I’m tickled pink to announce I’ve signed a deal with Harvard University Press to publish my next book. The subject? No surprise to ILYBYGTH readers: the book takes a historical look at educational conservatism in America’s twentieth century. What did conservatives want out of schools? How did they work to make that happen?
I’m extremely pleased to have the book join HUP’s top roster of educational histories. All my favorite books are on that list: David Tyack & Larry Cuban’s Tinkering Toward Utopia, Jon Zimmerman’s Whose America?, Jeffrey Moran’s Teaching Sex, and now Bill Reese’s Testing Wars.
I’m honored to join this all-star lineup. My book—which at this point I’m calling The Other School Reformers: The Conservative Tradition in American Education—takes a look at the four most explosive school controversies of the twentieth century. My approach has been to examine these four culture-war fights to see what sorts of educational reform conservatives wanted in each case. At first, I thought I’d pile up histories of leading conservative organizations and individuals: the American Legion, Max Rafferty, the Gablers, etc. But I couldn’t find a way to decide whom to include and whom to leave out. Did the White Citizens’ Councils count as educational conservatives? Did the Institute for Creation Research? Did Arthur Bestor?
Instead of imposing my own definitions on the outlines of educational conservatism, I took more of a naturalist’s approach. I set up my blind, so to speak, at the four most tumultuous fights over the content of American schools and watched to see what kinds of conservative activists showed up.
The school controversies were all very different. First I examine the Scopes Trial of 1925. Then the Rugg textbook controversy of 1939-1940. After that, the firing of Pasadena’s progressive superintendent in 1950. Finally, the literally explosive fight over schools and textbooks in Kanawha County, West Virginia, in 1974 and 1975.
What did I dig up? In short, I argue that there is a coherent tradition linking conservative school reform across the twentieth century. Not that these different activists had any sort of conscious organization or program. Conservatives differed—often differed widely—about key issues such as public religion, race, and the role of government and experts. More than that, the consensus among conservatives changed over time, as American culture and society changed. For example, racial attitudes among white conservatives changed enormously between 1925 and 1975. But in spite of all this change and difference, a recognizable tradition of educational conservatism linked these disparate school reformers. Conservatives usually agreed with progressive school reformers that good schools were the key to a good society. But unlike progressives, conservatives wanted schools to emphasize traditional knowledge and beliefs: patriotism, religion, and the benefits of capitalism, for example.
In addition, my book makes the case for the importance of understanding these conservative activists as school reformers in their own right. Too often, the history of American education is told as the heroic tale of progressive activists fighting bravely against a powerful but vague traditionalism. My book argues instead that educational conservatism is more than just a vague cultural impulse; conservatism has always been a raft of specific policy ideas for specific historical contexts, fought for by specific individuals and organizations.
So be sure to save some space in your holiday gift list for next year. The book is slated to appear just in time for Christmas/Hannukah/Kwanzaa/Festivus 2014.