How and Why to Support Common Schooling and Educational Choice at the Same Time


Correspondence: Rob Reich, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Encina Hall, 616 Serra Street, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-6044, USA.


The common school ideal is the source of one of the oldest educational debates in liberal democratic societies. The movement in favour of greater educational choice is the source of one of the most recent. Each has been the cause of major and enduring controversy, not only within philosophical thought but also within political, legal and social arenas. Echoing conclusions reached by Terry McLaughlin, but taking the historical and legal context of the United States as my backdrop, I argue that the ideal of common schooling and the existence of separate schools, which is to say, the existence of educational choice, are not merely compatible but necessarily co-exist in a liberal democratic society. In other words, we need both common schooling and educational choice. The essay proceeds in four parts. First, I explain why we need to understand something about pluralism in order to understand common schooling and school choice. In the second and third parts, I explore the normative significance of pluralism for common schooling and educational choice, respectively. In the fourth part, I show how the two can be reconciled, given a certain understanding of what pluralism demands.