Kids, the New Cash Crop: The Promise and Limits of Educating for Economic Development in the New South, 1960 – 2000
William Goldsmith

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



Duke University

Primary Discipline

My dissertation charts the rise of education in North Carolina economic development policy between 1960 and 2000. I argue that the civil rights revolution was critical in opening labor and capital markets, unlocking federal education and training funding, and allowing the South to catch up on what some scholars have framed as “the human capital century.” Historians have demonstrated how the South’s industrialization strategy for much of the 20th century depended on recruiting low-wage, low-skill manufacturing plants. This dissertation shows how the politics enabled by new biracial political coalitions allowed policy advocates to persuade North Carolina politicians to pursue economic growth through skill and education upgrading. Many of these policy advocates were veterans of the War on Poverty and the civil rights movement. They grounded the economic case for educational improvement in manufacturing job losses in the early 1980s; the postindustrial economy would require a flexible, highly skilled workforce. The consensus around this “education for economic growth” paradigm, to use language popularized by state Gov. Jim Hunt, was particularly sustained in North Carolina, though like-minded efforts in other southern states shaped national education politics in the 1980s and 1990s. However, this new approach drained young people from communities hard hit by globalization, fracturing the political coalition supporting education. My dissertation suggests how the economic emphasis on education has both financed the expansion of the state educational system and increased political pressures on school systems.
About William Goldsmith
William D. Goldsmith is a Ph.D. candidate in modern U.S. history at Duke University under the direction of Nancy MacLean. In addition to his dissertation work on education and economic development policy, William’s research interests include African American history, regulatory governance, and the history of capitalism. Before graduate school, William worked as a journalist for C-VILLE, an alternative weekly paper in Charlottesville, Virginia. He also taught English and Theater Arts through Teach for America at a public high school in northeastern North Carolina, where the core seeds of his dissertation were planted. William earned his B.A. from Yale University in 2002.

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