Current educational reforms in the U.S. contain a pervasive discourse of participation. Although calls for participation of teachers, students, parents, communities, business, and numerous other stakeholders in schools are central to most reforms, there is increasing evidence that much participatory reform is either bogus, superficial, or ineffective (Beare, 1993; Hargreaves, 1994; Malen & Ogawa, 1988; Smyth, 1993). In this article, I discuss the various influences on the discourse of participation and the ways it is currently being promoted and implemented by diverse constituencies. More specifically, I analyze (a) how participation becomes a form of public relations to create greater institutional legitimacy for current educational practices, (b) how participation mechanisms, viewed as disciplinary practices, become more sophisticated technologies of control, (c) how structures set up for greater participation often become sites for collusion, and (d) how movements promoting parental school choice in an educational marketplace are framed as providing greater parental participation. Finally, in an effort to sort out these issues and move toward more authentic forms of participation, a conceptual framework guided by five fundamental questions that orient participation efforts will be provided.
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