Another Kind of Public Education: Race, Schools, the Media, and Democratic Possibilities

Another Kind of Public Education: Race, Schools, the Media, and Democratic Possibilities

This summer, really since I defended my dissertation in March, I’ve been committed to reading more non-school-related books. Aided by my Prince George’s County library card, I have been quite successful. In fact, since then, I’ve read 19 glorious books and found a love for historical fiction.

On a recent trip to Minneapolis, I wanted to take one of my newest library acquisitions, Neel Mukherjee’s The Lives of Others, but at over 500 pages, it was just too big. Instead I opted for two books I had been gifted – Patricia Hill Collins’ Another Kind of Public Education: Race, Schools, the Media, and Democratic Possibilities and Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. I ended up reading the former.

Technically, this book is not non-school-related, quite the contrary. I had been looking for a reading to assign my students that addressed the domains of power, the framework that Collins created to analyze the multiple domains where racism (and other forms of inequality) manifests. She has a chapter in On Intellectual Activism that discusses it (I ultimately decided to assign that chapter) – and she initially introduces it in Black Feminist Thought –  but in Another Kind of Public Education, she more fully articulates it throughout the book and explicitly uses the domains of power framework to analyze education and resistance (Chapter 3) and how African American youth are “placed on lockdown” (Chapter 4).

In Another Kind of Public Education, Collins “argue[s] for another kind of education, one that better prepares the American public for democratic action in our contemporary social and political context.” One part of that education is an understanding of the history and distinctive structures of power that create and maintain various forms of social inequality. The domains of power framework is an analytic tool to do just that. Here Collins focuses on racial inequality, though the framework could be applied to inequality based on gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion, ability, or age, among others.

There are four domains within the domains of power framework:

Structural domain – institutional structures (e.g., banks, schools, police departments, real estate agencies); “how racial practices are organized through social institutions”

Disciplinary domain – organizational practices and policies; rules and regulations

Cultural domain – ideas and ideologies; how racial hierarchy is justified; where racial representations, ideas, and stories are created and transmitted (e.g., news, media, popular culture)

Interpersonal domain – relationships, communities, and interpersonal interactions; how race relations are shaped in everyday life

It is important to remember that inequality is structured and resisted within and across each domain.

What I appreciate about Another Kind of Public Education is how accessible it is. Although Collins is providing detailed social analysis, she does so in a way that is easy to understand and grounded in examples from everyday life. She draws on her own experiences as an educator, as well as when she was a high school student in Philly, and highlights examples of the four domains of power in action from popular culture. Of course, because racial inequality has a particular socio-historic trajectory, Collins’ analysis is not complete without including key illustrations from U.S. history.

By the time my return flight from Minneapolis landed, I finished Another Kind of Public Education. The title even piqued the interest of one of my flight seat mates. I hope they pick it up!