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DISTURBING LOOKS AT EDUCATION AND A DEEPLY DIVIDED SOCIETY

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This is a thoughtful meditation on the problems of secondary education in America during the latter 20th century. The first section of the book, a fictionalized history of a composite "typical" high school between 1953 and 1985, reveals the effects that the shifting mores of those troubled decades had on class structure, curriculum, teaching and discipline.

Gerald Grant's theory of education, which comprises the second half of the book, is more problematic. He argues that all education must have "a strong positive ethos" (i.e., a moral basis) but fails to resolve the thorny question of how to establish that ethos in a pluralistic and increasingly fragmented society. His call for community consensus as a first step seems naive, if not unrealistic, at a time when the decline of the American educational system is the subject of widespread debate and controversies rage over teaching evolution, sex education, AIDS prevention, the importance of minority cultures and instruction in languages other than English.THE GREAT DIVIDE: SECOND THOUGHTS ON THE AMERICAN DREAM; By Studs Terkel; Avon; $4.95 (paperback).

To compile his most controversial "talking book," Studs Terkel interviewed dozens of Americans representing diverse economic strata, educational levels and ethnicities. The result is a profoundly disillusioned work that reveals a society as deeply divided as it was during the '60s, but along economic, rather than ideological, lines.

For the first time in this country's history, many people believe that their children will have a lower standard of living than their parents, instead of a higher one. Surprisingly, most of Terkel's subjects seem to accept this unhappy outlook with resignation, rather than bitterness. If "The Great Divide" accurately reflects conditions here, America is in eminent danger of splitting into three hostile societies: the Haves, the Have-Nots and the Want-to-Haves, a situation with ominous implications.