Apple, Giarelli, Aronowitz, and Giroux) has evolved, providing a message of hope, possibility, and social reconstruction.

In fact, Gintis and Bowles (1981, pp. 45-59) restated and re-evaluated the correspondence principle. They also answered charges of alleged radical functionalism and “missionary pessimism,” ascribed to their lack of appreciation for the systemic contradictions within education and between it and capitalistic economic processes and social relations. Moreover, with Dewey, they recognize liberalism’s egalitarian, developmental, and integrative educational principles, rather than its merely being unequal and repressive schooling which, in the process, produces “good citizens” for an undemocratic capitalist society – without democratic power, participation, cooperation, emancipation, and social and economic relations. However, they still maintain that the correspondence principle has explanatory value, point to the need for systemic reform through democratic socialism, explain school outputs as products of structural social relations (not just content), and identify control over (rather than ownership of) schools as the route to follow for progressive educational reform. Inherent contradictions between education’s legitimizing and reproducing roles and advanced capitalism’s accumulating and restructuring processes places these two systems “out of synch” with one other. American higher education previously reflected this contrast between the post-1945 needs of the growing white-collar/service economy and the older, liberal, elite education designed for a managerial class on the one hand and the emerging vocationalism and anti-intellectualism on the other. The growing incongruence between inert, “old” schools and the dynamic, “new” service economy established the groundwork for “back to basics” claims which were founded on the apparent cultural lag between less-responsive higher education and the demands of the capitalist economic order.

The social relations (or forms, rather than contents) of liberal education produced and legitimated institutions and communication discourses which are the products of interclass “accords.” Therefore, schools remain contradictorily progressive and reproductive. These tensions can only be resolved by democratizing ← 52 | 53 → both the school curriculum and its social relations. This could fulfill the liberal promise of equality, democracy, liberty, and emancipation, but without (or with lessened) propertied/accumulative/capitalist hegemony, dominance, and subordination (Gintis and Bowles, 1981, pp. 45-59).

The US: Carnoy and Colleagues on the Political Economy of Education

Between 1977 and 1990, Martin Carnoy (with various coauthors) studied education and employment, educational reform, the political economy of education, economic democracy, and the state and political theory. Much of this work is on third-world countries (such as China, Cuba, Nicaragua, Mozambique, and Tanzania). Its focus is on cross-national and comparative analysis of the politics of/and education.

Carnoy and Levin (1985 and 1986) also study the topic of schooling and work in the democratic state. This includes relationships between theories of the state and education, social conflict, reproduction, and contradictions in schooling and educational reform. They posit that schools and workplaces are both alike and different. Both are “large, bureaucratic, impersonal, hierarchical, and routinized’; both use external rewards as motivators (grades and wages) and allow experts, authority, regulations, and schedules to dominate the same minorities and classes which fail in both sites. Yet, American schools “more than any other major social institution” also “provide equal opportunities for participation and rewards.” Workplace gender inequities are not reflected in education nor are the vast differences in societal wealth mirrored in the more-equalized level of educational investment in the society. Educators and students also have more rights and freedoms than do workers (as a result of forces such as politics, law, and democratic “mobilization”).

While US schools prepare students for inequality, they are more equal and participatory than offices and factories. The correspondence principle must be qualified since there is a clear conflict between the economic reproduction function and the dynamic for rights, equality, and participation. Schooling reflects the struggles underway in the society at large (that is, between democratic egalitarianism and the demands of capital). This historical “struggle” occurs within the state and is reflected in the schools. In effect, educational change is based on a new theory of politics and the state. The latter is seen as “the condensation of conflictual class and social relations” and both as “product and shaper of such relations.” The state has tried to “move class and social conflict” into politics by declassifying and redefining workers, farmers, women, and blacks as “citizens” with equal rights and responsibilities. This thrust for democratic egalitarianism produced social conflict since politics could “drastically alter the conditions of capitalist accumulation.” The school is “situated in the heart of sociopolitical conflict,” reflecting these “tensions.” Educational change is a product of internal conflicts within the state. At different historical periods (partly depending on the strength of social reform movements), either the democratic or reproductive ← 53 | 54 → capitalist ethos dominates. Dominated groups can make “authentic” changes and gains. In turn, they produce changes in the basic rules of the political and educational “game,” despite the prevailing influence of the capitalist class. In effect, they conclude that “school struggles and outcomes have an impact on the workplace and force change in civil society as well as in political society” (Carnoy and Levin, 1986, pp. 528-541).

