I don’t know about you, but I’ve always found utopias to be kind of creepy. Whether it’s Thomas More’s Utopia, with its peasant dress and communal dining, or Aldous Huxley’s Island and its in the immortal words of Wikipedia — “parrots trained to utter uplifting slogans,” it seems that one man’s paradise is another’s authoritarian hell.
America has its own rich history of utopianism, and if the real-world consequences of this multifaceted movement seem more benign, in retrospect, that the fictitious musings of More and Huxley, maybe it’s because the great majority of American utopias didn’t last long enough to realize their exalted dreams. (Shakers, you needed a better business plan.)
In his critique in the June issue of Teachers College Record, Larry Cuban isn’t going after the Shakers or the Owenites, but rather a strain of utopian thinking that the emeritus Stanford Education professor says persists today and is distorting the national conversation about public school reform. It may not be popular to rail against American optimism even during what sometimes seems like Twilight in America — but Cuban makes a compelling case.