Critique of School Bells by Lewis Lapham Essay

This essay has a total of 1139 words and 5 pages.


Critique of School Bells by Lewis Lapham




School Bells Essay


I found Lewis Lapham’s article “School Bells” in the August, 2000 edition of
Harper’s magazine to be not only convincing, but also easy to relate to and truthful. The
contents of the article have far-reaching and thought-provoking implications.
Much of his argument rests on the nearly indisputable belief that if we, as a
nation, devoutly wished to reform or even revolutionize the educational system in place,
we undoubtedly could. Factual proof of this is found throughout the history of the United
States. We have made significant scientific and societal advances in the last one hundred
years as evidenced by the computer, the automobile, the civil rights movement, the list
goes on. With such incredible financial and intellectual resources as can be found in this
country, why not add another major contribution to our success? – Education.

Though he never directly refers to it, the process in which public schools are funded is
alluded to several times by Lapham (e.g. “We have one set of schools for the children of
the elite, another for children less fortunately born). The flaw in funding for public
schools lies in direct community influence. Nearly 1/2 of the funding provided is derived
from the property taxes collected from the locality. Since wealthy neighborhoods pay far
more property tax than poor ones, schools that lie in wealthy districts and neighborhood
are allocated far more capital than schools located in poor areas. This creates a myriad
of dilemmas for the poor (most of which they aren’t even aware of because they have never
been taught), and innumerable advantages for the rich. Under the current system the
children of wealthy families are catered to and groomed to become the new “elite” while
obstacles are constantly being placed in the paths of destitute children. This is a major
contributing factor to the cycle of class distinction.

Lapham claims at one point that “schools regulate the supply of unskilled labor,” and
think of “the graduating classes as an assembly line product.” In essence, I believe the
point he is trying to convey is that schools produce certain types of people according to
society’s needs (or shall I say the needs of politicians and those who own large
corporations). A definite correlation between impoverished school districts and
disciplinary action can be seen throughout the U.S. This increase in security and
authoritarianism teaches poor children their future place in society by inducing “fear of
authority and habits of obedience.” He also mentions that corporations often target the
least prosperous districts to market their products under the guise of “educational
tools.” These schools often discourage creative thought and teach students that reading is
dull and tedious as well. Conversely, the financially secure children can avoid public
schools altogether by attending private school, or go to a public school with monetary
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