The unifying theme of this collection is that educators interested in issues of race and gender reform now work in a new cultural and political context. While at a general level this much is clear enough, what is less clear is exactly how that context should be defined, how it impacts on the politics of educational reform and how it dictates the parameters within which new reforms might be conceptualized. These are issues that are central to any examination of the failure of our schools to provide women and minorities the educational opportunities that might lead to their effective and equitable participation in society. They are also crucial in any assessment of the various reforms that are currently being attempted in schools not only in the United States but also elsewhere. The papers in this collection explore these issues and while they demonstrate a diversity of perspectives, they also indicate a theoretical and political pragmatism which is, in my view, essential for working towards the goals of equality and democracy in education.
What seems clear is that it is not only cultural and political but also theoretical uncertainty that now characterizes the Politics of Education. Thus, this collection is constituted by a range of perspectives, from liberal pluralism to neo-Marxism, from structuralism to post-structuralism. In it major disagreements exist about how best to define and respond to the current political environment. But these diverse viewpoints converge on at least one realization: that through the 1980s, the liberal democratic consensus of the 1960s has been in decline. Not only in the United States but also in other western countries, there is a renewed cynicism about the capacity of schools to work fairly and equitably for women and minorities.
The confidence that educators once had in liberal solutions to educational problems has evaporated under a sustained attack that the Right has been able to mount against the very foundation upon which it was based. In times of economic downturn, it has been relatively easy for conservative movements across the globe to mobilize a popular backlash against equal opportunity and civil rights initiatives. In a cultural era dominated by distrust, disillusionment and despair, the idea of public education has itself lost some credibility. The moral economy of the age has led to a disintegration of community life, and of the political authority of institutions. With this faith in the ability of educational systems to solve social problems lost, we do indeed now confront a new politics of race and gender.
This politics has as its backdrop the facts of economic dislocation. Over the past two decades, the changes in the structure of the us economy have had major consequences