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Educational policy analysis archives.
n Vol. 6, no. 3 (January 09, 1998).
Tempe, Ariz. :
b Arizona State University ;
Tampa, Fla. :
University of South Florida.
c January 09, 1998
Planting land mines in common ground : a review of Charles Glenn's review of Short route to chaos.
Arizona State University.
University of South Florida.
t Education Policy Analysis Archives (EPAA)
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1 of 6 Education Policy Analysis Archives Volume 6 Number 3January 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. Planting Land Mines In Common Ground: A review of Charles Glenn's review of Short Route To Chaos Stephen Arons University of Massachusetts at Amherst Abstract Arons responds to what he considers to be Glenn's misrepresentations of the tone and content of Short Route To Chaos He writes that Glenn "appears to be attempting to construct the book's message into just one more sal vo fired in the endless school wars. It is anything but....Reading Glenn's review, one is left with the impression that the book is a Christian-bashing, left-leaning, work of communitar ian fuzziness in which a legal scholar unaccountably refuses to confine himself to ... tec hnical explication of existing constitutional doctrine." In his response, Arons af firmatively sets out some of the book's main themes of political /cultural conflict over st andardized schooling, corrects some of what he sees as Glenn's misundertsnadings, and note s that the book itself invites readers to eschew partisanship and recognize that there are de ep structural problems in American public education. In closing, Arons uses an example of Glenn's partisan misunderstanding that leads Arons to recommend to the reader that it would be better to read Short Route to Chaos for oneself. One of the central themes in Short Route To Chaos suggests that unless Americans step back and get some perspective on the current s chool wars and the endless rounds of school reform fads, we are destined to keep repeati ng the nearly neurotic cycle of conflict that has characterized public schooling since the m id-nineteenth century. This conflict is unnecessary, culturally corrosive, and increasingly destructive of school quality; and the book discusses frankly the ugly side of these battl es. Having done so, Short Route To Chaos invites the reader to put aside partisanship long e nough to see that there are deep structural problems in American public education which are the mselves a primary cause of this perennial conflict over the content of schooling. Early in the book, while stories of the school wars are still being told and the analysis
2 of 6of their causes has not yet become the focus of the work, I try briefly to deal with the problem of holding a mirror up to the unseemly spec tacle of the American preoccupation with school wars. Noting that the Christian Right h as been very successful at exploiting the weaknesses in public education structure, the book states: But the Christian Right meets its match in an educa tion establishment artful at demonizing its opponents and willing to resist virt ually any attempt to change the ideology and practices of the public schooling to which it owes its existence...So effectively do these two giants demonize each ot her, and so distorted has the public debate over schooling become as a result, th at it is difficult to discuss the attack by the Christian Right or the defensiveness of the education establishment without seeming to insult large numbe rs of well-intentioned people on both sides. 'Right-wing Christian' is to most Christian fundamentalists, for example, as 'tax-and-spend lib eral' is to many other Americans of good will: a label, a stereotype, a mi scharacterization of citizens trying to improve the quality and meaningfulness of public schooling for their children and their community.It is essential to get beyond the demonization and polarization, and to put in perspective the partisan attacks on public schoolin g and the hackneyed defense of the status quo there. Americans with conflicting but sincere views about schooling need to admit that some leaders on each s ide have been willing to misuse the legitimate concerns of their constituent s.... But it isn't easy to escape the lure of immediate s elf-interest and ideological commitment in these conflicts, as Professor Glenn's accompanying review of Short Route To Chaos makes clear. When what is at stake is so important and when both the school wars themselves and their spoils seem to provide so much satisfaction, even the most astute may find it difficult to see beyond the end of their ow n agendas. If the book is an invitation to cease politicizing American education for a moment and to look squarely at the structural problems of public education, then Glenn has either not understood this invitation or has intentionally chosen not to take it up. This is an unfortunate posture for a scholar, though it is completely understandable in a partisan. The U.S. Supreme Court warned of the problem of pol iticized schooling and the chaos of conflict long ago in West Virginia v. Barnette: As governmental pressure toward unity becomes great er, so strife becomes more bitter as to whose unity it shall be. Probably no division of our people could proceed from any provocation than from findin g it necessary to choose what doctrine and whose program public educational officials shall compel youth to unite in embracing. More than fifty years later, as the state and feder al governments begin trying to standardize American education along the lines of t he Goals 2000: Educate America Act, the bitter, predictable strife continues and increa ses. Among its chief casualties has been freedom of conscience in education--the individual liberty to follow an internal moral compass in setting a course for a meaningful and fu lfilling life. Undermined as well has been the building of community, which most teachers and families believe to be essential to successful schooling. Hence the subtitle of Short Route To Chaos: Conscience, Community,