Carnoy and Levin (1985) also analyze the relative utility of the progressive (Dewey), critical progressive (Goodman, Holt, Kozol), functionalist (Inkeles), critical functionalist (Althusser and Bowles and Gintis), critical autonomy (Apple, Giroux, and Willis), and their own model of educational change via social conflict. They counterpoise utilitarian, pluralist (“common good”), “class-perspective” (Marxist), structuralist, bureaucratic “third force,” and their own “social conflict” theories of the state. For example, Carnoy and Levin summarize Offe’s (with Ronge, 1975) views on state autonomy and the “representative” role bureaucracy plays. Bureaucrats must satisfy the interests of the capitalist class. Yet, bureaucrats simultaneously increase labor’s power via educational programs while legitimizing themselves by meeting certain demands of labor while ensuring profitability and a smooth-functioning economy. For Offe, the bureaucracy actually coalesces the interests of the capitalist class and serves as an “independent” mediator for struggles over capital accumulation. But the “crisis of legitimation” resulting from performing these bureaucratic roles makes the state a battleground for conflict resolution. Education allows the state to be legitimate, reproduce capitalism, and ensure employability for labor. Carnoy and Levin, however, claim that Offe’s and Ronge’s analysis of education is too unidimensional, neglects other “ideological apparatuses” (such as mass media), and underestimates the important role of social movements in ideological formation and in setting the state’s agenda, rewards, and policies (Carnoy and Levin, 1985, pp. 15-45).

Carnoy’s (1985) analysis of the political economy of education “treats education as a factor shaped by the power relations between different economic, political, and social groups.” As he says, “how much education an individual gets, what education is obtained and the role of education in economic growth and income distribution are part and parcel of these power relations.” Thus, his analysis requires a clear perspective on the governmental sector, the political system, and a functional “theory of the state.” As he sees it, the state must mediate between employers and workers as well as between voters and capitalists, using education to provide a skilled workforce, to socialize workers, and to inculcate the appropriate ideology. Sometimes, these contradictory goals can overproduce educated workers or encourage workplace democracy, whether as intended or unintended outcomes of schooling (Carnoy, 1985, pp. 157-158; Carnoy and Levin, Winter 1986). ← 54 | 55 →

Critiques of the Reconceptualist Critics from the UK and the US: Cole and Liston

There is no unanimity in critical social science or pedagogical approaches, “schools” of thought, or even in personal theoretical or philosophical consistency over the years. This poses difficulties for the uninitiated reader’s understanding of the broad dimensions of critical educational theory. For example, Cole (1988a and 1988b) examines the changing political philosophy of Bowles and Gintis. He makes a convincing case that these two authors’ basic orientation in Schooling in Capitalist America (1976) agreed with reductionist Marxism (that is, base/superstructure and economic determinism) and revolutionary socialism. In their later article on “Contradiction and Reproduction in Educational Theory” (1981), they moved away from this position by tempering Marxism in their theory of sites (state, family, and capital production) and the practices which support personal, group, or class “interventions” to maintain or transform certain social realities. They also humanized and pluralized their definition of the state while simultaneously distancing themselves from a neo-Marxist stance, moving toward a liberal democratic formulation of the state as primarily a governmental institution.

Cole claims that Bowles and Gintis (1986) moved even further away from their original position to embrace “postliberal democracy” with its expanded personal economic rights (property) as well as political rights for citizens with “equal” rights, regardless of race, gender, or class. This shift proposes the revision, reconstruction, or destruction of current capitalist institutions through “workplace democracy,” “democratic economic planning” through increased power and worker control, “community access to capital,” reduced (“equitable”) economic inequality, socially directed (“collective”) capital “investment decisions,” and “democratic accountability.” However, these authors identify the most significant flaws in classic liberal theory. These include ignorance of exploitation and oppression, its application of principles (such as liberty and equality) to the state (but only liberty to the economy), its false distinction between a “private” economy and “public” state, and liberals” allowance for private exploitation, dominance, and/or oppression of “learners” in school, of the incarcerated, “uncivilized” races, and of “irrational” wives in the family (Cole, 1988b, pp. 459-460).

This critique, itself, consistently applies neo-Marxian analysis of key concepts (such as state domination and oppression, antipluralism and liberalism, class, gender, racial exploitation, hegemony, labor solidarity, and discourse analysis) to Bowles’ and Gintis’ writings, theory, and philosophy. As such, Cole may well be more faithful to the British or European school of Marxist analysis, just as Bowles and Gintis are both products of, and are reacting to, the perhaps stronger liberal (both individual and especially social) tradition in American political culture (also see Cole, 1989).

Liston (May 1988, pp. 323-350) analyzes some changing contexts and neo-Marxist positions on schooling and social reproduction theories. For the latter, he ← 55 | 56 → says that “little reliable empirical knowledge has been ascertained” to support their functional/logical explanations. These are often stated in tautological terms. Frequently, Liston maintains, the arguments of Bowles and Gintis (1976), Apple (1982a, 1982b, and 1983), and Carnoy and Levin (1985) employ “weak” functional explanations. Thus, effects are noted, institutional or agency functions are attributed, and this course of reasoning is considered equal to (or sufficient for) an explanation for the described social phenomenon. By comparison, “real” functional explanations clearly identify real effects, then prove a practice or institution exists because of, to maintain, and/or as a cause of this given effect (for example, schools exist to maintain the society as it is; or school tracking systems exist to minimize economic crises or to legitimize the capitalist order in capitalist societies). Such “facile” functional explanations are also applied to other assertions. These propose that, while schools exist to maintain the capitalist system, they also conflict with (or contradict) this order. This happens because their capital accumulation and meritocratic or legitimating roles may clash with the social order if those who “strive” in schools do not find jobs and “thrive” later in the economic world. Such explanations would be more soundly based, Liston maintains, if they could show how school affects “products” or if outcomes explain why schools are as they are (causation), not merely their either sustaining or contradicting capitalism and its related effects (Liston, May 1988, pp. 328-330).

