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Democratic Politics and the Culture of American Education Author(s): Richard M. Merelman Source: The American Political Science Review, Vol. 74, No. 2, (Jun., 1980), pp. 319-332 Published by: American Political Science Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1960628 Accessed: 30/07/2008 14:57 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=apsa. 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After treating a defective explanation for the school's weaknessas a democraticsocializationagent-the "hiddencurriculum "approach-the articleoutlines the conflict between democraticpolitics and "the basic shape of schooling." The article concludes by tracing the deleteriouseffect of this conflict on teachers,curricula, students. and In 1916 John Dewey argued that a democra- illustrates the point. Jennings', Ehman's, and cy should pursue "a type of education which Niemi's examination of the social studies class- gives individuals a personal interest in social room concludes that variations among teachers relationships and control, and the habits of have little impact on democratic political atti- mind which secure social changes without tudes among students (1974, Ch. 8). If teaching introducing disorder" (Dewey, 1916, p. 115). styles seem ineffective, what about curricula? As if in reply to Dewey, consider William The most comprehensive examination of cur- Blake: "But to go to school on a summer ricular impact is that of Jennings and Niemi, morn? 0 it drives all joys away/ Under a cruel who write, "Our findings certainly do not eye outworn/ The little ones spend their day/ support the thinking of those who look to the In sighing and dismay" ("The Schoolboy"). civics curriculum in American high schools as a Blake's description of schooling could hardly be major source of political socialization. When we farther from Dewey's recommendation. Al- investigated the student sample as a whole we though Blake wrote his lines 200 years ago, I found not one single case out of the ten stumbled across them in reading Phillip Jack- examined in which the civics curriculum was son's frontispiece to his influential Life in significantly associated with students' political Classrooms (1968); Jackson apparently believes orientation" (1974, p. 205; see also Mercer, that time has not diminished the truth of 1973). Finally, what about the effects of Blake's observation. The question remains: curricula and students jointly considered? Per- how can education strengthen the cooperative haps we have been wrong to focus mainly upon social conscience that lies at the heart of individual teachers or individual students rather Dewey's vision of democracy when the benefi- than upon whole schools. After all, from the ciaries of education consider themselves its student's point of view schooling is a synthesis victims, involuntarily bound in the harness of of many experiences, not a collection of iso- schooling? Can schoolchildren learn freedom lated encounters with particular teachers or and equality when schools enforce constraint, subjects. But even this alternative does not hierarchy, and inequality? It is this question- avail. Jennings writes that when schools them- broadly construed-that I address here. selves become the units of analysis, "classroom Though Blake might have been the last to and curriculum leave but marginal residues on take comfort from empirical social science, the political character of high school students" much of what we now know about "democratic (Jennings, 1974, p. 406). political socialization" accords with his insight. Of course, as Willis Hawley points out Simply put, schooling has yet to demonstrate (1977, pp. 319-25), much relevant data remain its contribution to the child's development of outstanding. It is hard to believe the schools are democratic values (Dawson, Prewitt, and Daw- not having some impact on democratic values, son, 1977, pp. 143-44). Pertinent research even though research stubbornly refuses to identify what that impact is. Nor do Americans This is a much-revised version of a paper presented rely solely on schools for their democratic at the Concordia International Conference on Re. socialization; perhaps we become "democratic" search Frontiers in Education, Concordia University, despite the school's efforts. Nevertheless, there Montreal, Canada, 1979. I am grateful to Fran Schrag, appear to be a few successes in the school's Gina Sapiro, Michael Olneck, Peter Eisinger, Murray teaching of democratic values. For example, Edelman, and Louise Merelman for comments along marked interest in politics emerges in schools the way. composed mainly of college-found students- 319 320 The AmericanPoliticalScienceReview Vol. 74 even among less promising students. It is itself from power-hungry leaders and thus unclear whether to attribute these effects to a stabilize democratic institutions. Without ar "6trickle-down" process-with college-bound informed, participating public, the creden students picking up participatory ideas from tials-and the futures-of systems calling them their teachers and passing them along to other selves democratic must be considered suspect students-or to a "bubble-up" process-with The failures of democratic education are there teachers fitting their instruction to the ad- fore failures of American politics-as well a, vanced capacities of their better students, and puzzles for democratic theory (Dahl, 1956). thus unintentionallybenefitingpoor students as In this article I reconsider the character ol well (Langton, 1969, Chs. 4-5). Either way, democratic education in American schools. however, these findings solve nothing, for they first argue that the dominant contemporary indicate only that the inefficacy of schools in interpretation of failures in American democra teaching democratic values may proceed as tic education-the theory of the hidden curricu- much from characteristicsof the student body lum-is incomplete. I modify this theory by as from the school itself. The point remains, highlighting the conflict between a primarily therefore, that as a planned enterprise in the authoritarian context and the democratic con- teaching of democratic values the American tent common in American political education. I public school's share in the general process of then employ my modification to explain salient democratic socialization appears at best suspi- organizational, cultural, and educational fea- ciously problematic (Shaver, 1977, pp. tures of American schooling-and to show why 300-07). such schooling is so peculiarly self-defeating This problem must be viewed alongside and ineffective. another debate currently ragingin educational circles: the debate about the relationship be- The Hidden Curriculum tween schooling and occupationalachievement in America.On the latter subject, too, Deweyan The most widely-held contemporary expla- "'naiveoptimism" has given way (see Ravitch, nation for the weakness of democratic school- 1978). Of course, we may lack our own ing is the "hidden curriculum," a set of ColemanReports, our Christopher Jencksesand common practices which, by teaching quite our Michael Katzes, but our efforts should be different behavior and power relationships, seen in conjunction with theirs. In fact, though supposedly prevents the transmission of demo- conducted entirely independently, the two re- cratic values in the school (Apple and King, searchefforts-one into the effects of education 1977, pp. 108-27). It is alleged that the school on democratic socialization, the other into the teaches hierarchy, not democracy. Instead of effects of education on student achievement student power in the school we find teacher and economic success-reach the same conclu- control over curriculum and administrator con- sion: namely, that the Americanschool leaves trol over the school building. Instead of genuine much to be desired. The two lines of research equality among students we find invidious combine to make a powerful criticism of ability groupings (Keddie, 1971, pp. 133-61). schools, for