Academic journal article High School Journal

From Values Based on Simplicity and Standardization toward the Realities Found in Complexity and Contingency: A Particular View for High School during the 21st Century

Academic journal article High School Journal

From Values Based on Simplicity and Standardization toward the Realities Found in Complexity and Contingency: A Particular View for High School during the 21st Century

Article excerpt


In any discussion of public schooling, various assertions have been posed that have historically shaped the education reform debate. Traditionally, these assertions have come from two opposing camps. First, there is the camp that remains critical of public education because teaching, learning and administration has been colored and refined by monolithic value orientations (Hale, 1999), cultural hegemony (Winant, 1997), and racial superiority (Dalton, 1995). This paradigm gathers support from school officials' denial of their role in the above processes, and/or school officials' lack of foresight to help transform political/social/cultural discourse, the distribution of resources, and/or the unspoken assumptions concerning those who have been historically marginalized. They contend that compounding the implications of a lack of culpability and/or foresight have been the school policies and practices that disregard a holistic approach to teaching for the realities of a heterogeneous society. For those critical of the current system, such disregard excludes all children from these realities, regardless of the child's label. As a result, these critics believe that fairness, freedom, democracy, and even education itself has been unfairly defined in the United States by, and for, an exclusive segment of the population (Apple, 2001.)

Despite the mounting evidence that supports this particular view of public schools, the mindset and driving force in public education has [for most of its history] been characterized by instrumentality and standardization. Today, hidden by a rhetorical emphasis placed on the individual's responsibility for educational development and social prosperity, those with influential power help a nation rationalize an outcome-based approach as this country's definition of, and commitment to, excellence and equity in education. Their policies are wrapped in these values and the use of accountability as the solvent that will promise to hold all school representatives and students accountable. They justify a seemingly simplistic and efficient approach to the increasingly complex world of schooling by suggesting that their priority is to identify public education's failures and help turn them into successes. As a result, decision makers base school policy and practice on bottom-line, product orientation and the order and efficiency of science.

The Essential Question

Disparate as each perspective is from the other, both views agree that education reform is vital to the country's future success in a global economy characterized by advancing technology. Nevertheless, as history has already shown, the superficial, good intentions of these incongruent viewpoints have yet to produce optimal outcomes for all. As to conceal a glaringly, obvious observation, it would seem that such a pronounced consistency of power differentiation belongs in a monarchical, oligarchical, or dictatorial government, not in a government where power theoretically belongs to the people. However, it now seems that squabbles and Debates--such as the one described here for public education reform--can be looked at as contributions to the order as it is and has been throughout our country's history. Therefore, the real question regarding our public education reform is not whose brand will improve our school system. The more effective and intentional question to ask ourselves becomes: Given democracy and our country's abundance of resources, how does power differentials continue to grow and be naturalized at the expense of essentializing specific groups in the decision-making process?

This research agenda differs from the two perspectives mentioned earlier in two distinct ways. First, it understands that social interaction to date has formed a dichotomous structure in which the two sides are diametrically opposed to one another, yet in dysfunctional collaboration they create all outcomes, according to the rues that have been established and past down through our history of decision-making. …

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