Commanding heights, levers of power: A reconnaissance of postwar education reform

Josh Cole, Ian McKay


Throughout the second half of the twentieth century – from the years of the Fordist welfare state to those of the post-Fordist neo-liberal order – educational systems in the West have fostered ambitious schemes promoting wide-ranging ‘progressive change.’ Equally ambitious Marxist critiques have targeted education’s regulatory role within the capitalist system. In the early twenty-first century, as privatization and the radical subordination of educational aims and objectives to the demands of capital (‘neo-liberalism’) become unavoidable topics of educational debate, resistance to such neoliberal projects demands a rigorous reconnaissance of the achievements and limitations of radical educational thought. After canvassing major critics of mainstream schooling inside North America and beyond, we suggest that a radical retrieval of the insights of C. B. Macpherson and especially Antonio Gramsci can move us far beyond both reductionist Marxism and unreflective liberalism. We take a third position – embodying an individualist and collective pedagogy – in which the much-maligned ‘liberal arts’ stand against ‘possessive individualist’ education reform.



Marxism; liberalism; democracy; educational history; education reform; educational studies; liberal arts; hegemony; postwar history, contemporary history

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