Selective Renewal: Education Markets and Urban Renaissance in Post-Civil Rights Chicago
Nicholas Kryczka

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



University of Chicago

Primary Discipline

From their inception in the late 1960s, Chicago’s public magnet schools had a twin mandate: to provide the school system with targeted sites for racial integration and to promote centers of academic innovation and distinction. Mounting pressure from black activists and the federal government had driven the desegregation goal. The latter mandate was designed, as school superintendent James Redmond put it, “to anchor the whites that still reside in the city.”My dissertation offers an urban history of Chicago’s magnet schools, one of the nation’s earliest experiments in choice-driven school desegregation. I begin with the origin of the magnet concept among civil rights advocates and academic educationists in the 1960s, shifting to a story of implementation in specific Chicago neighborhoods during the 1970s and 80s. The dissertation offers three interventions. Firstly, it documents the broader civil rights and “urban crisis” context that generated the concepts of school choice and selective enrollment in American school systems. Here the project intervenes in history of education scholarship, tracing a mottled origin story for twenty-first century educational watchwords like equity, excellence, and choice. Secondly, by placing educational policy at the center of spatial histories of late-twentieth-century cities, I demonstrate the role that schools played in processes of renewal in the urban core. Here, the project intervenes with urban and metropolitan histories of crisis and renewal, arguing that Chicago’s attempts to avoid postindustrial decline subsumed a variety of public initiatives, including reforms in public education. Thirdly, the dissertation presents urban magnet schools as ideal sites for mapping the role of the state in shaping middle-class values—like diversity and academic competitiveness—in the post-civil rights era. Here I converse with cultural and intellectual histories of the late-twentieth-century U.S., proposing that childhood, parenthood, and neighborhood afford a bottom-up view of how markets, multiculturalism, and meritocracy developed side-by-side in America’s urban schoolhouses.
About Nicholas Kryczka
Nick Kryczka is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at the University of Chicago, where he researches the history of education, urban history, and the history of racial ideology in the late twentieth-century United States. His dissertation offers a history of Chicago’s magnet schools, tracing the role of voluntary school desegregation in shaping urban multiculturalism in the post-civil rights era. At UChicago, Nick has taught and assisted in courses on U.S. history and African American history, and served as a preceptor for BA thesis candidates in history. Nick has held fellowships from the Black Metropolis Research Consortium, the University of Chicago’s Urban Network, and the Chicago Center for Teaching. As a Senior Teaching Fellow at the CCT, he organizes pedagogy training for graduate student instructors in the History Department. Prior to entering doctoral studies, Nick worked for a decade as a high school teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, where he taught U.S. history, world history, and sociology. Nick earned his teaching licensure and an MA in history at Northeastern Illinois University, and completed his BA in political science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Nick lives on Chicago’s Northwest Side where he volunteers as an advocate for affordable housing and serves as a parent representative on the neighborhood’s Local School Council.

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