The Elusiveness of Critical Education

A Fifteen-Year Roller Coaster Ride of Creating and Maintaining A Transformative Leadership Program in Neoliberal Times


  • Lauren Hoffman Independent Scholar
  • Brad J. Porfilio San Jose State University



neoliberalism, critical education, resistance, doctoral education, social justice education, curriculum development


This autoethnographic essay captures fifteen-years of struggles and ephemeral victories associated with developing and sustaining a critical educational leadership doctoral program within a conservative college of education located in the Midwestern United States. Despite having to grapple with non-critical faculty members and neoliberal forces designed to increase enrollment and gut the transformative focus of our program, we were able to keep the program vibrant for over 12 years. To our surprise, the dismantling of the doctoral program began to unfold when one of the core members of the program, a self-professed radical scholar, became a neoliberal administrator obedient to the interests of a new administrative team. The essay provides critical fodder for thinking about the limits and possibilities of sustaining critical educational initiatives amid a sociopolitical context designed to commercialize knowledge, to depoliticize radical intellectuals, and to divide faculty in the struggle to build an egalitarian society.


Author Biographies

Lauren Hoffman, Independent Scholar

Lauren Hoffman is a retired Professor from Lewis University in Romeoville, Illinois.  Her research interests lie in critical qualitative inquiry, posthumanism, and reconceptualizing the orientation of transformative leadership to address the most pressing educational, social, and political issues in education, community, and society. Her most recent work as focused not only about the intersections of race, class, ethnicity, language, and gender, but also includes age and ageism.

Brad J. Porfilio, San Jose State University

Brad J. Porfilio is Professor and Director of the EdD Leadership Program in the Connie L. Lurie College of Education at San José State University. As a transformative scholar, Dr. Porfilio brings insights from several intellectual disciplines, such as history, sociology, leadership studies, and social studies education, to examine the sociocultural and historical forces behind unjust educational outcomes and institutional forms of oppression. His intellectual work also unearths what policies, pedagogies, practices, and social movements hold the potential to humanize educational institutions, to eliminate educational disparities and to build an equalitarian society. As a result, his research has a broad appeal to scholars, leaders, and educators.