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Mythologies of School Reform in Online News Discourses

  • Author(s): Georgopoulos, Nicholas
  • Advisor(s): Philip, Thomas M
  • et al.

This dissertation examines mainstream online discourses about school reform in the English-speaking world. Based on mythological theories of Barthes, L�vi-Strauss, and V. Propp as well as W. L. Bennett’s theory of news, I develop a method for reading mythic structures in news articles: how authors construct crises and lost objects. My findings reveal discourses centered around 1. the mythic figure of the ineffective teacher and its eradication, and 2. the school that can satisfy a student’s educational needs (including their need to enter the 21st century job market) and “learning style.” In these discourses, the lost objects generate infinite activity for actors through their perpetual failure to achieve these objects. I show how a deliberately crafted myth can offer an alternative to the “bad infinite” dynamics of school choice and Standards and Accountability. My example for this is Sugata Mitra’s project, School in the Cloud, a low-cost network of Internet stations in which children around the world teach themselves through the online encouragement of educated volunteers. While Mitra and his commentators partake liberally of prevailing discourses of “digital education,” the School in the Cloud cannot be reduced to just another form of it. The underexplored human facilitator (“granny”) reveals novel pedagogical possibilities and challenges, both in the Third World and universally.

In dealing with myths of school choice, ineffective teachers, and the School in the Cloud, my goal is not to debunk the myths or engage with them on the level of their “factuality.” Debunking discourses will merely strengthen the frame of the myth. The point is to make the frame visible, so that we, a collective subject, may select a new frame. I end by outlining how an “endemic” myth can provide a pedagogic project for a new American education.

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