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Those who have failed to measure up have only themselves to blame. For half a century or more, the educational system provided an admira ble safety valve for the economic pressure cooker. Larger numbers of children completed high school and continued on to college every year.
Most thought they were getting ahead, and many were. But by the late s, the educational frontier was pressing its limits. Already a third of the age group was entering college; over the next decade, the fraction would rise to almost half.
College graduates were driving cabs; others were collecting unemployment checks. Some were on welfare. The once rela tively homogeneous appearance of the system of higher education was rapidly giving way to a hierarchy of colleges, dominated at the top by the elite Ivy League schools and descending through a fine gradation of private schools, state universities, and community colleges.
Not surprisingly, a decade later, the expansion of education was slowed to a crawl. Between and , the percentage of high-school graduates going on to col lege fell from 55 percent to 47 percent. The fraction of all municipal school bond issues voted down in referenda doubled from about a quarter in the mids to about a half in the early s. The school system has been increasingly unable to support the myth of equal opportunity and full personal development.
And the fading of the American Dream, hardly confined to education, has been a persistent theme of recent years.
The decade of the s burst upon a complacent public in successive waves of political and cultural conflict. Their formative years untouched by depression, mobilization, and total world war, youth of the emerging generation were afforded more than a glimpse of the future of the Ameri can Dream.
Large numbers were less than enthusiastic. Discontent often took the form of sporadic, but intense, political assaults against economic inequality in the United States.
Minorities, women, welfare recipients, stu dents, and working people have periodically brought the issue of inequality into the streets, forced it onto the front pages, and thrown it into the legislature and the courts. The dominant response of the privileged has B eyond the E ducational Frontier: The G reat A m erican D ream Freeze been concern, tempered by a hardy optimism that social programs can be devised to alleviate social distress and restore a modicum of social har mony.
Not exempt from this optimism has been modern academic eco nomics and sociology. At the core of this conventional wisdom has rested the conviction that, within the free enterprise system of the United States, significant social progress can be achieved through a combination of enlightened persuasion and governmental initiative, particularly in the spheres of education and vocational training. The social movements of the sixties and seventies did not limit their attack to inequality.
The period witnessed a growing reaction against au thoritarian and repressive social relationships. Wildcat strikes, worker insubordination, and especially, absenteeism became a serious problem for union bosses and for employers. Black people in open revolt against cen turies of discrimination demanded control of their communities.
Armed students seized administration buildings, general strikes swept the colleges, and police patrolled high-school study halls. What appeared to many as the cornerstone of social stability the family itself was rocked by a wom ens movement which challenged the sexual division of labor and the monopolization of personal and social power by males. While the law-and-order forces gathered guns and adherents, the lib eral community sought a more flexible answer.
The soft human relations school of labor management enjoyed a boom. Civil rights legislation was passed. Some of the more oppressive laws defining womens place were repealed.
But the key response to the movement against repressive social relations appeared in education. A free-school movement, reflecting the highest ideals of progressive students and parents, was welcomed by major foundations and supported by the U.
Office of Education. The open classroom was quickly perceived by liberal educators as a means of ac commodating and circumscribing the growing antiauthoritarianism of young people and keeping things from getting out of hand. Free schools proliferated. The educational system, perhaps more than any other contemporary social institution, has become the laboratory in which competing solutions to the problems of personal liberation and social equality are tested and the arena in which social struggles are fought out.
The school system is a monument to the capacity of the advanced corporate economy to accom modate and deflect thrusts away from its foundations. Y et at the same time, the educational system mirrors the growing contradictions of the larger society, most dramatically in the disappointing results of reform efforts. The social scientists and reformers who provided the intellectual impetus and rationale for compensatory education, for school integration, for the open classroom, for Project Headstart and Title I, are in retreat.
In political as much as in intellectual circles, the current mood is one of retrenchment. In less than a decade, liberal preeminence in the field of educational theory and policy has been shattered.
How did it happen? The disappointing results of the War on Poverty and, in a larger sense, the persistence of poverty and discrimination in the United States have decisively discredited liberal social policy. The record of educational re form in the War on Poverty has been just short of catastrophic.
A major Rand Corporation study, assessing the efficacy of educational programs, concluded that. But while Cole man and his associates did identify positive effects of a few aspects of the school such as teacher quality the weight of the evidence seemed to point to the virtual irrelevance of educational resources or quality as a determinant of educational outcomes.
Studies by economists in the latter s revealed an unexpectedly tenuous relationship of schooling to eco nomic success for blacks. Most notably, there has been a revival of the genetic interpretation of IQ. Thus Arthur Jensen sensing the opportunity afforded by the liberal debacle began his celebrated article on the heritability of IQ with: Com pensatory education has been tried and apparently it has failed. This idea is not new: An earlier wave of genetic interpretations of economic inequality among ethnic groups followed the avowedly egalitarian, but largely unsuccessful, educa tional reforms of the Progressive E ra.
