Edward D’Angelo

Education and Revolutionary Change

The purpose of public educational institutions is to inculcate the dominant beliefs and values of a particular political and economic system. If this is true, then education has a conservative function. As a part of the superstructure, education will reproduce the social relations of the economic base. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to understand how schools can be the basis for revolutionary change. The aim of this paper will be to examine the possibilities of education becoming the center for creating revolutionary changes in the United States and to explore the nature of revolutionary education within a socialist society.

In order to understand the nature of educational change, it is important to examine the relationship between ideology and education. The concept of ideology has been used in numerous ways. I am defining ideology as the systematic integration within institutions of empirical and moral beliefs concerning the relationship between human beings and society that serves the interest of a certain class.

In a capitalist society, educational institutions become the vehicle by which capitalist ideology gets implanted in the lives of students. Individualism and competitiveness are two highly praised values of capitalism. Individualism is the belief that success and failure is solely due to the efforts of the individual. The concept of individualism entails competitiveness. The effect of competition is positive for those who succeed and negative for those who fail.

What is the relationship between capitalist economics in the United States and education? Bowles and Gintis in their work, Schooling in Capitalist America, studied the various connections between education and the capitalist economy. [1] According to them, there is a correspondence between the social relations of capitalism in the United States and the social relations of education. The alienation and inequality rooted in capitalism is reflected in the educational process by the school, legitimizing inequality. “The meritocratic orientation of the educational system promotes not its egalitarian function, but rather its integrative role. Education reproduces inequality by justifying privilege and attributing poverty to personal failure.” [2]

How does education integrate students into the economic system? It develops the personality characteristics, self‑concept, and social‑class identification that are crucial for various kinds of work. The schools also reproduce the relationships of dominance and subordination of the economic system. The authoritative structure between administrators, teachers, and students [135/136] replicate the hierarchical division of labor, and alienated labor is reflected by the lack of control students have over curriculum content and the lack of power teachers often have over school policies. The differences between schools also mirror the social backgrounds of students and the different kinds of jobs they will probably have in their lives.

Anyon offers some empirical support of this position, based on examining five schools in the state of New Jersey. [3] Two of the schools are called Working‑Class Schools. The parents of the majority of these students have unskilled or semi‑skilled jobs. In these schools the method of learning usually involves rote behavior, and students are given few situations where decision-making is a factor in the classroom. The emphasis is on following directions. These students are being trained for jobs that are mechanical and routine. A third school is referred to as the Middle‑Class School. The parents’ occupations in this school are mainly skilled blue and white collar workers and managerial types of positions. In the Middle‑Class School the aim is getting the correct answer. Most lessons are based on the textbook with little creativity and excitement present in school work. These students are being trained for bureaucratic types of jobs that are supportive of the system. The fourth school is called the Affluent Professional School. The parents of these students are predominately doctors, lawyers, and engineers. In this school the main emphasis is on independent, creative activities. Students are asked to express and apply their own ideas, and work is evaluated by the quality of expression and the appropriateness of the task. These students are being educated for becoming artists, intellectuals, lawyers, technical experts, and other professionals. The fifth type of school is called the Executive Elite School because most of the students’ fathers are chief executives of major corporations. In this type of school students are encouraged to develop their reasoning abilities, to do independent research, and to take a leadership role in their studies. They are being educated for positions that entail ownership and control of the means of production. These different types of schools reproduce the unequal system of social relations in the United States.

Although there is an empirical foundation for the reproductive theory of Bowles and Gintis, it does not account for the individual teachers and students, journals, educational groups, and private schools that reject capitalist education and are attempting to create a socialist society. There are contradictory forces within a capitalist society that are in opposition to it. It is important to have a theory that accounts for these oppositions so that they can be utilized as a movement toward the building of socialist education. Antonio Gramsci rejects the view that the superstructure is a simple reflection of the economic base. Gramsci believes there is a constantly changing and reciprocal relationship between culture and economics. [4] He introduced the concept of “hegemony” to explain how the ruling class uses a system of [136/137] beliefs, values and attitudes in all areas of life as a means of legitimizing itself. Revolutionary education would entail the demystifying of the dominant beliefs and values of capitalist education, and the development of a counter‑hegemony in order to establish a new set of meanings and values. The new hegemony would emerge by stages and it would experience setbacks depending upon the current economic and social conditions of the system, e.g., the present “back to basics” movement in the school systems of the United States.

