Histories of education and the struggle for radical social change

Year: 2013

Author: Gerrard, Jessica

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Internationally, contemporary policy discourse urges us to understand the role of education in social change in terms of individualised pathways of educational, social and economic success; of success against the odds; and ultimately, of the movement away from disadvantaged social locations. At the same time, in the shadow of over century-old systems of state-funded education, the historical relationship between schooling and social change is often represented as a progressive march towards greater participation, equality, and educational agency. In this paper, I turn to the histories of independent community-based schooling in the UK to step outside of, and problematise, the logic of these dominant perspectives. I draw in particular on the history of the Socialist Sunday School (est. 1892) and Black Saturday/Supplementary School (est. 1967/8) movements. Centring the politics of social justice and resistance, these schooling movements created inter-generational spaces of autonomous educational authority and agency. Focused on community-level politics, involving children and young people and large numbers of women, both of these movements are often eclipsed in wider institutional histories of education. I suggest that it is in these histories, imbued with complex experiences of race, gender, and social class, that it is possible to gain greater understanding of the relationship of education to radical social change. Nonetheless, in drawing on such histories, this paper also raises some critical reflections on the uses of history in educational thinking and research. Addressing these, I consider the intersections of theory and history, on the relationships between past-present-future in educational research, and on the thorny task of remembering educational pasts.