Great post about the history of education in America, and why without knowledge of this history, we are doomed to repeat it.
Originally posted on Diane Ravitch's blog:
David Lentini, a reader in Maine, comments (in response, I promise to do some instruction on this blog about the history of school reform, which has been an American pastime for over a century):
I started reading about the history of education reform in America about 10 years ago, when our national insanity was becoming too extensive to ignore under the reign of “W”. Wondering how a country could boast both the most widely and extensively educated population in history and also have the greatest disdain—if not outright loathing—for intellect, I found my way to Richard Hofstader’s “Anti-Intellectualism in American Life”. Hofstader’s book (which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1964) gives an excellent description of America’s historical distaste for intellectual discourse, instead favoring a volatile combination of fundamentalist religion and laissez-faire capitalism that emphasizes received wisdom over deliberative thought. In discussing this history, Hofstader gives an excellent overview of the heavy influence that business had on the education reform movements that started about 1890 and their brutal treatment of those who wanted to center American schooling around a traditional liberal education model. His comments on the NEA’s “The Committee of Ten” report in 1892, advising a rigorous liberal arts education for all American children and its drubbing by the elites at schools like Columbia’s Teachers College makes rather depressing reading.
Following Hofstader, I came across a copy of the first edition (1940) of Mortimer Adler’s “How to Read a Book”. Adler’s book, which I found to be an excellent tutorial for what we now seem to call “deep reading”, included a blunt discussion of the reformist forces that demanded the end of the traditional liberal arts curriculum and its replacement with electives which he and Robert Maynard Hutchins fought against at the University of Chicago in the ’30s and ’40s. I’ve read both Adler’s and Hutchins’s later critiques of education as well, and, having attended several of the notable schools in this country (including Chicago) and watching the increasing barbarity of our culture the graduates of the schools seem so bent on imposing on us all, I can only say I consider much of what they wrote to have been prescient. I’m a big fan of Adler’s Paideia approach to education.