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American Dream and Public Schools$
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Jennifer L. Hochschild and Nathan Scovronick

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780195152784

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780195152784.001.0001

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Challenging the American Dream

Challenging the American Dream

Chapter:
7 Challenging the American Dream
Source:
American Dream and Public Schools
Author(s):

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Nathan Scovronick

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195152784.003.0011

MULTICULTURAL EDUCATION, whether as a curricular reform or as a general goal for education, swept the nation’s schools during the 1990s. As generally understood and practiced, it does not challenge the American dream; it is a central way of teaching respect for difference and part of the continuing process of redefining the common American culture. Similarly, bilingual education is usually intended to help students pursue success within the mainstream, not to remain outside it. But some Americans go beyond claims for respect and incorporation. They seek to use multicultural or bilingual education to enable members of their group to attain distinctive treatment within public schools, or they promote changes in school curricula or methods of teaching that reflect their racial identity or religious beliefs in ways that challenge the American dream. They promote “allegiance to groups,” in Albert Shanker’s terms, or they insist on the value of difference. Some of these advocates do not believe that fostering individual success should be a central value of public schooling, or they reject the usual formulation of democratic citizenship, or they believe that the whole ideology of the American dream is an exercise in power thinly disguised as a formula for fair treatment. When they couch alternatives in the language of discrimination or make proposals in the context of school failure, their impact can be politically volatile. These issues of religion and culture show the acute difficulty of balancing the claims of one, some, and all in American public schooling, as well as the virtues and defects of using the American dream as the framework for that balancing act. To the degree that proponents—of multicultural education, cultural maintenance, African-centered pedagogy, or religious values—appeal to fairness, challenge discrimination, or demand respect for diverse viewpoints, they can and should gain broad support. But when advocates of particular groups seek to use public schools to help them maintain their separate identity, try to separate themselves within schools, or propose to have an entirely separate education within the public school system, support appropriately drops. If they try to transform all the schools in accordance with their particular cultural views or religious beliefs in rejection of the American dream, support in the wider community melts away, as it should.

Keywords:   assimilation, bilingual education, collective good, democratic citizenship, equality/equity, group identity, identity politics, language minorities, minorities, parents

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