what Averch et al. say about Instead of liberty for students we encounter schooling in general appliesas well to schooling constant surveillance. Instead of the "personal and democraticvalues: interest in social relationships" envisaged by Research not identified variant the has a of Dewey, we observe egoistic competition for existentsystemthat is consistently relatedto grades, for status, and, ultimately, for admis- student outcomes.... Research has found sion to "appropriate" colleges and universities. nothing that consistently and unambiguously Instead of the democratic citizen's enjoyment makesa difference in student outcomes (1972, of choice and spontaneity, we discover the dead p. x, emphasis original). in hand of delay and queing (Jackson, 1968, Ch. But ours is not just an educationalproblem, 1), of teacher dictates, of a fixed, externally for education is a major arenaof public policy. prescribed, stultifying curriculum. Behind the Educational failures are, ipso facto, policy pretence of "democratic" socialization lurks failures. Indeed, more even than policy is at the reality of closely supervised, standardized stake. Whetheror not their faith was warranted, training where students fight each other in generationsof political theorists and politicians order to please those in power. In sum, students have looked to education to produce a demo- cannot learn democracy in the school because cratic citizenry. Although Thomas Jefferson the school is not a democratic place (Cohen and and Lawrence Kohlberg would disagree about Lazerson, 1977, pp. 133-61). many things, they would surely agree on one Though appealing in many ways, the hidden point: that only such a citizenry can, protect curriculum argument does not provide a com. 1980 Democratic Politics and the Culture of American Education 321 prehensive explanation for the school's failure Teachers cannot ignore problems of authority, to teach democratic values. It cannot provide of course, but an equally important aim for such an explanation because it displays internal many teachers, as Dreeben points out (1977, flaws which demand correction. These prob- pp. 544-49), is to develop students who are lems embrace logic, description, concep- active, purposeful, forceful, and assertive in tualization, and inference. their pursuit of academic goals. This com- ponent of teaching clearly conflicts with the Logic. Let us begin with the problem of logic. hidden curriculum's supposed encouragement Suppose we find the majority of students in a of submissiveness and passivity. school apparently submitting to the school's Moreover, in recent years authoritarian hid den curriculum-identifying with their aspects of the hidden curriculum have come teachers, competing with each other for grades, under legal attack. Recent court decisions conforming to authority. The hidden curricu- establish important areas of student rights lum is working, and therefore democratic so- regarding political action within the school, cialization cannot take place. Fair enough. But grooming, and student publications (Fischer, now suppose the opposite: that students hate 1977, pp. 249-63). Today's students are al- their teachers, resent their school, and actively most certainly less victimized by an authori- protest against the hidden curriculum. These tarian hidden curriculum than were their prede- facts indicate the presence of alienation, and cessors. How can such a divided hidden curricu- alienation hinders schooling. Thus, both sub- lum be held responsible for the school's failure mission and resistance among students demon- to socialize democratic values effectively? strates the hidden curriculum to have prevented Finally, many descriptions of the hidden democratic socialization in the school (Young, curriculum are insufficiently sensitive to prob- 1971). lems of comparison. For example, how does the The logical flaw in this position fairly jumps authoritarianism of the hidden curriculum fit out at the reader. The hidden curriculum within the culture from which students are argument becomes non-falsifiable if neither drawn? It is possible that the hidden curriculum acceptance nor rejection of schooling can dis- is actually less authoritarian than the students' pute it. Non-falsifiable positions may be true, cultural background, in which case one can of course, but it is impossible to believe them hardly hold the hidden curriculum responsible so without the intervention of faith. And the for the absence of democratic attitudes among requirement of faith is not a virtue in most students. Take an example. Some writers draw social science quarters. an implicit contrast between what they take to be the authoritarianism of the school and what Description. There are also problems of descrip- they take to be the democracy of working-class tion. Simply put, description of the hidden culture, a comparison which leads them to curriculum as uniformly repressive is wrong. conclude that the hidden curriculum effectively Any reader of Philip Cusick's Inside High turns innocent working-class democrats into School, an ethnographic account of a middle- cynical authoritarians. A reading of Paul Willis' class American high school, might be impressed Learning to Labour (1977) is a useful corrective by the amount of freedom students carve out for such romanticism. Racism, sexism, and for themselves in school. As Cusick puts it, glorification of violence permeate the culture of "The school ... provides an enormous amount Willis' English working-class boys. In compari- of time when students are actually required to son with these values, the awkward autocracy do little other than be in attendance and of the hidden curriculum becomes, if anything, minimally compliant. It is this that provides a modest step toward democracy (Glock et al., [the students] with the time to carry on their 1975, pp. 61-103). The point is simple: group activity, and their group activity seems to antidemocratic sentiments can be found in all consume over half the school day" (1973, p. cultures and all social classes. Therefore, the 214). Indeed, if teachers attempt to impose an presence of antidemocratic attitudes among authoritarian hidden curriculum on students, students does not demonstrate the impact of students return the favor by attempting to the hidden curriculum, even if such a curricu- impose a lenient hidden curriculum of their lum is authoritarian. own on teachers (Cusick, 1973; see also Swift, A related mistake is also common: some 1971, pp. 3 1-65). hidden curriculum theorists exaggerate the dif- But this observation is itself misleading, for ference between the messages the hidden cur- it assumes that respect for authority is upper- riculum conveys and the messages contained in most in teachers' minds and that failures in this student culture. As Harold Entwhistle argues, regard are due solely to student resistance. the culture of working-class students and the 322 The American Political Science Review Vol. 74 culture of a middle-class school are not as appearance and, for boys, athletics, the sacrifice opposed as hidden curriculum theorists claim. of scholastic performance for social popularity, Working-class people generally favor order and the appeal of fraternities and sororities-all discipline, a view shared by teachers from middle-class American counterparts of the vi- working-class origins who often become prime olence, the racism, the sexual exploitation, and exponents of an authoritarian hidden curricu- the pseudo-masculinity of Willis' British work- lum. As Entwhistle points out, "If teachers ing-class students (Coleman, 1961, Chs. 2-5, with working-class origins typically resent low- 10). Students, whatever their class or nationali- er-class students and despise their cultural ty, find ways of protecting themselves from values, the explanation may lie in phenomena curricula. related to working-class stratification itself, not Why these problems of inference from the in the middle-class values" (1978, p. 48). presence of a practice to its supposed effect? One reason is that hidden