If the clinton administration wants to succeed in changing America’s education system, it must start by recognizing that the Right’s campaign to “return to basics” contains, at its heart, critical insights into the psychological, moral, and social context in which parents face their own future and that of their children. Although progressives have dismissed the conservative education agenda, citing its dehumanizing prescriptions and its distractions from the real issues, the Right has been able to harness deep-seated human concerns and anxieties to the practices and goals of schooling. As we build our own politics of educational meaning, it becomes imperative for us to take these concerns seriously and to address them in ways that will genuinely enhance the dignity, responsibility, freedom, and opportunities of the young.

One of the rallying cries of those who believe America’s schools are cheating youngsters out of their educational...

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