School choice advocates make two arguments: the first is economic, that a “government monopoly” of schooling is inefficient, lacks accountability to consumers, and restricts choice; the second argument is “social,” that because we are a diverse nation of religions and creeds “government schools” can only offer bland “value neutral”curricula — if we are to teach values which are not consensual we cannot educate in common schools. This paper examines the latter position, social and moral arguments for school choice, by looking at schools, socialization, and the state. The works of sociologists are examined, including Emile Durkheim who foresaw a “sociological monstrosity” in a society composed of “an infinite number of unorganized individuals” constrained by an all-powerful state, and James Coleman who was concerned about a shift to schools grounded in homogeneous “value communities.” Schools not only perform core socialization functions, historically they provided a unique public space dedicated to discourse where individuals and groups forged consensus or agreed to disagree. Common schools had an important legitimatizing relation to the democratic state, and the wholesale shift to private providers will likely have profound consequences, either furthering the sociological monstrosity or contributing to “downsizing” not just of government bureaucracy but of the democratic state itself.



The school choice movement has been defined by two polarities: a “public” version to increase the variety of programs and the ability of parents and students to make choices within the existing public school system (Reywid 1987, 1989), and a “private” version advocating the end of government monopoly and, if not the outright abolition of public schools, a system in which public schools would have to compete in a large market of private schools (Friedman, 1962, Chubb and Moe 1990, 1992). Following choice proposals put forth twenty-five years ago by Christopher Jencks and his colleagues, Herbert Gintis strongly defended a middle ground that he termed “market socialism” by advocating a system of private non-profit providers heavily regulated and monitored by government agencies that would enforce standards and prevent discrimination. Gintis proposed universal vouchers to level the playing field by restricting funding solely to government vouchers, thus explicitly disallowing additional private funds. The proposal would not fund religious schools. In essence this suggestion is that government should fund and regulate but not provide education (Areen and Jencks, 1972; Gintis, 1995; Glass, 1994).

Two distinctly different arguments have been put forth in favor of moving government out of the position of being a monopolistic provider of education: one is economic, the other social. The economic argument, couched in the language of efficiency, competition and consumer choice, was articulated as early as 1962 by Milton Friedman in Capitalism and Freedom. Economic theory concludes that the “government monopoly” on schools leads to stagnation, a lack of accountability to the parents and students that consume educational services, and inefficiency (Walthers, 1995). Empowering the consumer with a voucher system would be better, the argument goes, because free market actors would select only the best schools, weak and inefficient schools would be weeded out by the mechanism of choice. Costs would go down, quality would rise, and perhaps most importantly the consumers of education would be empowered: “markets allow us all to get it our own way” (Gintis, 1995:505).

The second argument for ending public schools is a moral one, and this is what I wish to discuss in this paper. The moral arguments predate the economist position, and unlike the academic economists who begin from a theoretical premise, the moral argument developed from grass roots practices and conflicts. Beginning at mid-century, educational reformers used the courts and Constitution to integrate school systems racially. Progressive educators followed-up by drawing attention to inequities in the practices, content and ideologies of schooling, e.g. sexism and gender inequity, monocultural distortions of history and social life, and the role of schools in the reproduction of inequality.1 Controversial Court decisions changed forever the landscape of schooling in America: evolution had to be taught; racial integration was required; prayer was banned in schools; sex education classes became ubiquitous and gender roles were challenged; bilingual-bicultural education programs were implemented; women’s rights groups challenged sports programs and same sex schools, multiculturalists attacked the content of the western canon, whole language instruction and child centered education at least partially replaced phonics and rote instruction; and so on.

The political left successfully sought to have its belief in racial, gender, and social class equality, child centered educational practices, and secular values institutionalized at the heart of the school system. These changes ripped open wide schisms in American beliefs and cultural practices, and provoked an intense series of social conflicts.

In reaction to the push from liberal reformers, persistent attacks on the public schools began from the political right, led at first by white parents resisting integration. School choice schemes began in the South in an attempt to replace the de jure segregation enforced by jim crow laws, with de facto segregation produced by individual choice (U.S. District Court, 1967; Fuller, Elmore, and Orfield 1996:3). Later, leadership came from fundamentalist Christian groups like the Christian Coalition and the American Eagle Forum frustrated by court rulings that prevented prayer in classrooms and promoted a secular curriculum. Opposition coalesced into a broad critique that the schools were not neutral in teaching values but were advancing a secular religion called “humanism.” Today, competing demands on the public school system include: back-to-basics versus outcome-based education; phonics and rote learning versus whole language instruction; sex education versus abstinence; evolution or creationism; values clarification or “traditional” morality; bilingual-bicultural instruction or English only; multiculturalism or monoculturalism; and of course school prayer or separation of church and state (Shor, 1986; Berliner and Biddle, 1995; Berliner, 1996; Gaddy, Hall, and Marzano, 1996).  The moral argument developed into this premise: education of the young requires moral teachings, yet we do not agree on the content or substance of these teachings. As an advocate of home schooling explained:

Ideally, in my mind, there is much that should go on in a school that can’t go on in a public school. I think it’s just fine for a school to indoctrinate a way of life, to imbue religious feeling and faith, to instill values, but the very fact that a school is a government-run public school makes all these practices out of place there, to my mind. This puts us in the awkward position of trying to raise children in a whole, meaningful way and yet of separating important parts of our education, segmenting them, and bickering about them constantly (Cotter, 1996).2