curriculum theorists Inference. The third problem in the hidden resemble those who write about democratic curriculum argument is inferential. Hidden cur- socialization in their devotion to what Ted riculum theorists infer that because the school Tapper has termed a "monolithic" conception renders students dependent, students accept of socialization (Tapper, 1976, p. 15), in which their dependency. Much evidence disputes such socialization agents carefully coordinate their a view, even for those students who have most activities. Were socialization monolithic in this to gain by remaining dependent. Consider the sense, merely to identify a schooling practice fact, for example, that it was academically might be enough to demonstrate its effective- successful students who during the 1960s led ness. But the assumption itself seems to over- rebellions against the school (Keniston, 1973). simplify a quite complex reality. Is this the picture of a hidden curriculum Equally important, however, is the fact that, effectively creating a passive, dependent-albeit from the student's viewpoint, the "hidden advantaged-clientele? I think not. curriculum" is not really hidden at all. As Of course, it may be that academically Michael Apple and Nancy King point out, successful students retain the personal resources public schools in America have always empha- necessary to challenge the hidden curriculum, sized their intention to teach discipline, obedi- and that dependency and conformity are clus- ence, and conformity. Teachers still explain at tered among "slow" learners, whose egos may length (and with heat) to students the benefits have been irreparably damaged by failure in the supposedly to be derived from acceptance of scholastic competition that is so conspicuously the hidden curriculum: the virtues of prompt- part of the hidden curriculum. But this is not ness, neatness, and respect for authority, for so. In his study of academically backward example. Such exhortations not only sensitize English working-class students in a boy's students to the presence of a "hidden curricu- school, Willis shows that "the lads" effectively lum," but also suggest, unintentionally of resist the hidden curriculum. These students are course, that sloth, laziness, and defiance can not dependent, they do not feel themselves to subvert the curriculum (Apple and King, 1977). be failures, and they do not envy schoolmates A hidden curriculum so unsubtle can hardly be who make good grades. Instead, they despise expected to succeed. 1 the servility of students who do well in school, and they believe their own academic failure to Conceptualization. The fourth and final diffi- be a sign of worldly success, precocity, and culty with the hidden curriculum argument is masculinity. They channel their contempt into its faulty conception of the relationship be- active opposition to the school by exploiting tween social class and schooling practices. Some every loophole the school's cumbersome writers claim that, the 1960s notwithstanding, bureaucratic structure affords. Either they we should expect to find more conformity to evade the school's rules and regulations entirely the hidden curriculum among socially advan- or they distort disciplinary procedures so as to taged students than among disadvantaged stu- disrupt the educational process. The hidden dents. After all, conformity among the former curriculum serves only to reinforce their anti- scholastic values, not to convert them to passivity or dependence. IE a sense, therefore,hidden curriculum theorists Nor is regularized opposition to the hidden actually refer to a dual curriculum, one involving subject matter, the other authorityrelations.Neither curriculum a purely working-class phenomenon. is really hidden. However,in keeping with literature In his path-breaking Adolescent Society, James and theory on the subject, I will continue to refer to Coleman dwelled upon such phenomena as the the hidden curriculum when I describe authority "dating and rating" game, the stress upon relationsin teaching. 1980 Democratic Politics and the Culture of American Education 323 insures the inheritance of a favorable class they are middle class, but because they are in position. By contrast, disadvantaged students honors tracks, where the subject matter permits have little prospect of occupational success, and somewhat more creativity, independent judg- therefore no incentive to accept schooling, ment, personally structured investigation, and including the hidden curriculum (Stinchcombe, informed debate. Of course, teaching does have 1964, Chs. 1 and 2). These expectations are in consequences for class structure, but these fact self-fulfilling. Rejection of the school by consequences are realized only through teach- disadvantaged students seals their dismal fate ing itself. Therefore, variations in the hidden by denying them needed educational creden- curriculum must be understood in terms of the tials. Acceptance of the school by middle-class internal dynamics of educational systems as students insures their future success. In this well as the external dynamics of social class. way contemporary capitalism reproduces class A last problem of inference is the assump- inequalities from generation to generation tion that students apply what they learn in (Ravitch, 1978, pp. 75-100). Thus the "re- school to politics. This is another mistake quirements" of social class position explain critics of the school share with theorists con- what might otherwise be puzzling about the cerned with democratic socialization, for evi- hidden curriculum's effectiveness. dence does not unequivocally support this There are several flaws in this argument. For inference. Consider, for example, a recent study one thing, the hidden curriculum that confronts of 1811 student political leaders in American middle-class students is not markedly authori- high schools, a sample that might be expected tarian. In fact, as Edward Morgan points out, to be consistent in its attitudes toward school "honors track students" (who are mainly mid- and politics. Yet "student attitudes towards the dle-class) "have the most democratic learning wider political system are different from their experiences and general track students the most focus on the high school system" (Grove et al., profoundly undemocratic experience" (1977, 1974-75, p. 421). To be alienated from high p. 96, emphasis added). Why a hidden curricu- school does not insure political alienation, nor lum purportedly intended to train middle-class vice versa. The hidden curriculum of education students to take positions of authority in is not necessarily the hidden curriculum of hierarchical institutions should present a demo- politics (Takei and Kleiman, 1976, pp. cratic face to these future leaders can only be 381-400). considered a mystery. True, these lucky stu. To summarize: the hidden curriculum argu- dents will be running institutions and can thus ment too often presents itself in a non-falsifi. enjoy comparative freedom. But from a soci- able guise; portrays the hidden curriculum as ological point of view, habitual respect for and more authoritarian than it is; assumes unwary acceptance of authority is just as important a rantedly that the hidden curriculum is entirely quality for those who run institutions as for unpalatable to students; assumes with equal those who are run by institutions. Any lapse in lack of warrant that the hidden curriculum is respect for authority among leaders may rever- effective; misconstrues the connections among berate downward, emboldening subordinates to social class, the "demands" of a capitalist question their own subordination. After all, system, and the hidden curriculum; and, finally, followers often imitate leaders. In sum, the incorporates an as-yet-undemonstrated transfer argument that among leaders democracy is of values from school to the political realm. It "affordable," even necessary, is simply not thus fails to explain the school's apparent convincing. weakness in the transmission of democratic An additional problem with