Fifteen Eighty Four

Academic perspectives from Cambridge University Press


Neoliberalism in the Guise of Humanism and Democracy

Stephen Vassallo

This book is part of a critical educational psychology commitment to engage in ideological, cultural, political, and philosophical discussions about the application of psychology in and outside of schools. The motivation to write the book Neoliberal Selfhood was to show ways the discourse of educational psychology is entangled in an economic vision of self. Seemingly humanistic and democratic applications of psychology in Pre-K to 16 schooling can contribute to affirming, validating, and normalizing visions of ideal persons for a specific representation of 21st century economic contexts. The concepts analyzed in this book include growth mindset, lifelong learning, creativity, whole child, passion, and emotion regulation—all of which are part of an educational paradigm to target character and non-cognitive skills.

The book is organized topically in which each of the above concepts are analyzed for the purpose of showing how neoliberal values for selfhood circulate in schooling discourse. Each of these concepts are appealing against the backdrop of their ostensible alternatives. Fixed as opposed to growth mindset can be problematic. Stagnation and complacency may stand in opposition to lifelong learning, which makes this concept palatable. Emotion regulation can stand in contrast to emotional dysregulation, which serves as a basis to explain problems with adaptability to schooling. Unappealing binaries can invite acceptance of certain educational psychology concepts while obscuring the ideological values that circulate through them. Thus, I urge readers to move away from binary thinking to focus on the values, function, and consequences of thinking about students in certain ways. Ways of making sense of students is not neutral, value-free, and without consequence. I invite readers to the consider the ways some highly appealing categories are entangled in a problematic schooling ideology.  

Although this book has broad appeal for anybody working with others in formal and informal educational settings, the primary audience is educators, researchers, and policy-makers who are increasingly confronted with policies and practices to formally integrate character and non-cognitive skills into their work. I want to engage in dialogue with those who seek to resist neoliberal visions of schooling and selfhood but who through the application of educational psychology may inadvertently endorse this ideology. This discussion is difficult because of the humanistic and democratic bases for targeting character and non-cognitive skills. However, I am hoping to show readers that the application of certain educational psychology concepts endorse neoliberal selfhood under the guise of democratic and humanistic visions of being.

About The Author

Stephen Vassallo

Stephen Vassallo is Associate Professor in the School of Education at American University, USA. His previous books have won the Book of the Year award for the series titled Critica...

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