U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Roundtable on Hartman’s Education and the Cold War (Part IV): Hartman Replies

Thank you to Tim Lacy and Joe Petrulionis for their favorable reviews of my book. Thanks also to Milton Gaither for providing the first review a few months ago, which helped spark this discussion, and to the USIH team for providing space for my comments. The most an author can hope is for people to read and debate his or her work. So I am quite pleased by this roundtable! Let’s hope this is the first of many.

Taken as a whole, the Gaither, Petrulionis, and Lacy reviews more than do justice to my book. For instance, Professor Gaither correctly writes that my “main contribution is to place educational history at the center of the Cold War historical narrative.” This was precisely my overarching historiographic goal in writing this book and, to my mind, if I was able to achieve it, I did so precisely because, as Gaither also notes, I wrote a “very unfashionable book.” In other words, I hope to return to that historiographic moment when such venerable historians as Richard Hofstadter and Lawrence Cremin placed educational history at the center of the nation’s political and intellectual history. The disciplinary retreat to a purely social history of the classroom, while important in and of itself, does not necessarily instruct us as to the larger national significance of education.

Along the lines of the relationship between education and politics, I am pleased that Petrulionis carefully read my conclusion–“The Educational Reproduction of the Cold War”–where I lay out my theory on, as described by Petrulionis, “the impact of the curriculum on the national political paradigm,” and vice versa. Were Gaither to closely read my conclusion–where I write that “a return to the structural analysis associated with theories of cultural and educational reproduction highlights the weaknesses in progressive education–and pragmatism more broadly–specifically, their failure to handle the stresses and strains of crises, especially the crises generated by war” (200)–perhaps he would not claim that my book reads like a morality tale between good and evil, or that I consistently take sides with progressives over conservatives. In fact, I tend to think that nearly everyone in this bifurcated 1950s debate–which can be nicely transposed onto the 1980s in the form of the infamous “culture wars”–held contradictory ideological premises, a mix of good and bad. For instance, I enjoy conservatives like Richard Weaver who deplored the utilitarianism of modern education, even though his apologies for “natural” hierarchy perturb my small “d” democratic, populist, and, yes, Marxist sensibilities. Likewise, I agree with the egalitarian instincts of the postwar progressives–often referred to as the “life adjustors”–even though I find their anti-intellectual approaches repellent. In short, the reason I designate as heroes the likes of Theodore Brameld and Paul Goodman, and to lesser degrees Dewey, Hutchins, and Hofstadter, is because they do not typify any one side of this narrowly-defined, normative division.

Gaither further states that ECW is a “work of synthesis, drawing more on the published works of other historians than on his own original research.” Both Petrulionis and Lacy nicely deal with this issue in their reviews. Professor Petrulionis points out that I do “not accept the untested judgments of earlier scholars, even from the giants of his field,” such as, I might add, Diane Ravitch, Clarence Karier, and Herbert Kliebard. Professor Lacy, whose own work similarly mines the published primary sources of twentieth-century intellectuals and educators, argues that ECW “is most certainly grounded in primary documents.” And yet, Gaither mistook published primary sources for secondary sources, most likely, I suppose, for the same reason he considers intellectual historical methodologies, which are not typically archival, “unfashionable.” What makes Gaither’s claim especially frustrating is that my book is the first on the topic of education in the Cold War, or the first in over fifty years, since Robert Iverson wrote Communists and the Schools in 1959. The first serious scholarly look at education during the cold war can hardly be mere synthesis of other scholarship.

I would like to briefly address two critiques that arose in the reviews–critiques that have been some of the most common, including at my dissertation defense (ECW began as my dissertation). First, Lacy’s excellent point that a look into the history of Catholics and the schools would have presented a fuller picture of education during the Cold War. I tend to agree with this criticism, and in retrospect wish I would have written a chapter on not only how Catholic anti-Communism contributed to the sense of crisis in the schools, but also how the debates over whether or not parochial schools should have been funded by taxpayers helped shape the Catholic attitude towards public education. Lacy notes that I paint a textured picture of the conservative “community of discourse,” but an even fuller one would have included conservative Catholic intellectuals, a topic covered by Patrick Allitt in his Catholic Intellectuals and Conservative Politics in America, 1950-1985 (although it should be noted that Allitt’s Catholic conservatives are hardly distinguishable from their Protestant and Natural Law fellow travelers).

