Whereas the communist governments of Eastern Europe made education a tool of totalitarian oppression, imposing Marxist ideas and eradicating dissent, today’s post‐communist reformers see education as an important vehicle for the revival of civil society, according to Charles L. Glenn, author of Educational Freedom in Eastern Europe.
Originally commissioned by the U.S. Department of Education in 1989, Glenn’s book tells the story of the communist takeover of education and the revival of educational freedom in post‐communist societies. In telling that story, Glenn shows that the bureaucracy‐laden American school system shares many of the faults of the schools of communist Europe.
After visiting the United States to study education reform here, Katarzyna Skorzynska, a young Solidarity activist who headed Poland’s Office of Innovation and Independent Schools, told Glenn that she noted some disappointing similarities with Poland. “You have the same people who oppose choice as in my country. The trade unions and the education bureaucrats. The difference is that in my country their failures have completely discredited those groups.”
Glenn submitted his manuscript to the U.S. Department of Education in 1991. The book was not published during the remaining two years of the Bush administration, and publication was canceled in January 1993 after President Clinton took office. In response to probing questions from journalists, in March 1994 the Education Department published 200 copies, minus parts critical of the U.S. educational system. The Cato Institute has published the entire manuscript, with a new foreword and conclusion.
When Glenn first wrote the book, he says he was greatly encouraged by the liberating changes within school systems of the Eastern Block countries. However, in his new conclusion, Glenn’s optimism has been tempered by experience. “In each of the countries of Eastern Europe,” he writes, “though to a widely varying extent, the all‐encompassing bureaucracy of the communist era remains largely in place, as do the habits and attitudes that sustain its power.” It is not an easy task to undo decades of totalitarian domination of a country’s schools, he says.
Glenn says that today in Russia, Poland, and other Eastern European countries, parents have more freedom to choose the schools their children will attend than do American parents. Not only can they freely choose nongovernment schools, but they can also work with others to create new independent schools. Glenn estimates that over 1,000 such schools now receive public funding in Poland, Russia, Hungary, and other post‐communist nations.