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La Educación in Room 320: Toward a Theory of Care-based Resistance in the Context of Neoliberal School Reform

Background/Context: Research has illustrated that current neoliberal educational policy trends, such as data-driven accountability, the use of Common Core-aligned scripted curricula, and punitive classroom management approaches, have undermined teacher autonomy and compromised teachers’ ability to build meaningful relationships with their students. Nowhere is the impact of these policy trends felt more than in low-performing urban schools in the midst of intense reform. Research on the resistance practices of teachers in the context of reform frequently presents a negative conception of teacher resistance as a psychological reaction to change. Other more positive conceptions of resistance provide insight into the political and professional motivations for resistance. Little research to date, however, illuminates the subtle forms of resistance some teachers practice as they “push back” against the deleterious impact of neoliberal education policy on student–teacher relations.

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In the field of education, teacher resistance is often viewed in pejorative and psychological terms. That is, resistance is understood as a manifestation of teachers’ fear or nostalgia, and the result is an obstruction of progress. Much of this type of resistance may actually be based on reasonable objections to unsound or unfair policies, but it does not always manifest itself in ways that support students. This is because it may not reject the implicit assumptions around cultural deficit and pejorative dominant representations of students from nondominant groups embedded in the ideology of neoliberal school reform. Mr. Vega’s colleagues who resented the accelerated English policy provide us with an example of this kind of resistance. Specifically, some of these teachers were resistant to the particular mandates aimed at facilitating the success of English language learners in their mainstream classrooms, such as using language scaffolding strategies to support students’ content-area development.

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