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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 6, no. 2 (January 09, 1998).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c January 09, 1998
Review of Stephen Arons's Short route to chaos / Charles L. Glenn.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
1 of 5 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 6 Number 2January 9, 1998ISSN 1068-2341A peer-reviewed scholarly electronic journal. Edit or: Gene V Glass Glass@ASU.EDU. College of Education Arizo na State University,Tempe AZ 85287-2411 Copyright 1998, the EDUCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES.Permission is hereby granted to copy any article provided that ED UCATION POLICY ANALYSIS ARCHIVES is credited and copies are not sold. Review of Stephen Arons's Short Route to Chaos Stephen Arons, (1997) Short Route to Chaos : Conscience, Community, and t he Re-constitution of American Schooling Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press 1997, 154 pp plus notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 1-5584 9-078-7 Charles L. Glenn Boston University Stephen Arons, author of Compelling Belief: The Culture of American Schoolin g (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1986), is one of the most articulate and influential critics of the educational Establishmen t from the secular Left. In his new book, he takes on the Clinton Administration's efforts to es tablish national outcome standards--Goals 2000--which he describes as "comprehensive, central izing, and insensitive to the diversity of goals that students, families, and communities brin g to education. Through the use of federal grants and state regulations, it aims to bring ever y school in every school district in every state into conformity with politically prescribed s tandards of what should be learned by every child" (page 4). Arons warns that "[o]nce acc epted by the public, Goals 2000 will change the balance of power in schoolhouses and cou rtrooms in a way unlikely ever to be undone. That change in schooling will very likely u ndermine the freedom of intellect and spirit that has been so essential to the American e xperience" (page 98). Over against this threat, Arons sets what he consid ers the equally menacing efforts of the "Christian Right" to gain control of American s chooling in order to undermine freedom. This accusation isn't documented or argued, simply asserted over and over. Is it true that James Dobson (the current bete noir of Progressives ) wants to take over the public schools? No, in fact he is calling for vouchers so that pare nts who wish them can choose religious schools "without financial penalty" as an alternati ve to public schools. Does Dobson want to reinstitute "school prayer" in the Engel v Vitale s ense? Not at all; he recently disavowed that, and wrote that students should be as free to use religious speech as they are to use political or other opinion speech, and no more. The reality is that the "education establishment" which Arons opposes has created the specter of foaming-mouthed ultra conservatives invading the public school, shrine of the American civil religion, to justify its continuing monopoly.
2 of 5 Arons describes a number of recent controversies in which the establishment and the religious Right have struggled over control. Missin g from his roster of combatants is the secular Left, which has in fact won far more of the battles to influence the content of the curriculum on issues like sexuality and multicultur alism. It would presumably have been difficult for Arons to admit that the leading cause of resistance by parents to what goes on in public schools has grown out of these victories by the secular Left to shape the message those schools offer. But for Arons, apparently, not hing the Left can do poses a threat to freedom. Libertarians on the Left, like Arons, are in a diff icult position. Most of those who agree with them about the dangers of a government m onopoly of education and a strong government role in setting goals for schools are ve ry unwelcome allies: they are conservative Christians whose views they find highl y distasteful. Among the most frequent targets are secular humanis m, the separation of church and state, Darwinian evolution, sexuality an d health education. There is little tolerance for any worldview other than that of heterosexual, white, middle-class Christians of Western European origin; little respect for freedom of expression among students and in student publica tions; and in general, antagonism toward teachers and students who try to explore and evaluate life's most challenging problems of personal, social, or m oral conduct. (page 55) On the other hand, Arons also wants to distance him self from the critics of religious conservatives, as when he points out that People Fo r the American Way's report on censorship efforts "did not even mention that the o riginal selection of textbooks--by statewide, politically created government agencies in twenty-three of fifty states, for example--is as much an act of censorship as the eff ort to remove those materials once they have been selected" (page 57). So whom does Arons like and admire? Groups of paren ts and others who hold contrarian views about how they want their children educated, like the Satmar Hasidim in the Kiryas Joel case in New York State, who can be romanticized because they are exotic and do not relate to anything that can be perceived as threatening potentialities in American life. But not conservative Catholics and Protestant s, the people who supported Pat Robertson. Unfortunately for his proposal to "re-co nstitute American schooling" on the basis of community and the free-exercise of conscience, i t is obvious that the great majority of new schools that would spring up under a free and e quitable system of educational funding would be based on religious convictions that most P rogressives would find very distasteful indeed. That's what freedom's about. Arons's opposition to centralization does not lead him to support a return to more local control of schools, which he sees as equally unfavorable to freedom: "like Goals 2000, local control can secure neither freedom of intelle ct and belief nor equal educational opportunity in public schools. It can advance neith er the empowerment of parents and communities nor the professionalism of teachers. It can neither reduce unnecessary conflict over matters of conscience nor increase the overall quality of education available to American children" (page 103). So what does Arons want? He has four concrete and s ensible proposals: school choice, school and teacher independence from govern ment regulation of instructional content, a right to publicly-funded schooling, and equity in funding (page 144). These proposals deserve to be spelled out, and the approp riate cautions (consumer protection, for example, and equal access) and nuances inserted. It would have been helpful if Arons--a legal scholar--had confronted the difficult legal i ssues that would arise under a system of
