Halstead, J. Mark (2007) In Place of a Conclusion: The Common School and the Melting Pot. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 41 (4). pp. 829-842. ISSN 0309-8249

Drawing substantially on the arguments put forward by the contributors to this Special Issue, this final article examines the two main purposes of the common school in contemporary western societies: to develop a set of shared values and a unified sense of citizenship, on the one hand, and to iron out disadvantage and equalise opportunities, on the other. Four main justifications for the common school are discussed—its symbolic value, its compatibility with liberal values, its inclusiveness and its provision of practical opportunities to learn to live together. Nevertheless, the common school faces a number of challenges, including how much freedom of choice to allow parents, how to interpret the principle of equality in practice, how to devise a common curriculum that meets the needs of all students and how to respond to the apparent inequalities of the neighbourhood school. It is argued that the biggest dilemma facing the common school is a cultural one: that is, finding a balance between the need to respect the diverse cultural identities of its students and the need to develop a common set of loyalties and shared national identity at the same time. An examination of the case of Muslims in England suggests that intentionally or otherwise the common school is still in the business of assimilating minorities into a new identity through processes very similar to those of the melting pot. The article concludes by warning that continuing this policy may result in stronger resistance in the future.

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