Educational Politics for Social Justice
reviewed by Liliana E. Castrellón - February 02, 2021
Title: Educational Politics for Social Justice
Author(s): Catherine Marshall, Synthia Gerstl-Pepin & Mark Johnson
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807763233, Pages: 264, Year: 2020
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Educational Politics for Social Justice overviews the nuances of inequitable power relations in policy and politics in education. The authors synthesize how policy can use a Centering Justice (CJ) framework and highlight examples from various educational leaders across policy arenas. Marshall et al. (2020) advance opportunities to consider who is missing from mainstream policy arenas and analysis, and provide readers with scenarios to grapple with as they work towards centering equity and justice in their practice. Each chapter includes going deeper pop-ups, where the authors pose critical questions to inspire the reader to think profoundly about social justice.
The book has three sections. Part One is Centering Justice in Educational Politics and includes chapter one. In this chapter, the authors unravel the myriad ways that power inequities are inherent to policy, politics, and democracy. Marshall et al. present a centering justice framework as an alternative model for thinking about education policy and politics that center education equity and social justice. CJ draws on the lived experiences of communities often left out of policy discussion (e.g., students, families, and teachers). A CJ approach understands democracy through a social justice lens that acknowledges sociohistorical injustices. By laying the groundwork for deconstructing injustice and power in democracy, Part One sets the stage for the remainder of the book, which hones in on analyzing individual arenas of policy and developing practical tools for advancing a CJ framework.
Part Two of the book, "Multiple Arenas of Educational Politics," includes chapters two through six. This section explores educational policy and politics from multiple arenas of micro, local/district, state, federal, and global. Chapter two focuses on micropolitics, or the daily interactions embedded in exertions of power, influence, and control. Micropolitical analyses describe the subtle and overt effects of power in education policy arenas. While macro arenas focus on important policy issues, the micropolitical arena initiates conversations on overlooked policy discussions, such as educators' daily experiences in schools and challenges they might be facing. Using "structural power dynamics" and "sociological and cultural context" approaches, the authors interrogate (often hidden) interplays of power at structural and sociocultural levels in micropolitics, policy, and policy implementation.
Chapter three describes school districts' politics by defining who the actors are at this level and various power dynamics. This chapter overviews the roles of the central office, superintendents, school boards and their rituals/controversies, and the larger city or county politics role. The authors posit that to create a cultural change in education and for social justice, democracy, and equity to be advanced, educational leaders must turn to ground-level stakeholders, such as parents, guardians, and other voices often left out of policy arenas.
In chapter four, Marshall et al. untangle state politics and policy shifts, accountability measures, and school reform. The chapter explains the roles of the key players in state policymaking processes. Because education is a decentralized system in the United States, each state is responsible for their own education systems and policies. Thus, one must understand how state policies work and how federal shifts influence state policies and structures. For instance, A Nation at Risk, No Child Left Behind, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) all have shifted attention in states' education policy agendas. While the recent shift to ESEA re-empowers state-level policymakers, the state might lean more towards equitable policies or policies that focus on accountability and choice measures, which can further disenfranchise historically marginalized students. CJ leaders can address inequities in state policies and advocate for alternative policies while also being mindful of the state-level politics and power hierarchies.
Chapter five explores the shifting role of the federal government and the influence of interest groups in education policy. ESEA has diminished the power of the federal government in states' rights over education policy and reform. State policy must act within the confines of federal laws, just as district-level policies must act within state laws. With states holding more responsibility for education policy and reform, educational leaders for social justice can ensure their representatives are centering social justice and equity in policymaking decisions. They can also cater how federal laws, Supreme Court decisions, and state policies to fit their local and micropolitical contexts in the implementation process to uphold educational equity.
The final chapter in Part Two focuses on politics in the global arena. The world is more interconnected than ever before; with that, the US's education trends must account for what is happening worldwide. Increasing as a global educational trend is a turn towards the privatization of education, which moves away from the value of education as a public good. The neoliberal ideas of market-based values, goals in education, and minimal governmental control in policy are not only a trend in the US but have become common across the world. This chapter urges readers to consider the intersections of local and international politics in education and to think as global citizens in the wake of global social inequities.
In Part Three, "Making Connections for Policy Action," Marshall et al. summarize the previous sections and give a synopsis of how to actualize a CJ approach. Chapter seven discusses practitioners' daily realities, highlighting the complexities of policy webs and pendulum shifts in policy. The chapter profiles how students' lives intertwine with policy webs, from their everyday experiences to how the district, state, and federal policies around them intersect into daily realities. Thus, it is practically impossible to resolve issues with one policy alone, as there are often several intersectional policy issues impacting individuals and communities. Social justice leaders must be attuned to the interconnected policy webs and unpack issues as complex and deeply embedded in unequal power dynamics.
The final chapter of the book re-articulates a CJ approach in educational politics. The authors write, CJ leaders must recognize and learn to divest their own privileges and biases (p. 192), be authentic, and center stakeholders. They provide several examples of what it means to be a CJ leader and develop the necessary tools by taking purposeful journeys away from your comfort zone, creating a platform and articulating a stance, and using outsiders' and legitimized organizations' recommendations. Being a CJ leader is not an easy process, but it requires authenticity, commitment, and consistent challenge to the status quo.
The book supplies practitioners with practical tools necessary for advancing a centering justice agenda that honors and recognizes the stakeholders' and communities' lived realities. It interweaves theory, practice, and scenarios to push readers to problematize communities left out of mainstream policy discussions and to show how they can center justice as they work at the intersections of educational policy, politics, practice, and social justice.
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