3 of 6and the Re-Constitution of American Schooling I argue in Short Route To Chaos that schooling has become so burdened with unnecessary conflict that it is becoming increasing ly dysfunctional. It is therefore in all our interests--not just the Christian Right or the secu lar left--to reduce the level of political/cultural warfare over schooling. This is analogous to reducing the level of conflict over religion 200 years ago when the Bill of Rights adopted the requirement of separation of church and state. Another important theme of Short Route is the importance of focusing the public debate on the principles by which public education should be organized, rather than on the specific programs or proposals advanced by one part isan group or another. That is why the book stresses the "constitutional" level of reform, suggesting an extended national dialogue on an education amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Under the present conditions, to debate vouchers or charter schools or decentralization or home schooling would be to fall back into the old cycle of partisan conflict. But once we agr ee on fundamental principles--or at least start discussing them civilly--the appropriate mech anisms for achieving them are likely to become clear and to come within our reach. Glenn ignores this theme as well, apparently prefe rring to criticize Short Route for not providing a detailed defense for what he imagin es I would advocate as a suitable program, vouchers. Given Glenn's past thoughtfulnes s about matters of education policy, it would have been more useful for him to have joined instead in a discourse about the basic principles underlying vouchers, rather than the pro grammatic details of this or any other program that might eventually be advanced. Here is what the last chapter of the book says about the difference between principles and program s: ...a constitutional amendment for education cannot spell out a particular program for schools. It must, like the Bill of Righ ts, be based upon a few principles which specify government powers, secure fundamental freedoms, and establish the ground rules under which particular p rograms may be created, put into service, and judged for their constitutionalit y. (p.149) Perhaps professor Glenn took umbrage at the book's introductory comment that "It is...my intention to suggest how the American peopl e themselves--not limited by the current views of their political representatives, education experts, and constitutional courts, and quite apart from 'politics as usual'--may achieve a re-constitution of schooling adequate to strengthen both conscience and community in public education." (P.10) Glenn's misunderstandings and misrepresentations ex tend still further. He claims that Short Route does not make "an especially convincing case for t he dangers of government control of education through national standards." G lenn can be forgiven for not agreeing with Theodore Sizer's estimate that "Arons' argumen t is politically very incorrect, but devastating." But it appears that he has not read t he chapter in which the argument he dismisses is centered, "Renouncing Our Constitution al Heritage." More interesting, however, is what Glenn would consider to be the bas is of a convincing argument: "it would have to show how such standards would enforce more conformity than already exists as a result of professional norms and the economics of t extbook publishing."By this standard, I suppose that a theocratic state would be acceptable as long as the majority of its citizens shared the religious beliefs of their rulers. The primary danger of government control of school content--through politically-defined education standards, testing pr ograms, or other means--is not conformity. The danger is that in giving government at any leve l the power to control school content, we invite endless and destructive political conflict o ver whose idea of good education will be
4 of 6adopted by the state. That, in effect, is what the Supreme Court meant when it declared, in the Barnette case, that the "ultimate futility of.. .attempts to compel coherence is the lesson of every such effort...Compulsory unification of opini on achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard." Moreover, in empowering government to c ontrol school content we risk renouncing a constitutional heritage which holds th at, in matters of intellect and belief, government has no proper role beyond protecting ind ividual liberties. That, to quote professor Glenn, is "what freedom's about." There are other themes in Short Route To Chaos that Glenn either ignores, misunderstands, or misstates--that American public schooling has already been re-constituted by state and federal laws adopted wi thout meaningful public debate; that conscience and community are not mutually exclusive but mutually dependent; that schooling is much more like religion than it is lik e economic policy or public policy; that the Christian Right and the Education Empire are equall y destructive and unattractive in their campaigns to get or hold power over schooling; and that the Education Empire--including Glenn--is more a part of the problem than of the so lution. Reading Glenn's review, one is left