The Challenge of Pluralism: Education, Politics, and Values

The Challenge of Pluralism: Education, Politics, and Values

The Challenge of Pluralism: Education, Politics, and Values

The Challenge of Pluralism: Education, Politics, and Values


The politics of pluralism has long been an intractable characteristic of American public education. Today, perhaps more so than ever, educators grapple with an awareness of the fact that liberal societies cannot promote a particular vision of the moral life and still respect and uphold the multi-cultural values of a pluralistic society.


F. Clark Power

By the year 2000, one out of every three elementary and secondary school students in the United States will be from an ethnic minority family. in California and many other states, minority youngsters will make up the majority of the student population.

As these opening lines from an Executive Committee Report of the National Education Association reveal, pluralism has arrived in America's public schools. While public school educators from Horace Mann to the present have grappled with pluralism, the challenge of meeting the diverse needs of so-called minority populations has never been greater. That challenge brings with it the thorniest of ethical problems. Discussions of tuition credits for private schools, bi-lingual education, bussing, ethnic studies, and affirmative action bring to the surface deep-seated concerns about cultural diversity, discrimination, and prejudice.

We expect that on some level our schools will reflect our ideals of pluralistic harmony and prepare the young for participation in a pluralistic society. Pluralism, as Dwight Boyd notes (chapter 6), has become a taken-for-granted prescription for tolerance, sensitivity, and fair treatment. Pluralism is thus, in Walter Nicgorski's words (chapter 1), not only a condition but a generally accepted (however vaguely articulated) goal for moral education. in spite of a commitment to teach the values that would sustain pluralism, Americans have been ambivalent about explicit moral education programs. On the one hand, as Philip Gleason notes, the American identity, going back to the founding, has been based on the abstract, universalist moral ideals of liberty, equality, and . . .

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