Much of the literature on “critical pedagogies” has been politically and theoretically important and has helped us make a number of gains. However, too often it has not been sufficiently connected to the ways in which the current conservative restoration both has altered common sense and has transformed the material and ideological conditions surrounding schooling. It thereby sometimes becomes a form of what may best be called “romantic possibili-tarian” rhetoric (Whitty 1974), in which the language of possibility substitutes for a consistent tactical analysis of what the balance of forces actually is and what is necessary to change it.
In this chapter, I examine the ways in which the social and cultural terrain of educational policy and discourse has been altered “on the ground” so to speak. I argue that we need to make closer connections between our theoretical and critical discourses, on the one hand, and the real transformations that are currently shifting educational policies and practices in fundamentally rightist directions, on the other. Thus part of my discussion will need to be conceptual, but part of it will appropriately need to be empirical in order for me to pull together what is known about the real and material effects of the shift to the right in education.
My focus on the “gritty materialities” of these effects is not meant to dismiss the importance of theoretical interventions. Nor is it meant to suggest that dominant discourses should not be constantly interrupted by the creative gains that have emerged from various neo-Marxist, postmodern, poststructural, postcolonial, queer, and other communities. Indeed, critical and revolutionary pedagogies require the fundamental interruption of common sense. However, while the construction of new theories and utopian visions is important, it is equally crucial to base these theories and visions in an unromantic appraisal of the material and discursive