Journal of Educational Change

, Volume 10, Issue 4, pp 249–276 | Cite as

Teacher subcultures of democratic practice amidst the oppression of educational reform

  • Audrey A. Friedman
  • Hugh T. Galligan
  • Caitlyn M. Albano
  • Kathleen O’Connor


Teachers’ voices explore and document what is at stake when they are excluded from power-brokering conversations that mandate how teachers practice and model democracy in classrooms. Case study vignettes, interviews, classroom observations, and reflections of teachers in urban and suburban schools reveal four significant teacher subcultures of democratic practice: a subculture of compliance, a subculture of noncompliance, a subculture of subversion, and a subculture of democratic inquiry and practice. Analyses reveal that each subculture poses significant stakes for teachers, preservice teachers, the teaching profession, pupils, and society writ large.


Reform Teacher subculture Democratic practice Educational change Oppression of educational reform Compliance Noncompliance Subversion Democratic inquiry and practice 


  1. Anderson, G. (1998). Toward authentic participation: Deconstructing the discourse of participatory reform in education. American Educational Research Journal, 35(4), 571–603.Google Scholar
  2. Bryk, A., & Driscoll, M. E. (1985). An empirical investigation of the school as community. Chicago: University of Chicago School of Education.Google Scholar
  3. Coburn, C. E. (2004). Beyond decoupling: Rethinking the relationship between the institutional environment and the classroom. Sociology of Education, 77, 211–244.Google Scholar
  4. Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1994). Inside/outside: Teacher research knowledge. New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  5. Cohen, J. (1998). Democracy and liberty. In J. Elster (Ed.), Deliberative democracy (pp. 185–231). New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Darling-Hammond, L. (1994). Reframing the school reform agenda: Developing capacity for school transformation. Transforming school reform: Policies and practices for democratic schools (pp. 9–25). NY: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching: NCREST Reprint Series.Google Scholar
  7. Datnow, A., Hubbard, L., & Mehan, H. (2002). Extending educational reform: From one school to many. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  8. Dewey, J. (1966). Democracy and education. New York: Free Press (Original work published in 1916).Google Scholar
  9. Diamond, J. B., Randolph, A., & Spillane, J. P. (2004). Teachers’ expectations and sense of responsibility fro student learning: The importance of race, class, and organizational habitus. Anthropology & Education Quarterly, 35, 75–98. doi: 10.1525/aeq.2004.35.1.75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Finer, S. E. (1997). The history of government from the earliest times Vol. III: Empires, monarchies and the modern state. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Fischer, K. W. (1980). A theory of cognitive development: The control and construction of hierarchies of skills. Psychological Review, 87, 477–531. doi: 10.1037/0033-295X.87.6.477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Follett, M. P. (1988). The new state. Pennsylvania: Penn State University. Retrieved from!/Fins-DRN-04.htm. Original work published in 1918.
  13. Friedman, A. A. (1994). Deborah and Judith: Case studies in reflective giftedness. In Arnold, Noble & Subotnik (Eds.), Remarkable women (pp. 351–366). Illinois: Hampton Press.Google Scholar
  14. Friedman, A. A. (2004a). Beyond mediocrity: Transformational leadership within a transactional framework. International Journal of Leadership in Education: Theory and Practice, 7(3), 203–224. doi: 10.1080/1360312042000213877.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Friedman, A. A. (2004b). The relationship between personality traits and reflective judgment among female students. Journal of Adult Development, 11(4), 297–304. doi: 10.1023/ Scholar
  16. Friedman, A. A., & Schoen, L. (2005). Reflective practice interventions: Raising levels of reflective judgment. American Educational Research Association (April 5–11). Quebec, Canada: Montreal.Google Scholar
  17. Fullan, M. (1993). Change forces: Probing the depths of educational reform. Levittown, PA: Taylor and Francis International Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  19. Fullan, M., & Hargreaves, A. (1996). What’s worth fighting for in your school? New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  20. Furtwengler, C. B. (1998). Heads up! The EMOs are coming. Educational Leadership (October), 44–47.Google Scholar
  21. Goertz, M., Floden, R., & O’Day, J. (1995). Studies in education reform: Systemic reform (Vol. 1). New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University, Center for Policy Research in Education.Google Scholar
  22. Goodlad, J. I. (1990). Teachers for our nation’s schools. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  23. Goodlad, J. I. (1994). Common schools for the common weal: Reconciling self-interest with the common good. In J. I. Goodlad & P. Keating (Eds.), Access to knowledge: The continuing agenda for our nation’s schools (pp. 1–21). New York: College Entrance Examination Board.Google Scholar
