The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association

By Catherine Marshall | Go to book overview
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Demographic politics and American schools: Struggles for power and justice

James Gordon Ward

Population changes, such as trends in births, immigration, and migration, affect schools in many ways. These population trends affect the internal organization and operations of schools, as well as relate to the larger political and economic context of schooling. Some key issues to be explored include the changing requirements for education of a global, information-based economy, political participation in educational decision-making, and effects of these on existing power relationships. Power, who holds power, and how the exercise of power in our society affects schools are important issues for consideration. Some important questions for making schools instruments of opportunity include exploration of broader political participation, community organizing, and unionization as agents of change.

It seems to be an American trait to see our own history as a history of individual events and not a product of long-term social trends which affect our economy, our politics and our daily lives. Yet, it is demographic forces and population trends that we scarcely recognize and little understand which have a profound impact on our lives. Historian E.A. Wrigley reminds us in the opening of his classic Population and History that when Immanuel Kant wanted to show the regularities of what seemed to be random and unpredictable occurrences in history, he did so through the study of population (Wrigley 1969:8). The purpose of this chapter is to inquire into some of the recent population trends in the United States, to explore possible future trends, and to speculate on their impact on the politics of education. Of particular interest will be the effects of these population trends on the struggles of racial and cultural minorities for power and social justice. This inquiry will adopt the ‘long view’ of demographic trends, rather than a history of events.

Schools are profoundly affected by population forces because trends in births, immigration and migration patterns determine the number of school children, the nature of the school population, and the characteristics of children in schools in different areas and regions of the nation. Population trends make a difference in the political realm because they affect political interests, voting patterns, and the spatial and temporal distribution of power. Population trends combine with the effects of international economic forces to change the demands upon schools and our expectations of education. Population trends partially explain, but transcend, short-term events like the school finance reform movement of the 1980s. If we are to construct a road map to the future, we must not only know what roads to traverse, but something about the topography we will encounter.

Recent population trends in the United States1

An examination of recent population trends in the United States will show certain notable trends which have had an effect on schools. As these trends continue, or change,


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The New Politics of Race and Gender: The 1992 Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association
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