Handbook of Schooling in Urban America

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

Introduction

Stanley William Rothstein

A survey of the vast literature on schooling in urban America reveals recurring themes connecting the cramped, congested environments of urban centers with the technological innovations, world trade, and commerce of industrial society. In this view, the deleterious effects of urban life are a natural consequence of advanced society and should be viewed as an unfortunate imbalance. Further, urban educational systems have been developing for several centuries; they are related to spatial conditions in inner-city schools and the populations concentrating there. Urban education, then, is the socialization process wherein children find their places and know precisely how they must behave in an impersonal and mechanistic world. It presents messages that reinforce those of the churches, schools, and media. In this ideological viewpoint, the problems associated with inner-city schools are thought to be related to spatial conditions: space and its characteristics are given the power to cause the social contradictions and relationships observed in ghetto schools (and urban workplaces). Scholars cannot easily counter this ideology of the environment because it seems to make sense: overcrowded, underfunded, dysfunctional schools are most often seen in urban concentrations. Their size and diverse populations appear to be dictated by crowds of immigrants and the urban poor. State governments are unable to deal with these populations and the deteriorating conditions of the inner cities: shrinking tax bases have forced them to lessen severely their financial support for mass transport, health care, welfare, housing, and education.

The unexamined premise that urban education can be apprehended in a commonsense way makes it more difficult for us to understand the ideological nature these words have in our culture. The terms are very difficult to define, although most people believe they "know" when they are in an urban school. Unfortunately, all of the characteristics of urban schools can be found, more and more, in schools that are located in suburban areas as well.

The premise that urban education can be understood by focusing attention on

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