Education as Social Control: Evidence from School Textbooks after the Civil Rights Movement

15 September 2022, Version 1
This content is an early or alternative research output and has not been peer-reviewed at the time of posting.


The enfranchisement of Black Americans in 1965 led southern state governments to increase education expenditures in predominantly Black school districts. What motivated these educational investments, a redistributive or a social control logic? To answer this question, I examine the content of state-approved History school textbooks between 1955 and 1975. Did southern states reform textbooks after the Civil Rights Movement in ways that better acknowledged the racial injustice and institutionalized discrimination denounced by Black activists? An comparison of textbooks from Alabama, Indiana and California suggests that the answer is no: while non-Southern states' textbooks became more aligned with activists' demands, in Alabama textbooks remained virtually unchanged and continued to minimize the history of racial discrimination. The findings support a theory of education reform whereby politicians who feel threatened by mass demands for institutional change respond by investing in teaching children that there is little reason to rebel against the status quo.


Civil Rights Movement
social control
racial discrimination


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