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
Tags: .USIH Roundtable