UNDER CONTRACT with Routledge

* If you would like to contribute to this volume as a “late” addition, email paul.thomas@furman.edu ASAP.

Social Context Reform: A Pedagogy of Equity and Opportunity

Editors: P. L. Thomas, Brad Porfilio, Julie Gorlewski, Paul R. Carr


The last decade of the nineteenth century laid the groundwork for misguided political and popular commitments to universal public education in the United States: A technocratic and bureaucratic vision of teaching and learning based on a banking concept of curriculum and a test-based reduction of learning. The Committee of Ten identified public school’s failure to provide a challenging curriculum and established a more than century-long focus on curriculum, content, and standards as the locus of authority in public schooling. The educational reforms enacted in the United States have also found significant resonance within the international community, despite there being a skeptical perception regarding how the US has failed or under-performed in many areas of education.

Throughout the early to mid-twentieth century, humanists (re-enforcing the focus on content) and educators won the battle for the American curriculum (Kliebard, 1995); thus entrenching, for all of public education, the pursuit of a fixed and culturally norming curriculum and a narrow version of scientific education built on tests, labeling, ranking, and sorting. By the mid- to late-twentieth century, Freire (1993) and other critical educators such as Kincheloe (2001, 2002) (along with some progressive, constructivist educators) began to challenge the banking model of education but these critical voices—like the progressive influences of Dewey and others throughout the twentieth century—were at the margins, and completely absent from policy debates (Kohn, 2008).

The publication of, and misreporting about, A Nation at Risk (1983) under Ronald Reagan codified further, through state government, the commitment to standards while adding an intensification of testing as central to the supposed accountability paradigm. Within in two decades, the passing of the No Child Left Behind legislation under George W. Bush added federalization to the notion of accountability.

In 2008, Barack Obama’s administration simultaneously spoke against the past thirty years of accountability, and implemented policies that perpetuated and mirrored the policies Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan appeared to criticize in their public comments. The notion of accountability is pivotal in the debate on education reform because of how it has been conceptualized. Giroux (2004, 2007, 2009, & 2010), McLaren (2006, 2008, 2009), Carr (2008, 2010), Carr and Porfilio (2009, 2011), Porfilio (2012), Thomas (2012, 2011) & Gorlewski (add references) have all critiqued the thinness and allegiance to a highly functionalist form of accountability in these education reforms, often obfuscating the importance of democracy, citizenship and social justice.

The result is that in 2012 both the status quo of public education and the “No Excuses” Reform (NER) rhetoric and policies are identical. NER offers a popular and compelling narrative based on the meritocracy and rugged individualism myths that are supposed to define American idealism.

This volume will refute the NER ideology by proposing Social Context Reform (SCR), a term coined by Thomas to distinguish evidence-based systemic reform endorsed by educators and scholars from NER endorsed by corporate and political leadership:

Social Context Reformers have concluded that the source of success and failure lies primarily in the social and political forces that govern our lives. By acknowledging social privilege and inequity, Social Context Reformers are calling for education reform within a larger plan to reform social inequity—such as access to health care, food security, higher employment along with better wages and job security. (Thomas, 2011, December 30)

Throughout the accountability era since the early 1980s, policy, public discourse, media coverage, and scholarly works have focused primarily, if not exclusively, on reforming schools themselves. Here, the evidence that school-only reform does not work is combined with a bold argument to expand the discourse and policy surrounding education reform to include how social, school, and classroom reform must work in unison to achieve goals of democracy, equity, and opportunity both in and through public education.

The volume will include a wide variety of essays from leading critical scholars from several fields of study addressing the complex elements of SCR, divided into three sections all of which address the need to re-conceptualize accountability, and, moreover, to seek equity and opportunity in social and education reform.

Final TOC

Foreword: Education and the Epochal Crisis, Peter McLaren

Introduction: Social Context Reform: A Pedagogy of Equity and Opportunity, Brad Porfilio, Julie Gorlewski, Paul R. Carr, and P.L. Thomas, Editors

Section I: Social Reform for Equity and Opportunity

Chapter 1 – “Defying Meritocracy: The Case of the Working-Class College Student,” Allison L. Hurst

Chapter 2 – “Reforming the Schooling of Zombie Desire,” William Reynolds

Chapter 3 – “The Pseudo Accountability of Education Reform: The Denial of Democracy, Citizenship, and Social Justice,” Randy Hoover

Chapter 4 – “Teacher Education and Resistance within the Neoliberal Regime: Making the Necessary Possible,” Barbara Madeloni, Kysa Nygreen

Section II: School-based Reform for Equity and Opportunity

Chapter 5 – “Social Context and School Underperformance in Inuit Schooling,” Paul Berger

Chapter 6 – “An Injury to All? The Haphazard Nature of Academic Freedom in America’s Public Schools,” Robert L. Dahlgren, Nancy C. Patterson & Christopher J. Frey

Chapter 7 – “Educate Youth of Color, Do Not Criminalize Them,” Mary Christianakis and Richard Mora

Section III: Classroom-based Reform for Equity and Opportunity

Chapter 8 – “A Pedagogy of Equity and Opportunity: Literacy, Not Standards,” P. L. Thomas

Chapter 9 – “YouTube University: How an Educational Foundations Professor Uses Critical Media in His Classroom,” Nicholas D. Hartlep

Chapter 10 – “Developing a User-Friendly, Community-Based Higher Education,” Rebecca Collins-Nelsen and Randy Nelsen

Chapter 11- “Transcending the Standard: One Teacher’s Effort to Explore the World Beyond the Curriculum,” Chris Leahy

Conclusion: Learning and Teaching in Scarcity, P. L. Thomas

Author Biographies