The Crisis in American Education (excerpts)

Associated School: 
  • 10 July 2011

The following is from the book, The Crisis in American Education published by the Sudbury Valley School Press.  To purchase the book, please visit their website at:

Part 1: Where we Stand Today

Chapter 1: The Problem

The educational institutions of this country are being challenged on every side with an intensity unparalleled in history.

There have been attacks before, by isolated individuals or groups. But the schools have always enjoyed the solid support of the great masses of people whom they served.

Today, the onslaught takes place on broad fronts, and the mass support is no longer evident.

A year ago many could still say the problems are elsewhere but not here. Now only those who choose not to see are still complacent. The mood has changed from "It can't happen here" to "How soon?"

Let us look at just a few examples of danger points in the school set-up.

The central purpose of our schools is to provide students with an education. For generations, the vast majority of students were satisfied clients of the system, accepting the services performed for them, and giving in return a fair degree of effort and obedience. Most educational reforms came not as a result of student protest, but as a result of the work of devoted teachers and administrators, who sought to improve even further an already excellent product.

What a far cry from the situation today. Now, students of all ages, in all schools -- public, parochial, and private; inner-city, suburban, and country; primary, secondary, and higher -- are in a turmoil of protest and rebellion.

Students find their studies irrelevant, their teachers arbitrary, and their work excessive. Regardless of the number and kind of curriculum reforms introduced, at great expense, every year, academic performance shows no significant improvement.

At worst, students hate their schools, and vent their hatred in tens of millions of dollars of active vandalism every year. At best, they are apathetic. Walk into the finest modern school building, and you will find littered rooms, carved desks, filthy lavatories, and violated walls that we are accustomed to expect of old buildings. Examine the educational resources of most recent acquisition, and you will find torn books, theft-ridden libraries, scratched records, smashed audio-visual machines, and ravaged equipment.

Students resent -- even hate -- their teachers, not so much as people, but as wielders of arbitrary and unchallengeable authority. They hate their administrators for the absolute power these people are allowed to exercise.

They hate themselves, and engage in a breathtaking frenzy of self-destructive activity: poor work, irresponsible behavior, petty -- and later, not so pretty -- delinquency, drugs, to blow their minds and "trip out" to a never-never land of lethargy, dissociation, and insanity.

Adults try to hide from the realities, try to find reassurance in statistics, in promises, in confessions; but the truth, known to most adults and all students, is that the student world of schools at all levels has become a nightmare of resentment, hatred, and rebellion.

The mainstay of the schools has been the teachers who, in their hundreds of thousands, have been society's agents for transmitting its culture from one generation to the next. The job had in itself great rewards, greatest of which was the knowledge each teacher had of his role in serving society by training its youth. And there were other compensations -- community respect, job security, and fair, if not lavish, pay.

How far from this is the teacher's position today! He finds his clients, the students, no longer accepting his product, and he finds that he himself is dissatisfied with the material he is called upon to teach. And, when he tries to change the material, he comes face to face with the realization that he is virtually powerless to affect the contents of the curriculum he is called upon to present. Though he has been trained for years in schools of higher learning, though he has often continued his studies beyond his degree, though he is fully aware of the currents and trends sweeping the community in which he lives as a citizen, he is almost totally without say as to what he may do in his own classroom.

He finds himself given little responsibility, and rarely held to account for successes or failures. His colleagues come and go with an alarming turnover rate. His work is drab and routine. And, like so many others in the same sort of deteriorating position, he seeks salvation in ever shorter working hours, ever higher pay, ever greater material benefits -- but without changing his basic situation in the least. And he brings on himself the added onus of community resentment against the escalating demands, resulting in escalating taxes on an already overtaxed citizenry.

The traditional leadership of the educational community has been the central school administration, in all types of schools at all levels. Their plight today has become almost legendary. Not long ago, it was common to find university presidents who were serving their second or third decades in their posts; department chairmen who were hiring the children of their earliest staff members; school superintendents who had presided over the education of their replacements. Today, administrative turnover is surprisingly rapid, and replacements are ever harder to find. A top job has a life-expectancy of a few years at most, and its occupants leave as bitter and spent men.

