David Kirp

David L. Kirp, James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, from which this article is adapted.

Recent Articles

Berserkeley Works

"Berserkeley," that famous play on Berkeley, Calif.'s name, calls to mind the city's widely held image. The media feast on tales about kooky characters such as the "Naked Guy" who organized a mass "nude-in" to protest social repression, or the homeless man who converted a city councilman's office into his nocturnal abode. A measure on last fall's ballot that threatened six-month jail terms for café owners who served coffee that wasn't "organic, shade-grown or fair-trade certified" prompted one columnist to muse that it was "odd how life can resemble a 'South Park' episode." And what other community would pick April Fools' Day to commemorate the sesquicentennial anniversary of its founding? But these tales of the city don't tell the whole story. Berkeley originated many ideas that were initially dismissed as oddball but are now seen as hallmarks of progressive policy: divestiture from apartheid-era South Africa and voluntary public-school desegregation, as well as bans on Styrofoam "to...

This Little Student Went to Market

"N o matter what it is called, who does it or where in the institution it is being done, universities are engaging in marketing activity." That message shocked academics when a marketing professor named Richard Krachenberg first delivered it in a 1972 Journal of Higher Education article. What schools referred to as recruiting was really advertising, Krachenberg pointed out, financial aid was pricing and the bloodletting ritual of changing the curriculum was just product development. Nowadays the marketing is right out front. Universities on the make hire image creators to give themselves a new brand -- "Freedom with Responsibility" was the mantra under which Brown University powered its way from Ivy League doormat to the hottest school in the country in barely a decade -- while those at the top of the ladder fiercely defend their position. When Harvard University started to lose budding high-tech entrepreneurs to Stanford University, it dropped its long-standing policy that forbade...

Interring a Dream

T he U.S. Supreme Court's April 15 decision in a school desegregation case called Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education was just a single line long and entirely devoid of explanation. A federal trial judge had recently ended more than a third of a century of judicial supervision over the North Carolina public schools, which dated back to the Jim Crow era. Black parents had appealed, complaining that the school board was still encouraging segregation, but the high court refused to hear their argument. Petition denied: Without fanfare, the case was over. What's more important, the ruling ended an era when -- at least in law, and at least concerning education -- racial justice meant integration. To court watchers, the decision was entirely predictable. In several cases decided over the past decade, the Supreme Court justices have signaled that they want no part of desegregation. Their strategy is reminiscent of Vermont Sen. George Aiken's suggestion for how to get the United...

Martyrs and Movies

On New Year's Eve 1993, in the dead-end town of Falls City, Nebraska, two men shot and stabbed Teena Brandon, a 21-year-old who, in defiance of the laws of biology, wanted desperately to live her life as a man. On October 6, 1998, two men smashed the head of Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old gay man, and left him tied to a deer fence outside Laramie, Wyoming. Both killings have become national causes célèbres. Teena Brandon's tale, already the subject of the harrowing documentary The Teena Brandon Story, has now been made into the remarkable film Boys Don't Cry, and a cinematic retelling of the short life of Matthew Shepard cannot be far behind. With pollsters reporting that most Americans oppose discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, a sea change in just a generation, it is tempting to conclude that intolerance, let alone hate, is waning. But the ugly murders of Teena Brandon and Matthew Shepard reveal another territory—the psychological Wild West, its volatile landscape...

End of the World, Amen

Tales of the cataclysm have long been a cinematic staple, and since the movie industry is perpetually on the lookout for ways to turn a profit from the zeitgeist, this seems an especially apt moment for such films. Two have been brought out this season: End of Days , the latest Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle, and the Canadian indie movie Last Night . Though in many respects they come from different cinematic planets, both films reveal how, in these unfocused times, we make sense of ourselves and our society. This kind of sense-making is an essential aspect of end-of-the-world movies. What changes, tellingly, is the nature of the threat as well as how we respond. Each era, it seems, gets the cataclysm it deserves. However well artistry serves as camouflage, all the most memorable cataclysm films of the 1950s and 1960s-- On the Beach , The War of the Worlds , Invasion of the Body Snatchers , and Dr. Strangelove --are morality plays. They...

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