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The Diverted DreamCommunity Colleges and the Promise of Educational Opportunity in America, 1900-1985$
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Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel

Print publication date: 1989

Print ISBN-13: 9780195048155

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195048155.001.0001

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Community Colleges and the American Social Order

Community Colleges and the American Social Order

Chapter:
1 Community Colleges and the American Social Order
Source:
Title Pages
Author(s):

Steven Brint

Jerome Karabel

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195048155.003.0004

From the earliest days of the Republic, Americans have possessed an abiding faith that theirs is a land of opportunity. For unlike the class-bound societies of Europe, America was seen as a place of limitless opportunities, a place where hard work and ability would receive their just reward. From Thomas Jefferson’s “natural aristocracy of talent” to Ronald Reagan’s “opportunity society,” the belief that America was—and should remain—a land where individuals of ambition and talent could rise as far as their capacities would take them has been central to the national identity. Abraham Lincoln expressed this deeply rooted national commitment to equality of opportunity succinctly when, in a special message to Congress shortly after the onset of the Civil War, he described as a “leading object of the government for whose existence we contend” to “afford all an unfettered start, and a fair chance in the race of life.” Throughout much of the nineteenth century, the belief that the United States was a nation blessed with unique opportunities for individual advancement was widespread among Americans and Europeans alike. The cornerstone of this belief was a relatively wide distribution of property (generally limited, to be sure, to adult white males) and apparently abundant opportunities in commerce and agriculture to accumulate more. But with the rise of mammoth corporations and the closing of the frontier in the decades after the Civil War, the fate of the “selfmade man”—that heroic figure who, though of modest origins, triumphed in the competitive marketplace through sheer skill and determination—came to be questioned. In particular, the fundamental changes then occurring in the American economy—the growth of huge industrial enterprises, the concentration of property less workers in the nation’s cities, and the emergence of monopolies—made the image of the hardworking stockboy who rose to the top seem more and more like a relic of a vanished era. The unprecedented spate of success books that appeared between 1880 and 1885 (books bearing such titles as The Law of Success, The Art of Money Getting, The Royal Road to Wealth, and The Secret of Success in Life) provide eloquent, if indirect, testimony to the depth of the ideological crisis then facing the nation.

Keywords:   Educational opportunity, High school, Junior College Journal, National Educational Association, Organizational field, Preparatory programs, Training markets

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