Liston also describes the variety of philosophical underpinnings in various neo-Marxist analyses of schooling. Bowles and Gintis are responsible for shared insights, such as “historical correspondence.” This theory shows that when major economic transformations occurred, power and class structures and relationships changed and the educational (cultural) superstructure mirrored these altered economic conditions. There is also the more specific phenomenon of school-work-life correspondence where the social division of labor is reinforced in schools by maintaining class structures and cultivating relevant parental expectations. Consequently, professional parents expect self-motivation and a free-wheeling or open work/school atmosphere. The working class “prefers” a restrictive and controlling educational climate because it reflects their personal modes of routinized, meaningless, and orderly work life. Correspondence (Bowles and Gintis, 1976) is also based on an economic determinist model. That is, the forces and relations of production determine the forms, meanings, structures, and processes of schooling as well as other social institutions (superstructures). This model also accounts for contradictions and conflicts (sometimes “muted”) in the economic sphere, which are responsible for subsequent educational conflicts and changes as well. Schools also require students to compete, rather than cooperate, with one another for grades and “honors.” Since students lack self-motivation, they only respond to external rewards. The credentialing system, the top-down organization of school hierarchy, and the deskilling of teachers (via prepackaged ← 56 | 57 → curricula and diminished professionalism) lead to the legitimation of prevailing social norms and rules for work life management.

Because schools reflect the class, race, and gender structures of the general society, they try to respond to a multiplicity of competing demands from employers, workers, educators, parents, and politicians. All help to influence tracking, hierarchy, curriculum, teachers, resource allocation, and other aspects of schooling. Schooling may also be considered a democratic “right” of all citizens. Consequently, a certain amount of excellence and equality through democratic schooling (if properly understood) may be possible. It can result in social transformation through theoretically informed action (praxis), along with an informed understanding of the close connections between capitalism and schooling (Liston, May 1988, pp. 334-342).

Tracking must be examined through empirical and qualitative studies of differential, class-based curricula, which subsequently result in higher social status as well as greater social and economic power. Informed studies (with a proper theoretical base) can produce findings which will help to meet functionalist criticisms as well as to provide grounded underpinnings for the theoretical construct being examined. Historical studies (with case studies of tracking controversies at the urban level) can show the influence and interest of business classes in a tracking system and a differential class-based curriculum. In this way, Liston contends, a structure or procedure can be shown to produce interactive effects which feed back into its maintenance based on these supporting effects (Liston, May 1988, pp. 344-348).

A Comparative (Swedish) Perspective: Englund

Englund provides a useful comparison among patriarchal, scientific-rational, and democratic conceptions of democracy, equality, the good society, rationality, science, individualism, schooling, literacy, and politics. While the neoconservative position is based on the patriarchal conception and includes formal, elite, organic, valuative, idealistic, atomistic, private, nationalistic, reformist, religious, legalistic, and cultural values, the scientific-rational (or what Fischer, 1990, calls the “technocratic rationality”) model is based on funtionalism, equal opportunity, the market, positivism, individualism, choice, private values, vocationalism, progress-ivism, empiricism, political neutrality, and utility. He prefers the democratic conception, which is participatory, results- and human-rights-oriented, pluralistic, neopragmatic, communitarian, comprehensive, public-welfare-minded, critical reconstructionist, and devoted to popular political and social education for conflict resolution.

Perceiving civic education as an example of both the politics of education and a case of politics and education allows for an analysis of curriculum as a political problem in Sweden and other countries. Englund (1986) analyzes criticisms of Freeman Butts’ unitary approach to American citizenship as historical study by ← 57 | 58 → detailing his stress on unum over pluribus in social studies education. Butts” critics affirm that no social consensus exists on unitary values. The educator should reflect social tensions and conflicts (not just some artificial consensus) and increase the public’s capacity for civic discussion and the formation of new publics, not parrot state or media-sponsored official ideology. Along with Giroux, he sees the civic educator helping create a new public philosophy of education, learning, and citizenship (apart from the state), raising citizenship to a complete ethical, moral, and social (not merely political) philosophy for “developing democratic and just communities” self-governed via ethical public leadership principles (Englund, 1986, pp. 328-330) Englund shares English and American views of civic education as political involvement, activity, and participation. The goals of citizen “awareness” and “responsibility for political decisions” are highly valued. He agrees with Giroux (1983a and 1984) and Giarelli (1983) that the civic educator should lead public discussions. There, the public can discharge their civic purposes by exercising the “office” of citizen to form new publics. We need new “public spheres” where people can learn and apply their skills to “the wider political, social, and cultural processes.” Citizenship should not be viewed as a function of the state, as Giroux maintains, but as a “quality” that applies to all of social life. As Giroux says, the goals of this type of citizenship are “critical literacy,” “social empowerment,” and “developing democratic and just communities” through an informed citizenry that is “capable of exercising political and ethical leadership in the public sphere” (Englund, 1986, pp. 329-330; Giarelli, 1983, p. 35; and Giroux, 1984, pp. 190 and 192).

