Cartoons on Child Rearing and Kids in School

For this month, I have selected cartoons that poke fun at practices parents use to create “good” children–be it traditional or non-traditional. I also include the interactions between teachers and kids in classrooms. These tickled me. I hope they do thesame for you. Enjoy!













for dad.jpg


















Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

“Personalized Learning”: The Difference between a Policy and a Strategy

“Personalized learning”–and whatever it means–has been the mantra for policymakers. technology entrepreneurs, and engaged practitioners for the past few years. Mention the phrase and those whose bent is to alter schooling nod in assent as to its apparent value in teaching and learning.  Mentions of it cascade through media and research reports as if it is the epitome of the finest policy to install in classrooms.

But it is not a policy, “personalized learning” is a strategy.

What’s the difference?

Read what Yale University historian Beverly Gage writes about the crucial distinction between the two concepts:

A strategy, in politics, can be confused with a policy or a vision, but they’re not quite the same thing. Policies address the “what”; they’re prescriptions for the way things might operate in an ideal world. Strategy is about the “how.” How do you move toward a desired end, despite limited means and huge obstacles? We tend to associate strategy with high-level decision makers — generals, presidents, corporate titans — but the basic challenge of, in [Saul] Alinsky’s words, “doing what you can with what you have” applies just as much when working from the bottom up.

While the two are connected, making the distinction between policy and strategy is essential to not only political leaders but military ones as well. Strategies are instruments to achieve policy goals so, for example, in the 17 year-old war in Afghanistan, ambiguous and changing U.S. goals—get rid of Taliban, make Afghanistan democratic, establish an effective Afghan military and police force–influenced greatly what strategies U.S. presidents–three since 2001–have used such as sending special forces, army, and marines into the country—frontal assaults on Taliban strongholds, counter-insurgency, etc. (see here and here).

Without recognizing this distinction between policy and strategy military and political leaders behave as blind-folded leaders  taking one action while devising another plan to implement to achieve ever-changing goals.


Photo illustration by Derek Brahney. Source image of painting: Bridgeman Images.


But the key distinction that Gage draws between policy and strategy does not only apply to politics or the military, it just as well covers continual reform efforts to improve public schools. A successful reform often gets converted into policies–the vision–and those policies get implemented–the how– as strategies to achieve those policy goals in districts and schools

Also keep in mind that public schools are political institutions. Taxpayers fund them. Voters elect boards of education to make policies consistent with the wishes of those who put them into office. And those policies are value-driven, that is, the policy goals school boards and superintendents pursue in districts, principals in schools, and lessons teachers teach contains community and national values or, as Gage put it above: prescriptions for the way things might operate in an ideal world. Of course, these value-laden goals, e.g., build citizens, strengthen students’ moral character, insure children’s well being, prepare graduates for jobs, can be contested and, again become political as tax levies and referenda on bilingual or English only instruction get voted up or down. So policies do differ from strategies in schooling. The distinction becomes important particularly when it comes to media-enhanced school reforms.

In light of this distinction, consider “personalized learning.” When I ask the question of teachers, principals, superintendents and members of school boards about”personalized learning”: toward what ends? I get stares and then answers that are all over the landscape–higher test scores, reducing achievement gap between minorities and whites, getting better jobs and motivating students to lifelong learning (see here).

The question is essential because entrepreneurs, advocates, and promoters  pushing “personalized learning” expect practitioners to reorganize time and space in schools, secure new talent, buy extensive hardware and software, shift from teacher-centered to student-centered instruction, and provide scads of professional development to those putting what has now become a policy into practice.

The fact is that “personalized learning” is not a policy; it is a strategy. What has happened here as it has in politics and the military is that a “strategy” has become the desired end replacing the initial policy goal.  Leaders forget that a policy is a “what,” a prescription for the way things might operate better than they do, a solution to a problem, not a “how”  do you move toward a desired end, despite limited means and huge obstacles? While this switch from policy-to-strategy is common it is self-defeating (and consequential) in an organization aiming to help children and youth live in the here and now while getting ready for an uncertain future.

The fundamental question that must be asked of “personalized learning” is: toward what ends? It seldom gets asked much less answered without flabby phrases or impenetrable jargon. The conflicts that arise when the goals of PL are unclear or ambiguous (or worse, unexplored) occur because PL as a strategy–the “how” –has morphed into the “what” of a policy. Here is what Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg says:

We want to make sure that [PL], which seems like a good hypothesis and approach, gets a good shot at getting tested and implemented.

