Mini Review: Michael B. Katz, “The Origins of Public Education: A Reassessment” History of Education Quarterly, (Winter 1976)

With the Japanese government finally undertaking more aggressive and widespread anti-COVID19 measures since the end of April, I have had a lot more time with the kids and a lot less time to read history of education journal articles like this one. However, in other recent news, I have learned that I will be teaching (or at least assistant teaching) an undergraduate class at UW in the fall. The class is a long-running elective for teaching licensure candidates called, “The Purpose of Public Education in a Democracy.” To be honest, I am thrilled to have been given this opportunity. To be teaching at a university is literally a dream come true. So, I have been all kinds of motivated suddenly in the past few days to do every little thing I can to make sure I will be the best graduate student teacher I can be come this September. All of this, of course, God willing, and I can make my way back to North America without succumbing to the current plague.

So, with all of that as a backdrop, I dug back in this week to some of the articles I had saved from the HEQ 50th anniversary retrospective, and found an earlier one– this piece by Michael Katz, who was the president of the History of Education Society in 1976. This piece about the origins of public education in North America, based largely on Katz’s own research in an industrial community in Ontario, Canada, gives a sweeping if perhaps over-general assessment of the field of History of Education with a focus on one of the major problems in the field at that time: how public education became an institution in North America. This seems like a particularly relevant article given the work assignment I just received this past week, teaching about the purpose of public education. As I read this piece, I kept wondering about the relationship between historical evidence for the ontological emergence of public education as an institution, and the normative or teleological roots of the institution. Is the class I’m going to be teaching more rooted in one or the other of these questions? And is the history of education as a field more concerned with one or the other, if not some third option?

Admittedly, I have little sense of how this question of the emergence of public education has developed, or to what degree it has been “settled” or perhaps continues to be revised in the field of history of education. But reading Katz, I have begun to get a clearer sense of the directions in which the field developed, what questions were central to its early contributors, and where my future research might fit in, interrupt, stand up and clear its throat. For instance, the first piece of history of education I read consciously as such was Duberman’s social history of Black Mountain College, which became central to my own M.Ed. research on Dewey’s influence there. But Duberman, who was writing around the publication of Katz’s HEQ presidency was responding to Cremin’s The Transformation of the School (1961), which Katz also recognizes as a starting point (with Paul H. Buck, et al. 1957; and Bernard Bailyn, 1960) for his work. Likewise, I see echos of Katz claims about the “feminization” of the teaching profession in my advisor, Nancy Beadie’s earlier work.

I think I’ll just leave this “review” there for now. I need to return to childcare duties. So, the content of Katz’s analysis will have to wait. But these “big-picture” concerns are just as exciting. I look forward to being able to formulate an even more detailed history of the field as I begin preparing to teach this survey course in the fall.

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.

Proletcult (proletarian culture) : Paul, Eden, 1865-1944 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Books, pamphlets and periodicals: p. 143-151

Source: Proletcult (proletarian culture) : Paul, Eden, 1865-1944 : Free Download, Borrow, and Streaming : Internet Archive

Great resource from The Internet Archive, itself a great resource!  Looking forward to digging into this, which was referenced in a 1989 History of Education Quarterly Article by Kenneth Teitelbaum, and William Reese.  Reference to this work, or possibly to the Russian institution with a similar name (spelled, of course, with a K) lives on in podcast form under the auspices of The Antifada, which, I have to credit for making me aware of this particular portmanteau word, and the phenomena it points to.

Micro Review: From Student Markets to Credential Markets (Beadie, 1999) The History of Education Quarterly

Micro-Review: From Student Markets to Credential Markets: The Creation of the Regents Examination System in New York State, 1864-1890 by Nancy Beadie (HEQ, Vol. 39, No. 1, Spring 1999, pp. 1-30)

Well, it’s really happening. I am finally going to be enrolling in a doctoral program in History of Education at the University of Washington. The two History of Ed. Professors there are Joy Williamson-Lott, and Nancy Beadie, both of whom I have now been in contact with, if briefly. But in two weeks I have a meeting scheduled with Dr. Beadie to discuss next steps for me as I gear up to move to Seattle and get started with this. So, with these big changes as the backdrop, I’ve been anxious to get started reading and thinking more specifically about the kinds of research I’ll be able to do at UW as well as the kinds of questions I’ll be best supported in asking with my research by Dr. Beadie and Dr. Williamson-Lott.

In my digging around for papers that would give me a clearer picture of what Dr. Beadie’s research is about, I came across this one, now more than 20 years old, in the History of Education Quarterly Archives. Dr. Beadie was the Editor of that journal as recently as last year, I believe, and she still plays an active role in the History of Education Society, a group which I should very likely be joining in the not too distant future. This article was identified in a retrospective of HEQ pieces voted most representative of the periodical over the 50 years from 1960 to 2010. It’s a piece that seems to link Dr. Beadie’s research track along the line of private schools and academies in North America from the 18th century into the 19th century, with her main current area of research of educational markets and the emergence of educational systems in States. The piece focuses on the State of New York. And it is an institutional history, that is the research is focused on the governance of and demographic impact of the New York Board of Regents, establishment of a system of secondary examinations in the late 1860s. These Board of Regents Exams comprise the United States’ oldest regime of standardized testing. But at the heart of the significance of this new educational technology, the State-wide standardized test, Beadie argues, is a credential marketplace, which replaced, the student marketplace that colleges in North American had relied on to that pointi.

The significance of the creation of this new kind of market is in the analysis and conclusions it allows historians to make about the scarcity of education during this time period and the impact of that scarcity both locally and across jurisdictions in a region. So, not only are local politicians and education administrators suddenly on the hook for greater access to these credentials, but individuals could essentially trade on them for access to college education. What remains unclear from Beadie’s analysis is a clarification of the reason for or in Beadie’s words, “chronology” of the initial implementation of the Board of Regents’ policies. Beadie shows that the new exams came in the wake of a long decrease in public school enrollment. And interestingly, demographic analysis of New York high school graduates of the late 19th century, women were the greatest beneficiaries of this new credential system. But I have a hard time imagining that achieving a greater level of gender parity of students qualified for college was what the New York Board of Regents had in mind when they implemented this policy to begin with.

So, to connect this back to my initial concerns about finding a suitable home for the research I want to do as a grad student, I am impressed by the logical moves that institutional histories like these are able to make from demographic data, but I hope that my research will be able to bring a more human face to findings like these. Actually, on that note, I want to re-read another article from the HEQ that Beadie wrote I believe with Kim Tolley, another past HEQ editor, I believe, that dealt with some letters from a New York teacher who traveled to North Carolina to become a school teacher during the late 19th century. This may be a better fit in terms of the type of history I want to be writing. It’s very important to me to center teachers as powerful decision makers in communities, especially when they are acting in solidarity with their communities towards social justice aims. But, of course, this teacher agency only comes into play against the backdrop of the larger social-political and economic universe of schooling. I guess, sometimes its even at odds with the direction these larger forces are pushing. In the case of this Board of Regents creation of a new market, a set of policies, which is dubious, at best, given the rampant standardized testing of the present day, actually seems to have worked in favor of the masses of New Yorkers, and women in particular, at least in the short-term.

iNote: I’m curious, how did student markets function prior to the invention of such credential markets. Were they more like labor markets? I can see how, on its face, the credential is different from the student, but the credential cannot really be separated from the student. It has no exchange value, so to speak. It’s only value appears to be vis-a-vis the individual student who obtains it. So, this is a point of further study for me.