Administrators bear the brunt of all the discontents, and add a full measure of their own resentments. Though possessors of vast domains of control, they can rarely exercise their best judgment unhampered. They are burdened with formal powers, but they have little influence on the course of events from day to day.

They are lonely people, beset by enmity and hostility.

The basic backing for the schools, public and private alike, has come from the community at large, from the citizens whose children attend the schools, and whose moneys pay for the schools.

As long as community support was forthcoming, the schools could withstand any disaffections coming from within or without. And nowhere is the plight of our schools more evident than in the area of community support.

For generations, the overwhelming majority of citizens were basically satisfied with what the schools were doing. Of course, there were often complaints, but these came from the outer fringes, from minorities, from political extremists.

Today, community support is a thing of the past. Whatever the issue, the public is ferocious in its division over the schools, and hardly a person is satisfied with what is being done: harder discipline vs. permissiveness; adult authority vs. student demands; integration vs. segregation; busing vs. community schools; sex education at school vs. sex education at home; school prayers vs. separation of church and school; escalating costs vs. holding the line; censorship vs. unfettered expression -- and the list of issues seems endless, the depth and intensity of division seems immeasurable, and the ability of schools to maintain any sort of public support seems seriously in question.

We have glanced at only a few areas in which the schools are presently engaged in a struggle for existence. There is a real question, desperately serious, as to whether our educational institutions can survive at all into the next decade.

What is noteworthy -- and this cannot be sufficiently stressed -- is the broad scope of the challenge to the schools. We are not talking about a few sniping attacks here and there. We are talking about attacks from people of all ages, in all positions relative to the school, of all political affiliations, of all economic and social strata -- all of them deeply disaffected with an educational system that is about to come apart at the seams.

The present threat to our schools is as broadly based as the support for these same schools once was.

There is a reason for the present evil, just as there was a reason for the past good.

The support of the schools in the past was based on the many successful services they rendered to the public. We will have occasion to go into more details later in the book.

The present widespread failure of our schools is due to the simple fact that they are wholly out of harmony with this country's way of life. They no longer can represent the culture that they serve.

The educational system in this country today is the most un-American institution we have in our midst. That is why it must change, root and branch, to survive and regain its support.

Chapter 2: The American Dream

There are three root ideas underlying the ethical, political, and social structure of the United States. Each of these three, taken alone, has a long history in other cultures, and occasionally two of them have appeared together. America has been unique, until recently, in combining all three into that particular mix that gives our country its special character.

These three ideas serve as guiding principles for the nation as a whole. They are, in a sense, over-arching ideals towards which we strive. There is no denying that the American people have, at different times of their history, and at different places on their far-flung continent, fallen short of converting these ideas into practical reality; but the ideas nevertheless remain, clear and sharp, as our basic underpinning, and our failures to live by them have always filled us with guilt.

The first of these is the idea of Individual Rights: every person is endowed with certain "inalienable rights," rights that belong to him as his own, as his inherent possession -- not granted as a gift by some benevolent ruler, not given as a privilege by an all-powerful state, but belonging to him, without qualification, as his rights. They cannot be removed, or explained away; nor can they be violated by any person, government, or power, as long as law and order prevail.

It is not essential to agree on the source of these rights. Some people hold that they emanate from God. Other people think that they derive from some natural law governing man. Still others think they are rooted in a science of man and society. There are many philosophical theories about the rights of man -- and many people who have no theory whatsoever believe in them intuitively. All agree that sacred individual rights exist, and are essential to our way of life. In fact, we are all aware of how even the ratification of our constitution depended on the subsequent passage of our Bill of Rights as the first ten amendments, where many of the specific rights recognized in this country were spelled out in detail.

It is also not essential to agree on the exact number and nature of these rights. Different people, different communities, and different times have somewhat different lists. For example, the right of privacy is only now gradually coming into its own. By contrast, the right of free speech is high on everyone's list, and has been from the beginning of our history. Of course, in the day to day progress of our lives, it is important to know exactly what rights are recognized. But for the purposes of understanding the basis of our way of life, all we have to do is realize that a set of individual rights belonging to every person does in fact exist.

Many societies exist today where the concept of Individual Rights does not play any role at all. For example, societies in which the State is held to be the highest good -- such as the Soviet Union -- do not recognize any limitations on the power of the State to enter into an individual's life for the presumed good of the State. Historically speaking, the English have long been known as the champions of the idea of personal rights, and Britishers carried this idea with them to their colonies around the globe -- including the thirteen colonies from which the United States was formed.

There has been much unevenness in the unfolding history of individual rights in this country. Specific rights mentioned and protected by the Federal Constitution, and generally agreed upon by the population at large, were not always recognized by state and local courts. Only after passage of the Fourteenth Amendment were Federal rights gradually extended, through the courts, to all jurisdictions, a process still going on today.

More significantly, there have been several changes in the meaning of the word "person," to whom rights belong. Not until the time of the Civil War, after the elimination of slavery, were blacks considered "persons" who had all the rights belonging to their former masters. And not until the early part of the twentieth century was the concept of personal rights extended to fully half the adult population -- the female half! We often like to forget how recently these extensions of rights have taken place; it is embarrassing to think that when this century dawned on our nation, three-quarters of us were disenfranchised and devoid of rights.

How much more embarrassing to realize that even now, the concept of Individual Rights does not extend to a huge fraction of our population -- namely, to children. At varying ages before twenty-one, a few rights are dribbled here and there at children, but only at age twenty-one are people fully persons before the law.

We still have a way to go before this universally recognized root idea of American civilization is universally applied. But there is no denying that the concept of Individual Rights has always been a cornerstone of our culture, and that its very history of gradual extension has been due to its daily presence in our national consciousness.

The second root idea is Political Democracy: all decisions governing the community are decided by the community in a politically democratic way. The first root idea, of Individual Rights, covers those actions in a person's life that primarily affect himself, and for which he is individually responsible. The second root idea, of Political Democracy, covers those actions that primarily affect other people, and for which the community is responsible. There is no sharp dividing line; there never are sharp dividing lines in real life. But there are large areas to which each of these ideas applies independently, and these areas are generally agreed upon.

Also, there is no precise definition to the word "community." The general principle is that the people most affected by the action participate in deciding on it. That is the basis for the separation of powers in this country between local, county, state, and Federal government. Matters affecting one town alone are decided by that town; matters affecting a county are decided by that county; and so on up the line. Again, the lines of authority are never clear, and always subject to debate and court action. One of the great questions of this age has been the extent of the Federal government's jurisdiction over affairs that were once considered to be purely local. There is no doubt that the existence of a fast, efficient nationwide communications network -- telephone, telegraph, radio, television, postal service, and transportation system -- has blurred the boundaries that once clearly separated groups of people in the horse-and-buggy days.

Finally, there is no simple meaning to the words "politically democratic decision-making." Basically, they refer to a process where issues are decided by vote, and not by decree. But there are many variations. Voting can be by secret ballot, by voice, by show of hands, or by other means. Decisions can be by majority, plurality, two-thirds, or other proportion. The voters can be the entire eligible population, as in old -- and some present day -- New England Town Meetings, or they can be representatives chosen in some way by the population. None of these variations change the essence of the process, however, which is that of a group vote rather than an arbitrary autocratic issuance of orders.

Political Democracy has a distinguished history. We are taught that Athens of ancient Greece was the birthplace of democracy. There were probably many other earlier instances, but Athens is certainly the first case that is well known and well documented today. Many, many other tribes, cities, states, and countries have since been governed democratically. In modern times, the greatest exponent of political democracy was England, which gradually developed forms and concepts of democratic government over a period of centuries. As in the case of Individual Rights, the English took the root concept of Political Democracy with them all over the world, to all their colonies, including the thirteen American colonies from which our country was fashioned.

Although Individual Rights and Political Democracy developed together in England, it is worth remembering that the two are not inseparable, and they often don't go hand in hand. In fact, democracy without the protection of individual rights is so distasteful to us that we often refer to it in derogatory terms, such as "mob rule." Athens is a case in point: the majority could decide anything it wanted to, at any time, governing any citizen, and that was that. The same thing happened in the days of the French Revolution, when many a person went to the guillotine at the instant wish of a majority, without being able to exercise even a semblance of the rights that we all possess here today.

By the same token, individual rights exist in societies where democracy has never set foot. Indeed, in England rights were established well before meaningful democratic procedures had been adopted -- rights that protected the citizenry from the arbitrary rule of kings and princes.

The root idea of Political Democracy has not always been honored in practice. We have had, and still have, many instances of corrupt government, of boss rule, of privilege and favoritism. But the forms and ideas of democratic government are everywhere, and an aware, sensitive populace has always been able to restore honesty and pure government when it chose to do so.

The third root idea is Equal Opportunity: every person has an equal chance to obtain any goal. There is no privilege in America, a phenomenon stressed even in our written Constitution. People are born equal, and they start out with equal chances in life.

Present-day realities fall far short of realizing this idea, but that should not blind us to the existence of the idea and to the immense role it has always played in our history. The personal histories of our presidents and our other top leaders is testimony to this, as is the Horatio Alger phenomenon in our popular literature.

We have always striven for equal opportunity for all people, and some of our greatest internal conflicts have occurred around this theme: the Civil War, the battles fought by successive waves of immigrants, the repeated struggles of minority groups. These conflicts could take place only because the deprived groups could wave the universally recognized banner of Equal Opportunity. The final outcome was always a foregone conclusion: privilege had to yield, because privilege had no basis for survival in this country.

Equal Opportunity does not, of course, mean an equal outcome for everybody. That is what differentiates the traditional American approach from the various Socialist approaches to society. We have insisted on giving everyone the same place in the starting line, and then having them run where and how they wished; we have not insisted on making everyone run together in step.

It might be worth noting that England was not a pioneer of Equal Opportunity, and that has been the key difference between the English experience and the American experience. England gloried in privilege, and the vestiges of privilege can still be found there on all sides. America was, by contrast, a beacon-light of Equal Opportunity to the whole world from its earliest history. Here, people from every country and every walk of life could dream of making a fresh start, with the same odds as everyone else. This dream populated our country through various waves of immigration. Now that unlimited immigration has stopped, the idea of Equal Opportunity remains to govern each person's fate at birth, at the start of his life-struggle, and at every instance when he chooses to make a move to other places and other pursuits.

Individual Rights, Political Democracy, and Equal Opportunity -- these are the three root ideas of the American way of life. Our country has pioneered in their development individually and, especially, together. Take any one of them away, and you are in another country, another tradition, another culture. And we shall stand or fall on our ability to continue to give meaning to all three ideas in our unfolding history.

It is impossible to exaggerate the depth of our commitment to these ideas. We are fanatics about them, and we insist on universal adherence to them. No government or authority could get to first base trying to strip us of our Individual Rights; each and every citizen guards these rights with jealousy and passion. No government or authority could impose itself as a monarchy or dictatorship -- indeed, we would not even allow the citizens of a city or state to freely vote that a person should be king or dictator. No government or authority could impose privilege by law, and none can long survive the imposition of privilege by corrupt deed.

These three root ideas are inseparable from each other, and from our country's fate. They are the American Dream. To the extent that they are practiced, the American Dream becomes the American Reality.

Chapter 3: Our Un-American Schools

One would think that our schools would be the most persistent and vigorous expounders of the American Dream.

