Class Notes

Historical Foundations of Education — third meeting

Yesterday’s class seemed doomed from the outset. Because of a shortage of books, and my still-absent personal library, I was unable to retain a personal copy of the text for the day. Thankfully, I’ve read and taught Robert Church’s Education in the United States many, many times. But I was winging it.

As it turned out, the simple insight in what I call the “creation story” of compulsory schooling was powerful enough on its own. Compulsory schools were founded for socio-political, not academic, reasons. The function of this present structure of schooling, then, can only be understood within this history.

I spoke at great length about the descriptive details, including some of the ones Church underemphasizes and ignores. I also tried to imagine the characters in the story in ways that overlap today. We imagined the Jacksonian Democrats, Irish Catholic immigrants, Western settlers and pioneers, and more. And we looked into how this particular social blend begged — from the Whig viewpoint — for a “common school.”

I was particularly focused on the Whigs, both then and now. I won’t rehearse everything here, but I do mention it to show that, again, there was something astoundingly fresh about this class — even with a text I had not properly read beforehand and on subject matter that I have repeated for five years now.

I had originally promised to finish early, expecting very little of myself because of the books and the long commute I had just completed, but the class lingered even as I tried to wrap things up. Several students wanted to know more about the religious aspects, both sociologically and politically, which surprised and pleased me very much. In the hallway afterwards, a few of us spoke of the trials embedded in multiculturalism as a research project and as an encounter of racial identity, as compared to the ethnic focus in the 1830’s.

All in all, it was a very stimulating class to and for me. I hope the same for them.

SR


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