We are a diverse nation of religions and creeds. Because of this, the argument goes, we cannot educate in common schools. Columnists in the Arizona Republic contextualized the issue this way:

Regrettably, Americans no longer hold common values, and there are vastly different opinions today on what education should be. Government schools have settled on one approach that bears little resemblance to the traditional teaching methods that served so well in years past…. No one’s children should be forcibly subjected to another’s world view, as happens in public schools now…. The only solution to this stand-off is a completely open voucher system. If parents want OBE (outcome-based education), whole language and multiculturalism to be the basis of their child’s education, they should get it. If others want schools that stress core academics within the context of traditional values, they should get it. (Manning and Miller, 1995)

This post-modern thesis is antithetical to the earlier “modern” formulation: “because we are a diverse nation of religions and creeds we must educate in common schools,” but setting that aside for a moment, it is critical to consider the ramifications that may flow from the moral argument that Americans no longer hold common values and hence must abandon common schools. To discover some of the consequences of such a shift in our fundamental social organization, I want to turn to one of the founding fathers of educational sociology.

Schools and the veritable sociological monstrosity

At the dawn of this century the French sociologist Emile Durkheim investigated the bonds that attach the individual to society. In his first major work, The Division of Labor in Society (1893), he described the history of western society as moving from communal associations based on the similarity of community members, to social bonds of interdependence created by specialization of function and the division of labor. But Durkheim was concerned that such modern functional relationships, even when reinforced by a powerful government, were not sufficient to maintain the social whole. In 1893, he worried that:

A society composed of an infinite number of unorganized individuals that a hypertrophied state is forced to oppress and contain, constitutes a veritable sociological monstrosity. For collective activity is always too complex to be expressed through the single and unique organ of the state. Moreover the state is too remote from individuals; its relations with them too external and intermittent to penetrate deeply into individual consciences and socialize them from within. Where the state is the only environment in which men can live communal lives, they inevitably lose contact, become detached, and thus society disintegrates. A nation can be maintained only if, between the state and the individual, there is intercalated a whole series of secondary groups near enough to the individual to attract them strongly in their sphere of action and drag them in this way into the general torrent of social life (Durkheim, [1893] 1933:28).

The sociological monstrosity appears well-developed in fin de siecle America. Politicians seek power by running against Washington and seeming to oppose government itself. The federal government has become estranged from civil society and civil society itself is fragmenting along religious, racial, ethnic, class, and regional fault lines. Cults, sects and a host of separatist institutions offer retreat from both the state and mass civil society. Those that can afford it literally wall themselves off in gated communities protected by private police forces. In extreme forms, groups motivated by hatred of the federal government or mass society have engaged in crimes and violence including the Unabomber and the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City. Alternative social forms ranging from street gangs to Militia movements offer replacements for civil institutions and socialize to separatist norms.

In his second major study, Suicide written in 1897, Durkheim expressed apprehension that a kind of suicide that he termed “anomic” was on the rise. He took “anomie” or normlessness as an indicator of whether socialization — the specific bonding of the individual to society — was functioning properly. Anomic suicide results when individuals are not well-connected to the social order and Durkheim considered the rate to be indicative of a breakdown in social order. While the term anomic suicide is no longer used the phenomenon persists, especially when “waves” of teenage suicide ripple through a high school. However, the problem of normlessness or anomie is far broader than just suicide.

There is much evidence suggesting a contemporary breakdown in socialization, including the growth both of antisocial groups and of people unattached to the social world. In urban areas we hear of nearly feral children, neglected by parents, ignored and failed by social workers and teachers like the two boys in a Chicago housing project who dropped five year old Eric Morse out a window, or the gang accused of “wilding” in central park. Susan Smith made national news when she drowned her young children in a South Carolina lake, but there are numerous less well-publicized examples of parents who abuse and murder their children. Drive by shootings and casually extreme forms of youth violence make violence the second leading cause of teen death. The public seems to have become inured to accounts of detached “rogue” males who shoot up playgrounds, fast food restaurants, or post offices.3 In these social events is deep-seated evidence of anomie rooted in the failure to attach individuals to the constellations of norms, values, and roles that comprise civil society.

A century ago, unmistakable trends of modernity — the division of labor, bureaucratization, and secularization — led Durkheim to ask what “glue” might hold society together to stem the rising tide of anomie. At first, he thought that occupational groups like unions and corporations would fulfill this role along with a number of other voluntary associations: clubs, neighborhood groups, and the like. But he noted that these intermediate forms that we inherited from the past appeared to be weakening, there could be no return to historic forms, and new ones did not seem to be developing. Durkheim was prophetic, and the process he foresaw in the late 19th century has accelerated in the last half of the 20th. Robert D. Putnam (1996), writing on the “Disappearance of Civic America,” summarized the dramatic decline in social participation in precisely those “intermediate” social forms to which Durkheim drew our attention: The Elks Club, Red Cross, PTA, labor unions and bowling leagues. From a nation of joiners, wrote Putnam, we are becoming a nation of stay-at-home couch potatoes.
In his search for social bonds, Durkheim in 1902-03 turned to the role of public schools and devoted the last decades of his professional life to the sociology of education.4 Unlike other sociologists who examine schools from the position of training people for the division of labor, or producing educated citizens, Durkheim posited that the most important function of schools in advanced technological society was socialization. More than any other institution, public schools had to accomplish the critical attachment of the individual to the social world:

To bind the child to the social group of which he is a part, it is not enough to make him feel the reality of it. He must be attached to it with his whole being. There is only one effective way of doing this, and that is by making his society an integral part of him, so that he can no more separate himself from it than from himself. Society is not the work of the individuals that compose it at a given stage of history, nor is it a given place. It is a complex of ideas and sentiments, of ways of seeing and feeling, a certain intellectual and moral framework distinctive of the entire group. Society is above all a consciousness of the whole. It is therefore, this collective consciousness that we must instill in the child (Durkheim, [1925]1961:277).

