Date of Award

Winter 2012

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Paula Salvio


On January 25, 2011, United States President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union address to Congress and to the nation. As part of that address, President Obama articulated his vision for American education and stated that America had "to win the race to educate our kids" (Obama, 2011, state of the union). Mr. Obama's speech and his "Race to the Top" policy stand as statements in a discourse that expects fast-paced education based on universal standards and quantitative measures. Tracing a history of American schooling, one sees that this discourse has been dominant in this society for most of the past hundred years. However, while policy makers often tout 'science' as the foundation for decisions in America's race to educate children, a 'science' that employs a one-dimensional concept of universal time and linear progress is problematic when applied to human learning.

Drawing from Michel Foucault's methodological 'toolbox', the current study is a critical ontology asking how American society has constructed education as a time-oriented endeavor in which we race to educate our children. A 'Foucauldian analysis' allows us to question our understandings of ourselves and helps us question the power that rules over our lives, and in an examination of this history, the current study shows how notions of universal time and linear progress have gained power in American schools. As part of this history, the study illustrates how the American government, newspaper media, and academic journals have created a 'slow learner' subject as an object of power used to explain vast economic inequalities in society, justify dividing practices that sort students based on intellectual measures, and instill anxiety about the pace of education into American society. However, the current study also interrupts the discourse of universal time and linear progress now used in American schools in two ways. First, the current study highlights inconsistencies in the dominant narrative of 'fast-' and 'slow-' learners by illustrating a broader understanding of these subjects than how they are characterized in the discourse. Second, the current study problematizes the constructed binaries made possible with notions of universal time and linear progress by introducing alternative models of time and progress (e.g., relativity theory; quantum theory; chaos theory) that are more accurate in describing the phenomenon of time and arguably are more appropriate for use in American schools. The significance of the dissertation emerges when we realize that in considering education policies, we must question the discourse of time that shapes how we view our students and ourselves, and we must question why we race to educate our kids.