After all, what is the ultimate goal of education, if not to prepare the nation's youth for a lifetime of responsible, mature citizenship? And who is charged with implementing this goal, if not the nation's schools?

How tragic, then, how ominous for our future, that our educational system is the most un-American institution in this country today.

Students in our schools, from pre-nursery to postgraduate levels, have virtually no Individual Rights. They are at the arbitrary mercy of teachers, staff, and administrators in everything they do at school. This fact has become so blatant that, recently, the courts have begun to intervene in schools on behalf of students, for the first time in our history.

A student has no right of free speech, no right of dissent, no right of peaceful assembly, no right to confront his accuser, no right of privacy. The list can be extended to cover any and all of the traditional rights.

During the entire formative period of his growth, a youth is committed by law -- and, after age sixteen, by economic and social pressure -- to serve time in educational institutions which, like prisons, simply do not recognize the existence of individual rights. In the case of prisons, dealing with criminals and lawbreakers, one can certainly argue the merits of this situation one way or another. In the case of schools, one can only wonder at the "logic" which has led to this situation.

Does anyone really think that the way to prepare a person for the responsible exercise and jealous guardianship of his rights is to raise him in an environment devoid of these rights? Would we for a moment do this in any other area? Would we expect a person to become literate in an environment devoid of the printed word? Would we expect someone to learn how to talk on a deserted island?

But by far the most serious deprivation of rights occurs with the one absolute, inviolate right that we all have, and that never can be challenged even in the severest emergency: the right to think what we please -- the right of freedom of thought.

There are situations where other rights may be suspended. In times of national upheaval, the right of habeas corpus is suspended. In a crowded theater, the Supreme Court has held that the right of free speech is limited, and that a person cannot get up and shout "fire!".

There is no situation, however critical, when we permit the suspension or limitation of a person's inviolate right to think what he pleases, to do with his mind what he wishes. We look with abhorrence on states that allow or encourage thought control; we use such epithets as "brain-washing" to describe this process. We are aghast at stories of the mass indoctrination of the Chinese people with the thoughts of Mao, or tales of intensive training sessions of Soviet youth in the doctrines of Marx and Lenin.

Yet, we allow all our schools to determine, unchecked, what our children should do with their minds. We allow teachers, curriculum committees, administrators, and other school officials to set out what every student must know; we allow them to institute an elaborate system of pressures and threats and sanctions that forces every student to learn what has been prescribed; and we allow them to put into effect a system of tests, reports, and evaluations that constantly monitors their minds and informs on their thoughts.

In short, we allow our schools to take liberties with students that we would never, never under any circumstances, allow any institution to take with us as adults. We would rise up as one man against any attempt to force us to think or learn anything we had not chosen to learn of our own free will.

Students are not the only ones deprived of rights in the educational system. Teachers too must sacrifice most of their rights when they cross the threshold into the school building. On the job, teachers must be pliant tools; they must do as instructed, teach what they are told to teach, say what they are permitted to say. This is how we provide our youth with models of adult behavior!

If our youth would be confined to school twenty-four hours a day until graduation, they would never know that the concept of Individual Rights exists, much less that it applies to them. Luckily for our nation's survival till now, the schools occupy only a part of the student's day.

Unluckily for the prospects of our schools' survival, even part of a day is becoming too much time to allow our youth exposure to an institution that does not recognize the existence of Individual Rights for its population.

If Individual Rights are barely known in schools, Political Democracy is even further removed from the realities of school life. In no area of our educational system does decision-making take place according to the tenets of political democracy. In fact, our educational system is the only major institution in the country which officially recognizes Autocratic Hierarchy as its principle of government.

It is not a question of "student government." It is nothing so simple as that. It is, rather, that the schools categorically deny that the people affected by decisions should be the ones making these decisions. this denial applies across the board. Teachers are not involved in decisions about the curriculum they must teach in their classrooms. Students are not involved in decisions about what they learn and how they behave. And in some communities, even parents are not involved in decisions about the schools for their children.

