Policy as Practice: Toward a Comparative Sociocultural Analysis of Educational Policy

By Margaret Sutton; Bradley A.U. Levinson | Go to book overview

12
Myth Making and Moral Order in a
Debate on Mathematics Education
Policy1

Lisa Rosen


INTRODUCTION

This chapter is about story making and storytelling in debates on education: how social actors create and use narratives to pursue goals; how both their goals and their stories involve other stories; and how these mutually implicating narratives structure the course and outcome of debates on education. I analyze the creation and use of explanatory tales in education as a form of modern myth making (cf., Woolard, 1989), and demonstrate the relationship of these "myths" to cherished cultural ideals about education. The analysis sheds some light on how, through cultural processes involving competitive storytelling (cf., Leach, 1954), the narrower concerns of particular interest groups are transformed into "public problems" (Gusfield, 1981) considered worthy of attention and redress. I argue that these processes and "problems" are mutually constitutive with a particular set of assumptions about schooling and achievement that I refer to as the "moral order" of education in the United States.

The discussion centers on a local policy dispute in California's Avocado Valley Elementary School District,2 which had recently begun implementing a "reform"3 mathematics curriculum in its schools. I analyze the debate as a public "drama of morality and order" (Gusfield, 1981, p. 82) in the explanation of academic success and failure. My analysis begins from the premise that policy is both a process and a product of constitutive cultural activity. As a process, policy is a means by which statements of value and definitions of reality

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