Another common critique is made by Gaither, who writes that I do not explain how those children “trained for life adjustment and acquiescence in American imperialism… emerged [in the 1960s] as some of the most radical critics of American foreign policy, racism, sexism, and corporate greed.” In no way do I imply that the educational system, or political system for that matter, was totalitarian. There remained some room to maneuver, otherwise a theorist like Theodore Brameld would have been shipped off to an American Gulag. In Chapter Nine, I demonstrate that the Fifties were not placid, that the ideological conflicts of the Sixties were written into those of the Fifties. In other words, we get a Paul Goodman before we get a student movement, and we get a Max Rafferty before we get a Goldwater movement. Plus, readers should understand that, by 1968, although the majority of Americans disapproved of the Vietnam War, an even larger majority disapproved of the antiwar movement. Thus, ECW might help explain Nixon (and later Reagan). Gaither contends that, if conservatism is the central story, ECW makes it “hard to understand why sex, drugs, and rock and roll happened.” On the contrary, I would argue that the progressive education movement’s postwar trajectory–education for consumer living, as opposed to education for critical thinking, or education for social democracy–easily bled into the hedonistic counterculture. As Christopher Lasch once wrote, “The so-called counter culture represents a mirror image of consumer capitalism.”

In conclusion, I would like to briefly describe why I decided to write this book. (For a longer biographical sketch, see my essay, The Making of an Educator.) Before entering graduate school at the George Washington University, I taught high school history for two years at a working-class school in the Denver area. I left my job there having learned two important lessons. First, there are powerful forces at work shaping the supposedly safe confines of the school. In other words, as John Dewey correctly theorized a century ago, the divide between school and society is illusive. Second, educational politics animate otherwise reasonable people to behave in unpredictable, often belligerent ways. This was made evident when some of my colleagues shunned me in the wake of my efforts to shed light on the racist character of military recruitment at the school. It is now clear to me that these two lessons have formed the foundation of my scholarship. In short, ECW is rooted in my experience that Americans have frequently expressed their political aspirations and fears in educational terms.

I want to thank everyone for reading. I welcome comments, short or extensive. Now I need to think about how to research the book suggested by Petrulionis–how “the Cold War era’s rejection of the label ‘progressive education’ morphed into a subsequent crisis, code named, ‘No Child Left Behind.'” Puzzling! – AH

7 Thoughts on this Post

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  1. Andrew,

    I alluded to this admittedly small, perhaps niggling point in my review, but can you talk about why ECW covered only the “early Cold War?” Did your dissertation progress further chronologically? Even though this is a cheap marker, I use the fall of the Berlin Wall as a signpost for the end of the Cold War. If you see the Cold War as having a longer timeframe, was it an editorial decision to use only “Cold War” in the title and through most of the book?

    Again, this is only a small point, but can you indulge my “niggliness”?

    – TL

  2. Tim,

    Good question. I set out to write a history of the “education wars” of the long “Fifties” (1947-1963–historical era rarely adhere to the decimal system). But in the course of my early research I realized two things. First, that the Cold War was utterly central to this history. And second, that I could not hope to tell this history without going back to detail some of the earlier ideological scrums.

    Along the lines of earlier background, I decided that it would be especially important to do my own research and analysis of John Dewey, since, as I write in my book’s introduction, “Postwar critics of all ideological stripes–from liberal intellectuals to fierce anticommunists to traditionalist conservatives–questioned the principles of Dewey’s philosophical pragmatism and progressive education, although almost everyone in this pitched rhetorical battle often misunderstood Dewey. This fact, however, did nothing to contradict the axiom that to know where one stood in relation to Dewey was to know where one stood in relation to the battle for the American school” (2). In short, I did not want to repeat the mistakes of so many 1950s education warriors in failing to come to my own sense of Dewey.

    None of this, of course, answers your question as to why the narrative did not extend until 1989 when the Cold War officially came to an end. There are two answers to this. First, and most poignantly, the book seemed long enough ending it in the early 1960s. So perhaps I should have titled it _Education and the Early Cold War_. But, and leading to my second point, the Cold War dominated education debates in the Fifties in ways that it did not after that, including the standards debate that ensued after “A Nation at Risk” (1983). In fact, I would say the Cold War dominated domestic politics during the Fifties in ways that it did not later, even during the Vietnam War, which seems to me less about the Cold War and more about a struggle over the US role in filling the vacuum left by the European colonial and imperial powers. The Fifties, in other words, are more properly “the Cold War.”

    Cheers. AH

  3. Tim’s question and Andrew’s answer does point to a wider tendency among historians and the public to implicitly understand “Cold War America” as the period from roughly 1945-1963. Even my own lectures often proceed meticulously almost year-by-year until the Cuban Missile Crisis, then go right into Vietnam and the fall of the Berlin Wall. This in spite of the fact that I have long personally resented the fact that there is no historical space for my own experience of the Cold War: I graduated from college in 1989, and very much grew up under the fear of being annihilated by a nuclear bomb. But because there are no black-and-white photos of me and my classmates diving under our desks, no one ever says that people my age “grew up under the shadow of the Cold War.”

