CHAPTER FIVE
DISTRIBUTING PRIMARY SCHOOLING

If its main purpose is to develop democratic character, how should primary schooling be distributed? It does not require an extended philosophical analysis to say something significant about how schooling should not be distributed: not by the market—children of poor and uninterested parents will not receive it; not by unconstrained democratic decision—children of disfavored minorities will be relegated to inferior schools. This much should be common-sensically clear and is broadly acknowledged in the United States, at least today.

A more positive answer, however, requires a more systematic and sustained analysis, for at least three reasons. On many distributive issues—such as how much government should spend on educating children with learning disabilities—many of us lack clear intuitions. Secondly, even when each of us has clear intuitions—for example, about whether suburban white children should be bused to urban schools for racial integration—our intuitions differ, often quite radically. Thirdly, even when the vast majority agree—as most American citizens apparently did about racial segregation throughout much of our history— their agreement may conflict with democratic principles. Only a clear and defensible standard of distribution can come to our aid in these situations. In the first instance, it can help us arrive at our own well-reasoned conclusions. In the second, it can provide a standard for helping us resolve our social disagreements. In the third, it can prevent us from mistaking social consensus or majority rule for the whole of democratic justice.

The principle of nondiscrimination serves these purposes, but only in a preliminary way. Nondiscrimination prevents states and other groups in society from denying anyone an educational good on grounds irrelevant to the legitimate social purpose of that good. In its application to primary schooling, whose social purpose is to develop democratic character in all citizens, the principle of nondiscrimination becomes a principle of nonexclusion: no educable child may be excluded from an education adequate to participating in the processes that structure choice among good lives. Stated so abstractly, the principle of nonexclusion provides a necessary but not sufficient standard of democratic distribution with regard to primary schooling. A com-

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