this argument is values. its interpretation of the connection between Why these blind spots in a theory that holds social class and the hidden curriculum. Not such promise? Schooling is a combination of even the most committed hidden curriculum educational content and organizational con. theorist claims that the school purposely text-what is treated as knowledge and how searches out middle-class students for the kid- knowledge is treated. Critics of the school have glove treatment practiced in honors tracks (but rightly drawn our attention to the primarily see Bowles and Gintis, 1976, pp. 125-41). In authoritarian context of education, but they any case, there are enough working-class stu- have wrongly assumed the impotence of demo. dents in honors tracks to belie any such cratic content in such a setting. Democratic argument. Therefore, it must be educational values become more, not less, important in an content, not the social class of students per se, authoritarian context, for the conflict between which explains the hidden curriculum's dif- these two elements of schooling triggers the full ferential treatment of students. Honors stu- range of paradoxes that we find in American dents receive democratic treatment not because democratic education. Neither democratic sow 324 The AmericanPoliticalScienceReview Vol. 74 cialization theorists (who overemphasize con- nections between these external functions and tent) nor hidden curriculum theorists (who the hidden curriculum remain undemonstrated. overemphasize context) have yet explored this We need not explore the issue ourselves, how- tangle of tensions fully. This now becomes our ever, for the pressures we have identified within task. Ultimately we will argue that democratic the school are more than sufficient to account values in American schools not only weaken the for the hidden curriculum. educational enterprise but also, curiously I should emphasize that the school's demand enough, turn democratic socialization in Ameri- for order is an organizational, not an education- ca into unforeseen, unsatisfactory, and un- al, imperative. Theoretically at least, organiza- profitable directions. tional flexibility may further educational goals, although at the cost of effectively managing The Basic Shape of Schooling and controlling students. This potential hiatus between learning goals and organizational order If the school's weakness in transmitting creates a structural fault line running through democratic values cannot be explained solely the school, a point of recurrent weakness by reference to the hidden curriculum, what around which much of importance in the then? My approach to the problem addresses school's life revolves. two questions: First, what role does the hidden The basic shape of schooling, therefore, is curriculum play in the organization of schools? determined by the school's need to persuade Second, how does the American school attempt students that there exists a connection in to fit democratic values into the hidden curricu- practice, if not in theory, between order and lum? I believe that the school's adaptation fails learning. Since order is the special province of because the intersection of the hidden curricu- the hidden curriculum it is the practices of the lum and democratic values delegitimizes the hidden curriculum in particular that must be school's socialization efforts. The first step in shown to contribute to the learning of relevant the argument is to identify the hidden curricu- educational material. The basic shape of school- lum's place in the school's organizational order. ing, therefore, consists of a continual search for I call this conjunction of hidden curriculum and educational rationales to stabilize the hidden organizational pattern the "basic shape" of curriculum (cp. Bernstein, 1971, pp. 202-31). schooling. Teachers and administrators enjoy custody Mary Metz goes far towards describing the over these educational rationales. Both the basic shape of schooling when she writes, power of the teaching profession as a whole and "Public schools have a paradox at their very the independence of the individual classroom heart. They exist to educate children, but they teacher depend upon the public's acceptance of must also keep order. Unless the children the teacher as an authoritative repository of themselves are independently dedicated to both educational knowledge. Although teaching in these goals, the school will find that arrange- America lacks the status of older professions, ments helpful for one may subvert the other. the school's oft-noted resistance to public Yet to sacrifice either for the other is to default pressure (Peterson, 1974, p. 350; Zeigler and upon a school's most fundamental responsibili- Jennings, 1974; Hawthorne, 1978, pp. 362-67) ties..." (1978, p. 243). The school's problem rests on a claim that is substantially identical to of order is acute, because schools bring together that of fully established professions: namely, a large, heterogeneous body of cognitively and the possession and application of specialized emotionally immature, but physically active expertise acquired with difficulty (Meyer, young people who are required to be in school, 1977, pp. 54-76; Fisher, 1971-72, pp. and who once there are made to behave in ways 322-36). Teachers claim expertise both in that may run contrary to their lives and some specialized, useful subject and in effective propensities outside of school. Thus, for exam- teaching methods. Teachers usually emphasize ple, the same students who compete against one of these two types of expertise. Elementary each other for the scarce goods of excellent school teachers must rely for their autonomy grades play cooperatively when the school day primarily on methodological claims, for most ends. Keeping order under conditions like these middle-class lay persons have a command of obviously presents difficulties. It is this task elementary school subject matter. By contrast, which the hidden curriculum undertakes. high school teachers can rely more heavily on Of course, the hidden curriculum may also their access to specialized knowledge. Still, perform other tasks, such as preparing students taken as a whole, both the teacher's indepen- for stratification by merit in large, impersonal, dence and the teacher's claim to status rest on hierarchical corporations and government agen- the same foundation: the right to dispense cies. Despite much debate, however, the con- useful knowledge over which they alone exer- 1980 DemocraticPoliticsand the Cultureof AmericanEducation 325 cise jurisdiction. Why must students be graded?Answer:student As professionals, therefore, teachers com- achievement must be acknowledged and stu- mand a series of educational formulae with dents placed in appropriate "tracks." Knowl- which to legitimize the hidden curriculum. edge must be dispensed prudently to qualified However, because teachers must work in a students and not squandered on unqualified school, they have an interest in ensuringschool ones. According to the hidden curriculum, order. Thus the interests of schools and teach- advanced knowledge is akin to salvation, theo- ers converge. The needs of both can be accom- retically availableto all, but in practicelimited modated only by persuadingboth students and to the deserving initiate (Apple, 1978; pp. the public that the social order of the school is 367-88). an educational necessity. In this way, the This enforced symmetry between the struc- strictures of the hidden curriculumgain legiti- ture of educational knowledge and the exigen- macy. cies of the hidden curriculumis not without Of course, every professionis faced with the serious costs. Some teachers convince them- problem of justifying its "standard operations selves that ideas which cannot be made to procedures."Note, for example, the efforts of conform to the hidden curriculumare unwor- doctors and lawyers to relate fee-for-service thy of serious consideration. In this way the billing to the quality of medical or legal hidden curriculumcomes to shape the structure