How school reformers in the Progressive Era—who envisioned the public school as the quintessential American institution—laid the groundwork for contemporary battles over the structure and curriculum of public schools.
Around the turn of the twentieth century, a generation of school reformers began touting public education's unique capacity to unite a diverse and diffuse citizenry while curing a broad swath of social and political ills. They claimed that investing in education would equalize social and economic relations, strengthen democracy, and create high-caliber citizens equipped for the twentieth century, all while preserving the nation's sacred traditions. More than anything, they pitched the public school as a quintessentially American institution, a patriotic symbol in its own right—and the key to perfecting the American experiment.
In Making Schools American, Cody Dodge Ewert makes clear that nationalism was the leading argument for schooling during the Progressive Era. Bringing together case studies of school reform crusades in New York, Utah, and Texas, he explores what was gained—and lost—as efforts to transform American schools evolved across space and time. Offering fresh insight into the development and politicization of public schooling in America, Ewert also reveals how reformers' utopian visions and lofty promises laid the groundwork for contemporary battles over the mission and methods of American public schools.
Despite their divergent political visions and the unique conditions of the states, cities, and individual districts they served, school reformers wielded nationalistic rhetoric that made education a rallying point for Americans across lines of race, class, religion, and region. But ultimately, Making Schools American argues, upholding education as a potential solution to virtually every societal problem has hamstrung broader attempts at social reform while overburdening schools.
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