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Returning to Normal? The Zero-Sum Phenomenon and Imagining Otherwise


by Omar Davila Jr.,, McKenzie Mann-Wood, William Martinez & Maria De La Lima - April 30, 2021

COVID-19 generated a strange paradox. Social suffering reached new heights, and simultaneously, we conceptualized new possibilities. Terms such as “reimagining” and “rethinking” became part of our everyday vocabulary, shaping new possibilities, especially in the field of education. Researchers have long demonstrated the way unequal structures produce unequal outcomes. Yet the very logic driving these inequalities has received much less attention in our imaginative spaces, that is, the zero-sum phenomenon. At its core, the zero-sum phenomenon is the way academic success is based on logics of competition, wherein the academic success of a few requires the nonsuccess of others. Simply consider selective enrollment, award distribution, and standardized testing. In a society in which race, gender, and social class are so intimately connected to notions of merit, it should come as no surprise that the zero-sum phenomenon consistently reproduces power and subordination. We, therefore, call on education scholars, practitioners, and activists to join us in reimagining the future of education, one that departs from exclusion and strives toward transformation.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: April 30, 2021
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23686, Date Accessed: 7/28/2021 3:36:06 PM

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About the Author
  • Omar Davila Jr.,
    Santa Clara University
    E-mail Author
    OMAR DAVILA JR., Ph.D., is an assistant professor of child studies and director of the Future Teachers Project at Santa Clara University. His research examines the nexus of education policy, political discourse, and the social construction of merit. He published his work in several peer-reviewed journals, including Urban Education, Race Ethnicity and Education, as well as the Journal of Leadership, Equity, and Research.
  • McKenzie Mann-Wood
    Santa Clara University
    E-mail Author
    MCKENZIE MANN-WOOD is a fellow via the Future Teachers Project and a student at Santa Clara University. They hope to become a high school English teacher while continuing to center abolitionist perspectives. Originally from Wyoming, they fell in love with the San Francisco Bay Area, where they plan to pursue a career.
  • William Martinez
    Santa Clara University
    E-mail Author
    WILLIAM MARTINEZ is a fellow via the Future Teachers Project and a student at Santa Clara University. His research interests include abolition, race, and education. He plans to become a high school teacher and embrace a critical tradition in his pedagogical approach.
  • Maria De La Lima
    Santa Clara University
    E-mail Author
    MARIA DE LA LIMA is a fellow via the Future Teachers Project and a student at Santa Clara University. Her research interests include educational inequality, immigration, and ethnic studies curricula.
 
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