practice. For their part, educators have of educational knowledge, rather than being a elaborated an extensive ideology to justify the neutraltool (Metz, 1978, pp. 36-57). hidden curriculum. Knowledge, they claim, is Equally important, however, is the impact by its very nature complex, sequential, and on students. At the outset of most courses, cumulative. It cannot be acquiredhaphazardly, students are ignorant of most-if not all-of the hurriedly, or out of order. From this rationale material, and therefore cannot evaluate the flow such ordering practices as curriculum educational content on its merits. But they are standardization,age-grading,and careful sche- amply familiarwith the hidden curriculum,for duling of course material.Educatorsalso main- they have encountered the school's demandfor tain that advanced knowledge is difficult, and order since their first cautious step into kinder- therefore that only a few students can learn the garten. So they naturally assume that if the most demandingtruths. Therefore, the school hidden curriculum in a classroom is in place, must screen, test, and grade its students, a task the subject matter must be legitimate and the hidden curriculumundertakes.Finally, be- worthwhile. Even brief relaxation of the hidden cause the teacher commands knowledge to curriculum may indicate to them that the which the student is only an aspirant,it is only materialbeing presentedis not "serious,"is just right that the teacher enjoy authority over the "fun," or calls for ridicule. It is not surprising, student, as embodied in and enforced by the therefore, that students think the natural sci- hidden curriculum. ences and mathematics "hard" and "impor- Standardization,testing, selection, age-grad- tant," for in these disciplines teachers impose ing, the sequencingof content, legitimate teach- the hidden curriculum strictly. By contrast, er authority-these are the heart of the hidden students consider the humanities and social curriculum. Every aspect of it is justified- studies less demanding and less worthwhile either directly or indirectly-from the teachers' because in these fields formalcontrols are often educational rationales. This is especiallytrue of conspicuously and deliberately suspended those aspects of the hidden curriculumstudents (Metz, 1978, pp. 125-33, 57). find most vexing: controls over demeanorand This brings me to a key point: teaching behaviorin school. Whymust students be quiet political values poses a threat to the delicate in the halls? Answer: because noise would conjunction of order and content that makes prevent the quest for knowledge. Knowledge up the basic shape of schooling. Discussing and quiet, the hidden curriculumteaches, go political values in the classroominvites contro- together. Why must class periods be 50 (or 30 versy and division, especially in the United or 20) minutes long? Answer: this uniform States where a heritageof liberalismencourages period (whatever it is) is optimal for student citizens to make unfettered political choices attention to material. Learning, the hidden from a free market of ideas (Gross, 1977, pp. curriculum teaches, must be broken up into 194-200). As Americans,we expect people not short identical chunks of time. Whymust there only to advance their own political views, but be examinations? Answer: how else can each also to challenge the views of others. Theore- student be appropriately placed in the hier- tically, at least, no politicalvalues are sacred;all archy of knowledge? Knowledge, after all, is are open to question. In practice, of course, hierarchical,the hidden curriculum contends. some values are widely enough sharedas almost 326 The AmericanPoliticalScienceReview Vol. 74 to escape debate; nevertheless, espousing even construed as either right or wrong. Thus, the these consensual values in the classroom pro- math teacher "knows" that there are indis- vides the occasional disaffected student with a putably correct answers to math problems, just chance to dissent. as the English teacher claims to be able to tell And what if controversydoes erupt?Among "good" grammar from "poor" grammar (Post- some values there exist no politically acceptable man, 1973, pp. 86-95), "real originality" in choices. For example, the public school teacher writing from "pure sensationalism." Why can hardlypresentreligiousvalues as knowledge should the teacher jeopardize not only the compatible with the hidden curriculumwithout school's demand for order but also his or her imposing such values arbitrarily upon a context own authority by adopting an "every value is which our tradition of church-stateseparation equally acceptable" attitude and possibly for- decrees to be one of legitimate value division. feiting the opportunity to make vital distinc- But consider the alternative: arguing that one tions in the sphere of knowledge? Knowledge person's religious values are as good as and the professional autonomy it conveys must another's, and that all religions (even irreli- be kept free of value relativism, on the one gions) merit respect. Though defensible within hand, and political proselytizing on the other. our political tradition, value relativism of this Thus the context of public education in sort hardly contributes to the school's demand America conflicts with the context of democra- for order in the service of an indivisible, tic political socialization, and the school finds unquestionable,single curricular truth. In short, itself pulled in contrary directions when it is the teaching of political, social, and religious required to socialize democratic values. Never- values in Americanschools constantly threatens theless, we persist in making just this demand to undercutthe basic shape of schooling. of schools. Let us therefore explore our second Understandably, therefore, both value rela- question: how does the school adapt to its tivism and value advocacy compromise the political socialization requirements? What hap- teacher's authority in the classroom. Students pens when the school is asked to reconcile its comply with the teacher'sdictates because they demand for order with the necessity of teaching believe that teachers possess objective truths democratic values? helpful to all, not salvation for students lucky enough to espouse the "right" values and Bending Schools Out of Shape excommunication for others.2 At the same time, teachers cannot permit students to decide Two democratic values of particular, though for themselves what is true and what is not. hardly exclusive,. importance to Americans are Why then have teachers at all? On what popular sovereignty and political equality therefore does a teacher's power depend? The (Dahl, 1956). Americans conceive of popular answer appears to be student willingness to sovereignty as a means of preventing concentra- believe that there exists some body of incon- tions of power from estranging leaders from testably true, generallyuseful knowledgewhich followers, corrupting leaders, and ultimately the teacher-and only the teacher-commands. paving the way for political repression. Elec- Neither value advocacy nor its opposite-value tions, public opinion polls, ombudsmen, and a relativism-contributesto this belief. free press are all instruments with which we try Finally, the school's demandfor order favors to insure popular sovereignty. Americans con- an atmosphere of impartiality and respect for ceive of political equality as the roughly equal facts, educational qualities conducive to the distribution of political power among ordinary teacher's authority and the school's indepen- citizens, a goal we attempt to implement by dence. This atmosphere vanishes when value adhering to a "one person, one vote" rule, by advocacy opens the school to chargesof propa- enacting and enforcing legal barriers against gandizing. Equally destructive is the value-rela- discrimination, by unclogging channels of in- tivism approach, for there is always the danger terest group formation and expression, and, of that the spirit of relativismmay spread uncon- course, by abolishing