Labaree, “Public Goods, Private Goods”
Labaree discusses three competing purposes of American schooling: democratic equality, social efficiency, and social mobility. He traces these competing purposes throughout the history of American schooling and points to eras when some were more ascendant than others. As you will see, the class will examine some of the same eras he discusses (the next two sessions will focus on the Common School Era and the Progressive Era), and, in fact, we will problematize them somewhat.
This piece is intended as an introduction to the mission of the class and to how the rest of the quarter will proceed. It takes on the perennial issues facing schools by forcing us to think differently about school reform. Labaree argues that attempts to improve education through pedagogical or organizational means and solutions based on social or cultural realities are only partial measures that do not address the underlying problem facing schools. In Labaree’s words, the question of how to improve schools is fundamentally political, “the problem is not that we do not know how to make schools better but that we are fighting among ourselves about what goals schools should pursue.” Because there is no consensus on exactly which personal or societal goals schools should achieve, we continue to battle over how they should serve students or society.
What do you think? Should schools present themselves as a model of our best hopes for society and a mechanism for remaking that society in the image of those hopes? Should schools focus on adapting students to the needs of society as currently constructed? Or should they focus primarily on serving the individual hopes and ambitions of their students? The way you answer the question reveals the goals you will seek in your own classroom and your own understanding of social justice.
When you do the reading, ask yourself:
Do you agree with Labaree, that social mobility has trumped democratic equality and social efficiency as a goal?
Where have you seen these different and competing goals reflected in your own experiences as a student or as a student-teacher?
What do these goals mean for how you will teach your specific subject area? Can you give an example of how a lesson would look if it were aimed at attaining each of the three goals? What does this mean for how you will approach your role in the classroom?
Why do we have public schools and what purpose to they serve? The Common School Era of the 1830s-1860s
Guide to Readings and Role Assignments for
“Historical Role Play” on Common School Era
The common school era (1830s-1860s) established the foundation of the public education system in the United States. In support of reform, educators and other leaders articulated a set of principles generally referred to as the common school ideal. They argued that in order to achieve certain essential values of American society, such as liberty, civic equality, and republican government, state systems of tax-supported schooling were necessary. They also argued that state support was necessary to achieve certain improvements in the distribution and quality of schooling.
Eventually, common school reformers achieved much of what they wanted, but they did not succeed without an extended fight or without multiple sources of resistance and opposition. An account of these reform campaigns and conflicts is provided by Carl Kaestle in the chapters 6 and 7 of his book, Pillars of the Republic. Chapter 6 describes the set of ideas that supported reform. Chapter 7 describes some of the sources of opposition to and conflict over reform. Half of our class will be assigned to read Chapter 6, while the other half of the class reads chapter 7.
Our goal for this class session is to understand the issues of the common school era by looking at it from multiple perspectives. In order to achieve this, each of you will be assigned the role of a specific historical actor and a primary source to help you develop your role. Come to class prepared to speak to the issue of common school reform from the perspective of that historical actor. This means: first, becoming familiar with the issues of common school reform as discussed in Kaestle’s, Pillars of the Republic; and second, investigating and thinking deeply about the position and perspective of the person whose role you’ve been assigned. During our class we will hold a mock “town-meeting” among these actors.
To prepare for your role consider the following questions: Given the position of the historical actor to which you’ve been assigned,was common school reform justified? Why or why not? Which of the arguments in favor of reform would your actor find most compelling? Which most problematic? Remember that the best arguments take into account objections from opposing sides.
Below are the roles and the associated readings to which you will be assigned. In most cases the associated readings are written directly from the perspective of your actor. In other cases you will need to draw more heavily on material provided in Kaestle, Pillars of the Republic to help you develop your role.
School Reformers (chapter 6 of Kaestle)
1. Albino Perez—promoter of public education for New Mexico (Superintendents' Reports)
2. John Pierce—promoter of common school reform in Michigan (Superintendents' Reports)
3. Samuel Lewis--promoter of common school reform in Ohio (Superintendents' Reports)
4. Horace Mann--promoter of common school reform in Massachusetts (Superintendents' Reports; also Religion and Education)
5. Benjamin Labaree, President of Middlebury College (Essays on Immigration)
Teachers (chapter 6 of Kaestle)
6. Melissa Rankin—white Protestant teacher in Brownsville, Texas (Rankin, “Memoir”)
7. Cynthia Bishop—white Protestant teacher in Indiana (Pioneer Teachers' Letters)
8. Nathan Condol—African American Protestant missionary teacher from Geneva, NY (N. Condol and D. Allen Letters)
9. Martha Rogers---white Protestant teacher in Indiana (Pioneer Teachers’ Letters)
10. Lord Sterling—Older male teacher in rural town of Lima, NY (Lima Documents)
11. Nancy Smith—Young female teacher in rural town of Lima, NY (Lima Documents)
12. William Pickens—African American teacher and leader (Northern Jim Crow)