Politics, Language, and Culture: A Critical Look at Urban School Reform

By Joseph W. Check | Go to book overview

Chapter 3

Deepening Our Thinking About Reform

While proponents of the new reform agenda are eager to dissociate themselves from the mistakes of federal reform since 1960, they are likely to repeat many of these mistakes in the absence of a clear understanding of that experience. The emphasis may have shifted from federal to state and local policy, but the issues are much the same.

—Richard F. Elmore and Milbrey W. McLaughlin 1

To judge from the ahistorical character of most current policy talk about reform, innovators may consider amnesia a virtue.

—David Tyack and Larry Cuban 2


WHY LISTEN TO HISTORY? PRESENTISM VS. THE HISTORICAL RECORD

Americans care about education. Among topics the public considers important, polls consistently show it at or near the top. Schooling is regularly in the news, and a position on education is an essential part of most campaign platforms. But both media and politics are lured by simple answers to complex questions, quick fixes for long-standing problems. As a result, the public's interest in education reform has been passionate without being deep. Media and public policy have given little consideration, for example, to reform as a recurring feature of American schooling. Even less have they explored the American public school's abiding roots in the past and long record of resistance to change.

This systematic forgetting is a serious flaw in current reform efforts, for it deprives us of knowledge that can help shape the planning and implementation of necessary change. Among major reform programs only Ted

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