People have misconstrued Durkheim’s notion of “collective consciousness” to mean some kind of group mind. But this is inaccurate. The engendering of collective consciousness is not an abstract and theoretical lesson, it is a practical activity that takes place in schools:

Above all we must give the child the clearest possible idea of the social groups to which he belongs. It is here that the role of the educator is most important. … to attach the child to these groups. … The point here is not to enrich the mind with some theoretical notion, a speculative conception; but to give it a principle of action, which we must make as effective as necessary and possible. In other words, the representation must have something emotional; it must have the characteristic of a sentiment more than a conception. Since, in the long run, one only learns to do by doing, we must multiply the opportunities in which the sentiments thus communicated to the child can manifest themselves in actions. To learn the love of collective life we must live it (Durkheim [1925] 1961: 228, 229) (emphasis added).

Putnam correlated recent declines in social participation with the rise of television generations, but like Durkheim he recognized that civic engagement is positively correlated with educational attainment: “… well-educated people are much more likely to be joiners and trusters, partly because they are better off economically, but mostly because of the skills, resources, and inclinations that were imparted to them at home and in school” (Putnam, 1996:np). If, as Putnam suggested, television is a pacifying and asocial activity, then schools, precisely because of the opportunity they provide for social activity and connection, are even more important today than they were in the past. This analysis also suggests that the inroads made into the classroom by television, and perhaps computers, need to be tempered by renewed emphasis on social and participatory activity.
Much of the current concern with America’s education system still focuses on whether schools do a good job in training workers for the economy and citizens for the polity. These are central issues from the perspective both of the individual who needs marketable skills to make a living and participate in the democratic process, and from the vantage point of the collectivities; corporations require a trained workforce and the democratic state needs informed voters and participants. Because skills training and the reproduction of the division of labor is of such importance, educators carefully design curricula, describe program content, set performance standards and employ standardized tests to make sure students are learning math, science, and language skills to participate in the division of labor. Educators are also deeply concerned with what is generally termed “citizenship.” Recent debates over the content of text books, proposed history and English standards, and the nature of the canon, testify to the seriousness attached to citizenship. But in a Durkheimian sense, the real debate should focus on socialization.

Training for the division of labor and citizenship in the democratic state presuppose and depend upon the kind of socialization that Durkheim addressed. Schools perform a crucial function in socializing children to civil society. In Durkheim’s formulation, socialization encompassed two elements: The first (to which we will return) was to instill respect and obedience to abstract rules: “To conduct one’s self morally is a matter of abiding by a norm…” (Durkheim, [1925]1961:23). The second was to attach the individual to the social group. In discussing attachment to the group the issue immediately arises: Which group? For Durkheim socialization takes place on many levels, from the smallest face-to-face circle of friends to a concept of humanity larger and more encompassing than citizenship. He was careful not to conflate civil society with the state, and believed in patriotism as a path to a higher collective vision:

This second element consists, as we have pointed out, in attachment to a social group generally speaking; but more particularly in attachment to one’s country, providing that the country is conceived not as a narrowly selfish and aggressive personality but as one of the agencies through which the idea of humanity is realized (Durkheim [1925]1961:207).

The sociological monstrosity emerges as institutions of civil society are attenuated. Civil society, the ensemble of beliefs and social practices that are reproduced on an expanded scale by socialization, engulfs and transcends the narrower and more parochial concerns of family, neighborhood, ethnicity, religion, and class. In fact, individuals compete for egoistic advantage and these other groups vie for power within the constraints of civil society. It is precisely those constraints, which we call civility, that keep the state from having to employ its repressive powers.

Durkheim ([1925]1961:3) described how 19th century France formed a civil society distinct from the dominant Catholic religion:  “We decided to give children in our state-supported schools a purely secular moral education. It is essential to understand that this means an education that is not derived from revealed religion, but rests exclusively on ideas, sentiments, and practices accountable to reason only — in short, a purely rationalistic education.”

By the Constitution and the law, American public education has pursued identical secular socialization goals. From the perspective of the individual this meant developing two sorts of discipline: the first was demanded by industrial capitalism and included punctuality and dependable work habits, respect for authority, deferred gratification, production over consumption, and thrift; the second was required by the democratic state including the golden rule, voting as the citizen’s contribution to democracy; and the means-ends calculus which prescribes competition, teamwork, and socially acceptable methods of achievement. There are numerous social spheres in which socialization takes place — the family, churches, and the mass media for example. But public schools perform a specific and central form of socialization that these other institutions cannot. Durkheim ([1925]1961:147) observed that the family: “… especially today, is a very small group of persons who know each other intimately and who are constantly in contact with one another. As a result, their relationships are not subject to any general, impersonal, immutable regulation…. (T)he morality practiced in this setting is above all a matter of emotion and sentiment. The abstract idea of duty is less important here than sympathy.” Thus, schools were precisely concerned with abstract social connections like “duty”:

In fact, there is a whole system of rules in the school that pre¬determine the child’s conduct. He must come to class regularly, he must arrive at a specified time and with an appro¬priate bearing and attitude. He must not disrupt things in class. He must have learned his lessons, done his homework, and have done so reasonably well, etc. There are, therefore, a host of obligations that the child is required to shoulder. Together they constitute the discipline of the school. It is through the practice of school discipline that we can inculcate the spirit of discipline in the child (Durkheim 1961:148).

