The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education (Hardback)
  • The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education (Hardback)

The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education (Hardback)

Hardback 328 Pages
Published: 09/02/2015
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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.

Publisher: Harvard University Press
ISBN: 9780674416710
Number of pages: 328
Dimensions: 235 x 156 mm


The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education is the first comprehensive historical study of conservative educational activism in the United States… Laats makes a compelling argument that a powerful tradition of educational conservatism has played a decisive role in shaping American public schools and culture from the 1920s through the present… The Other School Reformers makes a vital contribution to the history of education by identifying a clearly discernable and politically powerful tradition of conservative educational reform in the United States since the 1920s. One of this book’s strengths is its ability to explain the connections between these four episodes separated by time and space, and also to account for such differences as the changing ways that conservative educational activists dealt with race and religion. - Zoë Burkholder, History of Education Quarterly

Well researched, well written, and well argued, The Other School Reformers offers a clear, evenhanded account of conservative activism in public education. - Kevin M. Kruse, Journal of American History

Laats’s analysis of the social and political contexts in which this [conservative] resistance [to educational reform] occurs makes this book a must-read for anyone interested in or hoping to effect educational reform—whether in the sciences or in other disciplines. - Andrew J. Petto, Reports of the National Center for Science Education

The Other School Reformers is about big ideas and big questions. At bottom it is a valuable portrait of how Americans vie, in an ongoing way, to answer the questions that matter most: Why do we educate? What are schools for? And, in the context of crosscutting claims about the intrinsic relationship between ‘education’ and ‘democracy,’ what has, does, and should each of those terms mean? - Mike Wakeford, S-USIH: Society for U.S. Intellectual History

Laats examines in detail four events: the 1925 Scopes trial, the 1939 Rugg textbook debate, the 1950 forced resignation of school superintendent Willard Goslin, and the 1974 Kanawha County school boycott. Throughout the work, Laats offers lively, chapter-length explorations of each event, fairly presenting the players, their motivations, and the surrounding historical context. The work’s primary value is in these concise but thorough accounts… Laats nevertheless offers commendable documentation of that conservative standpoint. - J. R. Edwards, Choice

The Other School Reformers is a major rethinking of the history of American education. Laats explores four of the most important and controversial episodes of the last century—the Scopes trial, the Rugg textbook controversy, the Goslin affair in Pasadena, and the textbook wars in West Virginia—to argue that scholars have often overstated the progressive trajectory of American education. His book offers an insightful and empathetic view of conservative education reformers and a thorough account of their goals and tactics. - Andrew Hartman, author of Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School

If I say ‘school reformer,’ you probably think ‘liberal.’ Think again. As Adam Laats shows, right-wing Americans have exerted a consistent influence over education for the past century. Taking conservatives on their own terms, he rescues them from the outright condescension that has colored so many other accounts of the so-called ‘ignorant’ Right and our schools. No matter what you think of the Right, it would be flat-out wrong to ignore this important book. - Jonathan Zimmerman, author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory

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