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Social Class and Social Action: The Middle-Class Bias of Democratic Theory in Education


by Aaron Schutz — 2008

Background: This article examines the emergence of the middle and working classes in America and describes key characteristics of these cultures as they manifest themselves today. It then explores the effects of social class on our conceptions of democracy.

Purpose: To help educators understand the relationship between social action strategies and social class in American society.

Conclusions: Middle-class educators tend to prefer a form of “discursive democracy” that focuses on the enhancement of individuality within group activity. In contrast, working-class people are more likely to embrace a strategy of collective action that I call “democratic solidarity,” which responds to the limited resources and cultural practices specific to working-class life.

Recommendations: Educators who seek to support working-class students in their efforts to resist oppression must better understand the limitations of our tendency to focus on discursive democracy to the exclusion of forms of democratic solidarity.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 2, 2008, p. 405-442
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 14602, Date Accessed: 9/25/2017 12:59:49 PM

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About the Author
  • Aaron Schutz
    University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee
    E-mail Author
    AARON SCHUTZ is associate professor and chair of the Department of Educational Policy and Community Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee. His research examines theories and practices of social action. This article is the third in a trilogy of essays about the limits of Deweyan democracy. The first, “John Dewey’s Conundrum: Can Democratic Schools Empower?” appeared in an earlier volume of Teachers College Record. The second, “John Dewey and ‘a Paradox of Size’: Faith at the Limits of Experience,” appeared in American Journal of Education. Schutz’s website is educationaction.org, and he blogs at the Education Policy Blog.
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