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Education and Democracy: The United States of America as a Historical Case Study


by Diane Ravitch — 2008

Schools in democratic nations have multiple purposes, some of which conflict with one another. Moreover, not all purposes serve democratic ends equally well. In this chapter, noted historian Diane Ravitch looks at the historical evolution of educational aims in the United States. Ravitch contrasts educational aims that are primarily social in content and character with those that are primarily individual. In the case of the former, schools are viewed as places to ready the young for productive contributions to the society they will inherit, whether this be as laborers, managers, or professionals. In the latter case, the activities of school are designed to equip individual students to seek a life that advances their welfare (in some instances), the welfare of others (in some instances), or the nation’s or world’s welfare (in some instances).


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This article originally appeared as NSSE Yearbook Vol 107. No. 1.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 110 Number 13, 2008, p. 42-57
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 18447, Date Accessed: 10/22/2017 11:20:42 AM

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About the Author
  • Diane Ravitch
    New York University
    DIANE RAVITCH is Research Professor of Education at the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University. She is a historian of education and author of many books, including The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn (2003) and Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform (2000). She is a graduate of Wellesley College, earned her Ph.D. at Columbia University, and is the recipient of eight honorary degrees. She has extensive experience in the realm of educational policy, having served as assistant secretary of education with the U.S. government and is holder of the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution.
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