HES 2013 session on Teaching School Reform, Past & Present

Posted on

School Reform, Past and Present:  
Multiple perspectives on a history of education course
History of Education Society annual meeting, Nashville TN, Oct 31-Nov 3rd, 2013

Twenty years ago, David Tyack and Larry Cuban taught a seminar at Stanford University on the history of school reform.  One upshot of the class was their book, Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform (Harvard University Press, 1995). They spanned past and present in a concise volume (142 pages of text) that was clearly organized, well written, and persuasively argued. The History of Education Quarterly devoted 29 pages to a “forum” on the book (Winter 1996, v36, n4), and many of us in HES have assigned Tinkering Toward Utopia in our graduate and advanced undergraduate courses.

Reflection questions:

1) Why bother studying the history of school reform?  Why not focus instead on current issues or concentrate on change in the future?

2) The particulars of our courses:

  • How did our one semester courses encompass both the past and the present?  School reform in the past could easily take an entire year; so could contemporary school reform.  How did we focus our classes to avoid superficial coverage of a zillion topics?
  • What particular assignments did we think achieved our goal of linking past and present?
  • What role (if any) did our own convictions and points of view play in our design of the courses?  Would a student by the end know our particular beliefs on current reforms (and yet still feel we respected other points of view)?

3) What enduring insights or habits of mind did our students retain after the semester ended?

Panelists (with additional text and syllabi links to come):

Robert Hampel, University of Delaware (moderator)
Syllabus for Educ 391: School Reform, Past and Present

Jack Dougherty, Trinity College
Syllabus for Educ 300: Education Reform – Past and Present
Abstract: At my liberal arts college, I created an undergraduate course on education reform that pairs readings from the past and present to allow for richer comparisons over time. For example, students analyze primary sources on the nineteenth-century Common School movement and contrast those with contemporary debates over school choice. Similarly, strategies for system building in the Progressive era are compared with present-day standards and accountability movements. Turn-of-the-century demands by women teachers to unionize are paired with the present-day accounts by Teach for America advocates. The roots of civil rights activism that led to Brown v Board are placed alongside recent Supreme Court rulings to roll back those efforts. In addition, student engage in two types of writing: historical analysis of primary sources from the past, and journalist-style news reports on education policy debates happening in nearby school boards and the state capital. (To illustrate ideas above, syllabus materials and student writing are shared on the open web.) Overall, a guiding principle is that undergraduate learning is enriched by closely integrating (rather than separating) the study of school reform in the past and present.

Heather Lewis, Pratt Institute
Syllabus Ed 608: The Roots of Urban Education
Abstract: This interdisciplinary course analyzes the history of urban schooling in the 20th century within the broader context of urban history. New York City serves as a lens to examine how educators, social activists, scholars, artists, librarians and public officials framed, debated and attempted to solve, public problems such as poverty, immigration, migration, housing, and schooling. The course considers a broad range of cultural production and representation as part of reformers and activists’ responses to industrialization, de-industrialization, segregation and social inequality in the city’s urban landscape.

  • Urban Life: Tenements, Americanization and Reforms, 1890-1930
  • Urban Public Spheres: Schools, Playgrounds, and Fairs, 1890-1940
  • Urban Arts and Education: The Harlem Renaissance, 1910-1940
  • Urban Social Movements: Civil Rights and Community Control, 1920-1970

Historical themes such as poverty and race, segregation and assimilation, progress and regress, are explored against the backdrop of schooling, social movements and culture in each of the historical eras. Throughout, current problems are discussed in relationship to the historical themes. By the end of the course, students will develop the capacity to analyze, synthesize and compare historical and contemporary reform movements in urban schools and society. Students will be able to identify some of the continuities and discontinuities in solutions to urban problems across the 20th century. Working individually and collaboratively, students will develop confidence in their abilities to identify and compare historical and current problems, think critically about proposed solutions to contemporary problems, and present their findings publicly.

Jack Schneider, College of the Holy Cross
Syllabus for Education 299: The History of American School Reform

Share your comments and syllabus links below:
The panel invites HES colleagues and web visitors to post comments, including links to syllabi for related courses and resources. This web page will continue beyond the 2013 session, but it is simply a collection of comments and links, not a long-term archival repository.

Do you wish to share a syllabus that is not yet publicly available online? Ask your academic institution or library for support, OR create a free personal Dropbox.com account and share the link to your document by pasting it into a comment below.

One thought on “HES 2013 session on Teaching School Reform, Past & Present”

  1. I have been teaching the History of School Reform class at Stanford since 2004. Naturally, I start out with Tyack and Cuban’s book, Tinkering Toward Utopia, which they wrote as a way of documenting the story they had been telling in this class after years of teaching it. You can find a recent version of my syllabus on my website at http://www.stanford.edu/~dlabaree/courses/ED_220D-HIS_258E_Syllabus_F12.pdf.
    In 2010 I published my own take on the school reform story (Someone Has to Fail), which built on the experience of teaching the class for a half dozen years.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *