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Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling

Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling

by David F. LabareeDavid F. Labaree
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What do we really want from schools? Only everything, in all its contradictions. Most of all, we want access and opportunity for all children—but all possible advantages for our own. So argues historian David Labaree in this provocative look at the way “this archetype of dysfunction works so well at what we want it to do even as it evades what we explicitly ask it to do.”

Ever since the common school movement of the nineteenth century, mass schooling has been seen as an essential solution to great social problems. Yet as wave after wave of reform movements have shown, schools are extremely difficult to change. Labaree shows how the very organization of the locally controlled, administratively limited school system makes reform difficult.

At the same time, he argues, the choices of educational consumers have always overwhelmed top-down efforts at school reform. Individual families seek to use schools for their own purposes—to pursue social opportunity, if they need it, and to preserve social advantage, if they have it. In principle, we want the best for all children. In practice, we want the best for our own.

Provocative, unflinching, wry, Someone Has to Fail looks at the way that unintended consequences of consumer choices have created an extraordinarily resilient educational system, perpetually expanding, perpetually unequal, constantly being reformed, and never changing much.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674063860
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 04/02/2012
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 312
Sales rank: 478,950
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

David F. Labaree is Professor of Education at Stanford University.

Table of Contents

Introduction 1

1 From Citizens to Consumers 10

2 Founding the American School System 42

3 The Progressive Effort to Reshape the System 80

4 Organizational Resistance to Reform 106

5 Classroom Resistance to Reform 134

6 Failing to Solve Social Problems 163

7 The Limits of School Learning 195

8 Living with the School Syndrome 222

Notes 259

References 269

Acknowledgments 279

Index 283

What People are Saying About This

Jonathan Zimmerman

Why do American schools keep failing? As David Labaree shows, the real question is why we expect them to succeed, given the enormous demands we make of them. Labaree's answers won't please anyone looking for a big quick fix for American education. But they will fascinate anyone who wants to understand our enduring faith in the public schools.
Jonathan Zimmerman, author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory

Customer Reviews