19 Urban Questions: Teaching in the City

By Shirley R. Steinberg; Joe L. Kincheloe | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO

Why Is Urban Education
Different from Suburban
and Rural Education?

Philip M. Anderson

Judith P. Summerfield

The question posed as the title of this chapter suggests certain assumptions about urban education—first, that urban education is different from other forms of education. Second, urban schools are not the “norm” and are to be contrasted with, or measured against, suburban and rural schools rather than the other way around. Furthermore, given generally held notions about urban schools, the implication is that urban is deficient in relation to the other categories, or that urban has problems the other two categories do not.

Historically, the urbanization of schooling took place after the Civil War. By 1880, the number of city high schools had surpassed that of the old rural academies, and by the turn of the century, they were the dominant institution in American education (Sizer, 1964, p. 40). The urban institution of learning replaces the rural: Ideologically, the rural, i.e., the normative or “natural, ” is replaced by the urban, the “artificial.” As we will discuss below, the distinction is important for understanding both the perceptions about urban schools and many of the proposals for reforming urban education.

The suburban school not become a force until the vast suburban development in the years following World War II. Since then, suburban high school systems have replaced both the rural and urban institutions as the “successful” model of education in the United States. Suburban schools are typically perceived to be academically sound, physically safe, and the best routes to the best colleges, which provide the best career and life opportunities. At the same time, the “burbs” and suburban schools are often vilified as white-flight, middle-class enclaves, the epit

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