Critical Education CFP: Liberalism in Educational Policy, Practice, and Discourse

by E Wayne Ross on August 1, 2012

Call for Papers

Special Theme Issue of Critical Education
Theme: Liberalism in Educational Policy, Practice, and Discourse

Guest Editors:
Angelina E. Castagno & Sabina Vaught

Despite current scholarly attention to the ways neoliberalism characterizes much of our contemporary socio-political context, liberalism still profoundly informs power dynamics within schools, community organizations, and other educational contexts. While neoliberalism focuses on markets, choice, and efficiency, classical liberalism centers notions of the individual, equality, democracy, and meritocracy. These are enduring notions with significant ideological attachments, as well as institutional and policy-based manifestations within school settings. Although the concept of liberalism has somewhat shifting boundaries in response to larger social, political, and economic changes, there remain these powerful central elements (see, for example, Cochran, 1999; Dawson, 2003; Locke, 1690; Mill, 1869; Olson, 2004; Starr, 2008). This special issue seeks to examine how these liberal tenets shape power dynamics around race, gender, class, and sexuality in school policy, practice, and law.

We suggest that liberalism’s power in schooling operates from its axis of individualism. At the heart of liberalism is the notion of the individual and individual rights. In liberal thought, individuals provide the foundation for laws and societal norms, and institutions exist primarily to further the goals, desires, and needs of individuals. An individual’s rights are of utmost importance under a liberal framework, so rights such as freedom of speech, thought, conscience, and lifestyle are viewed as fundamental and worth protecting at almost any cost. Equality of opportunity is another liberal mainstay. Value is placed on ensuring that individuals have equal access to various opportunities in society. However, liberalism is not concerned with ensuring equality of outcome since it is assumed that individuals can reasonably decide if and how to capitalize on opportunities presented to them. Moreover, liberalism generally opposes too much government regulation, but this can be a point of contention since government involvement is sometimes required to ensure the stability of other core liberal values. These tenets allow liberalism to both mask and reproduce power imbalances. As such, liberalism informs power mechanisms by which educational policies, practices, and discourses are shaped.

With liberalism as an analytic construct through which to view schooling, we seek papers for this special issue that might address the following broad questions:

  • How is liberalism taken up, engaged, and employed in various educational contexts to reproduce power along axes of race, gender, sexuality, and class?
  • To what extent does the liberal identity and agenda drive educational efforts and movements, and to what effect?
  • What are the implications of liberalism on schools? On youth? On policy? On curriculum? On pedagogy? On activism? On reform efforts?

Through these analyses, we hope to map the multiple ways liberalism impacts schooling in order to disrupt power inequities that remain pervasive and elusive when viewed strictly through a neoliberal framework. Drawing on critical theory, Critical Race Theory, Tribal Critical Theory, Red Pedagogies, gender and feminist studies, and other related theoretical traditions, this special issue will bring together articles that advance a critical conversation about liberalism, individualism, and power within U.S. schools.

To submit a manuscript for consideration in this special issue of Critical Education, and for author submission guidelines, please visit ( For any inquiries related to this special issue, please e-mail the guest editors at For full consideration, complete manuscripts of no more than 5,000 words, including references, should be submitted by January 15, 2013. We strongly encourage submissions from advanced doctoral students and junior scholars.