Doctoral Student Fellowship

Kenzo Sung, School of Education

Imperial Eyes on the Prize: American and British Educational Reforms, National Discourses and Legacies of Empire in the Postwar Era



Disparities in educational attainment highlight a complex tension regarding the promise and limitations of public schools to address social issues such as poverty, racism and national identity. My dissertation attends to this tension through a historical examination of three seminal postwar education reforms in Britain and the United States. During the 1950-70’s both countries utilized school policies to address social divisions. However, the language and trajectory of these reforms were remarkably different. American policy rhetoric first focused explicitly on race to the near exclusion of class and culture, whereas in Britain almost the exact opposite occurred. The dissertation clarifies how changes in global economic positioning and national ideologies, or ‘trajectories of empire,’ illuminate why government and social movement discourses on both sides of the Atlantic intersected conceptions of race, assimilation, and citizenship differently. The dissertation is primarily based on archival records collected from U.S. and British central government and regional holdings. The three body chapters correspond to the primary discursive frameworks reformers used to explain disparities in academic achievement and develop policies: racial segregation/discrimination, poverty, and cultural/linguistic difference. The dissertation concludes that a transnational perspective, attending to how global socioeconomic and political developments influenced social movements and state policies across national borders, illuminates new understandings regarding why postwar Western nations chose distinct ways to address social unrest through educational reforms that continue to be recycled in rhetoric and policy nearly a half century later.