The political economy of literacy in the 'post-racial' era : the common core state standards and the reproduction of racial inequality in the United States




Williams Barrón, Courtney Elizabeth

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This dissertation contextualizes The Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects within the racialized neoliberal “post-civil rights” United States. It begins with an introduction to the standards, including an overview of the existing criticism surrounding the content, processes, and potential effects of the standards in practice. It then historicizes the standards’ brand of literacy within the context of literacy in U.S. history, including its discursive ambiguity and its potential as both a tool and a weapon for social control, rulership, and revolution. This is followed by an examination of the standards’ authority on the national conception of literacy, illiteracy, the literate, and the illiterate, including the definition of personal traits and characteristics for the literate person of the 21st century. The standards, fashioned within the larger national narrative of racial progress in conjunction with the social narrative of educational decline, seek to re-center the idea that higher, measurable standards will rationalize the inequalities of race and class. This project examines the political economy of literacy in a “post-racial” era, by historicizing the standards as a 21st century racial and cultural imperative. Appealing to individuals and communities across the political, economic, and cultural spectrum, the standards were initially adopted by as many as 46 states, Washington DC, and three U.S. territories. By investigating the origins, evolution, and implications of this literacy policy, we can see that the conception of literacy lends credence to aggressive capitalist ventures through the terms of race and class. The effect is a new politics of equality based on the consumption of literacy skills. Literacy, newly defined and valued as a commodity in the “knowledge economy,” is a political intervention into the pedagogies of citizenship for the 21st century, and currently serves as a primary mechanism for policing the boundaries of property, personhood, and privilege in the 21st century.


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