with the impres sion that the book is a Christian-bashing, left-leaning, work of communitar ian fuzziness in which a legal scholar unaccountably refuses to confine himself to the kin d of technical explication of existing constitutional doctrine that a conservative Christi an could use for partisan purposes in the school wars. I don't mind controversy; and argument is my stock in trade. But knowing Charles Glenn's past commitment to freedom of consc ience and to equality of educational opportunity, I expected a more thoughtful dissent. In closing, therefore, I offer one example of partisan misstatement that particularly galled m e and that, I hope, illustrates why it would be better to read Short Route To Chaos for oneself than to be satisfied with Glenn's dismissive and combative review. Glenn criticizes the book for trashing the Christia n Right but admiring the Satmar Hasidim of New York "who can be romanticized becaus e they are exotic and do not relate to anything that can be perceived as threatening poten tialities in American life. But not conservative Catholics and Protestants,..." Here is what Short Route To Chaos actually says about the Satmar and the Kiryas Joel case: The Court simply could not accommodate the legitima te claims of the Satmar and simultaneously uphold the principles of the Est ablishment Clause. But had it been parents instead of governments that chose w here each child attends an approved school, the Court's dilemma would have dis solved. Without such a structural change in schooling, howe ver, any accommodation acceptable to the Satmar and approved by the Court would have been so narrowly drawn that it would likely be virtually us eless to other communities--including many Christian fundamentalis ts, who are no less entitled to respect for their community and religio us values than the Satmar [emphasis added]. The lesson of this long struggle therefore seems clear. Public schools are presently structured so that they becom e the enemies of private conscience and the building of communities of belie f. Making it easier for schooling to be consistent with any community's mos t basic beliefs is a problem that can be solved by restructuring public educatio n, not by reinterpreting the First Amendment. Whether by design or by inadvertence, Charles Glenn has misrepresented the tone as well as the substantive themes of Short Route To Chaos In so doing he appears to be
5 of 6 attempting to construct the book's message into jus t one more salvo fired in the endless school wars. It is anything but. The school wars ar e ugly; and they do bring out the worst in many well-intentioned Americans, as they undermine the quality of schooling and the vitality of both conscience and community. If we ar e ever to ameliorate this destructive conflict, we must have a truce just long enough to see how needlessly we are pitted against each other by a school structure that simultaneousl y apportions freedom of choice according to wealth and requires majority consent for the exe rcise of individual conscience. There are pragmatic and principled solutions availa ble if we can just stop planting land mines in what could be our common ground. Perh aps Charles Glenn would rather fight than solve problems. But that approach will get us nothing more than another 150 years of school wars. But if he so chooses, Glenn has the ab ility and the experience needed to help call a truce and to find solutions that respect div ersity. Perhaps he still will.About the AuthorStephen AronsDepartment of Legal StudiesUniversity of Massachusetts at AmherstEmail: firstname.lastname@example.org Phone: (413) 545-3536Stephen Arons, B.A. Univ. of Pa., J.D. Harvard, is professor of Legal Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and a member of the Massachusetts Bar. For the past 25 years, Arons has been involved in issues of scho oling, public policy, and constitutional law from a number of different perspectives. He was one of the founders of an alternative school for street youth, worked as a staff attorney concerned with civil rights at the Center for Law and Education, was an early participant in the federal study of school vouchers, wrote extensively about education policy for the Saturday Review and other magazines, has litigated issues ranging from state aid for private schooling to parental rights in home education, and has consulted for state and federal departments of education and legislative committees concerned with the constitutional implic ations of various school finance mechanisms. Arons has written numerous articles in professional journals and two books on schooling, culture, and the U.S. Constitution: Compelling Belief: The Culture of American Schooling (1986) and Short Route To Chaos: Conscience, Community, and th e Re-Constitution of American Schooling (Univ. of Mass. Press, 1997).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, email@example.com 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: firstname.lastname@example.org The Commentary Editor is Casey D. Cobb:
6 of 6 email@example.com .EPAA Editorial Board Michael W. Apple University of Wisconsin Greg Camilli Rutgers University John Covaleskie Northern Michigan University Andrew Coulson firstname.lastname@example.org Alan Davis University of Colorado, Denver Sherman Dorn University of South Florida Mark E. Fetler California Commission on Teacher Credentialing Richard Garlikov email@example.com 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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 email@example.com Robert E. Stake University of Illinois--UC Robert Stonehill U.S. Department of Education Robert T. Stout Arizona State University