Cover: Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling, from Harvard University PressCover: Someone Has to Fail in PAPERBACK

Someone Has to Fail

The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling

In this important book, the skeptical, contrarian, and cheerfully pessimistic Stanford education professor Labaree trenchantly exposes the true purposes behind the establishment and the reforms of American public schools and explains why the institution can never fulfill the dreams of those who use it or those who attempt to improve it… Americans want an egalitarian democracy, but they prize individualism; they demand utility, but they are forever socially optimistic. Our school system manifests these contradictory values in abundance, so no matter how often it’s reformed, it must perpetually thwart itself.—Benjamin Schwarz, The Atlantic

The book is only 280 pages long, but so rich in contrarian assaults on cherished American assumptions I cannot adequately summarize it… [Labaree’s] candor and depth encourage humility. All of us arguing about how to improve schools could use some of that.—Jay Mathews, The Washington Post

Labaree is perceptive and lucid in presenting his view that individual self-interest is a driving force in schooling and school reform. Parents are, in principle, committed to equal education for all, but in practice pursue educational advantages for their child. This pursuit of advantage often blunts the common good. Indeed, Labaree’s skeptical realism is well taken in this continuing age of consumerism.—J.L. DeVitis, Choice

Why do American schools keep failing? As David Labaree shows, the real question is why we expect them to succeed, given the enormous demands we make of them. Labaree’s answers won’t please anyone looking for a big quick fix for American education. But they will fascinate anyone who wants to understand our enduring faith in the public schools.—Jonathan Zimmerman, author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory

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