Over the past twelve years public education has come under an attack that is unique in our national history. For two hundred years there have been many criticisms of public schools, ranging from fundamentalist “back-tobasics” movements to the calls for updating and remaking the curriculum after Sputnik so that we could “keep up with the Russians.” Progressive movements, beginning as early as the 1830s and gaining great influence over the public schools in the first years of the twentieth century and during the Great Depression of the 1930s, called for schools to take leadership in remaking society in an egalitarian and sometimes a socialist mode. The progressives in turn, were criticized by many Marxist educators who felt that public schools necessarily reproduced class relations in capitalist society and were therefore dubious candidates for its transformation.
In the late forties and early fifties a wave of patriotism led to calls for introducing “Americanism” into the public-school curriculum. In the sixties public schools were to be the vehicles of racial integration, and during the seventies there was a movement to have them become models of gender equity as well....
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