“We Need to Grab Power Where We Can”: Teacher Activists’ Responses to Policies of Privatization and the Assault on Teachers in Chicago

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Sophia Rodriguez


In the midst of neoliberal governing mentalities, policies of privatizing public education in the U.S., and corporate reform, to what extent do the voice, emotion, body and resistance of a teacher matter? This article considers the experiences of teachers as they develop a critical consciousness and attempt to resist the global and local forces that seek to (de)professionalize them in particular ways that omit their voice from educational matters. Instead of accepting that teacher bodies have become regulated through disciplinary acts such as policies of privatization, corporate reform models or mechanisms of standardization in education such as value-added analysis as part of teacher evaluations across the U.S., this article explores the ways in which teachers in the local context of Chicago “talk back” to policy reform. Utilizing Giroux’s (1988) conceptual frame of “critical consciousness” coupled with teacher as “radical organic intellectual” and additional frameworks around neoliberal governmentality in educational settings to situate the study (Foucault, 1994; Rose, 1996, 1999; Rose & Miller, 1992), the purpose of this article is to explore teacher activists’ responses to teacher assault, policies of privatization and school closings in Chicago during the 2012-2013 school year. Drawing on ethnographic field notes from participant observations as teachers protested, organized, and agitated local educational policies and interviews with three teachers, this article considers the purpose of public education from teacher perspectives as well as their reasons and motivation for speaking against policies of neoliberal governmentality and policies of privatization (Lipman, 2011). Locating teacher consciousness and reflexivity enables us to see the lived experiences of teachers in Chicago and to write against (othering of teachers, and) the normative discourses around teacher deficits and the profession of teaching’s positioning in policy as inferior. Using the narratives of three particular teachers, this study provides insight into the ways in which teachers make sense of policy, and the ways in which they disrupt the process of corporate, neoliberal ideology.

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Author Biography

Sophia Rodriguez, College of Charleston

Sophia Rodriguez is an Assistant Professor of Educational Foundations at the College of Charleston. Dr. Rodriguez's Ph.D. is in Cultural and Educational Policy Studies with specializations in the history and the sociology of education.  She is interested in education policy and reform, teacher activism, racial and ethnic identity formation in schools and youth identity and experiences with schooling.  She has teaching experience at the secondary (English Education and ESL for grades 7-12) and post-secondary level in New York City and Chicago.  She has been the Chair of the Foucault and Contemporary Theory SIG through the American Educational Research Association (AERA) since 2011.  Other professional memberships include:  American Educational Studies Association (AESA), American Sociological Association, and Comparative and International Education Society (CIES).