The myth of the common school
Glenn, Charles Leslie, Jr
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A study of the history of the idea of State-sponsored popular education to mold common loyalties and values in the interest of national unity. The study finds that this idea has implied rivalry with competing sources of meaning, including traditional religion. This rivalry has taken the form not only of excluding "sectarian" teaching from the common school, but also of seeking to provide its equivalent: a "common faith". In so doing, it has led repeatedly to conflict with parents who do not accept the values and beliefs inculcated by the State and its educationists. The first attempt, by the French Jacobins in 1792, to implement this "common school agenda" in an antireligious form was a failure because of the resistance of parents, but their Dutch allies were more successful implementing common schools saturated with lowest-common-denominator religious and moral teaching. It was Dutch "common school religion" that inspired French and American reformers in the 1830's in the creation of State-sponsored common schools. Implementation of the common school program in Massachusetts encountered resistance from orthodox Protestants as well as Catholics to what they rightly perceived as its religious content, but Protestant leadership closed ranks around the common school when faced by the threat of cultural diversity as a result of Catholic immigration. The final chapter describes the "triumph of the common school" in France and the United States, but its defeat in the Netherlands, where orthodox Protestants and Catholics gained full tax support for confessional schools. The continuing conflict over popular education raises troubling questions in a democracy. How can the pluralism that we claim to value, the liberty that we prize, be reconciled with a "State pedagogy" designed to serve State purposes? Can government somehow assure that every child is educated in the essentials required by the social, political and economic order, without seeking to impose uniformity?
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University