Nov 30: AJ Rice "Encountering Reform: Race, Power, and the Unmaking of Detroit Public Schools"

November 24, 2020


Monday, November 30

3:30 - 5:00

contact to request Zoom link and password


This dissertation traces the role of race and class politics in shaping educational governance in Detroit and the relationship between discourse and Black urban citizenship in the 21st century. Covering the period from 1990-2006, Encountering Reform argues that corporate and political elites discursively constructed Detroit Public Schools (DPS) as a “failed” district during the 1990s in order to justify and enable a series of market-based educational “reforms,” culminating in a state takeover of the district in 1999. Using documents from public and private institutions, speeches, newspaper articles, books, archival data from Wayne State University, and in-depth interviews, as well as the methods of institutional ethnography and content analysis, this dissertation illustrates how state takeovers represent a key mechanism racial capitalists use to maintain and legitimate their ongoing dispossession of poor and working-class African American communities. Black Detroiters resisted this linguistic and political takeover and rejected the narrative of DPS “failure.” In the first two chapters, I argue that the discourse of education “reform” was developed and mobilized by Governor John Engler, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, and other white and Black elites to construct DPS as a “failed” district during the 1990s to extract wealth from low-income, Black communities and create a charter school market based on the recruitment of Black minds and the public dollars attached to them. However, in chapter three I demonstrate the various ways local residents in Detroit resisted the takeover and show how they constructed an alternative vision of “reform,” one predicated on a vision of DPS “success” and Black political autonomy.


AJ Rice is a Visiting Instructor at the James Madison College at Michigan State University. He is an interdisciplinary scholar of Black politics, global urban studies, Black Studies, and U.S. political economy. Professor Rice is completing his Ph.D. in the Department of African American and African Studies at Michigan State University. He has a forthcoming article in Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, titled “Political Economy and the Tradition of Radical Black Study.