Education under Siege: The Conservative, Liberal and Radical Debate over Schooling

By Stanley Aronowitz; Henry Giroux | Go to book overview

TEN

Education and the Crisis in Public Philosophy

IN THE CURRENT debate around the crisis in education and the role that federal policy should play in resolving it, U.S. society may be facing a dilemma that calls into question its very foundation as a democratic nation.

There are hints of the magnitude of the crisis in the language of the recent reports on public education. 1 In the words of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, we are a “nation at risk” because of the poor quality of our educational system. Similarly, the Carnegie Foundation report argues that “the teaching profession is in crisis in this country,” and the National Task Force on Education for Economic Growth claims that “a real emergency is upon us.” Needless to say, the nature and extent of the crisis in public education and its relationship to the wider society are the objects of national debate. This debate is important not only because it focuses attention on the declining quality of our schools and economy, but also because it brings into view a “new” public philosophy, one that, in my estimation, is as problematic as the crisis that it attempts to define and resolve. 2

Two fundamental questions must be brought into this debate. First, does this new public philosophy, which has defined the parameters of the existing crisis and the varied recommendations to resolve it, adequately name the nature of the crisis? Secondly, does this philosophy itself represent as much of a threat to our nation as the problems it has identified? These are crucial issues because any attempt to define what form a federal policy in education might take will be contingent upon understanding how such a policy has been made, what interests it represents, and, ultimately, how it defines the nature of the problems it attempts to address.

In our view, the debate about the reality and promise of U.S. education should be analyzed not only on the strengths of its stated assumptions but also on the nature of its structured silences, that is, those issues which it has chosen to ignore or deemphasize. Such an analysis is valuable because it provides the opportunity to examine the

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