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The National Education Association (NEA) has not been a topic of choice for many educational historians. Perhaps a major reason for this it that the NEA as a site for historical work seems fraught with pitfalls. Consider first the problem of the NEA as a setting for an institutional history. The major example of this kind of work yielded a decidedly unsatisfactory result. Edgar B. Wesley's centennial history of the NEA, published in 1957, is an almost completely uncritical description and an unabashed celebration of the organization.
In early 1937, one-third of sixth graders in a school near Leningrad were not passing their Russian-language course. Their teacher, Tomsinskaia, told the school director that the failures were due to circumstances beyond her control: children had received inadequate preparation in previous grades, textbooks were in short supply, and pupils had “weak reading habits.” Other teachers in the Krasnosel'skii district offered similar justifications for pupils' poor performance. Sakhanova claimed that low levels of achievement were due to “bad home conditions.” Velichko asserted that her seventeen failing pupils all suffered from inherited conditions such as “mental retardation,” “underdevelopment,” or “congenital laziness.” Semenovskii, who had completed higher education and considerable teaching experience, admitted he had no explanation why one-half of his pupils were failing every year.
An early break in Harold Washington's political career came via a 1955 speech he delivered on equality of educational opportunity. Leaders of Chicago's Roosevelt University invited the popular alumnus (Washington was the first African-American class president) to speak at the tenth anniversary of the school's founding. The young Assistant State's Attorney shared the platform with such notables as former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, and newly elected Mayor Richard J. Daley. In his speech, Washington remembered the university as “an experience in democratic living.” He viewed equal educational opportunity as the school's “cornerstone” because its admissions policy relied on objective examinations. At Roosevelt, Washington found “at all levels… people reaching out to fill whatever gaps [less privileged students] may have had in their backgrounds, which might retard them in their efforts… to be more useful citizens in our greater democracy.” Daley loved the crowd-pleasing speech and began grooming Washington to become the next Cook County prosecutor. Washington's career path, however, led elsewhere.
By the dawn of the twentieth century, a new way of thinking about the nature of the child, classroom methods, and the purposes of the school increasingly dominated educational discourse. Something loosely called progressive education, especially its more child-centered aspects, became part of a larger revolt against the formalism of the schools and an assault on tradition. Our finest scholars, such as Lawrence A. Cremin, in his magisterial study of progressivism forty years ago, have tried to explain the origins and meaning of this movement. One should be humbled by their achievements and by the magnitude of the subject. Variously defined, progressivism continues to find its champions and critics, the latter occasionally blaming it for low economic productivity, immorality among the young, and the decline of academic standards. In the popular press, John Dewey's name is often invoked as the evil genius behind the movement, even though he criticized sugar-coated education and letting children do as they please. While scholars doubt whether any unified, coherent movement called progressivism ever existed, its offspring, progressive education, apparently did exist, wreaking havoc on the schools.
Spring Hill College is Alabama's oldest institution of higher learning, one year older than the University of Alabama. Founded in 1830 by Michael Portier, the Catholic bishop of Mobile, it has been run by the Jesuits since 1847. When it desegregated in September, 1954, the four-year liberal arts college claimed 1,000 students, including its evening division in downtown Mobile. The desegregation of Spring Hill College (SHC) came just before the increased Ku Klux Klan (KKK) and White Citizens Council activity which led the backlash to the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Although volumes have been written about resistance to desegregation in the Deep South, almost no published research exists on the peaceful desegregation of white southern colleges, which anticipated and complied with Supreme Court rulings. This essay will place SHC's unique story in the context of the desegregation of higher education in the South and of race relations in Mobile, Alabama, in the decade before massive resistance. It will examine models for desegregation of Catholic colleges before the Brown decision and, finally, will detail SHC's desegregation as a gradual process that occurred between 1948 and 1954.
In 1955, Lawrence Cremin wrote of the Cardinal Principles report, “Indeed, it does not seem amiss to argue that most of the important and influential movements in the field since 1918 have simply been footnotes to the classic itself.” During the years between the publication of the Cardinal Principles report and Cremin's remark, most of the major proposals for secondary education in the United States endorsed and elaborated the principles and practices outlined by the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education (CRSE); many of these reports explicitly cited the 1918 document. Over the decade following Cremin's remark, additional reports continued this trend. During the 1950s, however, the weight of opinion about the Cardinal Principles report began to shift seismically.
The community of Oberlin, Ohio, located in the northeast corner of the state, holds an important place in the history of the education of Black Americans. In 1834, one year after its founding, the trustees of Oberlin College agreed to admit students, “irrespective of color.” They were the only college, at that time, to adopt such a policy. Oberlin's history as the first college to admit Black students and its subsequent abolitionist activities are crucial to the discussion of Black educational history. Opportunities for education before the Civil War were not common for most of the American population, but for Blacks, these opportunities were close to nonexistent. In the South, it was illegal for Blacks to learn to read or write. In the North, there was limited access to public schooling for Black families. In addition, during the early nineteenth century there were no Black colleges for students to attend. Although Bowdoin College boasted the first Black graduate in 1827, few other colleges before the Civil War opened their doors to Black students. Therefore, the opportunity that Oberlin offered to Black students was extraordinarily important. The decision to admit Black students to the college, and offer them the same access to the college curriculum as their white classmates, challenged the commonly perceived notion of Blacks as childlike, inferior, and incapable of learning.
