Fall 2017

Schools, Poverty, and Social Policy in Twentieth-Century America

Listed in: American Studies, as AMST-359  |  History, as HIST-359


Leah N. Gordon (Section 01)


(Offered as HIST 359 [US] and AMST 359)  When calling for the nation’s first public school systems, Horace Mann described common schools as the “great equalizer of the conditions of men” and “the balance wheel of the social machinery.” This basic idea, that formal education can reduce poverty by “leveling the playing field” or providing a “fair start in life” is among the most cherished ideals in American social and political thought. At the same time, whether and how education can equalize the social, economic, and political order has generated considerable debate, especially in the twentieth century. Drawing on philosophy, history, sociology, anthropology, literature, and popular culture, this course focuses on three questions: What does educational equality mean? Why should we equalize education? And can equal schools create an equal society? By exploring the many ways Americans answered—and argued over—these questions, the course investigates the promise and pitfalls of treating schooling as a social policy tool. Readings and discussions also examine efforts to link educational reform to reform in other policy arenas, namely employment, housing, social welfare, and criminal justice. One class meeting per week.

Limited to 20 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