Now clearly schools have changed, as have the requirements both of capitalism and democracy. The particular forms of discipline that Durkheim addressed are arguably more suited to industrial production than to the world of cell phones, internet, flex-time and telecommuting in which citizens in industrialized countries increasingly find themselves. While the work still has to be done, there is no place to show up and precious little distinction between work and the rest of life. Workers of the post-modern middle classes are not free from toil and duty, but the old disciplines no longer insure social status or mobility. While the content has changed, the fundamental need for civil discipline remains.

The Hidden Curriculum:

In Durkheim’s analysis it was the need to socialize children that led to “the discipline of the school.” This discipline has come to be called “the hidden curriculum” and is inevitably found in schools alongside skill-training in reading writing and arithmetic and citizenship-training in history and civics. The term “hidden curriculum,” originated by Philip Jackson in his book Life in Classrooms, referred to the particular set of disciplines and behavioral expectations found in classrooms which do not necessarily further intellectual development. Jackson (1968:33) observed that schools give students credit for “trying,” reward “neatness, punctuality and courteous conduct,” and provide negative sanctions for the violation of institutional rules.
Recent educational researchers have emphasized that discipline and the hidden curriculum are not applied uniformly, but are stratified according to social class. Jean Anyon (1980:276ff), for example, in her article “Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work,” demonstrated the association of curriculum with the demands of capitalist production. The children in working-class schools are taught long division as a series of steps to be memorized and mechanically followed. In middle-class schools work was tied to getting the correct answer. Instead of following explicit directions, work frequently called for some figuring and choice of method. Neatness counts! In what Anyon termed the “affluent professional” school, children are assigned independent work. They are rewarded for expression of ideas and for being creative. In the “executive elite school” children get additional knowledge about the manipulation and analysis of systems. They are challenged to “reason through” complex projects.
There is no doubt that the demands of corporations for a disciplined and stratified workforce have penetrated deeply into the socialization apparatus, but the socialization needs of civil society are analytically prior to, and not necessarily congruent with, the particular classed demands of industry. In his historical analysis of how the socialization curriculum came to be “hidden,” Michael Apple and Nancy King (1977:33-34) mentioned and then quickly passed over the Durkheimian sense of social control that is essential to social life:

… [I]t is nearly impossible to envision social life without some element of control, if only because institutions, as such, tend to respond to the regularities of human interaction. [But] What strongly influenced early curriculum workers was a historically specific set of assumptions, common sense rules, about school meanings and control that incorporated not merely the idea that organized society must maintain itself through the preservation of some of its valued forms of interaction and meaning, which implied a quite general and wholly understandable “weak” sense of social control.

Apple and King’s term “weak” suggests the lack of importance, or the perhaps “taken-for-grantedness,” which has been attached to basic socialization. The weak sense, a non-sectarian connection to civil society, apparently encompasses all those elements that make us social beings able to live and work together, form social institutions, and agree upon meanings. This type of socialization is “umbilical” in tying the individual to the social world; as such it deserve more careful consideration. But in Apple and King’s account, concern with weak socialization was quickly eclipsed by the study of how “strong,” overdetermined, forms of socialization came to be:

Deeply embedded in [the] ideological perspective [of the 19th century “curriculists” who brought social control into the classroom] was a “strong” sense of control wherein education in general and the everyday meanings of the curriculum in particular were seen as essential to the preservation of the existing social privilege, interests and knowledge of one element of the population at the expense of less powerful groups. Most often this took the form of attempting to guarantee expert and scientific control in society, to eliminate or “socialize” unwanted racial or ethnic groups or characteristics, or to produce an economically efficient group of citizens in order to, as C. C. Peters put it, reduce the maladjustment of workers to their jobs.
Progressive educators generally ignored “weak” socialization to critique implementation of the “strong” elements of class, gender, and racial stratification and the ways in which students are inculcated with specific role behaviors. The very term “socialization” carries a whiff of untoward manipulation and political indoctrination. In an article focused on how political quiescence is taught,

Apple (1971) explicated how not only social studies but the hard sciences are taught in ways that contribute to the political socialization of inactivity and acceptance of the status quo. However, given recent developments and attacks on the entire enterprise of public education, it behooves progressive educators to reconsider the essentials of “weak” social control and how, the elements that are the basis of civic life can be strengthened. Educators cannot ignore and by default allow right wing politicians to control issues of socialization or to focus on narrowly construed and repressive concepts of family, patriotism, or morality.


The issue that the debate on privatization of public schooling has ignored is precisely “socialization,” defined as the attachment of the person to the social group. This is not the same as citizenship, although there is an overlap. In a democracy the state has a role in ensuring socialization, not to support the state directly, but because the state has a compelling interest in strengthening and reproducing civil society. Civil society is the pre-requisite for a democratic state.