Ethnography, Critical Studies, and Politics

Certain “interpretive approaches” also contribute to the study of education and schooling from a comparative perspective on micro systems or “the world of everyday life.” This ethnographic perspective focuses on social reality in the schools, observations there, and social interactions, while using videotaped or audio-recorded documentaries (Tobin, 1989, pp. 173-177). “Critical approaches” to the ethnography of schooling “emphasize class conflict, the dissimilar interests of various classes, and their differing relationship to (and benefits from) the workings of the educational system” (Masemann, February 1982, p. 9). “Conflict approaches” also have social (and structural) theoretical underpinnings, but are less compatible with functionalist approaches. These approaches see schools as agents for the “reproduction of society,” where personality trait reinforcement prepares different classes for economic roles as workers or managers. They posit a “theory of correspondence,” in which “social relations of production are mirrored in the social relations of education.” For example, some theorize that schools stratify and produce the “cultural capital” (ideas, ideology, etc.) the dominant class needs. Teachers, like workers, are becoming “deskilled” professionals with ready-made, prepackaged curriculum. Key research topics include student alienation, curriculum ← 58 | 59 → packaging, credentialing, required courses, norms of prediction, social control mechanisms, socialization practices, and miscommunication. Student “resistance” to such manipulations include cheating, distancing, absenteeism, mindlessness, inattention, avoidance, or rebellion. Praxis is avoided since schooling, knowledge, and credentials are not usefully applied, only “banked” for future use (Masemann, February 1982, pp. 5-14).

Specific ethnographic research on school socialization and desegregation policy produced much harsher conclusions about democratic socialization and racial equality practices in public schools (Wilcox 1982a and 1982b; Hanna, 1982). Wilcox (1982a) asserts that schools transmit culture and socialize children for “available” adult work roles. Adult work roles are highly differentiated and stratified. Therefore, while US schools are supposed to encourage equal opportunity, they also stratify persons for future jobs by teaching and evaluating those cognitive skills, learning abilities, and technical skills (“human capital”) deemed useful for later work life. They also develop appropriate roles for workers and managers through “self-preparation” for the work hierarchy. Personality factors which are appropriate for relating to authority differ from one job role to another, with some being “externally” (assembly line workers) and others “internally” (managers) motivated. These critiques of multidimensional sources and self-image development (anticipatory socialization) have major implications for schooling, the social context of the classroom, the teachers” interactions with students and parents, and vice versa (Wilcox, 1982a, pp. 268-309).

Micro- and macro-level perspectives on schooling and change also interest ethnographers. Teachers often use closed control systems and restricted language, even in “open” classrooms where they monopolize some class time for management. Merely having (or paying lip service to) learning centers and individualized learning practices does not necessarily reduce “authoritarian teacher control mechanisms,” which are used more harshly against lower-SES students. Black children in white-dominated classrooms are resegregated by achievement levels, even without tracking. Administrative ignorance and unwillingness to help teachers experiencing difficulty in newly integrated schools was also observed. No conjoint, multicultural curricula developments were supported, nor was outreach to minority parents attempted. (Parents are systematically excluded from schools, as a rule.) Different class members learn similar roles in the schools. But the values of success in the general society predominate when school/societal discontinuities occur. By detailing such relations, ethnography helps us compile a more dynamic view of what happens to whom, and with what lasting effects, in schools (Wilcox, 1982b, pp. 462-478). ← 59 | 60 →

Do Current Trends in Critical Educational Theory Parallel and Reinforce or Contradict Recent Developments in US Political Science, Socialization Research and/or Civic Educational Reforms?

Political Science and Decision Making

American political science is still searching for a disciplinary core by discussing methods, processes, and the role of different subfields and concepts. Some relevant and useful unifying concepts include power, influence, authority, political “values,” the state, politics, and government. Appropriate accepted research methods and political processes are behavioral, neo-Marxist, statistical, postbehavioral, qualitative, philosophical, psychological, public or rational choice, pluralism, and decision/policy making approaches. Certain subfields of analysis identify political theory, public policy, or the general study of politics or governments as key elements in such a core. While political science remains undisciplined, political scientists intuitively recognize and embrace something or someone as their own and reject that (or someone’s work) which is not. In many respects, what is left of a diffuse political science core is merely a shared focus on the process of policy analysis or decision making of a common vocabulary which allows comprehensible discourse to occur in a continuous metadiscourse with colleagues in the same field or subfield (Monroe, et al., March 1990, pp. 34-43; Farnen, 1990, pp. 29-48; Almond, Fall 1988, pp. 828-842).

