Micro Review: The Socialist Sunday School (Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese) The History of Education Quarterly

Micro-Review:  American Socialist Pedagogy and Experimentation in the Progressive Era:  The Socialist Sunday School, by Kenneth Teitelbaum and William J. Reese.  History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 23, No. 4 (Winter, 1983), pp. 429-454.

This was another piece identified in the HEQ 50-Year Retrospective.  This piece jumped out at me, not because of any familiarity I had with the authors, but with the specific subject matter it dealt with—Socialism in American Schools.  In this case, this sweeping overview of a segment of the socialist movement in the United States (and the U.K.) outlines the foundation of and development of curriculum, as well as the impact of these relatively informal, small, niche institutions had on the culture of the United States in the opening decades of the 20th Century.

I suspect that there exists a much longer, more detailed book by Mr. Teitelbaum and Reese on this topic, but this essay provided an excellent taste.  This is much closer to the sort of history I envision myself writing, but with a stronger reliance on individual teacher data—a diary, or set of letters relating to the actual conditions “on the ground” so to speak at school.  But the way this essay foregrounds individual texts like excerpts from the Socialist Sunday School Songbook, against broader demographic data—numbers of schools, student enrollment figures, and the economic and government structures underlying the foundation of these schools is very much in line with the type of writing I’d like to do for my dissertation.

Ultimately, Teitelbaum and Reese are able to make a much broader claim about the influence of Socialist Sunday Schools by locating them in the broader cultural milieu of the time—figures like the progressive public intellectual and educationalist John Dewey, as well as Eden and Cedar Paul, who are new figures to me, but who seem to have been doing their part to agitate for communist education in the English-speaking world of the inter-war period.  Reese and Teitelbaum’s most powerfully resonant claim in the present day is that socialist education in the United States in the first half of the 20th century were something of a “counter-hegemony” in a “war of position,” as described by the Italian anarchist thinker, Antonio Gramasci in his Prison Notebooks.

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