Charles Taylor (in A Secular Age) considers the depth of Reform in the middle ages to be much greater than the line from Wycliffe, to Huss, to Luther and beyond, connecting it to the rise of the modern preoccupation with “ordinary life” (a major feature of his last bog book, Sources of the Self):
The thrust of Reform was to make Church in which everyone should show the same degree of personal commitment and devotion which had hitherto been the stance of a dedicated elite. This would be a Church in which all genuine members (excluding the damned) should strive integrally to fulfill the Gospel. To carry through on this Reform required that one define a way of life open to everyone which would amount to such an integral fulfillment; and this couldn’t help but bring about a definition of the demands of Christian faith closer into line with what is attainable in this world, with what can be realized in history. The distance between the ultimate City of God and the properly Christian-conforming earthly one has to be reduced.
In both Christianity and modern American education, we have high goals. We find ourselves in conflict: Our theory says that these goals are for everyone, yet reality keeps telling us that many – if not most – are not reaching the level our theory says they ought to reach. What are we to do?
The solution of the movement Taylor calls “Reform,” just as in current NCLB legislation is to push higher levels of discipline and accountability. Try harder, rationalize the process more.
But then we discover that even with higher levels of discipline, with greater rationality applied to our systems, people still aren’t measuring up to our theories. Since we’re held accountable for making reality come into line with our theories, we have to do something. So we take the logical next step: We lower the ideal. “I’m not perfect, just forgiven.” “Let’s focus on minimum standards all the time for everyone (i.e., teach the TAKS), so that all students will be successful.”