A new legitimacy of schooling: Political, cultural, and sociological perspectives

Steven Mark D'Agustino, Fordham University


Public education is facing a crisis of legitimacy. A steadily increasing percentage of the population no longer believes that public schools are functioning well. The crisis of legitimacy is evidenced by a steadily escalating rhetorical attack on public education and the flight to private and parochial schools. In response to the charge that schools are not fulfilling their mission, education has responded by embracing standardization in curricula and assessment. In an effort to convince the public that schools are functioning well, educators have decided to offer testing data to legitimate their efforts rather than address the fundamental concern of the public—purpose fulfillment. The study identifies 3 purposes of school categorized as engagement or disengagement in macro and micro political, cultural, and sociological environments. After examining each of these perspectives, certain internal contradictions appeared, making each perspective insufficient to ameliorate the crisis of legitimacy. As public education engages or disengages in micro and macro political, cultural, and sociological environments—providing support or critique to the state, the dominant culture and the pool of knowledge—it inevitably alienates segments of the populace, contributing to the crisis of legitimacy. The study concludes by suggesting that schools have become entrenched in a struggle of dichotomous purposes. A solution may be for schools to recede and allow communities to emerge and design schools to meet more specific needs. Globalization has resulted in the destabilization of traditional forms of knowledge and being. Schools are traditional in their orientation—passing down what is valuable from the past—and have a low tolerance for ambiguity. Rather than acknowledging the changing world, schools have decided to combat it, resulting in the crisis of legitimacy. Schools are still organized around an older and obsolete model of community. Contemporary communities are held together by ties that are at once more amorphous and more meaningful than those defined by geographic proximity. Schools must allow communities of learners to emerge organically and accept that not all students have identical needs—to finally acknowledge that no standard method of nurturing an individual identity exists.

Subject Area

Educational theory|School administration

Recommended Citation

D'Agustino, Steven Mark, "A new legitimacy of schooling: Political, cultural, and sociological perspectives" (2003). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3134435.