    One reason for this, in my view, is because the experience of the ’70s and ’80s doesn’t really fit into the narrative that was established by the subsequent U.S. “victory.” My own personal and anecdotal memories of the period were that for many–particularly among liberals like my parents and most of their friends–the Cold War was a nuisance, if not a joke. Many at the time, again in my recollection, seemed to think that putting all that money into fighting the Russians was a tremendous waste of resources, and that Reagan’s preoccupation with Star Wars and the Contras was almost an irrational obsession. For people my age, “War Games” and “The Day After” seemed to suggest the Cold War was not a noble calling that kept the world free, but a parlor game among the elites that would eventually get the rest of us killed. (“The Day After” went out of its way to avoid saying who started the nuclear war, the point being that it wouldn’t really matter once the bombs destroyed your town and killed most of the people that you knew.)

    But after the Soviet Union fell and Reagan became a national hero, the American people literalized the “war” metaphor. Who wants to say that they opposed what was quickly becoming one of our nation’s greatest hours? Conservatives crowed triumphantly about having stayed the course, and liberals turned to Truman and Kennedy in order to deny that they had ever been anything but supportive of the entire enterprise.

    As you can see, this question has tapped into one of my pet theories: something I’ve even imagined writing a book on someday. I freely admit, however, that I have nothing other than personal and anecdotal evidence for this interpretation, and have not done an ounce of research on the topic. So, that’s what I think, but you can take it for what it’s worth.

  4. Mike,

    Your anecdotally-driven analysis points to an important reason as to why the Fifties are considered “more” Cold War than subsequent decades. From 1947 until 1963, or more precisely, until about 1968, there existed a wide-ranging consensus on US Cold War policy. When that consensus shattered, a good portion of Americans, mostly liberal or further left, quit believing in the coordinates of the Cold War, as you make clear with regards to your parents and their friends. As such, a Red Scare the proportion of which swept America up in from 1947-1955 would have been impossible in the 70s and 80s–because Cold War America, proper, no longer existed. AH

  5. Mike & AH,

    I agree that the 1950s were intellectually, socially, and culturally “more Cold War” than the late 1960s through the 1989 period. But I very much disagree that folks “quit believing in the coordinates of the Cold War” after 1968.

    Mike’s anecdote mirrors mine in terms of the fear of nuclear annihilation during the 1980s—but breaks down when one considers social, political, and cultural factors. I grew up in a middle-class-to-poor area of rural Midwestern Missouri, and serious consideration of Cold War “coordinates” persisted all through the 1980s (i.e. defense spending, defense industry). Ignorant or no, my grandfather talked about the necessity of staying the course against Russia all through the 1980s.

    In terms of education, “A Nation at Risk” was as much about the Cold War as internal visions of crumbling school standards and anti-multiculturalism. One of the things we were “at risk” of losing was our math and science competitive edge, and that edge was necessarily trumped up by conservatives (like Bill Bennett and others) as a bulwark against the Communist Russia they still (falsely) thought existed.

    Moreover, Reagan was re-elected—in part—for his renewed call for American “Cold Warriorness” (it’s my day for neologisms). And think of all the militaristic Cold War cultural productions of the decade (Rambo, Top Gun, Red Dawn, etc.) and those Mike mentioned. Were those movies popular ~merely~ because the masses feared that elites would get them killed? No. They were popular, in part, because Cold War “coordinates” still massively resonated with the populace.

    Finally, if Vietnam was not about the 1950s-era “domino theory” of the Cold War, what was? While the Vietnam War morphed into a “local” cultural and social phenomena particular to the U.S., it was nevertheless an international play in the Cold War. Of course, in retrospect, through things like McNamara in “Fog of War” and the numerous analyses of the Vietnam War’s roots, we know that our involvement grew out of misperceptions about China-Vietnamese-Russian relations. But that is, again, with hindsight. Those who protested the protestors (the “Silent Majority”) believed that Vietnam was a necessary Cold War move.

    – TL

  6. Tim,

    Your points are well taken. I don’t mean to suggest that the Cold War was over by 1963 or 1968 for most or even a majority of Americans, but that the “coordinates” quit making sense for some, a growing number. The consensus had been shattered. And this made the later Cold War less socially, culturally, and intellectually Cold war-ish. But as you make clear, the 1980s saw a cultural Cold War comeback of sorts, although it seemed more comedy than tragedy (there I go with my Marxism again).

    As for A Nation at Risk, the international economic pressures that sparked the report were applied more by Japan and Germany than by international communism. Yes, Czar Bennett framed it in Cold War language–tapping into the conservative “community of discourse” that you addressed in your review of my book. But such claims did not carry the type of weight that they did when Admiral Rickover or Arthur Bestor or Allen Zoll were making them in the 1950s. AH

  7. All,
    Slightly on topic may be Samantha Power’s latest in the NY Review of Books. Her article, which definitely comes from her own political position on the left, covers the breakdown of the Cold War consensus around Vietnam and the subsequent political landscape that it created. Check it out here:

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