all legal entitlements to trollably into the teacher's privilegedrealm of power and status (Tawney, 1931, Ch. 3). As true knowledge. The teacher's self-interest de- these examples indicate, our commitments to mands that answersto educationalquestions be political equality and popular sovereignty are real, not rhetorical. Teaching these democratic values causes the 2I wish to stress that I am here speaking of the way school difficulty. The problem which the knowledge is perceived, not what it actually is in terms school confronts is that if students were to of its truth value. Elsewhere I have written on the apply the two values to the school itself, they latter subject (Merelman, 1976). would conclude that the hidden curriculum is 1980 DemocraticPoliticsand the Cultureof AmericanEducation 327 illegitimate, for the hidden curriculumstratifies as aspects of school practice (Boyd, 1978, pp. students according to competence, elevates 577-628. teachers above students, and asks students to A good example of how educational pro- think of subject matter as a series of settled cesses teach democratic values involves the truths, not as a set of conflicting values open to recruitment of social studies teachers. Low popular choice. In school, students are not recruitment standards,lax trainingprocedures, equals, the authority of the teacher is assumed and permissive retention policies provide a to be unquestionable, and truth is never a lesson in popular sovereignty at least as signifi- "value" which wins the most student votes, but cant as anything that occurs in the classroom. rather a body of ideas which is objectively Schools do not teach popular sovereignty by correct by external standards of evidence or presenting it as a complex value requiring agreementin the keeping of teachers. In short, disciplined classroom reasoning,but by tolerat- popular sovereignty and political equality chal- ing low standards of teaching which diminish lenge the school's demand for order and the the social studies teacher's claim to knowledge teacher'sclaim to knowledge. and expertise. The teacher'smediocrityreduces Schools could keep these democratic values the gap between teacher and student, and thus within the basic shape of schooling, but only by becomes a practical lesson in citizen compe- dint of singularintellectual gymnastics. Teach- tence to judge leaders. The continual demon- ers would have to argue that democraticvalues stration of teacher mediocrity substitutes for can be reasonedabout in more or less "sophisti- the complexity of popular sovereignty as a cated" and "intelligent" ways (thereby legiti- political idea. I thus propose the following mizing grading); that democratic values can hypothesis: the greater an American school only be understood by the usual curricular system's commitment to transmittingthe value devices of sequencingand pacing;that democra- of popular sovereignty, the greater will be its tic values should be confined to politics, and tendency to employ teachersjust brightenough not implemented within the school; and, final- to claim competence-thus protecting the pro- ly, that political values should be subjected to fession's claim to autonomy-but not so bright the same rules of logical argumentthat teachers as to deserve unquestioned power over the enforce in other subject fields. In essence, the student. Poor teachers demonstrateto students school would have to argue that reasoning that they need not fear intellectual authority. about democratic values constitutes the Thus, every American school needs its poor school's special province, and that such reason- teachers as well as its good teachers. The ing must be kept separatefrom the implementa- derision the barely competent teacherevokes is tion of democraticvalues, which is the polity's counterbalancedby the students' growing con- concern. Teachingdemocraticvalues within the fidence in themselves which undoubtedly aug- basic shape of schooling would thus require ments the practice-if not the understanding- schools to exempt political reasoningfrom the of popularsovereignty. egalitarian messages which democratic values Of course, there are sound economic expla- convey. The schools would have to disentangle nations for the paucity of excellent teachers. political reasoningfrom democraticvalues, and Yet a purely economic explanation does not then argue that schools, as the custodians of suffice, for we must ask ourselves why we superiorreasoning,should be exempt from the permit economic constrictions to channel the democratic values they are propounding to flow of competence away from public educa- students (Entwhistle, 1971). tion. In other importantwalks of life economic The difficulty of explaining,justifying, and considerationsare not permittedto stand in the actually carryingout this task preventsits being way of excellence. The answer, I think, is that undertaken. Few Americanschools try to teach limited teacher competence in social studies fits democratic values as intellectual challenges. our propensities to teach democratic values Nevertheless, educators cannot escape the ne- tacitly in practice rather than explicitly in cessity of teaching democratic values in some challengingcurricula. form. What alternatives to real intellectual Although this sounds heretical, even per- discoursedo they adopt? The answer,I think, is verse, I am in earnest. The evidence suggests that patterns of educational practice serve as that Americanpublic school teachers comprise substitutes for the discussion of challenging a distinctly mediocreintellectualreservoir(Wer- democraticideas, but only in such a way as to din, 1972, p. 124). Study after study shows deligitimize the schools' socializing function. that the grade point averagesof future teachers To explain this argument we must turn our fall below the averages of their peers (Study attention to popular sovereignty and political Commission on UndergraduateEducation and equality not as parts of curricularcontent, but the Education of Teachers, 1976, p. 48). 328 The AmericanPoliticalScienceReview Vol. 74 Significantly,intellectual mediocrity is particu- A dilemma of this magnitude defies simple larly common among teachers of social studies, solution. Schools have developed a pattern of the subject area where, if my argument is coping, however. In brief, most teachers make correct, mediocrityshould be centered. certain that they convey roughly the identical Additional support is provided by the fact form and quantity of knowledge to a majority that we consign many of our least gifted of students in any classroom. This practice teaching minds to the elementaryschool, where solves a number of problems. It assures that the tender age of the student already drives a only the bare minimum in any class are wedge between teacher and pupil; where, there- permitted to fail and, therefore, that only this fore, a warm manner, personableness,and the bare minimum risk being subordinatedto their balm of nurturecan preventthe teacher-student peers on the basis of their knowledge. Likewise, gap from becoming a chasm; and where too it assuresthat only a bare minimumwill be able much intelligence on the teacher's part would to move rapidly towards demanding material, simply underline the competence gap between thus making certain that real success is suffi- teacher and student. In the interest of illustrat- ciently uncommon as not to dishearten the ing popular sovereignty in practice to ele- majority of students.4 The majority in each mentary students we employ and retain many classroom thus remain equal. The impact of quite ordinary subject-matter teachers who egalitarianism upon the curriculumthus fosters specialize in the teaching of "social develop- the presentation of "standard packages" of ment" and "human relations skills," skills subject matter carefully calibrated to the pre- which bring them closer to their students. sumed abilities of a classroom majority, pack- These teachers treat the class as a large family ages which therefore fail to distinguishmarked- whose concerns the teacher shares.By