The rhetoric of equality is a staple of American speech; we devoutly abstain, however, from planning the practice of equality. The amazingly rapid expansion of American education in the past fifty years is indeed an occasion for pride: it is better that children be in school. But it is not entirely—or necessarily—a democratic achievement; expansion has been hardly less rapid in undemocratic countries. Even as we survey the gains, we need to note the cunning survival of old, and the unlooked-for development of new, forms of inequality. In general, the survivals result from the lack of perspicacity, energy and system so characteristic of liberal reformers facing a class society, as well as from the eternal resourcefulness of privilege. The novelties are more likely the result of an apprehension of the needs of a mass society and its bureaucratic elite.
For the purposes of our examination, American schools can be roughly divided into those which are, in class terms, integrated and those which are socially “pure.” The grossest inequality is obviously manifest in the latter, in the exclusiveness often enjoyed or endured by both upper and lower class children. That so much of the current debate centers upon th...
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