The “Discipline” of Political Science as an Undisciplined Field of Study

The relevance and applicability of critical social science and radical educational theories to US political science, socialization, and education research and writing are still unclear, undeveloped, tangential, and weak. There are neo-Marxist, radical, or new left political analysts in the academy; but they mainly prod, arouse or act as scapegoats for centrist-oriented colleagues. Mainstreamers often treat them in a condescending way, much like carnival freaks - something human and alive, but bizarrely deformed and sometimes repulsive. Only in certain conceptual areas, political topics, or cultural sites do political scientists and critical social and educational theorists have opportunities to come together. Instances such as discussions about the politics of education, collective union negotiations, social or cultural “capital,” civic education, or the “hidden curriculum” provide occasions for mainline political scientists to discuss relevant “left-wing” theoretical and evidentiary constructs. These marginal intersections “mainstream” these ideas into the continuing public discourse about the relevance of political questions to learning, schooling, civic education, and public educational policy.

In this regard, Dryzek and Leonard maintain there is no exclusive tradition in American political science, saying that “disciplinary pluralism is the norm, and the ← 60 | 61 → existence of skepticism itself accentuates that pluralism.” They claim that the profession has often been involved in “real politics” and just at the right time as well. As they observe, recent currents of disciplinary skepticism very aptly reflect present political realities and “the context of a polity and a discipline that have lost their bearings” (Dryzek and Leonard, December 1988, pp. 1256-1257; Dryzek, May 1986).

Critical Pedagogy, Political Science, and Political Education: Some Developmental Parallels, Clashes, and Collisions

Most recent discussions on core values and appropriate methods in contemporary US political science seem singularly unenlightened about many questions which have motivated political study. These involve the nature and purpose of human beings, society, the state, and government as well as contrasting views about the good society and paths or policy choices which might be taken to achieve the public good either today or tomorrow. Instead, US political scientists are overly concerned about conversational themes such as pluralism, objectivity, political neutrality, and the primacy of classic democratic political theory in their intra-disciplinary discussions.

But which themes of critical educational theory appear most useful for both enlightening and “liberating” American political science, citizenship education, and political socialization research? Critical educational theorists and social scientists add to our knowledge about politics, education, and socialization in several areas. Nevertheless, there are several other areas where conspicuous “silences” in their texts provide few satisfactory answers to still other pressing current problems. A review of these contrasting contributions may help answer this question.

A Workable Theory of the State

The first productive area stemming from trends in critical social science resurrects discussions about a current and viable theory of the modern state. Much of political science, civic education, and socialization research has no clear concept of what the state, government, or civil authority is supposed to do, what it does, or why it does what it does. Vague formulations of popular sovereignty are combined with a penchant for participation to achieve abstract notions of democratic fulfillment. In this regard, critical social scientists clearly oppose the liberal/capitalist state’s basic values and manifestations (Offe and Ronge, 1977). These challenges are both radical and essential to an appreciation of the central questions of power, authority, bureaucracy, legitimacy, justice, freedom, solidarity, and equity (Carnoy, 1984 and 1985).

Radical theorists clarify this aspect of their political and educational philosophy while challenging their detractors to debate alternative views with appropriate evidence, knowledge, and value claims. Therefore, as Macpherson (1977) and Finkelstein (1984) observed, radical philosophical critics helped raise ← 61 | 62 → basic political and teleological questions about the nature, nurture, and purpose of human beings, society, and government. Alternatively, their self-satisfied liberal and conservative opponents prefer to ignore such questions or to assume answers to them as part of the conventional wisdom. But little in the contemporary debate about the nature of political science is concerned with a viable theory of the modern democratic state. In fact, when the right proposes statist ideas, the left (not the center) has felt most compelled to respond to their undemocratic elitism, self-serving economic and class-based motivations and their reduction of human interaction to self-interest, exchange relationships, and moral/ethical anarchy or conformity.

Using critical social science perspectives to analyze US public policy making, some American scholars questioned the normative, ethical, political, and philosophical basis for neoconservative and liberal notions of efficiency, “the market,” and cost benefit analysis (Fischer and Forester, 1987). Fischer’s (1990) analysis helps us spot links between the postindustrial economy and the new administrative state. Within a nonpositivist and democratic framework, Fischer proposes redesigning bureaucratic institutions to counter their “managerial bias” by encouraging “participatory expertise” in community cooperatives, democratized work settings, “alternative technology projects,” “new social movements,” and achieving social reconstruction via a form of “political ergonomics” in policy making (Fischer, 1990, pp. 7-11 and 13-35). This analysis has implications for across-the-board educational reform.

Liberal Culture and Everyday Politics

A second useful area is radical theory’s emphasis on practical political culture as “lived culture,” the politics of everyday life, and schooling as an actual experience. While frequently argued in abstract terms (for example, resistance, cultural reproduction, and correspondence theory), the basic point of the struggles, the commonplace, the agony and the ecstasy of everyday work, school life, and community interactions is that these chronicles are real experiences. Accounts of them enlighten the reader; evoke empathy, understanding, and compassion for those whose daily lives are very different from political science textbooks or televised soap-opera myths. Thus, there is some congruence with the subfield of political science/behavior which studies political “patterns in everyday life.” To illustrate, Peterson (1990) summarized research on “ordinary people” and politics, including the politics of sex, family, workplace, clubs, religion, and media. For example, the person on the street thinks of politics as the government (state), power, and influence; as functions and evaluations; and as political actors. Ordinary people see politics as part of church, family, work, and club life.

