, Volume 43, Issue 4, pp 295–316

Neoliberalism, Social Darwinism, and Consumerism Masquerading as School Reform


DOI: 10.1007/s10780-013-9178-y

Cite this article as:
Tienken, C.H. Interchange (2013) 43: 295. doi:10.1007/s10780-013-9178-y


Education reform policies harvested from neoliberalism, social Darwinism, consumerism, and free-market ideologies have begun to replace the pragmatic progressivism of the pre-World War II era. In this article, I use three federal and state education reform policies and programs—No Child Left Behind Act, Common Core State Standards Initiative, and national standardized testing—as examples of market-oriented ideologies embedded in the reforms. Further, I rely on Critical Social Theory, following Freire, as a framework to examine how the education policies and programs intersect to potentially impede access to quality education opportunities for children from impoverished backgrounds. I use Freire’s conception of Critical Social Theory because of his focus on how education should be used as a transformational mechanism to improve lives rather than a tool to train and inculcate children to imitate and be subservient to the dominant culture. I argue that some federal education policies enacted since 2002 provide examples of the confluence of ideologies that are creating a new meritocracy-based system. The meritocracy-based system will disproportionately penalize poorer students who have less access to out of school experiences that prepare them for formal schooling. Based on punishment triggers embedded in state and federal education policies, a cycle of educational austerity ensues when a student does not achieve a mandatory achievement benchmark. The cycle of austerity can doom some students to under-achievement in the short term and to becoming under-educated in the long term.


Neoliberal networksSocial DarwinismEducation austerityDemocratic public schoolUnitary school system

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Education Leadership, Management and Policy, College of Education and Human ServicesSeton Hall UniversitySouth OrangeUSA