Radical Democratic Education is “as American as Apple Pie”

I have now published a book titled Segregated Schools: Educational Apartheid in Post Civil Rights America (Routledge, 2005). Here is a link at

Here is part of the write up on the back cover: “With an eye to the historical development of segregated education, Street examines the current state of school funding, disparities in teacher quality, student-teacher ratios and more. Critical of ‘No Child Left Behind’ and school vouchers’ initiatives, Street proposes no easy answers for creating equal educational opportunities for every American child. Instead, he offers theoretical concepts and practical solutions for fulfilling the promise of integrated schools and equitable schools for all.”

I might have added that the book is very much about the limits of what schools (whatever their internal quality) can do within a broader framework of savage societal race and class inequity and that its discussion of school failures is unusually focused on questions of pedagogy and curriculum, not just funding and facilities.

Here is a passage from the conclusion, coming right after I’ve discussed the hopelessness and fragmented privatism that American schools and the broader corporate-crafted “popular culture” tend to inculcate among American youth:

p. 189: The vital task of countering these and other powerful reactionary messages [of hopelessness and privatism] is, among other things, pedagogical work. It involves telling students openly and honestly about the harsh facts of social, including educational, hiearchy in modern America. It also calls for educators to help students develop critical framework in which to comprehend and propose democratic and egalitarian alternatives to the ‘savage inequalities’ that distort American “life.” It requires a vision of a just and democratic future and a realistic belief that desirable alternatives to the current dispensation can be be constructed and sustained. Diametrically opposed to the current craze for authoritarian “drill and grill” instruction, it calls for something that is very much within the sphere of schools’ capacity – the development of a “pedagogy of hope” (Paul Freire), democracy, equality, liberation and the abandonment of the current dominant pedagogy of oppression, inequality, hiearchy, and fatalism…

……Promising something more radical and inspiring than a basic education that is merely adequate for the competent docile and passive execution of servile tasks at or near the bottom of the authoritarian corporate state, it would be about what the great American educational philosopher John Dewey considered the highest true purpose of liberal education: “the production” not of commodities but “of free human beings.” Believing that that workers should be the “masters of their industrial fate” and not simply the hired tools of their more “highly educated” class superiors, Dewey considered it “illiberal” and “immoral” to train children to work “not freely and intelligently but for the wage earned…”

…….It is a sorry testament to the power of authoritarian nationalism in post-civil-rights America that calling for such libertarian values in U.S. classrooms “sounds,” in Noam Chomsky’s words, “exotic and extreme, perhaps even anti-American.” As Chomsky noted eleven years ago in Chicago, the notion that education ought to be public and about radical, many-sided democracy is “as American as applie pie” and firmly rooted in the classic liberal Enlightenment ideals in whose name this nation was founded.

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