Similarly, socialization is not the same as the inculcation of moral values and ethical standards, although, here too, there is a large degree of overlap. Religious teachings about goodness, virtue, honesty, and the like. are elements of socialization but socialization, pinned as it is to civil society, must be free of sectarianism, dogma, ethnocentricity, and exclusivity. Nor can socialization be simply a form of skills training or reproduction of a division of labor. While clearly people are bound to one another through exchange and dependence on an advanced division of labor, and bound ever more tightly by the socially produced tools and institutions that are our common history, as Durkheim pointed out these relations are insufficient to meld individuals into a just society. The core issue is that civil society is not simply a byproduct of the economic market place, a point that tends to be overlooked in discussions of voucher systems, “business-education partnerships,” or contracting for-profit corporations to manage schools.

Socialization must focus on the practical interaction of persons in society. By its very nature it is experiential, inclusive, integrative, and multicultural. Public schools are a unique social space where persons of vastly different abilities, class backgrounds, race and ethnicity, attitudes, beliefs and values interact. Here they cooperate and conflict, and sometimes learn to get along together, do things, and trust one another. There are no comparable institutions in civil society; if the public schools falter the state takes over and veritable sociological monstrosity looms larger. This is why it is necessary to scrutinize very closely proposals to “reform” public schooling through the introduction of ethnocentric curricula, home schooling, “parental rights,” voucher funding and charter schools — for they harbor the potential to balkanize civil society, and simultaneously to strengthen the state — precisely the opposite effect many of the advocates for these positions intend.

Durkheim ([1925]1961:144-145) identified two general elements of socialization that only public schooling could accomplish: respect for abstract norms, and attachment to the social group. He explained why “home schooling” was insufficient and in fact threatened civil society:

One of the most effective precautions that can be undertaken in this respect is to ensure that children are not trained exclusively under the influence of a single milieu, or still worse, by a single and unique person. This is one of a number of reasons that make education within the family inadequate. The child reared exclusively in his family becomes its creature: he reproduces all its characteristics.

The school is an essential socializing institution because, as more recent sociologists (Parsons, 1959; Coleman, 1987) recognized, the classroom is society. As Durkheim ([1925]1961:149) observed: “… the schoolroom society is much closer to the society of adults than it is to the family. For aside from the fact that it is larger the individuals — teachers and students – who make it up are not brought together by personal feelings or preferences but for altogether general and abstract reasons.” Attachment to the social group was not particularly problematic for Durkheim because he assumed a homogenous image of society, congruent with 19th century France. His real concerns were reducing frictions among social classes and religions. Because America is a diverse nation, attachment to the social group requires schools to be a homogenizing force, reducing deep racial, regional, class, religious, and ethnic differences. James Coleman (1987:177) pointed out two potentially contradictory aspects to our expectations of the socialization function performed by schools:

First, schools have been seen as the society’s instrument to release a child from the blinders imposed by accident of birth into this family or that family. They have been designed to open broad horizons to the child, transcending the limitation of the parents. They have taken children from disparate cultural backwaters into the mainstream of a nation’s culture….
A second orientation to schooling sees school as an extension of the family. It is an aid to the family, by reinforcing its values. The school is in loco parentis, vested with the authority of the parent to carry out the parent’s will. The school is, in this orientation, an efficient means for transmitting the culture of the community from the older generation to the younger.

Coleman (1987) went on to explain that these different expectations for the socialization functions of school are not in conflict when the values of family and community are congruent with the values of the state. However, in complex and diverse nations, like the United States, attachment to the social group is not only problematic, it has become a source of bitter political and social struggle. To what group(s) should the child be attached? How should schools reconcile local versus cosmopolitan demands for socialization? And, bringing us back to the veritable sociological monstrosity: What shall stand between the individual and the state?

The Downsizing of America:

In the past, much of the public discourse on moral issues took place in public spaces where people could find common ground, forge consensus, or agree to disagree. One of the most important of these spaces was public schools. In the early part of the century the moral consensus hidden in the curriculum was neither easily won nor universal. It excluded persons of African descent, American Indians, Chicanos, and other racial communities against whom both organized and ad hoc racist violence was regularly committed. Women were similarly excluded and their concerns were relegated to the sidelines. Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians were invisible. The belief system, as codified in text books and the curriculum at large, placed white, Christian, American males at the crown of creation and defined poverty as moral failing. With respect to difference, the hidden curriculum was based on the assimilation and acculturation model called “Americanization” (Gordon, 1961).

Despite those shortcomings, during the 20th century a common discourse emerged and flourished in the public schools. The common ground, which the right derides as “secular humanism,” included such things as: tolerance and respect for all religions and creeds, and a refusal to place any one of them in a superior position; an ongoing search for moral and ethical common denominators; a celebration of reason and intellect as a path away from superstition and myth; a belief in the necessity of expanding the democratic process to include and welcome the excluded. It also included the whole complex of values associated with democratic capitalism: individualism and belief in achieved status; competition and cooperation in the mix called “fair play;” the equality of rights and responsibilities in citizenship; separation of public and private spheres; belief in growth, progress, technology and the perfectability of humankind; and so on.

