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Side by Side: On Britain's School Wars

Victory of the bootstrap theory

Near the midpoint of the article, Collini writes: "because comprehensives were a vehicle for progressive ideals, they also became targets for constant hostile comment, especially from a largely right-wing press. ‘Virtually, all problems in state schools are laid at the door of poor teachers, middle-class liberals and an ineffectual and yet over-controlling state.’ This position, Benn notes, ‘chimes with the right’s broader refusal to recognise any significant correlation between family background, poverty in general, rising economic inequality and school outcomes.’ ”

To paraphrase a popular bumper sticker, if this doesn't sound familiar, you haven't been paying attention to public schools in our country. In graduate school in 1972 I wrote a paper for a school law course that asserted that exclusionary zoning in the suburbs of Philadelphia effectively precluded poor students, like the ones I taught in Philadelphia, from having the same opportunities I experienced in the suburbs. Forty years later, nothing has changed except public opinion. In the early 1970s I had the sense that many of not most of the country still aspired to the dreams of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. They wanted a nation where children born in poverty in Philadelphia had the same chance as a kid born in the suburbs. Now, we refuse to recognize any correlation between family background, poverty in general  and inequality on school outcomes. In effect, we now seem to believe that children are responsible for overcoming adversity.

Wayne Gersen

Etna, NH

Nov 4 2011 - 5:30am