The Classic Model of Education and Democracy Can't Address Today's School PoliticsRoundup
tags: education, democracy, John Dewey, education history
Steven Mintz is professor of history at the University of Texas at Austin.
The Great School Wars that the educational historian and educational policy analyst Diane Ravitch wrote about in 1974 have returned with a vengeance.
Older battles—over tracking, community control, public funding for religious schools, multicultural education and even busing—once thought laid to rest, have resurfaced, while a host of new flashpoints, over critical race theory, “school choice,” charter schools, publicly funded tuition vouchers, equity, standardized testing, teacher accountability, transgender students’ rights and sex education, have exploded.
Even a glance at the news headlines reveals the depth and intensity of the deep cultural divides surrounding K-12 education. Here are a few examples:
- “Public schools grooming kids with critical race theory, ‘sexual chaos,’ and ‘racial confusion’”
- “2 bills to limit sexual content, gender identity discussions in Pennsylvania schools pass Senate Education Committee”
- “School Boards Are Becoming the Fiercest Battlefront for the Culture Wars”
San Francisco has become a touchstone in this educational Kulturkampf, whether the issue involves the names of public schools, the display of an allegedly racially insensitive mural by a 1930s Communist, the use of the word “chief” as part of administrative titles, or the district’s math curriculum, which professors from Berkeley, Harvard, Stanford and UCLA claim will leave students, especially those from lower-income backgrounds, less prepared for postsecondary STEM education.
I recently spoke with a reporter who had been asked by her editor to write about the relationship between education and democracy. This is, of course, a fraught, extraordinarily complicated topic.
There’s the Dewey-esque notion of education as the bedrock of democracy: as the instrument for producing informed, reflective, independently minded citizens, rather than passive, compliant drones.
John Dewey’s civic-minded vision has, of course, inspired generations of educators, who aspire to transform their classrooms into models of democracy in action, cultivating students who can think critically, question established beliefs, undertake independent, in-depth research and engage in various forms of active learning.
Then there’s how education actually functions in today’s democracy.