Contesting Opportunity: "Equal Educational Opportunity" and its Alternatives in Twentieth Century American Social Thought


Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowships




An imprecisely defined but widely celebrated political ideal, “equal educational opportunity” has perplexed civil rights activists and social theorists and generated criticism from thinkers who deemed it an insufficient social goal. "Contesting Opportunity" provides a history of the sources and outcomes of debates over this concept in the twentieth century United States. The project focuses on arguments over the meanings of racial equality in education and associated questions about what types of social transformation schooling can produce. By asking who has championed and challenged the language of “equal educational opportunity,” why, and to what effect, this history contributes to scholarship on the relationship between race and class oppression, on critiques of American liberalism, on the cultural dynamics that rationalize inequality, and on the intersections of education and social welfare policy.