In terms of decision making, the family had the greatest effect on participation and efficacy levels and the church the least influence. This study corroborated the powerful effects of education and income on influencing decision making and ← 62 | 63 → decision makers, whether in interest groups, clubs, or traditional forms of political participation. Merely acknowledging that politics happens in everyday life translates into greater influence over decision making in such group settings. Peterson concludes that while SES, education, and gender influence civic orientations and political decision-making participation, it is equally true that greater political efficacy and participation in decision making in everyday institutions also influence formal political decision making and increased participation (Peterson, 1990, pp. 39-55).

Politics of/and Education

Also interesting is the concept of politics and education and the politics of education. Reconceptualists propose that politics is an educational process, while schooling is infused with political content, meanings, processes, and structures. Recognizing the state’s role in schooling, the correspondence and reproduction theories, and the schools as independent sites for transformative democratic practices and principles all point to the unity of politics and education as well as the politics of the educational process. The formal and informal, overt and hidden, political and social curriculum is just one aspect of this unity in a democratic political polity between politics and education.

Furthermore, as Richard Merelman (June 1980, pp. 319-320) said when criticizing the hidden curriculum’s alleged socially harmful effects, the problematic role of the schools in teaching democracy “is not just an educational problem, for education is a major arena of public policy. Educational failures are, ipso facto, policy failures.” The failures of democratic education are also those of American politics.

Class, Gender, and “Minority” Status

Political science is also interested in the critical perspective on class, gender, race, and minority status in schools and the society. Though less developed than the class perspective on schooling, the emerging critique of patriarchy, the socially and individually destructive nature of racial and minority discrimination, and the related treatment of the powerless by the economically and politically privileged (in supposedly democratic societies) inform the field of political science. This should subsequently influence its professional agenda, obligations, and acceptable topics for research and analysis. For example, political socialization studies must not only deal with majoritarian values, processes, and knowledge, but also with alternative perspectives. Moreover, the pattern of social, economic, and political discrimination and the public’s knowledge, feelings, and behaviors on this topic are necessary components of any new research agenda on political socialization, especially that conducted in a cross-national perspective. ← 63 | 64 →

The Social Dimension of Schooling

A related area of critical educational thought involves educational systems and developmental patterns. Certain radically oriented researchers examined patterns of educational growth, development, and experimentation in third-world and developing socialist systems. For example, these studies focused on the collective, group, and social dimensions of schooling as contrasted with the individualized mission of American and capitalist schooling. These findings not only show the degree to which changes in basic educational skills (such as literacy) are possible, but also the extent to which a social dimension to schooling can be successfully planned and developed. Teaching cooperation, teamwork, and group creativity is important. “Team” control over the work, standard setting, problem solving, or decision making tasks and other aspects of schooling (beyond individualism, olympic-style competition, and discriminatory grading practices) is important for both postindustrial capitalistic and developing countries (Carnoy and Werthein, 1977).

Democratic Personalities in Their Social Contexts

Critical pedagogical theory’s resurrection and appropriation of the Frankfurt School’s and the American social reconstructionist philosophical traditions is significant to political science’s renewed interest in pro-democratic and antiauthoritarian personality characteristics as well as their social and cultural manifestations, interactions, and reinforcements. For example, the earlier work of Fromm, Adorno, and Marcuse on empirical-theoretical links, the authoritarian personality’s “escape from freedom,” and the process of dialectical interrogation across the cultural spectrum (for example, media, politics, aesthetics, and education) is valuable in creating “the sane society.” This is especially true with the end of the cold war because the nationalistic imperatives engendered for over 40 years in the West impacted authoritarianism and its cultural correlates (such as antiauthoritarianism and democracy) in the US and other countries. Farnen (July 1991 and 1992), Meloen (1992), and Hagendoorn (November 1991) discussed the relevance of authoritarianism, militarism, nationalism, cultural hegemony, ethnocentrism, and dogmatism to the study of democracy and education.

Ethnography (Cultural Studies)

The progress which radical ethnographers, critical educational theorists, or English practitioners of cultural studies (such as Willis and Anyon) made in combining cultural studies and theoretical constructs with the ethnographic method shows the power of this qualitative approach to “thickly descriptive” analysis of “lived lives” and school “cultures.” To unravel the mysteries underlying significant questions (such as “Do schools really make any difference?”), critical ethnographers uncovered the basic outlines of hierarchy, cultural dominance, and class hegemony ← 64 | 65 → which operate in capitalist schools. In schools today, the correspondence and reproduction principles function along with strains of resistance and transformative possibility.