Michael Apple concurs with Gramsci in maintaining that culture does not merely reflect economics, but is mediated by various forms of human action. Schools distribute and preserve cultural capital. [5] This is accomplished by teaching the hidden curriculum, i.e., beliefs, values, and attitudes that integrate students in particular ways within a capitalist structure, the specific kinds of knowledge that are presented in the schools, and the means used by educators to promote and sustain capitalist ideology. “Education is both a ‘cause’ and ‘effect’ here. The school is not a passive mirror, but an active force, one that serves to give legitimacy to economic and social forms and ideologies so intimately connected to it.” [6] Apple maintains that it is important to examine the contents of the curriculum, how this knowledge is derived, who decides the nature of knowledge, and the social groups this knowledge supports. The knowledge selected to be studied in the schools is part of a larger knowledge that exists. The selection of certain knowledge forms and the multitude of practices that occur in the classroom reinforce particular ideological structures. A revolutionary educator needs to discern how school knowledge is used to perpetuate capitalism and to institute other kinds of knowledge and inquiries in the classroom. School practices and activities also need to be investigated to determine how they contribute to supporting the capitalist system and to create alternative models for students and teachers.

Apple believes that curriculum areas such as science and social studies are presented to students as bodies of knowledge with consensus being the fundamental focus in the classroom. [7] Unlike Marxists, who use dialectics to understand the nature of reality, teachers in the United States usually view conflict as dysfunctional. Apple suggests that we need to focus on the controversies and conflicts in science and social studies and to study the moral questions and dilemmas in these areas of study.

In this way a student might understand the nature of conflict between different workers, groups, and classes in society. Students are also told that science is “neutral” and “value‑free”. The issue of the ideological nature of knowledge is avoided by capitalist teachers. Revolutionary educators need to demystify this belief by showing how the scientific establishment is used to support the aims of a particular government. More than half of the money [137/138] that the United States government spent on scientific research in 1977 dealt with military research. Physicists have been involved in developing anti-personnel weapons, bombs, sensors, and communication links that have detected enemies and killed people. Mathematicians have prepared equations that have been used to provide strategies for counterinsurgence. [8] Are scientists morally responsible for the deaths caused by the instruments of their creation? A discussion of this question will create a critical attitude toward scientific knowledge.

One of the outstanding revolutionary educators of our time is Paulo Freire. Freire believes that the major theme of contemporary life is domination vs. liberation. [9] The aim of revolutionary education is to develop a critical consciousness so that the causes of oppression can become an object of reflection and critical study. The consequences of this type of education will enable people to use this knowledge for their liberation.

Freire initially developed his concept of education with illiterate adults in Brazil. His aim was not simply to teach people how to read, in terms of word recognition and pronunciation, but to develop political awareness in conjunction with the process of reading. He discovered that there are only seventeen words that are necessary for teaching adults how to read and write in Spanish and Portuguese. These words are called generative words because by rearranging syllables other words can be created. [10] They also generate discussion of social and political situations. The generative words are: slum, plow, food, bicycle, government, wealth, rain, land, dancing, well, (health) work, salary, profession, swamplands, sugar mill, brick, and hoe. From these words certain themes were discussed. This included malnutrition, infant mortality, agrarian reform, health and diseases, housing, mass transportation, political power, and the confrontation between wealth and poverty. This method of teaching enabled these adults to understand the significance of words as potent forces for political change. Freire developed “culture circles” as a way of teaching illiterates how to read and write. Culture circles consist of coordinators, learning units and group participants that use dialogue and critical thinking as a means of learning. There eventually were twenty thousand culture circles in Brazil. After the military coup in 1964, Freire was imprisoned for seventy days and finally exiled. He is currently living and working in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 1975 Freire and his team (Institute for Cultural Action) were invited by Mario Cabral, Commissioner of Education in Guinea‑Bissau, to participate in the adult literacy program of that nation. [11] Through the use of culture circles and literacy workers, they were able to achieve in two years literacy for eighty per cent of the armed forces and they began to work with the adults in the civilian population. The literacy program was perceived as a political act. In Guinea‑Bissau the educational system needed to be changed [138/139] from a colonial education that de‑Africanized the people to one where students studied their own history and geography and the struggle for liberation. In order to integrate productive labor with school activities, teachers and students were living in rural areas teaching peasants and learning from their productive activities.

