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Rethinking Our Classrooms

By the editors of Rethinking Schools

In rethinking our classrooms we begin from the premise that schools and classrooms should be laboratories for a more just society than the one we now live in. After more than a decade of high-profile national debate on school reform, we think this proposition is more central than ever to the success - perhaps even the survival - of public education.

Schools have crucial obligations not only to individual students and families, but to our society as a whole. Their success or failure is tied not just to personal well-being, but to the prospects of creating a multiracial democracy capable of addressing the serious social and ecological problems that cloud our future. We live in a world plagued by economic inequality, endemic violence, and racial injustice. A me-first, dollar-driven culture undermines democratic values, and seems to invent daily new forms of alienation and self-destruction. Over the long term, the production and consumption patterns of industrially overdeveloped and underplanned eco-nomies like ours threaten global ecological disaster.

Given such unpleasant but inescap-able realities, education reform must be driven by a far broader vision than it has been in recent years. What happens every day in our classrooms both shapes and is shaped by the larger social currents that define who we are as a society and where we are headed. Accordingly, to be truly successful, school reform must be guided by democratic social goals and values that provide a deeper context for more traditional academic objectives.

Unfortunately, too many schools foster narrowly self-centered notions of success and "making it." Too many, especially in poor areas, provide a dismal experience based on tests, tracking, and a sanitized curriculum that lacks the credibility or sense of purpose needed to engage students or to connect with their communities. Too many schools fail to confront the racial, class, gender, language, and homophobic biases woven into our social fabric.

Years of classroom experience have convinced us that these shortcomings are intimately connected to low student achievement. The problems many schools have in teaching children to read, write, and think are, to a large extent, symptoms of the inequality that permeates our educational system. In fact, we would argue that unless our schools and classrooms are animated by broad visions of equity, democracy, and social justice, they will never be able to realize the widely proclaimed goal of raising educational achievement for all children.

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