Structural White Ignorance and Education for Racial Justice

Theory and Research in Education, Advanced Online Publication

While white ignorance is primarily produced and reproduced through social-structural processes, philosophy of education scholarship has focused on agent-centered educational solutions. This article argues that agent-centered solutions are ineffective and that education for disrupting white ignorance must be structure-centered. Specifically, the article contends that (1) social-structural processes often render being in a state of white ignorance reasonable and that (2) assigning white ignorant agents individual responsibility for overcoming their ignorance is often unreasonable. Consequently, epistemic virtue-based approaches to education are insufficient and inappropriate. Instead, the author proposes prioritizing political forms of education. This includes educating students on how to participate in political action and using political action to educate the public.

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Punishment and Democratic Education (with Bryan R. Warnick)

The Cambridge Handbook of Democratic Education, eds. Johannes Drerup, Douglas Yacek, and Julian Culp, chapter 20 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2023)

The current retributive system of school punishment conflicts with the aims of democratic education because it impedes the cultivation of essential democratic values and capabilities. To be legitimate, however, school punishment in democratic societies ought to align with, or at least not impede, the aims of democratic education. This suggests that punishment should be consistent with the communicative and inclusive nature of democracy and support the cultivation of essential democratic capabilities. Restorative justice provides such a model of school punishment by prioritizing communication and inclusion, facilitating the cultivation of democratic capabilities, and legitimizing punishment as a means of communicating remorse instead of inflicting retribution to wrongdoers. The authors argue that for school punishment to align with and support the aims of democratic education, it must shift from the retributive justice model currently employed in most schools to a restorative justice model.

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Race in Education Policy: School Safety and the Discursive Legitimation of Disproportionate Punishment

Journal of Education Policy, Advanced Online Publication

Interventions instated to disrupt the destructive effects of the school-to-prison pipeline on students of color were repealed as a result of the US Education Department’s 2018 Federal Commission on School Safety report. Using a critical policy and critical discourse framework, this paper examines how the language used in the report facilitated the process of repeal while concealing the insidious effects that the repeal could have on students of color and especially black students. Based on this analysis, the paper argues that education policy discourse is influenced by and supports the covert operation of white supremacist ideological structures that hinder the struggle for equity and justice in education.

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Toward a Theory of Interpretation in Dewey’s Educational Philosophy

Educational Theory 71, no. 6 (2021): 787–807

John Dewey’s lifelong quest for a worthy education was characterized by a fervor for collapsing false dualisms. One such dualism — that between traditional and progressive education — led him to embrace a vision of the teacher as interpreter and guide of the student. Notwithstanding Dewey’s emphasis on the salient role of interpretation, there are no comprehensive accounts that explain how Dewey envisioned this very interpretive task that teachers are expected to undertake. In response to this lack, A. C. Nikolaidis draws from the corpus of Dewey’s work to reconstruct a Deweyan “theory of interpretation.” This theory brings together hermeneutic elements in Dewey’s work — akin to those of Hans-Georg Gadamer — and his commitment to scientific experimentalism. In doing so, it presents a new perspective on the way we think of Dewey’s relation to Continental philosophy, extending similar contemporary scholarship such as Paul Fairfield’s. Moreover, it provides important insights on Dewey’s pedagogy as this relates to classroom practices, curriculum development, and more.

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Breaking School Rules: The Permissibility of Student Noncompliance in an Unjust Educational System (with Winston C. Thompson)

Harvard Educational Review 91, no. 2 (2021): 204–226

Rule violations are expected in schools, and assessments of the severity of those violations and the appropriate disciplinary responses are a significant aspect of educators’ responsibilities. And while most educators and policy makers reject rule violation as a permissible behavior in schools, is such a categorical rejection always a suitable response, and are there circumstances that might merit an alternative response? In this article, A. C. Nikolaidis and Winston C. Thompson argue that under unjust circumstances, noncompliance with school rules may be permissible, and even desirable. Building on a contractual framework placing systemic injustice at the center of inquiry, they show that under unjust conditions schools forfeit their ability to hold students accountable for role-dependent violations.