Freire’s revolutionary educational theory is appropriate and effective for third world countries that have overthrown their oppressors and are building a new society. However, can this theory be applied in capitalist countries? Although some teachers in Berkeley, California, have used certain ideas of Freire at the elementary school level, [12] it is unlikely that this theory can be widely adopted by school systems in the United States. The capitalist class would be committing political suicide if they permitted students and teachers to use the school as a means of uncovering different forms of oppression and of introducing socialist values. A major achievement would be the use of Freire’s ideas by some teachers and educators throughout the United States, especially among working class, poor people, and minority groups. This would intensify the struggle against capitalism and lead to a greater political opposition.

Ira Shor has developed a concept of critical teaching that uses Freire's concepts of dialogue and critical consciousness with community college students. [13] Shor asks his students to concentrate on objects in their own experience and to analyze them. Who made it? How did it get to us? Who benefits from it? Using this method to analyze a hamburger, he was able to introduce the study of commodity relations, nutrition, and the politics of social change. In analyzing the word “chair”, the students became aware that they did not choose the chairs in the classroom and the administrators had more comfortable chairs than they did. A discussion of authoritarian rule and élitism grew out of this analysis. Shor uses common objects in the everyday experience of students to show how they reflect the oppressive elements of society, and he explores with them new liberating structures. As more college teachers use methods of critical teaching, the classroom will become a laboratory for analyzing different forms of oppression and the center for organizing students and teachers for political change. This will be a slow and gradual process, however, it can gain momentum during moments of crisis in the capitalist world. Revolutionary educators can play an important part in designing aspects of a new educational system that will have a liberating effect for students.

One new approach has been the teaching of philosophy to elementary and secondary school students. If we can train all students to think philosophically, then they will be prepared to evaluate the beliefs and values encountered in life. This will give them the tools to analyze oppressive elements and to examine alternative ways of living. The concepts “philosophy” and [139/140] “philosophical thinking” refer to the process of evaluating statements and arguments. An operational definition would consist of all the skills used in the evaluative process. This would include linguistic, empirical, methodological, and logical skills. [14] The aim would be to teach these various skills to all students from first to twelfth grade, providing continuity in the development of critical thinking and enabling students to use these skills in many aspects of school life.

There are different approaches to teaching philosophy in the schools. One approach is only to teach students the principles of logical reasoning. It is assumed that, if students learn certain logical skins, they will be able to apply them throughout the curriculum. This approach assumes the questionable belief that transfer of learning is automatic. Actually, successful transfer occurs when students are taught particular skills within the areas where they will be expected to apply them.

There is another approach that teaches philosophical thinking in relation to the actual curriculum in the classroom. [15] For example, in studying the Declaration of Independence, students can be asked to analyze the statement, “all men are created equal.” Is this statement true, if Blacks and Indians were not granted equal rights? Does the word “men” refer to all people or just males? Were women given equal rights? These kinds of inquiries win assist students in understanding the racist, male chauvinist, and class nature of society in the United States. Some additional questions that can be asked are: in what ways do these problems still exist? How can they be solved? This will help students to perceive how social changes can be obtained. The various critical thinking skills would be developed in language arts, reading, social studies, science, mathematics, and other curriculum areas taught in the schools. In a recent class in Connecticut, a teacher informed the class that during the election in El Salvador (1982) the people were required to have their identification card stamped when they voted. Does this have a coercive effect? This information was not presented to the people in the United States by the major newspapers, magazines, and television news programs. The concept of suppressed evidence can be introduced here as well as the influence it has in distorting the news and in supporting particular class interests.

The various approaches of teaching philosophy to students represent different ideological characterizations of life. Lipman has written a novel that attempts to teach children immediate inferences and categorical syllogisms. [16] The few political examples he uses support uncritical nationalism (people should love their country, just like they love their homes) and an anti‑communist attitude (getting angry at the North Koreans and fighting against them). The characters in his novel are middle‑class children who talk about airplane rides, new dresses, houses with basements, and dressing tables. [140/141] The lives of poor people, minority groups, and rural people are neglected. Lipman's approach represents a conservative ideology that does not threaten the ruling class, supports a nationalistic and an anti‑communist attitude, and upholds middle‑class values. The ideological basis of this approach is antithetic to the purposes of revolutionary education.

D’Angelo’s approach of teaching philosophy to students is supportive of left movements. [17] He exposes students to examples that illustrate miscon­ceptions about women, nationalities, races, and communism. He also presents situations concerning civil disobedience, Black Liberation movements, and various kinds of violence. The purpose is to teach critical thinking from a left viewpoint.