  24. Gronn, P. (1995). Greatness re-visited: The current obsession with transformational leadership. Leading and Managing, 1(1), 14–27.Google Scholar
  25. Gronn, P. (2000). Distributed properties: A new architecture for leadership. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, April 2000, New Orleans, LA.Google Scholar
  26. Gronn, P. (2003). The new work of educational leaders: Changing leadership practice in an era of school reform. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  27. Haney, W. (2002). The myth of the Texas miracle in education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 8(41).Google Scholar
  28. Hargreaves, A. (2003). Teaching in a knowledge society: Education in the age of insecurity. Philadelphia, PA: Open University.Google Scholar
  29. Hargreaves, A. (2005). Repetitive change syndrome and resistance to change. American Educational Research Association (April 5–11). Quebec, Canada: Montreal.Google Scholar
  30. Hargreaves, A., & Fink, D. (2006). Sustainable leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.Google Scholar
  31. Harwood, J. T. (1991). The early essays and ethics of Robert Boyle. Illinois: Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.Google Scholar
  32. Hess, D. (2004). Beyond guest speakers: This inaugural column about democracy education explains how to involve politicians, political activists, and candidates in interactive lessons to maximize student engagement and learning. Special Education, 68(5), 347–349.Google Scholar
  33. Hess, D. E. (2005). How do teachers’ political views influence teaching about controversial issues? Special Education, 69(1), 47–49.Google Scholar
  34. Hoerr, T. (2000). Doing things right, or doing the right thing. Education Week, XIX(35), 44–47.Google Scholar
  35. Hoffman, J. V. (2002). The de-democratization of schools and literacy in America. The Reading Teacher, 53(8), 616–623.Google Scholar
  36. Jennings, N., & Spillane, J. (1996). State reform and local capacity: Encouraging ambitious instruction for all and local decision-making. Journal of Education Policy, 11(4), 465–482. doi: 10.1080/0268093960110405.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kahne, J., & Westheimer, J. (2003). Democracy and civic engagement—what schools need to do. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(1), 34–44.Google Scholar
  38. Keene, E., & Zimmerman, S. (1997). Mosaic of thought. Porstmouth, NH: Heinemann.Google Scholar
  39. Kielsmeier, J. C. (2000). A time to serve, a time to learn. Phi Delta Kappan, 81(9), 652–656.Google Scholar
  40. Kincheloe, J. L. (1999). Critical democracy and education. In J. G. Henderson & K. R. Heeson (Eds.), Understanding democratic curriculum leadership (pp. 70–83). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  41. King, P. M., & Kitchener, K. S. (1994). Developing reflective judgment: Understanding and promoting intellectual growth and critical thinking in adolescents and adults. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  42. Kitchener, K. S., Lynch, C. L., Fischer, K. W., & Wood, P. K. (1993). Developmental range of reflective judgment: The effects of contextual support and practice on developmental stage. Developmental Psychology, 29, 89–906. doi: 10.1037/0012-1649.29.5.893.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Kohn, A. (2002). The 500-pound gorilla. Phi Delta Kappan, 84(2), 112–119.Google Scholar
  44. Lafer, G. (2002). The job training charade. New York: Cornell University Press.Google Scholar
  45. Leistyna, P. (1999). Presence of mind: Education and the politics of deception. Boulder: CO: Westview.Google Scholar
  46. Lewis, B. A. (1998a). What do you stand for? A kid’s guide to building character. New York: Free Spirit Publishing.Google Scholar
  47. Lewis, O. (1998b). The culture of poverty. Society, 35(2), 7. doi: 10.1007/BF02838122.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Lieberman, A., Wood, D., & Falk, B. (1994). Toward democratic practice in schools: Key understandings about educational change. Transforming school reform: Policies and practices for democratic schools (pp. 26–53). NY: National Center for Restructuring Education, Schools, and Teaching: NCREST Reprint Series.Google Scholar
  49. Ludlow, L. H. (2001). Teacher test accountability: From Alabama to Massachusetts. Education Policy Analysis Archives 9(6). Available at:
  50. McCutcheon, G. (1999). Deliberation to develop school curricula. In J. G. Henderson & K. R. Heeson (Eds.), Understanding democratic curriculum leadership (pp. 33–46). New York: Teachers College Press.Google Scholar
  51. McLaren, P., Hammer, R., Reilly, S., & Sholle, D. (1995). Rethinking media literacy: A critical pedagogy of representation. New York: Peter Lang.Google Scholar
  52. McLaughlin, M. W. (1990). The rand change agent study revisited: Macro perspectives and microrealities. Educational Researcher, 19(9), 171–178.Google Scholar
  53. Miller, R. (1997). What are schools for? Holistic education in American culture) (3rd ed.). Brandon, VT: Holistic Education Press.Google Scholar