In the waning days of the 20th century, powerful centrifugal forces are sundering the century-long consensus about the socialization goals of public education. As a thoughtful contributor to the EDPOLYAN discussion wrote:

There simply are, at the present time, many beliefs that cannot be held while their opposites are somehow also held to be tolerable or reasonable. Asking for tolerance IS asking people to give up those kinds of beliefs. Multicultural tolerance is itself a social philosophy, not an obvious and accepted, objectively higher-order philosophy that somehow easily overrides all other philosophies, even if it is right. Having a cohesive society even when it is not particularly multicultural is not easy; and preaching tolerance or just having all the schools be government run is, I would guess, probably not going to be that much of a help (Garlikov, 1995)

While the situation of incompatible moral positions is not a new one, there are a number of reasons for this becoming an important part of our educational discussion at this historical juncture. Four structural trends seem especially pertinent in understanding the moral demands to end government run schools:

➔ Capitalism in the first world is out-sourcing industrial production to the third world and transforming itself to a management, information and service economy, increasingly squeezing out the semi-skilled middle class jobs that were the backbone of post-war prosperity;
➔ Multi-national corporations and global markets are reducing the role and perhaps power of the nation state;
➔ The population is aging, family size is decreasing, and nearly a quarter of the children in America live below the poverty level;
➔ The end of racial quotas has allowed large numbers of immigrants to enter from Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean. In nearly every big city the school system is less than 50% White.

These shifts have dramatically changed demands on educational attainment, the content of the hidden curriculum, and perhaps the nature of the state, society, community, and family. Apple and King (1977 35, 36), drawing on the work of Elizabeth Vallance (1973-74), described how in the 19th century socialization came to be hidden as a consequence of the demands of industrialization:

…the underlying reasons for reform in a modern industrial society slowly changed from active concern for valuative consensus to a recognized need for economic functionalism…. The valuative consensus became the deep structure, the first hidden curriculum, which encased the normative economic one. Once the hidden curriculum became hidden, when a uniform and standardized learning context became established and when social selection and control were taken as given in schooling, only then could attention be paid to the needs of the individual or other more “ethereal” concerns.

What was once hidden has been revealed. A century of economic and technological change starkly revealed the inadequacies of bureaucratic and assembly line organizational paradigms. The civil rights and women’s movements, and the analyses of social scientists and educators, discredited or threw into question much of the normative economic rational, and now the valuative consensus itself is coming under attack. Religious, ethnic, racial, social class and political factions are demanding incompatible revisions to the hidden curriculum and socialization practices. The old hidden curriculum reproduced civil society by socializing the individual in three ways: through the inculcation of duty, specifically patriotism and industrial discipline; through legitimation of unequal outcomes; and through the reinforcement of intermediate forms of social life. In the glare of the sharp light of day that curriculum looks to be tattered and threadbare. In the service and information economy, discipline designed to (re)produce capitalists, foremen and docile assembly line workers, and the homogeneous citizens of mass society, no longer appears appropriate. The world economy and an increasingly diverse population raise issues about homogenization as value consensus. And various “breakdowns” — of the family, of community, of morality, have again raised “weak socialization” as an important agenda item.


Today the bonds of civil society seem to function not just inequitably, but poorly overall. Their breakdown can be measured not only in our propensity to “bowl alone,” but ominously in the increasing reliance on state repression, the rapid growth of prisons, and the need to use force against minority groups, youth, armed sects and cults, etc. The rationality that the economist argument for privatization of schools ignores is precisely “socialization” defined as the attachment of the person to a common social group. The vital latent function of public school has been the creation and strengthening of non-sectarian intermediate groups that stand between the individual and the state. As James Coleman (1978:180) wrote: “…schools are not merely for children, regarded as individuals whose interests and goals can be assumed. Schools are for families, for communities, for cultural groups, for societies, for religious groups, for local governments, and for central governments.”

Despite the undeniable segregation of public education on the basis of race and social class, and failures caused by sex role and gender stereotypes, common schools brought together diverse and disparate elements of American society in a public space dedicated in part to discussion. Students and teachers were drawn from heterogeneous communities with a wide variety of values not only about education but about also politics, the good life, religion, work, play, family structure, and the like. Public school was one of the most important institutions standing between the individual and the state. Moreover, schools created additional intermediate organizations: local school boards, the PTA, bands, sports teams, theater groups, alumni associations, and myriad informal friendship groups that flourished to meld disparate individuals and communities into precisely the kind of groups that Durkheim recognized as the building blocks of civil society. Because schools were not based on shared values, they allowed us to share values.

Privatization schemes will change the basis for participation in schooling from “functional communities” to “value communities.” These terms were employed by James Coleman (1978) to distinguish the traditional situation where school populations were drawn from heterogeneous communities (like a neighborhood) which were constructed not on the basis of shared values or to serve schools, but for other purposes, for instance, employment, socio-economic status, racial or ethnic solidarity. Coleman contrasted such functional communities with “value” communities (like a church or synagog) created by people of like mind specifically to share beliefs, attitudes, values, or norms. The political left supports such value communities when pushing for “identity politics” and making appeals for bilingual-bicultural, Afrocentric, Native-American and other forms of ethnocentric schools. From the political right have come similar proposals to (dis)integrate heterogeneous schools and facilitate those based on shared values. These pleas to replace functional communities and public schools with value communities share a common refrain: “We don’t agree; we don’t share your values; we need our own schools.”