One example taken from a recent report on PL:

Personalized learning is rooted in the expectation that students should progress through content based on demonstrated learning instead of seat time. By contrast, standards-based accountability centers its ideas about what students should know, and when, on grade-level expectations and pacing. The result is that as personalized learning models become more widespread, practitioners are increasingly encountering tensions between personalized learning and state and federal accountability structures.

Noting these conflicts between PL and standards-based accountability–both of which are strategies to achieve higher test scores, change school organization, raise students’ self-confidence in mastering content, and demonstrate responsibility to voters. Nothing, however, is ever said how raising test scores, altering how schools are organized, lifting students’ self-esteem, or holding schools accountable to voters is connected to graduating engaged citizens, shaping humane adults, getting jobs in an ever-changing workplace, or reducing economic inequalities.  These are the policy ends that Americans say they want for their public schools. Instead, distinctions between policy and strategy go unnoticed and the “how” becomes far more important than the “what.”





Filed under school reform policies, technology

Arc of Progressivism and “Grammar of Schooling” (Part 3)





Take your pick of above quotes (or choose both) and you have the kernel of the story of progressive reformers actively trying to alter traditional teaching and school practices over the past century.

Well, at least part of the story since binary choices, the either/or dichotomy of success or failure omit the creation of hybrids, mixes of progressive and traditional classroom practices that have occurred over the past century in the U.S. and internationally.

Parts 1 and 2 of this series describe many attempts of progressive reformers to get rid of the “grammar of schooling” or reduce its effects on teaching and learning. These efforts, at best, have created hybrids (see here and here) and,at worst, have signally failed (see here and here).

Part 3 looks beyond the U.S. experience to see what has occurred internationally since the ideas of John Dewey and his acolytes about teaching and learning have entered many nations outside of North America.

In Classroom Change in Developing Countries: From Progressive Cage to Formalistic Frame (Springer, 2011), Australian academic and consultant Gerard Guthrie has synthesized many research studies and evaluations on the influence of progressivism in developing nations and largely found few traces of these reforms altering traditional ways of teaching and learning. That is, “formalism” in teaching and learning–Guthrie’s phrase for teacher-centered instruction–remained intact after determined efforts were made in African, Asian, and Oceania nations to introduce progressive education. Guthrie focuses on the risks connected to the error-filled assumption–what he calls the “progressive education fallacy”–that inquiry-based classroom practices are necessary to promote academic learning among non-western school children. He also lays out the strengths of traditional and didactic teaching. He concludes that the primary reason for continuity in traditional ways of teaching and learning in these nations spanning continents is the abiding cultural context of these nations favorable to teacher-centered instruction.

In his study, Guthrie has chapters on the Confucian tradition in education in China and efforts to introduce progressive classroom practices in African nations such as Botswana, South Africa, Namibia,and Tanzania. The bulk of the evidence he provides (research studies and evaluations) to support his case of traditional teacher-centered instruction overcoming top-down mandates to shift classroom practices to student-centered ones is found in Papua New Guinea, where he has had extensive first-hand experience.

One excerpt illustrates Guthrie’s summary of studies on teachers in Papua New Guinea responding to progressive-driven reforms amply funded and mandated by ministry of education officials.

The teachers were not necessarily averse to change as such. Although they
ignored many of the precepts, some had developed their own contextually
appropriate approaches for promoting student learning. Often these reflected
cultural tradition in assuming that teachers should centrally control teaching and
learning, and were contrary to the spirit, as well as the letter, of the new curriculum
Teachers expertly used a variety of strategies to transmit skills and
knowledge, including showing respect towards their students, an essential approach
in a shame-based society. Strategies also included speaking in short simple sentences,
providing examples relevant to students’ own experiences, providing concise
definitions, using visual aids, and scrutinising facial expressions for understanding.
[Researchers]found that non-implementation could be partly attributed to
the gap between the technical demands of the progressive curriculum and the
capacity of the teachers to meet those demands. Significantly, [one researcher] added, non-implementation could also be attributed to culturally embedded teacher resistance
to the facilitative roles expected in the classroom and to teachers’ scepticism about
constructivist learning theories.
In essence, these independent findings showed that the progressive ideas inherent in the new curriculum were little used, with improvements in teaching being predominantly within a formalistic rather than a progressive approach. The implication was that ‘policymakers should work with rather than against educational realities’….

