Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Education and Institutionality

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Durkheim argues in Suicide that we should not look for education to reform society, because it reflects deeper social structures rather than changing them. In the American system, it seems hard to argue with Durkheim — the things that are broken about our schools are the same things that are broken about our society. Nevertheless, American education policy has always been an effort at base-superstructure inversion. This goes all the way back to Horace Mann in the 1830s, who observed that vast inequalities between workers and owners was causing a new form of feudalism and proposed to change that with… education! (The idea of making people more equal by, for instance, taking money from the rich people and giving it to the poor people was not considered.) Similarly, today we see a society riven by inequality and racism, and we can supposedly fix it with… education! If we give poor people the theoretical possibility of rising up the social ladder and make sure that high-achieving minority students get a chance at a quality education, then inequality and racism surely disappear!

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