The shift from functional communities to value communities, facilitated by charter schools and vouchers, is precisely a shift to intentionally constructed school communities based on a homogeneity of belief that will further weaken and factionalize the wider civil society. Public education organized by value communities will have profound consequences for both civil society and the state, harboring the potential literally to “break society,” to balkanize civil society, thus forcing the state to rely more heavily on repression to prevent conflict between factions. Given our heavily armed populace, this has important implications for the social environments of the future. The world has witnessed what the destruction of civil society has brought to Bosnia, Beirut and Belfast.

School choice in America today will almost certainly include schools that at their very core socialize children against those values I listed as “common ground” and which my colleague Rick Garlikov pointed out were not universally held.5 While privatization might produce large Walmart-type school corporations that sell a middle-of-the-road socialization ideology, resembling the secular humanism of today with perhaps non-denominational prayer, we will simultaneously be subsidizing via tax supported vouchers all the various intolerant factions that our culture produces. Groups ranging from the White Aryan Resistance to the Nation of Islam, from anti-government militias to MOVE, will find ways to access the revenue stream from vouchers allowing them to set-up schools that socialize separatist norms.6 Perhaps these should be spoken of as unanticipated consequences based on a failure to understand the latent socialization function of public schooling. Perhaps, as Gintis (1994,1995) advocates, progressive educators should push strongly for the creation of a large powerful federal bureaucracy to control, monitor, set standards, and regulate the effects of privatization. But perhaps we should recognize that something else entirely is happening.
Educational balkanization and the destruction of the public space of schools may signal the weakening of the federal state. Since the end of World War II, no new large states have formed, and the world has witnessed the breakup of empires, not only of the losers: Japan and Germany, but also of the winners: Britain and France. The end of the cold war similarly produced the demise of Czechoslovakia, the USSR and Yugoslavia, and it seems likely China will share a similar fate. Moreover, even seemingly stable states like Canada stand on the brink of dissolution, suggesting that the world may be witnessing a critical historical movement. Attacks on “government schools” and demands for differential socialization based on value consensus may well signal the downsizing, not just of the government but of the nation state. Schools are under tremendous pressure from both ends of the political spectrum to weaken common socialization bonds. At the same time that the national state is weakening, corporations are triumphant. Multi-national corporations are tied more to the global economy than to any nation (In the late 20th century Adam Smith would not have written The Wealth of Nations but the “Wealth of Corporations”). Instead of a “late” stage of capitalism the world is experiencing the adolescence of capitalism, an unfettered international market for all commodities, including labor.

The recent spate of prison construction and growing sentiment to adjudicate juvenile offenders as adults, signals our deep commitment to maintaining the sociological monstrosity of free floating individuals welded together and forced to behave by a powerful state. Would we seek another route, there are two possibilities: One was the solution offered by Durkheim and more recently Amati Etzioni and other “Communitarians” — to strengthen socialization and reproduce on an expanding scale the intermediary forms of civil society. This was the “modern” solution propounded at the birth of industrial capitalism and it held sway for more than a century. Echoes of modernism are still heard from those on the political right who demand common standards from the western canon (Bloom, 1987; Ravitch and Finn, 1987; Hirsch, 1987). The other solution was offered by utopian socialists like Proudhon, Saint Simon and Fourier. Their proposal was to create voluntary communal organizations based on affinity and shared values which would prove so popular that they would usurp the prerogatives of and eventually supplant the distant state. Many recent suggestions for school reform seem likely to take us in this direction.

Some of the ideas expressed here were developed or sharpened through exchanges with colleagues on the EDPOLYAN (EDucational POlicy Analysis) internet bulletin list moderated by Gene V. Glass. I would like to thank them for their comments and criticisms.

Anyon, J. (1980). Social class and the hidden curriculum of work. Journal of Education 162, 67-92.

Apple, M. W. (1971). The hidden curriculum and the nature of conflict. Interchange 2, 27-40.

Apple, M. W. and King, N.P. (1977). What do schools teach?” in R. H. Weller (Ed) Humanistic education (pp. 29-63). Berkeley, California: McCutchan Publishing Company.

Areen, J. and Jencks, C. (1972). Education vouchers: A proposal for diversity and choice in G. R. La Noue (Ed.) Educational vouchers: Concepts and controversies (pp 50-57). New York: Teachers College Press

Berliner, D. C. and Biddle, B.J. (1995). The manufactured crisis: Myths, fraud, and the attack on America’s public schools. Reading, MA: Addison Wesley

Berliner, D. C. (1996). Educational psychology meets the Christian right: Differing views of children, schooling, teaching, and learning. E.L. Thorndike Award Address. Division 15, The Division of Educational Psychology, American Psychological Association. In Press, Teachers College Record, Spring 1997.

Bowles, S. and Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: Education reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York: Basic Books.

Bloom, A. (1987). The closing of the American mind: How higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Chubb, J. E. & Moe, T. M. (1990). Politics, markets and America’s schools. Washington D.C.: The Brookings Institution.

Chubb, J. E. & Moe, T. M. (1992). Educational choice: Why it is needed and how it will work.” In C. E. Finn, Jr. & T. Rebarber (Eds.), Education Reform in the 90’s (p. 36-52) New York: Macmillan.

Coleman, J. S. (1978). Relations between schools and social structure. M. T. Hallinan (ed.) The Social Organization of Schools, (pp. 177-204). New York: Plenum.

Cotter, Cindy December 4, 1996 Comments on the EDPOLYAN Discussion List.