Policy Making and Political Socialization

Critical social science research in public/educational policy making and for political socialization research is also valuable. While many critical educational theorists dismiss much of the work on political socialization and educational politics and decision making as theoretically uninformed, liberally biased, and counterproductive for depicting both the reality of schooling and the possibility for reform, they offer few constructive alternatives, models, or actual case studies as a more viable approach. However, the work of Willis, et al. (1988) on the social conditions of youth in Wolverhampton, England provides some insight. This radical policy research and cultural studies project focused on a local economy, youth unemployment, relevant survey findings, and a “qualitative” picture of youth culture and local youth services. Its goal was development of “a policy and institutional framework capable of grasping the full range of needs of young adults and empowered to respond to them in a coordinated and integrated way” (Willis, et al., 1988, p. 3).

Policy proposals based on this research study include coordinating local policy, structuring (not individualizing) concepts of unemployment, combating redundancy and victimization approaches, establishing empowerment through problem self-definition, developing a collective focus on a “policy/services/resources” package, and trying “riskier” and more liberating policies than now exist. Even more specific policy proposals for a local council, enlightened policy statement, bureaucratic restructuring, and a town “youth site” are proposed in accordance with a youth-developed “charter” (Willis, et al., 1988, pp. 231-243). This type of action-oriented and theoretically informed research could be applied to political socialization, multicultural education, and civic education curriculum projects in other research settings.

The Hidden and Explicit Curricula

New left and neo-Marxist discussions of the “hidden curriculum” (as versus the formal curriculum) not only interest political scientists and educators, but they actually provoked a heated debate in American Political Science Review during 1980 and 1981. At that time, two prominent political scientists (Richard Merelman and M. Kent Jennings) engaged in a spirited exchange. Merelman (June 1980) claimed that democratic schooling did not seem to make much difference, whereas Jennings (June 1980) held that it did. (For an evaluation of this exchange, see Farnen, 1990, pp. 54-61; also see Merelman, March 1981, and Jennings, March 1981, for their final views on this subject.) ← 65 | 66 →

When this debate continued the following year, it mainly devolved into an argument about which scholar could provide more statistics supporting the influence of education on democratic values. More to the point is Giroux’s perspective on the Merelman argument, which he terms part of “the liberal problematic.” Giroux (in Giroux and Purpel, 1983) faults Merelman (ignoring Jennings) for not seeing that the intraschool division he describes “may have its roots in the dominant society” (that is, in “the very nature of capitalist society” which restricts democracy to politics and inequality to economics). Instead, Giroux attributes to Merelman characteristics that typify “the liberal perspective in general” (that is, “little or no understanding” of how social conditions create “oppressive features of schooling,” as well as “the ideological texture of school life”). There is no room in the liberal view for evaluating “contradictory knowledge claims” or explaining both how such a “reality” emerged or how it may be successfully resisted through “critical thinking or constructive dialogue.” The alternative, radical approach to the hidden curriculum does not merely dismiss the phenomenon as a “structural constraint” or consensus-producing techniques, but rather uses it as a “focus on conflict” and “on social structures and the construction of meaning” (that is, it questions reproduction, “dominance,” “exploitation,” and class “inequality”) (Giroux and Purpel, 1983, pp. 54-56; Giroux and Penna, 1981, pp. 209-230).

These three perspectives show that there is both a pluralism in (and division among) political science views about the hidden curriculum. It is also relevant to current disciplinary discourse and its modernistic “great conversation.” But radical critics obviously hit a very sore spot by attacking present formulations of democratic schooling. This discussion illustrates the lack of engagement and what Giroux called “constructive dialogue” between the radical and traditional political science communities. The Merelman-Jennings debate lost sight of the radical critique, posed an alternative model, quarreled over the democratic relevance of schooling, and heaped statistical evidence (minus any theoretical underpinnings) on one another without a real debate over the radical critique up by the phrase “the hidden curriculum.” None of the information in the American political socialization and ethnographic literature on class and racial divisions (the work of Litt, Jaros, Greenberg, et al., reprinted in Bell, 1973, pp. 91-128 and 189-299; Anyon, 1979 and 1980) was discussed. Nor were the radical critics asked to reply to the terms of this debate. This left a huge silence instead of useful answers. Such deficiencies surely need correction in future encounters of this sort.

Political Education

Finally, we focus on civic education, citizenship, and political education. The utility of the radical critique in this respect is its formulations of both the “hidden curriculum” and other useful constructs (such as resistance and the possibility of transforming schools which may exert a liberating and emancipatory influence on ← 66 | 67 → students, teachers, and the society itself). This critique is holistic in its approach because schooling is placed in the context of the home, media, job, and across all groups, institutional, individual, internal, and external agents and levels in a lifelong perspective.

Since the radical critique has mostly been at the theoretical level (because of its roots in classic and neo-Marxist, Gramsci, Friere, Dewey, and Frankfurt School analysis), the details of how one creates a radical curriculum (that is, educational praxis) have not been superabundant. But we now have some indications of what this more mundane aspect of schooling actually means.