Banfield and Daniel P. Moynihan prominent among them have found a ready audience for their view that the failure of liberal reform is to be located not in the genes, but in the attitudes, time perspectives, family patterns, and values of the poor.
But not much the boom peaked in the early s.
Today, much of the freeschool rhetoric has been absorbed into the mainstream of educational thinking as a new wrinkle on how to get kids to work harder. Surviving free schools have not developed as their originators had hoped. The do-yourown-thing perspective found little favor with the majority of parents.
Finan cial support has become harder to locate. Critics of the free-school movement increasingly raise the time-honored question: Are the majority of youth or their elders capable of making good use of freedom? Minus some of the more petty regulations and anachronistic dress codes, perhaps the schools are about all that can be expected human nature being what it is, the complexity of modern life, and so forth.
These times, then, project a mood of inertial pessimism. Not a healthy conservatism founded on the affirmation of traditional values, but a rheumy loss of nerve, a product of the dashed hopes of the past decades. Even the new widespread search for individual solutions to social ills is not rooted in any celebration of individuality. Rather, to many people view ing the failure of progressive social movements the private pursuit of pleasure through consumption, drugs, and sexual experimentation is seen as the only show in town.
Liberal social reform has been reduced to a program of Band-Aid remedies whose most eloquent vision is making do with the inevitable. In the camp of the optimists, there remain only two groups: One, those who mouth old truths and trot out tired formulas for social betterment in the vain hope that the past decade has been a quirk, a perverse and incomprehensible tangle in the history of progress which will equally incomprehensibly shake itself out.
The other group, like our selves, have been driven to explore the very foundation of our social order and have found there both a deeper understanding of our common situa tion and a conviction that our future is indeed a hopeful one.
Setting out to bring the total theoretical, empirical, and historical evidence of the social sciences to bear on the problem of rendering education a potent instrument of progressive social reform, we fully expected the results of this analysis to take novel and even radical forms.
Moreover, we approached this task with a single overarching preconception: the vision of schools which promote economic equality and positive human development. Beyond this, we have questioned everything; we have found the social changes required to bring about what we would call a good educational system to be while emi nently feasible quite far-reaching. Some of the statistical results of this investigation, which will be re ported in detail in later chapters, shed light on what are and are not reasons for the faltering of reform efforts.
First, liberal strategies for achieving economic equality have been based on a fundamental misconcep tion of the historical evolution of the educational system. Education over the years has never been a potent force for economic equality. Since World War I, there has been a dramatic increase in the general level of education in the United States, as well as considerable equalization of its distribution among individuals.
Yet economic mobility i. And the total effect of family background on educational attainment years of schooling has remained substantially constant. Thus the evidence indicates that, de spite the vast increase in college enrollments, the probability of a highschool graduate attending college is just as dependent on parental socio economic status as it was thirty years ago.
Moreover, despite the important contribution of education to an individuals economic chances, the substan tial equalization of educational attainments over the years has not led measurably to an equalization in income among individuals.
Second, the failure of reform efforts as well as the feeble contribution of education to economic equality cannot be attributed to inequalities among individuals in IQ or other measured cognitive capacities, whether of genetic or environmental origin. Thus while ones race and the socioeconomic status of ones family have substantial effect on the amount of schooling one receives, these racial and family background effects are practically un related to socioeconomic or racial differences in measured IQ.
Similarly, while family background has an important effect on an individuals chances of economic success, this effect is not attributable to the genetic or envi 8 B eyond the Educational Frontier: The G reat A m erican D ream Freeze ronmental transmission of measured IQ.
Thus the bitter debate of recent years over the heritability of intelligence would seem to be quite mis placed. Indeed, the salience of these issues in educational circles appears to be part of a widespread overestimation of the importance of mental per formance in understanding education in the United States and its relation ship to economic life. The intensive effort to investigate the effect of educational resources on the cognitive attainments of different races and social classes loses much of its rationale given the wide variety of statistical sources which indicate that the association of income and occupational status with an individuals educational attainment is not due to measured mental skills.
More surprising, perhaps, for the bulk of the population, the dollar payoff to increased education while strongly dependent on race and sex is related to IQ only tenuously, if at all. Thus the standard educational practice of using IQ and test scores as a criterion for access to higher educational levels has little merit in terms of economic not to men tion educational rationality and efficiency, except perhaps for the extremes of the IQ-distribution curve.
These results suggest that it is a mistake to think of the educational system in relation to the economy simply in technical terms of the men tal skills it supplies students and for which employers pay in the labor market. To capture the economic import of education, we must relate its social structure to the forms of consciousness, interpersonal behavior, and personality it fosters and reinforces in students.
This method gives rise to our third comment on the reform process. The free-school movement and related efforts to make education more conducive to full human develop ment have assumed that the present school system is the product of irra tionality, mindlessness, and social backwardness on the part of teachers, administrators, school boards, and parents.
On the contrary, we believe the available evidence indicates that the pattern of social relationships fostered in schools is hardly irrational or accidental. Making Sense of the Dollar. Marc Chandler. A Complete Introduction: Teach Yourself.
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