In the spring of 1957, journalist Sidney Katz wrote a story for Maclean's Magazine entitled “The Lost Children of British Columbia” which detailed the disturbing events leading up to the forcible removal of 100 Doukhobor children from their New Denver homes by Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officers. The children, all between the ages of seven and fourteen, were taken to the New Denver Dormitory, located approximately 260 miles northeast of Vancouver, British Columbia, where they remained until they reached the age of fifteen. They were not permitted to speak their native Russian, visit home (although parents were allowed brief, supervised visits to the dormitory), take holidays, or visit friends and relatives in the nearby town of New Denver.
The educational history of Hispanic Americans is not a “new” history. Hispanic peoples began exploration, settlement, and even schooling in North America in the sixteenth century. A more appropriate metaphor is to think of Hispanic educational history as a rich, unearthed site awaiting the work of archivists and researchers. There is no doubt that the large post-1965 immigration of Latinos to the United States renewed interest among scholars in the history of these peoples. Yet contemporary social, political, economic, and educational issues raise the troubling question of why Hispanic-American history has remained neglected for so long. This essay is a beginning towards understanding the relationship between historians and the educational history of Hispanic Americans during the last century. Specifically, this historiographical inquiry examines some barriers that have dissuaded scholars from exploring the history of Latino influences in North America, assesses current writings, and recommends new directions for scholars wishing to pursue inquiry into the field of Hispanic-American educational history.
In 1851 the conservative journalist and social critic Wilhelm Riehl placed the blame for the revolutionary upheavals of 1848–49 in Germany on the Volksschullehrer, the elementary schoolteachers, who allegedly acted as the ringleaders of rebellion in their local communities. Riehl labeled the “perverse schoolmaster” as the “Mephisto” and “evil demon” who inspired the peasantry to rise against the established order. Riehl's diagnosis of the source of the revolutionary disease appeared quite plausible and convincing to the rulers of various German states who had long harbored the suspicion that dangerously pretentious, miseducated schoolteachers were, as a Bavarian government decree issued in 1829 put it, “spreading mistaken doctrines and erroneous political views among their pupils and in this way dripping the poison of partisan political struggles into the unprejudiced souls [of the young].”
The presence of academies in the United States spans roughly three centuries. Originating in the colonial era, academies spread across the country by mid-nineteenth century. Such institutions generally served students between the ages of eight and twenty-five, providing a relatively advanced form of schooling that was legally incorporated to ensure financial support beyond that available through tuition alone. According to one contemporary source, by 1850 more than 6,100 incorporated academies existed in the United States, with enrollments nine times greater than those of the nation's colleges. Nineteenth-century supporters portrayed academies as exemplars of the nation's commitment to enlightenment and learning; opponents argued that they were harmful to the public interest. Those in favor of a large-scale system of public high schools dismissed academies as irrelevant and outmoded institutions. The culmination of this controversy is well known, because it is reiterated in every secondary text on the history of American education. As a widespread system of public higher schooling supplanted the academies in the twentieth century, private and independent schools dropped out of the mainstream of American educational discourse. The following essays seek to recover something of the long history of academies in the United States and to reconsider the historical significance of these institutions in society.
Asian Americans have lived in the United States for over one-and-a-half centuries: Chinese and Asian Indians since the mid-nineteenth century, Japanese since the late nineteenth century, and Koreans and Filipinos since the first decade of the twentieth century (an earlier group of Filipinos had settled near New Orleans in the late eighteenth century). Because of exclusion laws that culminated with the 1924 Immigration Act, however, the Asian American population was relatively miniscule before the mid-twentieth century. As late as 1940, for example, Asian immigrants and their descendants constituted considerably less than 1 percent (0.0019) of the United States population. In contrast, in Hawai'i, which was then a territory and therefore excluded from United States population figures, 58 percent of the people in 1940 were of Asian descent.
Few books have the scope and sweep of Nicholas Lemann's The Big Test: The Secret History of the American Meritocracy (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999). In 400 pages the author takes up five large topics. The first third is a history of the rise of standardized testing, especially the origins of the Educational Testing Service (ETS), the largest and best known nonprofit testing corporation in this country. The second part traces the post-World War II expansion of higher education, with detailed case studies of the California system and Yale University. The final third features a series of snapshots and essays on affirmative action. Running throughout the entire book are the interrelated topics of college admissions and economic mobility—(the universities supposedly became a “national personnel department” p. 345, which “grant the high scorers a general, long-duration ticket to high status that can be cashed in anywhere p. 347.”)
In his book, The Age of the Academies, Theodore R. Sizer argued that academies represented a significant break from the relatively narrow schooling that had been previously available to students in the early Latin grammar schools. In his view, the proliferation of academies heralded a new age in education, one more reflective of the Enlightenment values promoted by such Republican leaders as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, or Benjamin Rush. After thirty-five years of additional scholarship on academies, does Sizer's thesis still stand? This essay investigates the range of educational institutions that provided some form of advanced schooling to Americans just preceding and concurrent with the founding of the earliest academies. It examines the differences and similarities among a number of northern and southern early nineteenth-century schools in order to address the following question: to what extent did schools calling themselves academies represent a distinctly new turn in the history of American education? By clarifying the relations between the various types of institutions during the post-colonial period, I conclude that the historical significance of the early academy movement is broader than the intellectual or curricular reform discussed by Sizer.