  54. Morse, J. (2000). Sticking to the script. Time, 6, 60–61. March.Google Scholar
  55. Newman, F., & Wehlage, G. (1995). Successful school restructuring. Madison, WI: Center on Organization and Restructuring of Schools.Google Scholar
  56. Novak, B. (2002). Humanizing democracy: Matthew Arnold’s nineteenth-century call for a common, higher, educative pursuit of happiness and its relevance to twenty-first century democratic life. American Educational Research Journal, 39(3), 593–637. doi: 10.3102/00028312039003593.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. O’Brien, L. M. (2003). Teacher education for a democratic society. Childhood Education, 79(6), 376–379.Google Scholar
  58. Olson, J. (2002). Systematic change/teacher tradition: Legends of reform continue. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 34(2), 129–137. doi: 10.1080/00220270110085697.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Parker, W. C. (1996). “Advanced” ideas about democracy: Toward a pluralist conception of citizen education. Teachers College Record, 98, 104–125.Google Scholar
  60. Pass, S., & Bailey, B. (2004). Democratic discipline in PDS. Academic Exchange Quarterly, 8(1), 124–199.Google Scholar
  61. Pennock, J. R. (1979). Democratic political theory. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Popham, W. J. (1999). Modern educational measurement: Practical guidelines for educational leaders. New York: Allyn & Bacon.Google Scholar
  63. Price, J. N., & Ball, D. L. (1997). There’s always another agenda: Marshalling resources for mathematics reform. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 29(6), 637–666. doi: 10.1080/002202797183810.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Reid, W. (1978). Thinking about the curriculum. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  65. Roper, J. (1989). Democracy and its critics: Anglo-American democratic thought in the nineteenth century. Winchester, MA: Unwin Hyman.Google Scholar
  66. Rowling, J. K. (2008). Harry Potter and the half-blood prince. New York: Scholastic.Google Scholar
  67. Schwille, J., Porter, A., Floden, R., Freeman, D., Knappen, L., Kuhs, T., et al. (1983). Teachers as policy brokers in the content of elementary school mathematics. In L. Shulman & G. Sykes (Eds.), Handbook of teaching and policy (pp. 370–371). New York: Longman.Google Scholar
  68. Seidenfeld, M. (1992). A civic republican justification for the bureaucratic state. Harvard Law Review, 105, 1511–1557. doi: 10.2307/1341745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shapiro, I. (1999). Democratic justice. New Haven, CN: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  70. Spiezio, K. E. (2002). Pedagogy and political (dis) engagement. Liberal Education, 88(4), 14–20.Google Scholar
  71. Spillane, J. P. (1998). State policy and the non-monolithic nature of the local school district: Organizational and professional considerations. American Educational Research Journal, 35(1), 33–63.Google Scholar
  72. Spillane, J. P. (1999). External reform initiatives and teachers’ efforts to reconstruct their practice: The mediating role of teachers’ zones of enactment. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 31(2), 143–175. doi: 10.1080/002202799183205.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Spillane, J. P. (2002). Local theories of teacher change: The pedagogy of district policies and programs. Teachers College Record, 104(3), 377–420. doi: 10.1111/1467-9620.00167.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Stairs, A. J. (2003). The controversy around defining ‘highly qualified’ teachers and one university’s definition in practice. Teacher Education and Practice, 16(4), 384–398.Google Scholar
  75. Stake, R. E. (2000). Case studies. In N. K. Denzin & Y. K. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (2nd ed., pp. 435–454). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.Google Scholar
  76. Wade, R. (2003). Teaching preservice social studies teachers to be advocates for social change. Social Studies (Maynooth, Ireland), 94(3), 129–134.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Wallis, C. (2008). How to make great teachers. Time, 171(8), 28–34.Google Scholar
  78. Westheimer, J. (1998). Conceptualizing community. Journal of Research in Education, 8(1), 1–13.Google Scholar
  79. Wile, J. M. (2000). A literacy lesson in democracy education. Social Studies (Maynooth, Ireland), 91(4), 170–176.Google Scholar
  80. Yeager, E. A., & Silva, D. Y. (2002). Activities for strengthening the meaning of democracy for elementary school children. Social Studies (Maynooth, Ireland), 93(1), 18–24.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Audrey A. Friedman
    • 1
  • Hugh T. Galligan
    • 2
  • Caitlyn M. Albano
    • 3
  • Kathleen O’Connor
    • 4
  1. 1.Boston College, Lynch School of EducationChestnut HillUSA
  2. 2.Brook Farm Academy, Boston Public SchoolsWest RoxburyUSA
  3. 3.Jackson Mann Elementary School, Boston Public SchoolsAllstonUSA
  4. 4.Lowell Public SchoolsLowellUSA

Personalised recommendations