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Master's Tools and the Master's House: A Historical Analysis Exploring the Myth of Educating for Democracy in the United States

Over the past forty-years, neoliberal education reform policies in the U.S. have spurred significant resistance, often galvanized by claims that such policies undermine public education as a vital institution of U.S. democracy. Within this narrative, many activists call to “save our schools” and return them to a time when public schools served the common good. With these narratives in mind, I explore the foundational and persistent power structures that characterize the U.S. as a means to reveal the fundamental purpose of its public education system. The questions that guide my research include: (1) With an understanding that capitalism, white supremacy, settler colonialism and heteropatriarchy are inherently inequitable, incredibly violent and undemocratic; how can we expect meaningful and lasting social protections or even emancipation within a nation-state constituted by these structures? (2) Consequently, can we then expect public education - an institution constructed and controlled by these structural forces - to be transformed into an equitable and democratic institution? (3) Is it even possible to attain state protections for the common good within the current global domain of finance capital? In this extensive historical analysis, I examine these questions using a critical theory lens, historical revisionism and discourse analysis to interrogate primary source materials, scholarly work, news stories, policies and industry publications. This research shows that public education is an extension of a duplicitous and despotic cultural political economy and thus has never been, nor ever could be, an institution that serves democratic or emancipatory purposes. I contend that it is imprudent to strive to transform public education to serve democratic purposes. My research makes evident how current education policies are a continuation of the original design of public education, yet modernized to bolster the imperious and ubiquitous interests of global financialization.