The Study of Educational Politics: The 1994 Commemorative Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association (1969-1994)

The Study of Educational Politics: The 1994 Commemorative Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association (1969-1994)

The Study of Educational Politics: The 1994 Commemorative Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association (1969-1994)

The Study of Educational Politics: The 1994 Commemorative Yearbook of the Politics of Education Association (1969-1994)


This text is intended to be of use as a guide for students, scholars and researchers of the politics of education and of educational policy studies. The comprehensive work surveys major trends between 1969 and 1994, with chapters synthesising political and policy developments at local, national and state levels in the US as well as in the international arena. The text contains in-depth examinations of the emerging micropolitics of the field of education as well as policy analysis and cultural and feminist studies, and bibliographies are provided at the end of each chapter.; Designed as both a text and a reference volume, this special yearbook was planned in conjunction with the 25th anniversary of the Politics of Education Association in 1994.


Politics of education association yearbook 1994, xiii-xiv

Foreword to the Study of Educational Politics

Paul E. Peterson

The politics of education is both a critical and a conservative discipline. It is skeptical of the institutions that it studies, but it is cautious about proposing changes. If its treatment of those in authority is often sardonic, it is no less dubious of proposed remedies and reforms.

Most of the scholars working in schools of education devote themselves to the training of practitioners—the teachers, administrators, counselors, psychologists, and special educators who staff this multi-hundred billion dollar industry. Almost necessarily, they come to identify with the needs, values and interests of the enterprise with which they are closely identified. They typically defend the professional against the laity, the expert against the novice, the specialist against the generalist, the insider against the external critic. Yet from time to time educational scholars reverse fields and propose and help launch wholesale reforms of one or another part of the educational enterprise.

Not so are most scholars who write about the politics of education. Their skeptical conservatism is deeply rooted. the first modern political analyst, Niccolo Machiavelli, was the quintessence of ruthless cynicism. He advised the Italian princes of the late 16th century not to pursue justice but to keep themselves in power. in pursuit of this goal, they should impose necessary harms immediately upon coming to power, then let the benefits of the prince’s rule dribble out gradually over time. the public would soon forget the harms and become grateful for their subsequent benefits. He also recommended memorable executions of opposition leadership both to deter guerrilla action and to win public awe and respect.

The first great modern political theorist, Thomas Hobbes, who wrote in the aftermath of England’s great Civil War, was willing to concede all authority to a single all-powerful sovereign in order to avoid a state of nature that was ‘nasty, brutish and short.’ Anything other than absolute despotism, he said, would inevitably degenerate into mob rule. Government was not so much a positive good as a necessary evil.

James Madison, the founder of the American political tradition, was hardly less restrained in his enthusiasms. He advocated the separation of powers among competing branches within a federal system not so much so as to achieve good government as to keep any one faction from gaining power. the balance of power among competing interests was the only way to maintain liberty.

The writers of the essays that follow are steeped in this tradition. They neither pander to those in authority, nor do they endorse recommendations made by critics of right or left. They neither portray American education as controlled by mindless multiculturalists and self-serving bureaucrats nor criticize it for anti-democratic élitism. Instead, schools are seen as a strategic battleground over which many a brigade has marched and on which are buried the bodies of many a combatant.

It is no accident that the politics of education established itself as a field in the late 1960s. At that time, many thought social problems could be solved through political action. School boards were thought to be vehicles by which a white majority suppressed

0268-0939/94 $10.00 © 1994 Taylor & Francis Ltd . . .

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