Popular Education and Its Discontents

POPULAR EDUCATION AND ITS DISCONTENTS, a series of lectures given at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, is a distillation of the author’s studies of America’s past educational experiences and a summary of future challenges. Cremin uses three different perspectives: popularization, multitudinousness, and politicization. Products of America’s history, all have become even more pronounced since the end of World War II.

Popular schooling, a commitment to educational opportunities for all, has long been an American ideal, and in recent decades education for the vast majority has been the norm, not the exception. Recently, however, critics have argued that popular education has failed, that mediocrity has resulted or that society has not provided what is necessary for this generation’s students. Cremin praises America’s educational diversity and focuses upon how to balance the many demands made upon the nation’s educational resources.

In the cacophonous or multitudinous nature of the educational process, Cremin notes the impact not only of the schools—the traditional educational medium—but also of the family, religious bodies, civic authorities, electronic media, and the workplace. All have a role in education, and the interrelationships among them need to be recognized and utilized.

Americans have long believed that education and politics are intimately related, that society is a product of its educational experience, and thus the debate over educational issues is largely over what vision of America should prevail. Today the schools have been given the responsibility to ameliorate many of the problems of modern America, such as racism, poverty, cultural differences, and other social ills. In Cremin’s opinion, that is an impossible task: Other institutions must share the burden.