One caveat about the evidence Guthrie provides. Classroom studies where researchers observe, interview, and document both stability and change in teaching practices are few and far between. The above excerpt, however, includes such direct classroom research.

Now what does any of this have to do with the “progressive arc’ of reform in U.S. schools that I laid out in Parts 1 and 2?

I see similarities and omissions.


First, the pattern that Guthrie found in developing nations of top-down curricular and instructional mandates to shift classroom practice from teacher-centered to student-centered has occurred in the U.S. on at least two occasions. Between the 1920s-1940s, and the 1960s-1970s, determined efforts to introduce new progressive curricula and teaching practices happened across the U.S. in big city, suburban, and rural schools. A few researchers using historical sources such as photos, teacher and student diaries, lesson plans, and journalist descriptions have documented the minimal changes that occurred across classrooms (see here and here).

Second, Guthrie documents the failure of progressive methods to transform  traditional teaching practices and recommends that existing traditional practices be improved rather than dismantled.

Among U.S. reformer ranks this suggestion has been made many times, particularly since the 1960s when nearly 90 percent of all students attended public schools. Divisions do exist among reformers some of whom wish to dump the existing system and erect new ones. Most reformers, however, seek improvements in the present system including building the capacities of teachers and supporting their  professional growth to carry out incremental changes in schools and classrooms.


Researcher Guthrie omits other possible explanations for “failure” of “progressive” reforms. His argument is clear: cultural context determines the fate of “progressive” reforms especially for those instructional policies out of sync with historical and cultural setting in which the reforms appear.

The first omission is flawed implementation of these top-down reforms. Researchers have pointed out (see here and here) the complexity of putting policies aimed at classroom instruction into practice. Moreover, that complexity often leads to some policies being inadequately and partially implemented. When that occurs the validity of the innovation or new program can not be assessed as worthwhile or worthless. Yes, in summarizing the studies and evaluations of other researchers, the idea of errors made in implementing the policy is mentioned, but the center of gravity in Guthrie’s argument rests on his claim that failed “progressive” reforms occurred because they were incompatible with the culture of the developing nation.

The second omission is instances of teachers creating mixes of old and new ideas and practices. Hybrids of traditional and “progressive” practices have happened among U.S. teachers over the past century (e.g., spread of small group activities in teacher-centered classrooms). At various places, Guthrie notes such occurrences but largely ignores the common practice of teachers throughout the world maintaining their dominant ways of teaching yet incrementally changing daily practices by incorporating ideas they believe will work with their students.

Guthrie’s study of the “arc of progressivism” and the strong influence of a “grammar of schooling” in developing nations gives the often parochial study of U.S reform-driven policies aimed at classroom practices a global perspective. And for Guthrie’s focus on the importance of context in shaping teachers’ responses to top-down mandates, classroom researchers owe him a thank you.







Filed under how teachers teach, school reform policies

The Arc of Progressivism (Part 2)


Is there ever a day that mattresses are not on sale?

Is there ever a conference on school reform that the word “progressive” is not uttered?

Answer is no to both questions.

At different times in the history of public schooling, progressive-inclined reformers sought to change curricular and instructional practices from traditional (or teacher-centered) to progressive (or student-centered). At these times–the 1890s-1940s, the 1960s, the 1990s, and currently–the language used, the articles and books written, and arrays of conferences held for policymakers and practitioners contained selected items chosen from a menu of progressivism’s tenets and practices (see Part 1).

After the hullabaloo of the these reforms quieted and researchers looked at the results of progressive reforms, they found that curricula had changed becoming far more connected to the lives of children and youth (e.g., social studies replaced history in many schools)–see here and here. Moreover, large-scale experiments and evaluations had been launched (e.g., the Eight Year Study and Follow Through Project), and staff development for practitioners to use progressive practices in their classrooms (e.g. Denver Curriculum experiment, Activity Program in New York City elementary schools).

But when it came to changes in classroom practice, that is, actual shifting instruction and learning from teacher- to student-centered, only marginal modifications had occurred (see here and here). Yes, separate progressive schools, mostly private, had come into existence (e.g., Little Red School House, University of Chicago Lab School, Montessori schools) but within public schools, the arc of progressivism was peripheral to most classrooms. What did occur  often was a mixing of progressive and traditional practices in lesson activities, grouping practices, and managing of students, overall there was no significant shift in practitioner behavior (see here and here).