contrast, ly among students in terms of either interest or because we value academic competence more incentive. Educatorsrationalizethis practiceby highly among older students we can tolerate arguingthat the standardpackageis knowledge splitting off teachers from the lives of their "appropriate"for students of a particularage. mature students. Among older students, there- In this way a set of standardpackagesbecomes fore, we jettison the familial atmosphere and a curriculum,buttressed by IQ scores, reading tolerate status inequalities. The polar case is levels, and a panoply of supportive theory. college, where only the rareundergraduate feels More formally, we may define an American as personally close to a professor as most public school curriculum as that body of elementary school students do towards their knowledge which a majority of age-graded teachers. In sum, we do not teach popular students can understand equally well, and sovereignty to young people as a complex which this majority shares as a community of problem of political reasoning,but we compen- equals. In a society where political equality is a sate by illustrating the value in educational dominant value, knowledge must unite, not practice. divide people. These observationsshould make If the concept of popular sovereignty ap- more comprehensiblethe oft-criticized unifor- pears in the limited quality of our teachers,the mity and standardization mass public school- of concept of political equality emerges in our ing, and also help us understand why public gradingpractices. The idea of political equality schools so adamantly resist the reforms critics conflicts with the need teachers feel to protect have for so long advocated (Oliver, 1976; the sanctity of knowledge via the teaching and Sarason, 1969). The standardizedcurriculumof grading of students. Most teachers believe that the American public school is too valuable a impartingas much knowledge as one knows, as network of cultural compromises to be aban- well as one can, to as many students as one can doned in the interest of a reformer'sconception reach, sooner or later requiresthat potentially invidious distinctions among students be cre- ated. Such distinctions conflict with the egali- solution protects competence while denying the rele. tarianism contained in the political equality vance of knowledge for stratifying an entire class. I norm. But to teach "less well" than one can is suspect most professions resort to the same tactic, e.g., not only to violate one's own conscience, but the psychiatrist who helps one spectacularly depressed also to compromise the knowledge base of patient out of his misery, the social worker who teachingitself.3 Whatis to be done? succeeds in helping one delinquent girl to a better home life, etc. 4Might this pattern not be responsible for the short 3Lortie (1975) points out an interesting adaptive shrift programs for educating the "gifted" have re- solution to the problem. The teacher focuses on one ceived throughout the nation? See G. I. Maeroff or two pupils whom he or she has reached. This (1977). 1980 DemocraticPoliticsand the Cultureof AmericanEducation 329 of "better education.'5 they were already matters of accepted fact An interesting illustrationof my argumentis embodied in practice by the existing school- the drearyfate of recent laws requiringstudents and political-order. And teachers read so little to prove their academic competence before beyond the most pragmatic aspects of their moving to a higher grade. Many of these laws craft that most can be assumed never to originally defined competence so restrictively confront the fact-value distinction (Mour, that the majority of students in a class might 1977, pp. 397-401). Indeed, many have had well have failed, a failure perhapsjustifiable on only minimal college course-workin the fields intellectual grounds, but hardly consistent with where they wind up teaching (United States the need the school feels to practice equality. Office of Education, 1969, p. 41). Such work "Too much competence" among students is as in the social sciences would obviously help politically unfeasible as "too much compe- them distinguishbetween facts and values. The tence" among teachers. Predictably, therefore, teacher thus becomes a smuggler of values, initially stiff competence standards have been producing students who react with surpriseand relaxed in order to accommodate the modest bewildermentwhen, in college, their instructors abilities and potentialities of most students. ask them for the first time to make the Slowly, like a phoenix from the ashes, the fact-valuedistinction (Perry, 1968). At this late standard curriculum has resurfaced, thus per- point many students "know"-the standard mitting us to practice-if not to teach well-the curriculum package has told them so-that value of equality (New York Times, March26, democracy is the "best" form of government, 1979). that the United States is a democracy,and that I have identified two ways by which educa- political equality and popular sovereignty are tional practice adjusts itself to majorAmerican both good in theory and present in practice.It democraticvalues. But despite the school's best becomes hard for these students to imaginethat efforts, these values cannot be restrictedentire- words like "best," "good," and "democracy" ly to practice. They must appear somehow as may have various, contestable meanings. Yet subject matter. Here the teacher confronts their miseducation in this respect ought to be another dilemma. From the standpoint of understood as a logical consequence of the way analytic knowledge, popular sovereignty and Americanschools attempt to promulgatedemo- political equality are political values, not ele- craticvalues.6 ments of factual truth consistent with the To summarize: American schools adapt to teacher's claim to authoritativeknowledge. The demands that they transmit the democratic problem becomes particularly acute when we values of popular sovereignty and political realize that the better and more critically such equality by deemphasizingthe academic com- values are discussed, the more controversial petence of their teachingstaffs, by setting their they become, and, therefore, the greater the grading standardsat levels which insure that a risk they pose to school order. Is there a majority of students perform acceptably, if resolution to this problem? perhaps poorly, and by glossing over the dif- The resolution the school adopts is that ference between facts and values in politics. In educators distort and simplify these values in short, American schools adapt by reducing the ways which appear to fit them within the quality of education. corpus of authoritative knowledge. Teachers accomplish this metamorphosis by obscuring 60f course, not all students can be expected to the logical distinction between political facts confuse facts andvalues.For example,in the Jennings- and values (a possible reason is contained in Niemi study approximatelyhalf of the high school Jaros, 1968, pp. 264-95). In Lortie'sstudy, for seniors investigatedrejected the proposition that the example, most teachers admitted that they did Americanpoliticalsystem shouldbe extended to other not know there is a logical hiatus between countries (Jenningsand Niemi, 1974, p. 65). Yet the factual statements and normative propositions interpretationof this datum is by no means straight- (1975, pp. 111-13). Their ignorance is fortui- forward. It is perfectly consistent for students to tously self-serving, for it permits them to believe the United States the "best" political system portray such potentially dangerous values as on earth, and yet not to recommendthe system to other countrieson groundsthat these countriesdo not political equality and popular sovereignty as if satisfy conditions which would be necessaryin order to make them too "best." Thus, the fact that many students think highly of Americangovernment, doyet 51t is here that my view diverges somewhat from not advocate its extension is not necessarilyanomal- that of criticslike