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Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child

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Tony Waters
added 2 research items
The modernist dream of a perfectible society and ever more perfect union is still strong in the United States. Americans continue to believe that if we have more information, more money, more confidence, and more political will, even our children will become more perfect. Or to borrow the words of James Scott’s definition of “high-modernist ideology” [the ideology of the modern world] is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. It originated, of course, in the West, as a by-product of unprecedented progress in science and industry. (Scott 1999, 4). But the dream is also one born of a culture, morals, and values, not just abstract and disembodied science and technical mastery of natural elements and human nature. This culture in turn is created and recreated in the modern school, which shares this faith in scientific and technical progress. This is the case in the United States despite the fact that, as de Tocqueville pointed out in the 1830s, American utilitarianism is an ideology, not a disembodied scientific force. A “can do” ideology pushed its people toward, as the US Constitution asserts, toward an ever more perfect union.
The story of how American schools became massive bureaucracies. And while they will remain so. The sociology underlying it reflects on the fact that modern people are always dissatisfied with the schools, and the teachers in the schools. This frustration plays out in the "school battles" which are a normal feature of local and national politics everywhere in the world.
Tony Waters
added a research item
At the heart of the discussions of how and why American schools are the paradoxes at the heart of American culture: egalitarianism, individualism, and utilitarianism. Americans hold all three values at the same time, even knowing that they are at times inconsistent with each other. And wrestling with this cultural paradox are the modern parents, business interests, and the teaching profession each seeking to control the schools. These interests in turn are the basis for persistent interest groups1 that seek to shape the goals of schools to their interests (see Olson 1982).