As an alternative to traditional models, Apple and King want schools to move beyond mere reproduction of work and rhetorical humanistic models to a Gramscian analysis of the school site as an ideological setting by asking: Whose interests do the schools serve? How are cultural and economic capital distributed? Can institutions “enhance meaning and lessen control?” What are these social interests? But they expect no consensual or monolithic answers (Apple and King, 1983, pp. 82-99). Giroux’s “new sociology of curriculum” is also based on the answers to questions about the curriculum, such as: What is such knowledge? How is it produced? How does the classroom reproduce the workplace? Where does its legitimacy come from? In whose interests? How are “contradictions and tensions” over knowledge mediated? And, what legitimizing role does evaluation play? (Giroux, 1981b, p. 104). Giroux’s view of citizenship education as evoking civic courage among an active, involved, public-minded citizenry to produce just and democratic communities also sets a context for such interrogations. Still other radical political economists applaud Piagetian active cognitive formulations and reject Kohlberg’s moral stages as an irrelevant discourse about moral development without a basis in “the coordinates of social action” (Huebner, 1981, p. 134). Yet, Giroux and Purpel (1983, pp. 61-81) think enough of Kohlberg to include his piece on “the moral atmosphere of the school.”

Radical democratic educators have not yet come to terms with stage, developmental, moral, or structural/functional cognitive theory or with decision making, problem solving, or cross-national political socialization findings. An entire generation of recent research in these areas remains beyond the pale of the reconceptualists (Farnen, July 1991 and November 1991). While these findings might benefit from post-hoc critical pedagogical scrutiny, it might be more fruitful for radical educationists to join such cross-national research projects to influence the questions asked of whom as well as when, where, and why we should ask them. In this respect, the more culture-bound Anglo-Saxon theoretical constructs which inform critical social science and educational study in the US, UK, and Germany (for example, the liberal and neoconservative critique) may be quite inappropriate in a former state-socialist-command economic/political system (such as Hungary), whereas the correspondence, resistance, and implicit curriculum concepts may fare better. An Hungarian listening to a neo-Marxian analyze schooling might think ← 67 | 68 → these missionaries of the left had arrived 45 years too late since they have only just begun to develop the market, democracy, civil society, or opportunities for choice among competing public philosophies and policies.


In assessing the relevance of reconceptualism to political science, political education, and political socialization, the great virtue of this diverse school of thought (which is united only through a common political economy, social justice, and transformational nexus) is its dialectical and interrogatory approach to schooling, the state, politics, social traditions, and the economy. In performing this controversial and often negative critique, the uninitiated reader has no secure curriculum, evaluation, or teaching technique safety net. Although the neophyte reader is exposed to a myriad of “what’s wrongs and what not to dos,” there are “silences” about what will work and why. For example, critical pedagogy does not enlighten us about developmental stages or stances or about cognitive psychology, schema theory, and/or whether these ideas can be radicalized, reconceptualized, or made to withstand rigorous interrogation. While not differing much from humanistic evaluators, radical critics often focus on teacher training rather than on the teachers of teachers and/or students, curriculum, and instruction (that is, the latter is perhaps the actual “stuff” of schooling). While an educational philosophy is admirable and an enlightened theory may emancipate us all, there is also a danger of orthodoxy, intolerance, and conformity to one theoretical principle: that espoused by the political economists of schooling. Consequently, the reader must keep track of who is up and who is down on the list of acceptable reconceptualists or “right thinkers.” Adding to the confusion, radical theorists score their hits and errors differently.

There is also a potentially dogmatic strain in the radical critique, which itself must be offset through a commitment to honest dialogue and debate. This purpose is not well served when the opposition is demonized as the “enemy,” using schools and other “ideological state apparatuses” to spread reproduction-based “myths” of pluralism and liberalism. Excoriating the conservative philosophy of schooling as essentially undemocratic is one thing, but linking the “misguided” liberal innocenti as fellow travelers of the right wing is quite another. While conservatives may be as economically deterministic as the most radical neo-Marxists, 20th century social liberals have merely to reorganize their political views along more social democratic and critical educational lines to reach a working consensus with the critical left.

And so it might go with other topics on the US national agenda. These include the probable critical stand on individuals and teachers determining what both learn in school, the need for commonality in theory, but an appreciation of multi-culturalism while working to offset race/class/gender oppression in both schools ← 68 | 69 → and society, and opposing values “transmission” in favor of their mutual development through a liberating curriculum process.

These are just a few of the primary issues in the American educational debate in addition to those previously mentioned, such as parental educational vouchers (“choice”), merit pay, antidiversity, competition, and the America 2000 educational policy agenda (Klein, 25 August 1991, pp. 4-7). To be more effective, the radical critique could be deployed for or against such conservative policy proposals (or partially in favor of certain social liberal alternatives). Not to be more fully involved in this debate is to allow the strong forces of resurgent traditionalism and phoney individualism to go unchallenged and uninterrogated. After all, radical pedagogy and social science are both internally and externally controversial – as both its fundamental nature and developmental designs oblige reconceptualism to be.


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