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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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PRINTED FROM OXFORD SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (oxford.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright Oxford University Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in OSO for personal use. date: 08 December 2021

What Americans Want from Public Schools

What Americans Want from Public Schools

Chapter:
(p.9) 1 What Americans Want from Public Schools
Source:
Title Pages
Author(s):

Jennifer L. Hochschild

Nathan Scovronick

Publisher:
Oxford University Press
DOI:10.1093/oso/9780195152784.003.0005

AMERICANS CONTINUE TO FOLLOW the advice of Benjamin Franklin in making “the proper education of youth” the most important American social policy. Public education uses more resources and involves more people than any other government program for social welfare. It is the main activity of local governments and the largest single expenditure of almost all state governments. Education is the American answer to the European welfare state, to massive waves of immigration, and to demands for the abolition of subordination based on race, class, or gender. Although public schools in the United States are expected to accomplish a lot for their students, underlying all of these tasks is the goal of creating the conditions needed for people to believe in and pursue the ideology of the American dream. Our understanding of the American dream is the common one, described by President Clinton this way: “The American dream that we were all raised on is a simple but powerful one—if you work hard and play by the rules you should be given a chance to go as far as your God-given ability will take you.” The dream is the unwritten promise that all residents of the United States have a reasonable chance to achieve success through their own efforts, talents, and hard work. Success is most often defined in material terms, but everyone gets to decide what it is for himself or herself. The first man to walk across Antarctica talks about this idea in the same way as people who make their first million: “The only limit to achievement,” he said, “is the limit you place on your own dreams. Let your vision be guided by hope, your path be adventurous, and the power of your thoughts be directed toward the betterment of tomorrow.” The American dream is a brilliant ideological invention, although, as we shall see, in practice it leaves much to be desired. Its power depends partly on the way it balances individual and collective responsibilities. The role of the government is to make the pursuit of success possible for everyone. This implies strict and complete nondiscrimination, universal education to provide the means for pursuing success, and protection for virtually all views of success, regardless of how many people endorse them.

Keywords:   achievement, citizenship, democracy, economic disparities, family background, government, individual success, literacy, middle class

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