Fall 2017

The History of Education in the U.S.

Listed in: American Studies, as AMST-250  |  History, as HIST-170


Leah N. Gordon (Section 01)


(Offered as HIST 170 [US] and AMST 250)  What do Americans want their schools to accomplish? What happens when they don’t agree (as has frequently been the case)? How have disagreements about educational goals been embedded in policy? And how have schools mediated larger conflicts—over the place of pluralism in the American nation or the contradictions between democratic commitments to political equality and capitalist tendencies towards economic inequality—in American politics and culture? By exploring questions like these, this discussion-based course addresses central themes in the history of American education. First, it explores the history of American educational goals, drawing clear distinctions between what Americans say they want their schools to accomplish and what functions schools actually perform. Second, the course examines struggles for power over educational governance, including debates over localism, bureaucratization, expertise, philanthropy, and privatization. Third, the course focuses on educators’ efforts to foster cohesion and respond to diversity in a pluralist nation. And finally, the course centers arguments over stratification, especially whether schools can transform—or are destined to simply replicate—racial, gender, and socio-economic hierarchies. The course is organized chronologically, addressing: the nineteenth century common school movement and rise of the high school; education for Native Americans, African Americans, and immigrants at the turn of the twentieth century; educational progressivism, including debates over testing, tracking, and vocational education; battles over school desegregation in the half century following Brown v. Board of Education (1954); the expanding federal role in education after the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1964); and late twentieth century movements for privatization, testing, standards, and accountability. Two class meetings per week.

Limited to 30 students. Fall semester. Lewis-Sebring Visiting Professor L. Gordon.

If Overenrolled: Priority given to HIST and AMST majors and students interested in Education Studies.


Attention to Issues of Class, Attention to Issues of Race


2022-23: Not offered
Other years: Offered in Fall 2017, Fall 2018