In this wonderfully evocative picture of an urban American high school and its successes and setbacks over the past thirty-five years, Gerald Grant works out a unique perspective on what makes a good school: one that asserts moral and intellectual authority without becoming rigidly doctrinaire or losing the precious gains in equality of opportunity that have been won at great cost.
Grant describes what happened inside Hamilton High (a real school, although its identity is disguised), and how different worlds evolved as the school’s authority system was transformed. After the opening of Hamilton High in the buoyant and self-confident 1950s, the school plunged into a period of violence and radical deconstruction in the late sixties. Grant charts the rise of student power in the seventies, followed by new transformations of the school in the last decade occasioned in part by the mainstreaming of disabled students and the arrival of Asian immigrants. Things got very bad before they got better, but they did get better. The school went from white power to black power to genuine racial equality. Its average test scores declined and then improved. Although test-score means did not return to their former levels, the gap in achievement between the social classes decreased. Violence was replaced by a sense of relative safety and security.
Yet this book is not just a case study. In the second half the author presents a general analysis of American education. He contrasts the world of Hamilton High with other possible worlds, including those at three schools (one public and two private) that exhibit a strong positive ethos. He looks at the way the moral and intellectual worlds have been sundered in many contemporary public schools and asks whether they can be put back together again.
The book is grounded in a creative methodology that includes research by students at Hamilton High, whom Grant trained to analyze life in their school. Later he shared this research with teachers as a means of opening a dialogue about what changes they wanted to make. Grant’s analysis leads to recommendations for two essential reforms, and in an epilogue the teachers who read this hook also tell us what they make of it and offer their own conclusions. Their challenging final words will spur the thinking of educators, policymakers, scholars, parents, and all those who are concerned about our schools today.
[A] graceful, human, engaging narrative of what happened to an American high school during the successive decades of optimism, integration, student upstarting and declining results. [It] has heart and mind… Here is a survey course in what went wrong when everybody but teachers claimed to know best… A superb case history of what is probably the noblest American dream—education for everybody.
If a reading list was compiled of the 10 best books on American high schools, one of the 10 would certainly be Gerald Grant’s The World We Created at Hamilton High. Mr. Grant spent years studying one high school in order to study the changes that have taken place in American secondary education since the 1950s. His detailed and thorough research produced a lasting and important work.
The World We Created at Hamilton High is beautifully written, carefully researched, and continually insightful. With searing honesty Gerald Grant portrays the dilemmas of the schools today, especially those conditions that cause public schools to retreat behind a façade of bureaucratic legalism and to abandon the attempt to forge a sense of community. By looking closely and sensitively at one school, Grant places the policy debates and history of the past thirty-five years under his microscope. He has succeeded in writing a brilliant and provocative book.
[Grant’s] historical portrait of Hamilton—scrupulously researched and keenly analyzed—makes this book an invaluable resource in a field characterized by its ahistorical perspective and its ongoing love affair with ‘the new.’
Grant is an excellent historian and writer. His book contains, in addition to a good story, a powerful argument for school reform.
Grant’s reconstruction of the experiences of the people at Hamilton High and his remarkable attempt to bring those experiences to life make for compelling reading.
Gerald Grant provides a meticulous study of Hamilton High School (a pseudonym) from its opening in the 1950s to the present… For those of us who experienced those years, Grant’s account is a vivid and painfully accurate chronicle of a tumultuous time in American education. For those of us who didn’t, his book offers special insights into the forces that have—for better or worse—shaped our public high schools.
Gerald Grant has written the benchmark book of the 1980s… The World We Created at Hamilton High has an authenticity and a respect for the complexity of life in schools that has rarely been equaled in our professional literature.
- 304 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
From this author
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