School Choice and Social Justice

By Harry Brighouse | Go to book overview

6 The Case for Educational Equality

Introducing Educational Equality

A second value often invoked by opponents of school choice, as well as by critics of schooling as it is traditionally carried out in capitalist democracy, is the value of educational equality. As we shall see, the precise content of educational equality is difficult to elaborate, but those who invoke it generally have two concerns in mind. The first is that children should not have significantly better access to education simply because they have wealthier parents, or live in wealthier communities, than others. Jonathan Kozol has documented the 'savage inequalities' within the US public school system, whereby twice as much per pupil is spent on schooling in wealthy suburban school districts as in poorer inner-city districts. 1 In the UK the argument is often made that the elite private schools such as Eton and Winchester not only perpetuate the sharply divisive class character of British public culture, but also confer better educational and other opportunities on pupils for no reason other than that their parents have great wealth.

The second concern of advocates of educational equality is that some children get a better education simply because they are tagged as brighter, smarter, or more intellectually able than other children. The main moral source of opposition to the Grammar Schools in Britain, and to tracking in the US, has been the perception that the children who go to secondary moderns, or languish in the bottom track, receive an inferior education solely because they are marked out as less able. Notice that this objection to tracking does not invoke the view that children cannot be accurately identified as more or less able; nor the equally current view that all talents are of equal value so that it does not make sense to talk of some children as more talented than others. The proponent of educational equality says that even if it does make sense to talk of children as unequally able, and even if those inequalities can be accurately identified early on, it is wrong

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