Democracy, Capitalism, and Educational Opportunity from Horace Mann to the Present

Thomas M Falk


The paper considers modern notions of “educational opportunity” through the ethical and historical lenses of democracy and capitalism in the United States.  Such notions grew out of the massive, early-19th century shift from peasant to proletarian economies and lifestyles, meanwhile assuming distinctly bourgeois-whiggish horizons under the guidance of reformers such as Horace Mann.  During the Progressive Era, “opportunity” became wedded to the “meritocratic” hierarchies of the corporation, by then the pre-eminent institution of the land.  The paper next looks at the sorts of character and performance criteria rewarded and cultivated by our institutions, and ends by suggesting forms of resistance and reconstruction that might strengthen the democratic character of our schools and larger modes of associated living.


Critical Theory; Educational Opportunity; Democracy

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education