The schools are almost a perfect model of political Autocracy. There is a well-defined hierarchy, a clear chain of command. Each level has almost unlimited control over the next level below, the student being at the bottom of the heap. There is no regular means of appeal, only the hope of moving someone higher-up by playing on his good will. Rules and regulations are promulgated without the necessity for debate or consent.

One predictable result of this set-up has already been mentioned: the system is permeated with resentment and hatred, and at every level enormous energies are spent breaking or subverting the rules. The architects of our educational system apparently forgot one of the great benefits of Political Democracy: laws created through the consent of those to whom they apply -- government by the consent of the governed -- gain a respect and a level of observance that no other system of laws can approach, not even one backed up by massive terror. The law you have helped to make is not one you will readily break.

The absence of Equal Opportunity in our schools is well known in some areas, but hardly appreciated in other areas that are far more significant.

It is, for example, well known that the way our present schools are set up often leaves students belonging to a particular race, or a particular economic class, or particular geographic location, at a terrible disadvantage relative to other students from the beginning. These failures are at the focus of many efforts at educational reform today, as well they should be. It will not be long before the pressure of the idea of Equal Opportunity will force such practiced inequities to be abandoned and replaced by a truer realization of the idea.

But there are other, hidden, more sinister areas where the idea of Equal Opportunity is flouted, to everyone's detriment, and most people don't even realize what is happening.

For example, multiple-track programs deprive students once and for all of an equal shot at every target. What vocational student can expect to get into Harvard?

Another example is the ever-expanding area of "Guidance," which threatens to deny Equal Opportunity more and more as time goes on. In fact, it is the avowed aim of good guidance programs to find out at an ever-earlier age, on the basis of tests, interviews, and background investigations, what course of life is "most suitable" for each student, and to "help" direct each student along the path thus determined. The better and more expensive the guidance program, the closer it wishes to reach this aim. Today it is a regular occurrence in our schools to have a student say he wants to pursue a certain course, and to have his guidance counselors advise him that this would be unwise, and even often prevent him from seeing through his plans. What guidance counselor would have given the poor math student Albert Einstein a chance to major in physics?

Equal Opportunity means that every student expressing a wish to pursue a given course should be given the same chance to try it. A person's life-destiny is his to decide, and the only guidance program consistent with our ideals is one that gives everyone the same chance at everything.

The autocratic, authoritarian school system with which we are burdened is no longer accepted. Shorn of its support, it is threatened with imminent collapse.

The reason the problem has come to a head is that our country can no longer afford to maintain its un-American schools. Neither the people who attend these schools, nor those who run them, nor those who have so long supported them, can tolerate any longer the contradictions between what the schools stand for and what the country stands for.

Chapter 4: The Solution: A Strategy for Education in America Today

The solution of the problem cannot be found by tinkering with the schools, piece-meal. It is not a question of introducing a new, more "relevant" social studies program; nor of allowing more electives; nor of selecting a student observer to Boards of Trustees or School Committees; nor of setting up grievance committees for teachers; nor of any of the miniscule reforms so hotly debated in the world of education today. Taken all, together, and viewed in perspective, these appear painfully reminiscent of the patchwork proposals tendered by the King's ministers on the eve of the French Revolution, by the Colonial government on the eve of the American Revolution, by the Czarist ministers on the eve of the Russian Revolution -- in short, by men of narrow vision in eras where sweeping changes were altering whole landscapes.

Our situation today is not unlike that of the Founding Fathers of our country. Tinkering with the Articles of Confederation of the Thirteen States no longer sufficed. The problem was vast, and the solution could only be found by going back to first principles, to root ideas, and constructing a bold new solution from scratch.

For the Founding Fathers, the solution was to write a new Constitution. Two hundred years of history have shown their work to have been well done.

For us today, the solution is to create a new educational system. Our challenge is to do the job so well that the next two hundred years will show our work, too, to have been well done.

