…Almost Makes You Want to Read It

Thanks to Mike Wakeford and the Society for US Intellectual History for offering a thoughtful review of my new book.   I was tickled pink to see it. Intellectual historians can be a tough crowd, so I was a little nervous when I starting reading it. But Dr. Wakeford captured my goals well and offered some kind words as well.

Get yr copy today!  The book one person is talking about!!

Get yr copy today! The book one person is talking about!!

SAGLRROILYBYGTH are sick of hearing about the book. But new readers might not know that I looked closely at four of the most famous school controversies of the twentieth century. I wanted to figure out what had gone into making someone “conservative” when it came to education.

It would not have been kosher, I thought, simply to pick some of the best-known conservative groups and chronicle their activism. To do so, I would have had to impose a definition of what it meant to be a true “conservative.” By looking at school battles and examining instead what the conservative side wanted in each case, I was able to extract a definition of conservatism without imposing one from the outside.

That was the goal, anyway. Did it work? Dr. Wakeford thinks so:

Laats’ case-study approach is sound, effectively accomplishing his stated purpose of avoiding falling into easy stereotypes and generalizations (5).

Whew! My second goal in this book was to avoid imposing twenty-first-century connotations of “conservatism” onto earlier generations. I worked hard to get into a broad array of archives in order to get a handle on what conservatives themselves really cared about in the decades from 1920 to 1980. I was enormously gratified to read that Wakeford appreciated my labors. As he put it, my approach

also required that he dip into a remarkably eclectic source base, which ends up as one of the book’s strengths. Given the public nature of educational debates, national and local newspapers from Tennessee to Pasadena to West Virginia provide the core. But the study is enriched by Laats’ use of state legislative records and evangelical publications from the 1920s, the archival and published record of the American Legion and other conservative groups, local school board records, and, in the case of Kanawha County, author interviews with key figures.

In the book—and in my work here on ILYBYGTH—I worked hard not to impose my own progressive assumptions or stereotypes on conservative activists. I did not want to write a book simply damning the work of conservatives. Rather, I wanted to try to understand their goals and evaluate their strategies. Wakeford evaluated those attempts kindly as well:

To his credit, Laats rarely questions his subjects’ sincerity or the authenticity of their curricular visions, crediting them as meaningful participants in an important civic conversation about the purpose of schooling. But he is no sympathizer, and asks difficult questions about what has really made the movement tick.

Almost makes you want to read the book! Many thanks to Dr. Wakeford and the US Intellectual History blog.


The Other School Reformers

Binghamtonians!  Are you busy next Tuesday nite?  You are now!

The place to be...

The place to be…

Come on down to RiverRead Books at 6:30 for a talk about my new book, The Other School Reformers. I’ll be sharing some of the questions that I’ve been wrestling with for the past decade or so, including the following things that keep me up at night:

  • What has it meant to be “conservative” about education?
  • Are our schools “conservative?” “Progressive?”
  • Why do conservatives love high-stakes testing?  Creationism? “Patriotic” education?
  • Should public schools teach “traditional” values?  Which ones?
  • And more!

What Does It Mean to Be Conservative about Education?

John Miller of National Review recently sat down with yours truly to talk about my new book, The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education. For you cheapskates out there who haven’t yet bought your copy, you can listen to this ten-minute interview to get the gist. Then go buy a copy.

What is "educational conservatism?"

What is “educational conservatism?”

Miller asks great questions that get at the heart of my efforts:

  • What does it mean to be “conservative” about education?
  • What lessons should conservatives learn from this history?
  • What can this history tell us about current conservative angst over the Common Core?
  • …and more!

Pre-Orders Now Available!

Want to be the first on your block to get your copy of The Other School Reformers?  Then pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order your copy today!

Pre-order your copy today!

As I was happy to announce recently, Harvard University Press will be releasing the book in early 2015.  But the pre-order just became available on sites such as Amazon.  The hardcover won’t be available until January 12, 2015, but if you pre-order today, you’ll be sure to WOW your friends and family by getting your hands on it first.

The Other School Reformers

Clear your calendars! We have a release date. The Other School Reformers will be hitting store shelves in February.  I know that’s a long time to wait, so I’m suggesting everyone dress up as their favorite conservative educational activist and camp out outside their local bookstore.

Coming January 2015.

Coming January 2015.

Thanks to the Smithsonian for this terrific cover image.  That’s Clarence Darrow (standing) facing William Jennings Bryan at the Scopes Trial.  In this book, I examine four epochal school controversies from the twentieth century.  In each case, I ask what conservative intellectuals and activists wanted out of schooling.  My goal is to find out what it meant to be “conservative” when it came to education.

The catalog listing just went up.  Here’s how the talented folks at Harvard University Press describe the book:

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.

Almost makes me want to read it myself.  For me, the next steps will be to review and copy-edit the full manuscript next month.  Then in July I’ll put together the index, with help from a talented graduate student.