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What’s ideology got to do with it? : race & class discourses in social studies education Orlowski, Paul Michael


This study examines ways in which political ideology influences discourses of race and social class in the formal curriculum and teacher attitudes in social studies education. More specifically, the study determined how elements of conservative, liberal, and radical ideologies affect discourses around race, social class, democracy and citizenship. The study drew on two data sources: all seven versions of the formal social studies curriculum used in British Columbia's high schools from 1941 to the present; and transcripts from interviews with current social studies department heads in ten high schools in Vancouver, British Columbia. Critical discourse analysis was used to analyze both data sources. The interview transcripts were also analyzed using an interpretation of meaning approach. The study demonstrates that the British Columbia curriculum evolved from a conservative document to one influenced by liberalism. The early curriculum guides were essentially conservative. The 1956,1968, and 1980 versions indicated oscillation between these two ideologies. The 1988 and 1997 versions were completely dominated by liberalism. Over this time period, conservative depictions of non-white peoples that were overtly racist transformed to liberal representations in a pluralist multicultural framework. Social class issues were always presented from the standpoint of capital in the conservative versions of the curriculum, while subsequent liberal versions almost completely ignored social class representation. The treatment of democracy and citizenship evolved from conservative to liberal conceptions. Radical elements were almost completely absent from any curricular documents. The study revealed that ideology influences teacher attitudes toward issues of race, class, democracy and citizenship. In general, liberalism was the most dominant ideology. Conservative discourses, however, appeared more than in the formal curriculum. Teachers invoked radical discourses only rarely. The liberal cultural deficit discourse was used by the majority to explain differences in academic proficiency along axes of race and class. Conservative genetic-deficit discourses appeared about as frequently as radical discourses that focused on unfair structural problems. The teachers were evenly divided in their use of conservative and liberal discourses about democracy and citizenship. Recommendations were made to alter social studies curriculum and teacher education programs to reflect social justice aims from a radical perspective.

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