3 of 5real educational freedom. For example, should schoo ls be entitled to discriminate on the basis of religion, philosophy, sex, or race in admi tting pupils? In hiring staff? In dismissing staff who exercise their "academic freedom" in ways contrary to the distinctive character of the school? If not, how can schools preserve this d istinctive character? And if they cannot, will real choice exist for parents who want schools with such a character, and for teachers who want to teach in such schools? What about the p upil who questions received authority, in a school which has been chosen by parents and te achers who want education based upon such authority? Arons devotes almost no effort to justifying his pr oposals or to showing how they might be worked out, but turns immediately to calli ng for a national discussion that would, he believes, lead us to a new level of understandin g and an education amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although conceding that this might "s eem an unfavorable time because the Education Empire and the Christian Right continue t o be locked in battle over ideology, power, and self-interest in the schools" (page 148) Arons insists that "ordinary citizens" can and must "seize the constitutional moment and depol iticize public education" (page 145). It is exceedingly hard to see how such a discussion co uld--or should--take place in a democratic society without being "political," nor d oes Arons offer any suggestions about how it might take place, or under whose sponsorship A sort of communitarian fuzziness afflicts this erstwhile Libertarian. Short Route to Chaos is unfortunately not an especially convincing case for the dangers of government control of education through national standards. That such a case could be made, there can be no doubt, but it would have to show how such standards would enforce more conformity than already exists as a re sult of professional norms and the economics of textbook publishing. In fact, comparat ive studies have found that schools in France and other countries with national standards enjoy more real autonomy than do schools in the United States, subject as they are t o oversight and interference by more than fifteen thousand local school boards. Of course, in France and most other democracies parents can choose publicly-funded nongovernment schools for their children, including religious schools. This support for freely-chosen c ommunity--for which Arons makes an eloquent case--does not appear to conflict with the national education standards which most of these countries have also adopted. Americans are re-assessing a system of schooling wh ich makes less provision for conscience and community than do those of other cou ntries. Most of the impulse for this reassessment comes from the disenchantment of paren ts with the quality and with the prevailing secularism--rather than religious neutra lity--of public schools. Stephen Arons brings an important contrasting perspective which r eaches the same conclusions from a very different starting point. It seems likely, however, that it will continue to be through Compelling Belief rather than Short Route to Chaos that his voice will be heard. Stephen Arons responds to this review in the next article.
4 of 5 About the AuthorCharles L. GlennEmail: email@example.com Phone: 617/353-7108 Charles L. Glenn (AB, EdD, Harvard University; PhD, Boston University) is the Chairman, Department of Administration, Training, a nd Policy Studies and Professor of Education in the Boston University School of Educat ion. The formulation and implementation of policies aff ecting the education of urban and racial, ethnic, and religious minority students are the focus of Dr. Glenn's teaching and research. He has published extensively on parent ch oice, desegregation, use of minority languages in schools, and religion and education. The Myth of the Common School (1988) is a historical study of resistance to efforts to use schooling to reshape society in France, the Netherlands, and the United States. Choice of Schools in Six Nations and Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe survey current policies and controversies. His for thcoming Minority Languages in Schools considers how twelve industrialized nations educat e the children of immigrants. Dr. Glenn directed the Mass achusetts Department of Education's equity and urban-education efforts for more than 20 years and continues to work with educational systems in the United States, Eastern a nd Western Europe, and the Middle East on policies to balance common standards with school -level autonomy and choice by parents and teachers.Copyright 1998 by the Education Policy Analysis ArchivesThe World Wide Web address for the Education Policy Analysis Archives is http://olam.ed.asu.edu/epaa General questions about appropriateness of topics o r particular articles may be addressed to the Editor, Gene V Glass, firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him at College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287-2411. (602-965-26 92). The Book Review Editor is Walter E. Shepherd: email@example.com The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb: firstname.lastname@example.org .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson email@example.com Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov firstname.lastname@example.org
5 of 5 Thomas F. Green Syracuse University Alison I. Griffith York University Arlen Gullickson Western Michigan University Ernest R. House University of Colorado Aimee Howley Marshall University Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory William Hunter University of Calgary Richard M. Jaeger University of North Carolina--Greensboro Daniel Kalls Ume University Benjamin Levin University of Manitoba Thomas Mauhs-Pugh Rocky Mountain College Dewayne Matthews Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education William McInerney Purdue University Mary P. McKeown Arizona Board of Regents Les McLean University of Toronto Susan Bobbitt Nolen University of Washington Anne L. Pemberton email@example.com Hugh G. Petrie SUNY Buffalo Richard C. Richardson Arizona State University Anthony G. Rud Jr. Purdue University Dennis Sayers University of California at Davis Jay D. Scribner University of Texas at Austin Michael Scriven firstname.lastname@example.org Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University