Educational Formalism and the Language of Goals in American Education, Educational Reform, and Educational History

  • David F. LabareeEmail author
Part of the Educational Research book series (EDRE, volume 4)


Schools are better at expressing social goals than at operationalizing those goals in a manner that might actually realize them. School reform efforts are better at changing the rhetorical commitment of schools to particular educational goals than at bringing the teaching and learning in schools in line with these goals. And historical studies of education are better at identifying the evolving language of educational goals than at detailing the impact of these goals on the core pedagogical relation between teacher and student. Thus the language of goals dominates education, educational reform, and historical research on education. In this paper, I explore the central elements of education’s language fetish, the historical and sociological roots of this condition, and its consequences for education and society. The focus will be on American education; but much of the argument resonates with education in other settings, since it tries to tell a story about the social role that education is asked to play in modern liberal democracies.


Social Mobility Educational Reform Liberal Democracy Social Goal Educational Goal 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationStanford UniversityStanfordUSA

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