The methodology, content, examples, and criticisms used by a system of teaching philosophy to children reflect a particular ideological position. Revolutionary educators need to be knowledgeable of this situation and to teach students critical thinking skills from a left ideological perspective.

The contradiction between the actual aim (integration and control of the working class) and the declared aim (equal opportunity) of capitalist education enables revolutionary educators to expose class privileges and oppressive structures. As the contradictions heighten within the capitalist system, basic educational reforms may occur that will attempt to explain what is occurring and the changes needed to create a better society. Revolutionary teachers can play an important role in facilitating changes during this transitional period. The following are some suggestions how these transformations may be obtained:

(1) Teachers need to emphasize the political nature of education. They can help students to participate in school, community, and national political struggles. Disputes occurring in school that influence the fives of students can be an important starting place for stimulating political awareness. As students organize, they can become a potent social group in society. The present concerns about playground facilities, slum‑clearance, nuclear power plants, and ecological destruction, can be used to involve students in community political activities. It is imperative that these problems be seen not only in humanistic terms but also as the result of a capitalist economy. The revolutionary educator is aware of how the problem is reflective of the system and not simply due to ignorance or inhumane treatment. The curriculum is also an area where certain knowledge forms and skills can be learned through political application. In a recent mathematics program, students were asked to calculate the total federal subsidy to the nuclear power industry, the percent of United States food manufacturing firms making over seventy-five percent profit, and the monthly expenses of welfare recipients in various cities in Massachusetts. [18]

(2) The development of an égalitarian educational system. This is necessary [141/142] in order to counteract the inequality that is perpetuated by capitalism and replicated within the educational system. One way that this may be accomplished is by the creation of égalitarian textbooks and materials. These books would emphasize equality among races and sexes, and the acceptance of different sexual preferences. A non‑hierarchical system where people engage in different types of work is also needed in these textbooks. The nature of one’s labor does not justify the domination of other people. “Work would be done for each other, out of common agreement and understanding.” [19] This entails a cooperative enterprise among students, teachers, and administrators.

(3) The promotion of a democratic and participatory structure in education. Teachers need to oppose the arbitrary and authoritarian nature of decision‑making by stressing the importance of developing democratic procedures on all levels. Whenever a situation occurs in the school that affects students and teachers, they should be directly involved in the final outcome. This will give students and teachers more power in making decisions about class and school policies, curriculum, and evaluation. Revolutionary teachers need to develop an anti‑authoritarian and a non‑élitist attitude. This can be accomplished by students, teachers, and administrators calling each other by their first name, dressing similarly, and using the same level of vocabulary. Sitting apart or standing above students helps to create an authoritarian atmosphere. Everyone sitting in a circle will help to develop égalitarianism, especially in the lecture type of class.

(4) The transition from capitalist to socialist values. The schools primarily emphasize individualism and competition as operating principles. In opposition to these values, educators can use group experiences more extensively. This may involve small group discussion and presentations, panel discussions, noncompetitive games, and working with students and teachers in other classes. The emphasis would be on group work and cooperation. Students would be required to cooperate with other students in sharing information and making decisions as to the means of presenting their material to the class. It would also involve teaming games where students are supportive and cooperative with each other. [20]

(5) An alliance needs to be formed among revolutionary teachers. Revolutionary educators should assist each other in the sharing of ideas, teaching materials, books, articles, and methods of teaching. The Radical Teacher, [21] a socialist journal on the theory and practice of teaching, is currently one of the best references for educators. Teachers will also need to support each other when they are attacked by school administrators, politicians, and parents in the community. As an organized unit, in conjunction with radical students and parents, they can press for educational changes that correspond to the interests of working‑class students. [142/143]

The aim of these strategies is to create a counter‑hegemony within educational institutions that provides students with a system of beliefs, values, images, attitudes, and verbal and nonverbal behavior that will promote the movement toward democratic socialism.

What is the nature of revolutionary education in a socialist society? Socialism is not a final state, but rather a developmental process. Within this structure, teachers play an important role in the creation and development of socialism. Depending upon the historical and social conditions, educational programs and changes will vary among socialist countries.

In the late 1950’s, Khrushchev’s criticisms of Soviet education resulted in the introduction of polytechnical education. If the relationship between mode of production and education is dialectical, then a transition from one mode of production to another will cause changes to occur within educational institutions. The demand for new skills from workers and a higher level of technical training led to the creation of polytechnical studies in the Soviet schools. Polytechnical education now has become an integral part of the educational system of many socialist countries.