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A Third Conception of Epistemic Injustice

Studies in Philosophy and Education 40, no. 4 (2021): 381–398

Scholars of epistemology have identified two conceptions of epistemic injustice: discriminatory epistemic injustice and distributive epistemic injustice. The former refers to wrongs to one’s capacity as a knower that are the result of identity prejudice. The latter refers to violations of one’s right to know what they are entitled to. This essay advances a third conception, formative epistemic injustice, which refers to wrongs to one’s capacity as a knower that are the result of or result in malformation—the undue restriction of one’s formative capacities. The author argues that formative epistemic injustice is a distinctly educational wrong and that it brings to light important epistemic injustices that standard accounts of epistemic injustice either downplay or are unable to capture. This third conception of epistemic injustice is an important analytic tool for theorizing both epistemic injustice and educational justice.

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What Is the Meaning of Educational Injustice? A Case for Reconceptualizing a Heterogeneous Concept

Philosophy of Education 77, no. 1 (2021): 1–17

The fight against educational injustice guides most educational endeavors in research, policymaking, and practice. However, its implicit heterogeneity as a concept renders responses to educational injustice diverse and often contradictory. The author suggests that such contradictions compel us to reject the possibility of an all-encompassing conception of educational injustice. Instead we need to conceptualize educational injustice in more limited terms that highlight the distinctly educational problems that we face as a society. The author provides such a conception and argues that it is better able than other conceptions to capture the wrongs of educational injustice.

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Willful Ignorance as Formative Epistemic Injustice

Philosophy of Education 76, no. 4 (2021): 83–97

Willful ignorance has been established as a valuable concept that accounts for the cognitive and affective dimensions of unjust conduct. As privileged groups and individuals conveniently remain ignorant about the harms of their conduct to preserve their undeserved privileges, the injustices inflicted on marginalized groups and individuals proliferate. However, willful ignorance also faces limitations, most notably, its inability to account for educational, and sometimes material, harms inflicted on willfully ignorant groups and individuals. To shed light on these harms, this paper argues for conceptualizing willful ignorance in terms of formative epistemic injustice, a form of educational injustice inflicted on those whose epistemic and formative capacities are compromised as a result of ignorance-producing ideologies. The concept of formative epistemic injustice highlights that such educational harms are urgent and merit attention both because they are severe harms in their own right but also, and more importantly, because they are antecedent to many of the more severe harms experienced by marginalized groups and individuals as a result of willful ignorance.

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Concept Proliferation as an Educational Good: Epistemic Injustice, Conceptual Revolutions, and Human Flourishing

Educational Theory 70, no. 4 (2020): 463–482

This article presents a pedagogical approach for disrupting epistemic injustice. In it, A. C. Nikolaidis first demonstrates that different forms of epistemic injustice — testimonial, hermeneutical, and contributory — are the result of limited or distorted conceptual resources and then argues that concept proliferation can be a promising educational means for overcoming such limitations and distortions. Concept proliferation involves a combination of increasing exposure to diverse, especially marginalized, concepts and providing students with necessary critical tools for questioning harmful and erroneous concepts. Concept proliferation is beneficial for both individual students and society at large. It liberates students from the confines of harmful concepts that limit their self-understanding, but also provides them with skills necessary to challenge hegemonic concepts that distort collective (social) understanding and contribute to epistemic and systemic injustice.

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A Democratic Critique of Scripted Curriculum (with Julie A. Fitz)

Journal of Curriculum Studies 52, no. 2 (2020): 195–213

Despite the rising popularity of scripted curricula in United States public and charter schools, there has been little to no research that explicitly addresses how this phenomenon influences the democratic aims of our educational system. Using the six democratic values that Meira Levinson developed/employed to evaluate the movement toward standards, assessment and accountability, the authors examine both the potentials and real-world impacts of scripted curriculum. Although arguments in favor of scripted curriculum suggest that its usage increases the democratic promise of education by rendering instruction more equitable and efficient, the authors suggest that patterns of usage and outcomes are in fact at odds with such values. Furthermore, the authors argue that the pre-structured and highly controlling character of scripted curriculum is inherently undemocratic because it severely constrains the intellectual participation of both teachers and students in the classroom. The authors conclude that greater teacher autonomy and curricular flexibility are necessary elements in the education of future citizens in a democratic society.

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Interpretation and Student Agency

Philosophical Studies in Education 49 (2018): 34–46

In The Child and the Curriculum, John Dewey stresses the importance of interpreting students’ experiences and potentialities with the purpose of directing them appropriately. This paper claims that interpretation is not only necessary, but also unavoidable and essential in preserving the child’s agency in the educational process. For this reason we need to be mindful of how we approach it. In order to understand how we can do this, the author inquires into the implications of interpretation and the problems that arise from it. Finally, he provides an account (theoretical and practical) of how to address the aspect of interpretation within an educational setting.

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