Durkheim, E. [1893] 1933. The division of labor in society. George Simpson (Tr.). New York: The Free Press.

Durkheim, E. [1897] 1951. Suicide. John A. Spaulding and George Simpson (Trs.). New York: The Free Press.

Durkheim, E.. [1925] 1961. Moral education. Everett K. Wilson and Herman Schnurer (Trs.). New York: The Free Press

Friedman, M. (1962). Capitalism and freedom 1st ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Fuller, B., Elmore, R.F., and Orfield, G. (1996). Policy-making in the dark: Illuminating the school choice debate” in B. Fuller, R.F.. Elmore, and G. Orfield, (Eds.) Who chooses? Who loses?: Culture, institutions, and the unequal effects of school choice (pp. 1-21). New York: Teachers College Press.

Gaddy, B.B., Hall, T.W., & Marzano R.J. (1996). School wars. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Garlikov, Rick September 16, 1996 Comments on the EDPOLYAN Discussion List.

Gintis, H. (1995). The political economy of school choice. Teachers college record 96, 462-511.

Glass, G. V. (ed.)(1994). School choice: A discussion with Herbert Gintis.” Education policy analysis archives 2 No 6 (February 20), http://olam.ed.asu.edu.epaa/v2n6.html

Gordon, M. M. (1961). Assimilation in America: Theory and reality,” Daedalus, 90,

Hirsch, E. D. (1987). Cultural literacy: What every American needs to know. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Hlebowitsh, P. S. (1995). Can we find the traditional American school in the idea of choice? NASSP Bulletin, 79, 1-11.

Jackson, P. W. 1968. The daily grind. in P. W. Jackson Life in classrooms (pp. 33-37). New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston.

Manning, K. and Miller, L. (1995) Vouchers for schools still needed. (September 24) The Arizona Republic.

Parsons, T. (1959). The school class as a social system: Some of its functions in American society. Harvard Educational Review XXIX, 297-318.

Putnam, R. D. (1996). The strange disappearance of civic America. The American Prospect 24 np. [http://epn.org/prospect/24/24putn.html]).

Ravitch, D. and Finn, C. (1987) What do our 17-year olds know? New York Harper and Row.

Raywid, M. A. (1987) Public choice, yes: Vouchers, no! Phi Delta Kappan, 68, 762-769.

Raywid, M. A.. (1989) The case for public schools of choice. Bloomington, Ind: Phi Delta Kappan Educational Foundation.

Shor, I. (1986) Culture wars: School and society in the conservative reaction Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

U.S. District Court E.D. Louisiana August 26, 1967 “Poindexter v. Louisiana Financial Assistance Commission” in G. R. La Noue (ed.) Educational vouchers: Concepts and controversies (pp 30-45). New York: Teachers College Press

Vallance, E. (1973-74). Hiding the hidden curriculum. Curriculum Theory Network 15.

Walthers, K. 1995. “Saying yes to vouchers: Perception, choice, and the educational response” NAASP Bulletin 79, 52-61.


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Shooting Down

“Rich people do drugs, too. But they don’t often end up on the streets or in the methadone clinics where journalists almost always go to tell the story of the opioid epidemic. This is a public health crisis that is affecting all classes of Americans, but the poor are often the only ones seen suffering.”

— The sociologist adds that poor people are the only ones “surveyed” and the only ones subjected to the ethnographer’s gaze. When I worked in San Fran in the 80’s we offered $15.00 to injection drug users to take a 23 page administered survey about their demographics, number of children, and all their sex and drug habits. People lined up in The Mission and the Western Addition to take the survey. Sometimes they made up false names and changed location to take it again. 15 bucks was roughly the price of a “fix”. Needless to say there were no rock musicians in the line.

Photography of drug users is just the tip of the problem of representation. “Shooting down” is predominant for poor people, beggars, refugees, immigrants, street kids, and all the rest of humanity unable to withstand the cyclops gaze of the camera. We buy coffee table books depicting the wretched of the earth by master photographers from Lewis Hine to Sabastiao Salgado. Photographs like the drowned child on a Greek beech go viral. At holiday time we are actually deluged with images intended to get us to give charity to sometimes dubious organizations.

In books like “Shooting Down” and films like “Born into Brothels” photographers have given children cameras to make pictures in places the outsider photographer would not have been welcomed or allowed.

These images sensationalize, horrify, titillate — rarely to the spur action. We may “share” them on FB. At Christmas we may give a few bucks to “save the children.” But instead of leading to social change they pacify. Sontag was right in “regarding the pain of others” that we quickly become inured to horror — from the starving wraiths of Buchenwald to the daily genocide in Gaza.  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/31/opinion/photography-exploitation-opioid.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fopinion&action=click&contentCollection=opinion&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=7&pgtype=sectionfront

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“The whole concept of alienation found its first expression in Western thought in the Old Testament concept of idolatry. The essence of what the prophets call “idolatry” is not that man worships many gods instead of only one. It is that the idols are the work of man’s own hands — they are things, and man bows down and worships things; worships that which he has created himself. In doing so he transforms himself into a thing. He transfers to the things of his creation the attributes of his own life, and instead of experiencing himself as the creating person, he is in touch with himself only by the worship of the idol. He has become estranged from his own life forces, from the wealth of his own potentialties, and is in touch with himself only in the indirect way of submission to life frozen in the idols.” Marx’s Concept of Man. Erich Fromm 1961

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