During the Cultural Revolution in China, intellectuals were criticized for their élitism and their disdain for manual labor. Consequently, universities were closed and intellectuals were reeducated. Students and teachers were required to spend time doing manual labor in the countryside. The integration of intellectuals with the masses was a way of breaking the gap between mental and manual labor. There was also an attempt to restructure the educational system with the schools being controlled by different types of workers.

In Cuba, there was a major campaign in 1961 to teach one‑fourth of the population how to read and write. [22] Students and teachers joined this campaign to eradicate illiteracy. The escuela al campo program, where entire schools moved to the countryside to do agricultural work, and the circulos de interes, where interest circles are orientated around productive activities, are additional ways that the schools contributed to the development of socialism.

A revolutionary educator in a socialist country is one who supports various programs and changes that are consistent with revolutionary socialism. This would be in contrast to educators in socialist countries who uphold reactionary programs and practices, e.g., Chinese educators who support recent changes in education. It is also necessary that revolutionary teachers offer new suggestions for educational programs and criticisms of existing structures. New approaches in the schools are vital in creating a socialist society. There is also a need to eradicate educational practices and attitudes that were prevalent in pre‑capitalist and capitalist societies that still exist in socialist nations. It is erroneous to assume that because the economic base has fundamentally changed, that all aspects of the institutions in the superstructure [143/144] will also change. Once an educational form is engrained within an ideological structure, it sometimes develops a life of its own. It has a momentum reinforced by tradition that becomes a part of the character structure of people. The transition from capitalism to socialism will not necessarily alter all the educational values that were dominant under capitalism. It seems to me that the lecture and rote methods of teaching and the use of grades in evaluating students are practices in some socialist countries that are incompatible with socialist values.

Revolutionary educators need to discover those educational programs, policies, and practices inconsistent with socialism that exist within their educational institutions. The goal of the revolutionary teacher would be to confront those inconsistent structures and to suggest alternative models that would be beneficial to all students.

University of Bridgeport


1.  S. Bowles and H. Gintis, Schooling in Capitalist America (New York: Basic Books, 1976).

2.  Ibid., p. 114.

3.  J. Anyon, “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” Journal of Educa­tion, Winter, 1980.

4.  A. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks (New York: International Publishers, 1971), pp. 407‑08.

5.  M. Apple, Ideology and Curriculum (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1979), p. 3.

6.  Ibid., p. 42.

7.  Ibid., p. 88.

8.  R. Arditti, P. Brennan, and S. Cavrak (eds.), Science and Liberation (Boston: South End Press, 1980), pp. 3‑4.

9.  P. Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed (New York: Seabury Press, 1970).

10.  P. Freire, Education for Critical Consciousness (New York: Seabury Press, 1973), pp. 82‑84.

11.  P. Freire, Pedagogy in Process (New York: Seabury Press, 1978).

12.  C. Brown, Literacy in Thirty Hours (Chicago: Alternative Schools Network, 1978), p. 28.

13.  I. Shor, Critical Teaching and Everyday Life (Boston: South End Press, 1980).

14.   E. D’Angelo, The Teaching of Critical Thinking (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1971), pp. 8‑15.

15.  Ibid., Chapters 3‑7.

16.  M. Lipman, Harry Stottlemeier’s Discovery (Montclair: Institute for the Advance­ment of Philosophy for Children, 1974).

17.  E. D’Angelo, "The Ideological Nature of Teaching Philosophy to Children," Rev­olutionary World, Vol. 26, 1978, pp. 58‑59.


18.  M. Frankenstein, “A Different Third R: Radical Math,” The Radical Teacher, Vol. 20, 1982.

19.  M. Carnoy, Education as Cultural Imperialism (New York: David McKay, 1974), p. 366.

20.  M. Weinstein and J. Goodman, Playfair (San Luis Obispo: Impact Publishers, 1980).

21.  The Radical Teacher, Box 102, Kendall Square Post Office, Cambridge, Ma. 02142.

22.  S. Bowles, “Cuban Education and the Revolutionary Ideology,” in M. Carnoy (ed.), Schooling in a Corporate Society (New York: David McKay, 1972), pp. 288‑91.

SOURCE: D'Angelo, Edward. "Education and Revolutionary Change," in: Dialectical Perspectives in Philosophy and Social Science, edited by Pasquale N. Russo et al (Amsterdam: B.R. Grüner, 1983), pp. 135-145.

"The Ideological Nature of Teaching Philosophy to Children" by Edward D'Angelo

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