The Allure of Order: High Hopes, Dashed Expectations, and the Troubled Quest to Remake American Schooling

Jal Mehta. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-19-994206-0
Regimentation—of students, and especially teachers—is the ill-conceived fourth “R” of education policy, according to this probing study of American public school reform. Harvard education professor Mehta describes three movements towards the “rationalization” of education: the Progressive-era shift from one-room schoolhouses to centralized districts of factory-style schools where teachers toiled under scientific administrators; Vietnam-era applications of the Pentagon’s “systems analysis” techniques to education; and the recent drive for top-down accountability embodied in the No Child Left Behind Act. He sees recurring patterns in these episodes: warnings of crisis; calls to rein in out-of-control schools with principles of efficiency and external control; a fixation on testing and standards; and unsuccessful resistance by educators whose “humanist” objections are seen as self-serving. Mehta situates fine-grained accounts of politics and legislation within elaborate sociological theorizing, partly cribbed from Pierre Bourdieu, that emphasizes the role of ideas and paradigms in motivating policy. He focuses on the status of teachers and puts the professionalization of teaching, along the lines of law and medicine, at the heart of his own reform agenda. There’s not much here about the pedagogical substance of reform initiatives, but Mehta’s sophisticated, but very readable analysis illuminates the ideological wranglings that shape them. (May)
Reviewed on: 03/11/2013
Release date: 04/01/2013
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 416 pages - 978-0-19-023145-3
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