MichaelKatz,who portray school ous, nor is it a seriousargumentagainst the idea that or rigiditiesalmost entirely as organizational eco- students think Americandemocracy an embodiment nomic, than rather cultural problems. of the "best." 330 The AmericanPoliticalScienceReview Vol. 74 Yet this costly adaptation has its ironies. Of course, the school itself may not be Poor teachers who apply uniformly mediocre solely responsible for the ideological dispersion standards to distorted social studies ideas are Schonfeld describes. Schonfeld also ignores the hardly capable of legitimizing the hidden cur- highly restricted modes of expression allowed riculum. And, to repeat, order in school de- to French students. But note that in the French pends upon the hidden curriculum'sappearing case the school's demand for order and the necessary to good education. Therefore, be- teacher's claim to knowledge are overtly assert- cause the practices I have described threaten ed in the process of teaching democratic values. the legitimacy of the hidden curriculum,they The result is an educational pattern precisely also impede school order. Even the average the reverse of that which American schools student soon realizes that what little is de- adopt. The French teach democratic theory; we manded in social studies classes can be ac- teach democratic practice. complished without a hidden curriculum of order. As a result, students resist an ordered The confabulation of facts and values in the hidden curriculum in the social studies, and American social studies curriculum creates two when they are successful in their resistance-as quite specific limitations on political education. Metz shows they often are (Metz, 1978, pp. First, teachers who pretend that values are 125-26, 244-45)-they take their success as matters of settled fact seem unlikely to imbue confirming their initial insight that the social such values with passion or conviction. To have studies are not really "serious"after all. If the the proposition that democracy is a good thing social studies were serious, wouldn't they re- presented as if it were equivalent to the proof quire a serious hidden curriculum? Thus a that 2 + 2 = 4 is to remove from the concept of vicious circle is drawn, a circle in which the democracy its singular emotional force. Much school's attempt to accommodate democratic damage is therefore done to the value transmis- values turns back self-destructively on the sion process. After all, people will only internal- school itself. ize their political values deeply and cleave to If this argument is correct, it would follow them intensely if they feel a necessity to that in a school system where democratic confront others who espouse opposed values, to political socialization does not pose so seriousa argue for their own, to think through their threat to the hidden curriculum or to the beliefs, and, through these exchanges, to ex- teacher's power, teachers should be able to plore the many applications, implications, and maintain the distinction between political facts ambiguities of their political lives (Shaver, and values, and genuine, critical debate about 1977). The American social studies curriculum democratic values should become an accepted provides few such opportunities. As a result, and effective part of the schooling process. An democratic values rarely become deeply rooted example of such a school system is that of in the student's mind. Perhaps this tepid educa- France, where teachers feel a level of security tion helps account for the well-known Ameri- and competence uncommon in the United can reluctance to apply abstract democratic States. It is significant,therefore,that in France values to concrete situations of choice (Jack- man, 1978, pp. 303-25). In this case, practice makes imperfect. there is very little attempted control over the ideas which pupils should express. In fact, an At first students face this problem together. integral part of the system is an overt attempt But bright students soon think their way not to restrict or influence the ideological options open to the individual. Thus teachers in through the ruse, and conclude that what the the humanities and social sciences present their school has presented as fact is actually a subject matter in as objective a manner as complex, confusing matter of debate and per- possible.... In addition, teachers try to incul- sonal commitment. Therefore, it is to bright cate within their students a critical bent of students that the school is most disillusioning. mind. These tendencies are clearly illustrated in And so, in every school system we turn many the French school exercise called explication de of the best students-indeed, many of our texte, in which the pupils must analyze and future intellectuals-against the educational en- then criticize a given passage in a work selected terprise (Friedenberg, 1963, Ch. 8). Perhaps by the teachers-what to do and how to do it are precisely defined, but the student is given this is the most damning critique of all: that the total freedom of expression. The attempt not American school's adaptation to the teaching of to restrict the philosophical options open to the democratic values causes it to alienate many of child is apparently successful, since the belief the most promising students in each new systems of the pupils gradually become dis- generation. The school thus forfeits the respect persed all along the ideological spectrum of that one group of future citizens who should (Schonfeld, 1976, p. 25). be its natural allies. 1980 DemocraticPoliticsand the Cultureof AmericanEducation 331 Conclusion Curriculum Policy-Making for American Schools." Review of Educational Research 48: 577-628. The limitations of the transmissionof demo- Cohen, David K., and Marvin Lazerson (1977). "Edu- cratic values in Americanschools are the price cation and the Corporate Order." In J. Karabel and we pay for the strain between the school's A. HI Halsey (eds.), Power and Ideology in Education. New York: Oxford University Press, demand for order and the egalitarian norms pp. 373-86. embedded in American political culture. The Coleman, James (1961). The Adolescent Society. result of this conflict between orderand equal- Glencoe, Ill.: Free Press. ity creates the characteristicAmericancultural "Contemporary Tests in Basic Skills Cost Few Pupils pattern I have described, a pattern in which Their Diplomas." New York Times, March 26, forms of political and social conduct come to 1979. be elevated above political ideas and values Cusick, Philip A. (1973). Inside High School: The (Tapper, 1976). Student's World. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and But the school is not the only place where Winston. this cultural strain manifests itself. Comparable Dahl, Robert A. (1956). A Preface to Democratic problems emerge in the family, where a struc- Theory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Dawson, Richard, Kenneth Prewitt, and Karen S. ture of traditional authority confronts the Dawson (1977). Political Socialization, 2nd ed. child's demand for equality (Henry, 1963, pp. Boston: Little, Brown. 127-47), and on the job, where the traditional Dewey, John (1916). Democracy and Education. New power of the boss confronts the skilled work- York: Macmillan. er's demand for greaterpower. Thus it may be Dreeben, Robert (1977). "The Contribution of that in this article we have stumbled upon a Schooling to the Learning of Norms." In Karabel cultural strain intrinsic to the entire American and Halsey, Power and Ideology in Education. New political enterprise. York: Oxford University Press, pp. 544-49. The Education Professions: A Report on the People The Americanculturaladaptation-to substi- who Serve Colleges and Universities (1968). United tute action for comprehension-is damaging,for States Office of Education, Washington, D.C. the derogationof knowledgeand ideas it entails Entwhistle, Harold (1971). Political Education in a may prepare the ground for the anti-intellec- Democracy. 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