Rediscovering the Democratic Purposes of Education

Lorraine M. McDonnell, P. Michael Timpane, and Roger Benjamin, eds.

Why do America's public schools seem unable to meet today's social challenges? As competing interest groups vie over issues like funding and curricula, we seem to have lost sight of the democratic purposes originally intended for public education.

Public schools were envisioned by the Founders as democratically run institutions for instilling civic values, but today's education system seems more concerned with producing good employees than good citizens. Meanwhile, our country's diversity has eroded consensus about citizenship, and the professionalization of educators has diminished public involvement in schools.

“This collection of state-of-the-art essays, an artful blend of philosophical, historical, institutional, political, and policy analyses, significantly advances our understanding of democratic civic education. It should be of interest to everyone concerned with the contribution our schools can make to reversing today's troubling flight from engaged democratic citizenship.”

—William A. Galston, author of Liberal Purposes: Goods, Virtues, and Diversity in the Liberal State

“This book admirably reconnects two separate strains of thought: thought about the specifics of education policy (vouchers, charters, national testing) with thought about the role of deliberation in democratic society. The authors gathered here are truly top-notch. A first-rate collection.”

—Jeffrey R. Henig, author of Rethinking School Choice

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This volume seeks to demonstrate that the democratic purposes of education are not outmoded ideas but can continue to be driving forces in public education. Nine original articles by some of today's leading education theorists cut a broad swath across the political spectrum to examine how those democratic purposes might be redefined and revived. It both establishes the intellectual foundation for revitalizing American schools and offers concrete ideas for how the educational process can be made more democratic.

The authors make a case for better empirical research about the politics of education in order to both reconnect schools to their communities and help educators instill citizenship. An initial series of articles reexamines the original premise of American education as articulated by important thinkers like Jefferson and Dewey. A second group identifies flaws in how schools are currently governed and offers models for change. A final section analyzes the value conflicts posed by the twin strands of democratic socialization and governance, and their implications for education policy.

Spanning philosophy, history, sociology, and political science, this book brings together the best current thinking about the specifics of education policy—vouchers, charter schools, national testing—and about the role of deliberation in a democracy. It offers a cogent alternative to the exchange paradigm and shows how much more needs to be understood about an issue so vital to America's future.

About the Author

Lorraine M. McDonnell is chair of the department of political science at the University of California-Santa Barbara. P. Michael Timpane is a senior researcher at RAND and coeditor of Planned Variation in Education: Should We Give Up or Try Harder? Roger Benjamin is also a senior researcher at RAND and coeditor of The Democratic State.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series