We must create an educational system worthy of the American nation, based on the three root ideas of the American Dream.

Our schools must guarantee everyone in them, by right and not by privilege, all the Individual Rights belonging to adult citizens in the community at large. This guarantee must be unconditional, and must carry its safeguards with it.

Respect for individual rights must be as natural to people in schools as it is to people outside them. This means that each student, teacher, and administrator not only must have and protect his own rights, but also must guard and protect the rights of every other student, teacher, and administrator in the system.

The practical consequences readily come to mind, and are easy to envision in detail. Respect for law and order, a firm and fair system of justice, freedom of speech and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly -- these and much else immediately take their place on the school scene.

The right of privacy is extended to all people of all ages. A six-year-old's private affairs are as much protected from unwanted outside intrusion as a sixty-year-old's. A student's desk is his castle as much as is his father's home.

Above all, the right to use one's mind as one pleases prevails absolutely, without qualification. It becomes as abhorrent to force, or seduce, or cajole a child to think or learn what you want him to, as it is abhorrent to force, or seduce, or cajole an adult to think or learn what you want him to.

School becomes a place where students freely do what they wish with their minds, where students freely choose what they wish to learn, or whether they wish to learn, and how, and when, and from whom, and by what means. School becomes a place where teachers freely offer what they have to teach, to whomever wishes to purchase their wares. School becomes a place where administrators freely offer their services in organizing and maintaining institutions to whomever asks for and requires these services.

School becomes a free marketplace of ideas, a free enterprise system of talents.

Our schools must also guarantee everyone associated with them a fair and equitable voice in determining, through politically democratic means, the way in which he will be governed.

There are many ways this can be done -- but none of the legitimate ways allows for the exercise of arbitrary authority in any facet of school life.

The people providing financial backing for the school, whether through voluntary tuition payments or donations or taxation, must share in determining how the funds will be spent. "No taxation without representation," our age-old cry, must be honored in schools as well as elsewhere.

The people actually constituting the school community -- teachers, staff, administrators, and students -- must share in determining the rules by which the school community will be governed, and must share also in the responsibility for enforcing these rules fairly. "One man, one vote" must prevail in the schools as well as elsewhere.

Political Democracy should be as natural in the schools as it is in the country.

Our schools must guarantee everyone in them an Equal Opportunity to realize his goals in life.

No one should have the power to stand in the way of any student's life goal, providing only that the goal is within the law. What is legitimate for one person to dare, must be legitimate and available for everyone to dare.

No fair pursuit or subject should be preferred over another. Money, time, effort, and interest available to any study or any student should be equally available to all. Available, but of course not necessarily given. Equality of opportunity, but not necessarily equality of distribution. Ability, need, persistence, merit -- all enter into the ultimate distribution of a pie originally round, originally accessible to all.

We should not be disheartened at the apparent magnitude of the task. The radical restructuring of our educational institutions is not beyond our means, nor beyond our intellectual abilities, nor beyond our organizational skills -- not if we have the will to see it through.

Many factors can help us do the job. Most important, the root ideas underlying this reformation are well known to us, thanks to our country's long and stable history. Many of the practical details flow naturally from these root ideas. We have the means of communication available to enable us all to help each other constantly, and to advise each other in times of need or stress. We have the organizational skills to effect rapid administrative changes on a large scale, as we have repeatedly demonstrated on a national scale in business, public welfare, defense, and technology. We even have a functioning model of such a school, The Sudbury Valley School in Framingham, Massachusetts.

The following chapters will spell out many details: how such educational institutions might look and operate, how they can be formed out of what exists at present, how they can function with the support our present institutions once had.

But these will all be details, readily modifiable in practice. The central thesis remains unaffected by any details: namely, the thesis that for education in America today, the grand strategy must be to make the schools the embodiment of the American Dream for young and old alike -- to make the schools bastions of Individual Rights, Political Democracy, and Equal Opportunity for all people and for all time.

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