How come?

The short answer is the age-graded school. The long answer is the “grammar of instruction,” the organizational structures and processes within schools that influence how teachers teach and have taught.

As David Tyack and William Tobin described it:

The basic “grammar” of schooling, like the shape of classrooms, has remained remarkably stable over the decades. By the “grammar” of schooling we mean the regular structures and rules that organize the work of instruction. Here we have in mind, for example, standardized organizational practices in dividing time and space, classifying students and allocating themto classrooms, and splintering knowledge into “subjects.”

In 1902 John Dewey argued that it was easy to dismiss the way schools are organized “as something comparatively external and indifferent to educational purposes and ideals,” but in fact “the manner in which the machinery of instruction bears upon the child. . .really controls the whole system….

Practices like graded classrooms structure schools in a manner analogous to the way grammar organizes meaning in language. Neither the grammar of schooling nor the grammar of speech needs to be consciously understood to operate smoothly. Indeed, much of the grammar of schooling has become so well established that it is typically taken for granted as just the way schools are. It is the departure from customary practice in schooling or speaking that attracts attention.

People are accustomed, for example, to elementary schools that are divided into grades in whose self-contained and coeducational classrooms pupils are taught several basic subjects by a single teacher.

High schools are organized somewhat differently. Students move every period of about 55 minutes, collecting Carnegie units of academic credit along the way. In each separate class they encounter a different teacher who is a member of a specialized department and who instructs about 150 pupils a day—in five classes of perhaps thirty each—in a particular subject. In secondary schools, but generally not in elementary, students have some degree of choice of what to study….

Why the remarkable stability of a “grammar of schooling” in U.S. schools?

Americans believe (and have believed for over a century) that the organization of the age-graded school with its daily schedule, self-contained classrooms, textbooks, homework, and tests is what a “real school” is. Departures from this organizational form such as non-graded schools, open space schools anchored in team teaching, students spending a significant portion of the doing online lessons, or alternatives that substantially alter or depart from this model are often rejected. If the “real school” is not working well, even failing as determined by test scores, then improve it, not dump it. In short, the age-graded school and the “grammar of schooling” that is embodies is sustained by most Americans’ social beliefs in its efficacy. This durable model of schooling is now embedded in the culture of the nation.

And that is a major reason why the “grammar of schooling” persists making it very difficult for progressive-oriented reforms aimed at altering teaching practices have had a tough time shifting teacher-centered to student-centered instruction.*

But mattresses continue to be on sale every day and the word “progressive”spills forth at conferences convened to push school reforms.


*Note, however, that the explanation I offer holds not only for the U.S. but also for international efforts to shift traditional teaching practices to progressive ones. Part 3 elaborates on what has occurred globally in reforming the “grammar of schooling.”






Filed under how teachers teach, Reforming schools

The Arc of Progressivism in Schools (Part 1)

The Phi Delta Kappan poll of public attitudes toward public education published this month has 78 percent of respondents, the highest ever since 1997, voting to reform the existing system of schooling rather than seek alternatives (e.g., vouchers, charters). Among those respondents who rank their local schools highly (p. 12), the percentage wanting to improve existing system rather than replace it rose to 86. Among minority respondents, 19 percent of blacks and 34 percent of Hispanics did want to replace existing public schools.

These results showed great support for improving public schools rather than chasing reforms that replace the existing system. Such polls also remind me that even if there is strong support for  improving the existing system of public schools, the historic competing goals within tax-supported public schools persist. That is, schools should both change individuals and society while at the same time conserve and transmit core community and national values to the next generation (see here). These contradictory goals are in the DNA of tax-supported U.S. public schools. They become the basis for progressive reforms past and present to improve schooling.

That tension between fundamental values driving tax-supported public schools has been there for more than a century and will continue in perpetuity because these competing values are what the larger society expects of its public schools. Among policymakers and practitioners, the abiding tension between these rival goals can be seen in the historic struggle between educational progressives and conservatives who not only have competing views of the direction of schools but also have differing ideas about how children should learn, how teachers should teach, and what knowledge is of most worth.

