THE CHALLENGE TO AMERICAN SCHOOLS: The Case for Standards and Values by John--Ed. Bunzel

THE CHALLENGE TO AMERICAN SCHOOLS: The Case for Standards and Values

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Eleven proponents of the ""educational excellence movement""--or, as Nathan Glazer prefers, the ""competency movement""--try, with varying effect, to hold the ground gained by the spate of dire 1983 reports (A Nation at Risk, Goodlad, Boyer, Sizer). Leading off, Joseph Adelson inveighs against the ""liberationist"" and ""left"" opposition, its ""farrago of shopworn and discredited ideas,"" and its threat to reforms. Others are more positive, and less doctrinaire. Robert Hawkins, Jr., plumps for decentralization and smaller schools--and, as a first, feasible step, public school vouchers. J. Myron Atkin questions legislative remedies (e.g., the 1975 Education of All Handicapped Children Act) and other drastic changes that ""demoralize"" or hobble teachers; he'd have successful experience be the guide. In a historical review of the high school curriculum, Diane Ravitch shows that progressive/conservative alignments have repeatedly shifted--with, she claims, educators generally less committed to academic studies (vs. elective courses, vocational training) than students or parents. Sociologist Brigitte Berger argues, analogously, for the traditional link between ""educational success and the values and practices of middle-class life""--in opposition to ""problematization"" of the family. Two papers focus valuably on sensitive topics. Chester E. Finn shrewdly profiles the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers and sees, in their response to the excellence movement (especially that of ""the more visionary AFT locals""), some hopeful, if ""subtle and rather complex"" possibilities, Dennis Doyle (presaged by Gerald Grant) writes reasonably and knowingly on private schools: ""Coleman and his colleagues proved what the public has really known for a very long time: that some schools are better than others, that frequently the better schools are private schools"" (including inner-city Catholic schools). He also explains the sequence of events--from tax-deductible collection-plate support of Catholic schools, to non-deductible tuition charges--that led to Catholic calls for governmental relief or aid. (""And there is no mistaking that religious, not private, schools are the issue."") Barbara Lerner, a combatant of the Adelson stripe, contends that minimum-competence requirements are not legally discriminatory; while Glazer does not believe they can be effectively applied until black educational problems are solved (else blacks will indeed be barred from college, and otherwise penalized). In the final, stimulating, non-polemical piece, Martin Trow points out that 19th-century American colleges had preparatory departments (in the absence of a universal high-school system); he then discusses both remedial and ""outreach"" programs, with illuminating detail on the UC/Oakland schools Cooperative College Preparatory Program. Some substance for persons of any educational persuasion--but primarily a marshalling of excellence/ competency forces, many of whom are also represented in the Beatrice and Ronald Gross roundup, The Great School Debate (below).

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press