Education's Abiding Moral Dilemma: Merit and Worth in the Cross-Atlantic Democracies, 1800-2006 by Sheldon Rothblatt (2007)


The conflict between access and quality in education has been front-page news for decades. Policies regarding the role of elite universities, the organisation of secondary education, admissions criteria, courses of study, high stakes testing, and fiscal and programme accountability have changed with uncommon frequency, resulting in confusion and uncertainty. Yet it is the argument of this book that the tension between access to education and the preservation of quality is another chapter in the much longer history of merit selection in England, Scotland and America, and should be seen in its proper contexts. The underlying cause of the difficulties, however, is the dilemma created by two competing conceptions of virtue, one determined by merit judged competitively and the other more vaguely but emotionally supported by a broader view of worth. Merit is consistent with liberal democracy, but worth is the special province of social democracy. None of the distinctions is easily categorised by political party or ideology. They are the result of opposite moral impulses inherent in plural democratic societies undergoing the strains of internal and global competition. Contents include: Foreword (Anthony Smith); Words, Words, Words; The Two Democracies; Two Words Where One Might Do; Elites and Elitism; The Merit of Examinations; Building Educational Systems; The Relation of Schools to Universities; Why Bother to Test?; Naturally Intelligent; Much Ado About the SAT; The California Master Plan for Higher Education; Affirmative Action; and How Many Cheers for Democracy?

Publication date: 
May 14, 2007
Publication type: