EDUCATION BY CHOICE: The Case for Family Control by John E. & Stephen D. Sugarman Coons

EDUCATION BY CHOICE: The Case for Family Control

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Coons and Sugarman are the Berkeley law professors who demonstrated, in Private Wealth and Public Education (1970), that state tax policies effectively discriminate against the education of the poor. Here they pursue that concern for equalizing educational opportunities and investigate alternatives which would give families the authority to determine the school their children would attend, with government subsidies an essential ingredient of the overall scheme. Theirs is not a single detailed proposal but a broad consideration of many possibilities, based on three primary objectives--serving the child's best interest, fostering a constitutional-order consensus, achieving racial integration--with the ultimate student goal of developing personal autonomy. Parents, they maintain, share a small clutch of educational objectives but differ on the means of attaining them; different kinds of schools could accommodate individual preferences. They favor small-scale experimentation with a variety of school programs--enlightened cement block to newfangled livingroom and mobile models--and would delegate the choice for each child to his family, giving professionals powers of persuasion rather than the authority to impose type-of-school assignments; some admissions criteria, however, might continue. In exploring the possibilities, they acknowledge--more incisively and comprehensively than most--the potential snarls and dodges, legal issues and psychological hurdles, economic drawbacks and incentives for each plan. They insist, unlike the radical school reformers, that a six-year-old lacks the sixteen-year-old's ability to make decisions: the child's power to choose must increase in stages. And they emphatically assert that penalizing the fortunate by reverse discrimination is no way to close the opportunity gap but a perversion of the egalitarian instinct. Taken on its own terms this focuses on the crucial issues and establishes its legitimacy as a springboard for serious discussion.

Pub Date: May 22nd, 1978
Publisher: Univ. of California Press