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The Other School Reformers

The Other School Reformers

Conservative Activism in American Education

Adam Laats

ISBN 9780674416710

Publication date: 02/09/2015

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The idea that American education has been steered by progressive values is celebrated by liberals and deplored by conservatives, but both sides accept it as fact. Adam Laats shows that this widely held belief is simply wrong. Upending the standard narrative of American education as the product of courageous progressive reformers, he calls to center stage the conservative activists who decisively shaped America’s classrooms in the twentieth century. The Other School Reformers makes clear that, in the long march of American public education, progressive reform has more often been a beleaguered dream than an insuperable force.

Laats takes an in-depth look at four landmark school battles: the 1925 Scopes Trial, the 1939 Rugg textbook controversy, the 1950 ouster of Pasadena Public Schools Superintendent Willard Goslin, and the 1974 Kanawha County school boycott. Focused on issues ranging from evolution to the role of religion in education to the correct interpretation of American history, these four highly publicized controversies forced conservatives to articulate their vision of public schooling—a vision that would keep traditional Protestant beliefs in America’s classrooms and push out subversive subjects like Darwinism, socialism, multiculturalism, and feminism. As Laats makes clear in case after case, activists such as Hiram Evans and Norma Gabler, Homer Chaillaux and Louise Padelford were fiercely committed to a view of the curriculum that inculcated love of country, reinforced traditional gender roles and family structures, allowed no alternatives to capitalism, and granted religion a central role in civic life.

Praise

  • The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education is the first comprehensive historical study of conservative educational activism in the United States… Laats makes a compelling argument that a powerful tradition of educational conservatism has played a decisive role in shaping American public schools and culture from the 1920s through the present… The Other School Reformers makes a vital contribution to the history of education by identifying a clearly discernable and politically powerful tradition of conservative educational reform in the United States since the 1920s. One of this book’s strengths is its ability to explain the connections between these four episodes separated by time and space, and also to account for such differences as the changing ways that conservative educational activists dealt with race and religion.

    —Zoë Burkholder, History of Education Quarterly

Awards

  • 2016, Winner of the HES Outstanding Book Award

Author

  • Adam Laats is Associate Professor of Education and History, Binghamton University (State University of New York).

Book Details

  • 328 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press

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