I write “abiding tension” because historically, progressive efforts to improve public schools have  ebbed and flowed time and again. Between 1900-1940, progressive ideas and practices flowed across the educational landscape as they did during the 1960s and 1990s, and even now.  Yet progressives’ determined efforts to move classroom practice from traditional, teacher-centered forms of teaching and learning to student-centered approaches ebbed making few inroads into most classrooms (see here and here).  To better understand this ebb and flow of efforts to alter the organization, curriculum, and instruction of public schools toward progressive ends, I am writing this three-part series.

Progressivism in schooling

Historically, many definitions of educational “progressivism” have made it a word nearly bereft of meaning (see here). In looking at the work of Colonel Francis Parker, John Dewey, William Kilpatrick, Harold Rugg, Carleton Washburne–those academics and practitioners who sketched out varied meanings of the concept between the 1880s and 1930s–and contemporary reformers who embraced the central ideas of progressivism such as Deborah Meier, Ted Sizer, Vito Perrone, Alfie Kohn, there are common tenets and practices of progressivism that do turn up in schools then and now albeit in different incarnations. Look at tenets that the Progressive Education Association  listed in 1919:

Seven Principles of Progressive Education

  1. Freedom for children to develop naturally
  2. Interest as the motive of all work
  3. Teacher as guide, not taskmaster
  4. Change school recordkeeping to promote the scientific study of student development
  5. More attention to all that affects student physical development
  6. School and home cooperation to meet the child’s natural interests and activities
  7. Progressive school as thought leader in educational movements

The PEA closed in 1955.

Founded in 1987, Progressive Education Network (PEN) published its vision of the kind of schooling they sought:

PEN believes that the purpose of education transcends preparation for college or career. Schools nurture citizens in an increasingly diverse democracy. Within the complexities of education theory, practice, policy, and politics, we promote a vision of progressive education for the 21st century that:

  • Engages students as active participants in their learning and in society
  • Supports teachers’ voice as experienced practitioners and growth as lifelong learners
  • Builds solidarity between progressive educators in the public and private sectors
  • Advances critical dialogue on the roles of schools in a democratic society
  • Responds to contemporary issues from a progressive educational perspective
  • Welcomes families and communities as partners in children’s learning
  • Promotes diversity, equity, and justice in our schools and society
  • Encourages progressive educators to play an active role in guiding the educational vision of our society.

Some observers have tried to reduce these often cited features of educational progressivism into fewer categories that capture the essence of the progressive ideology such as:


*Community integrated;

*Democracy and social justice (see here, here,and here).

The overlap in different lists of progressive features in schools are obvious . These tenets and practices have become the defining elements and, over the years, progressive-minded reformers including teachers and principles (also headmasters of some private schools where these ideas and practices have been present for decades) have tried to infiltrate and overcome the traditional structures and practices in U.S. schools and classrooms.

But the arc progressive reforms have followed has been an uneven curve. Past and current reformers had to contend with the existing system of schooling. They had to grapple with the “grammar of schooling” that was in place since the mid-19th century.

What has happened in past and current struggles between educational progressives and conservatives is that conservatives among policymakers and practitioners have adopted particular progressive practices (e.g., small group and independent work, problem solving, project-based instruction, “personalized learning”) and proclaimed that they are progressive while the dominant structures of the age-graded school (e.g., grouping children by age, self-contained classrooms, daily schedule) have remained constant. Over the past century, the emergence of such hybrids during and after surges of progressive ideas and practices have tamped down any public fuss that might have occurred. And made the arc of progressivism in schools both bumpy and potholed.

I take up the school results of pushes for progressive ideas and practices in the U.S. and internationally in Part 2.





Filed under Reforming schools, school reform policies

Teaching As a Way of Seeing (Mike Rose)

Mike Rose (born 1944) is an American education scholar. He has studied literacy and the struggles of working-class America. Rose is currently a Research Professor of Social Research Methodology in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies.

He is a graduate of Loyola Marymount University (B.A.), the University of Southern California (M.S.), and the University of California, Los Angeles (M.A. and Ph.D. “

“The thing I love about Ms. Marovich,” says Hazel of her automotive technology instructor, “is that when she looks at you, she sees the finished product.” What a remarkable kind of seeing Hazel describes: An act of perception that envisions growth and that helps make that growth possible.

Over the past several years, I have been interviewing a wide range of people, from students in high school and community college to professionals in their fifties and sixties, about experiences in or out of school that had a transformative effect on their education, that changed the way they thought about school and what school could enable them to do with their lives. A number of the people I talked to used some variation of Hazel’s statement about seeing, some visual metaphor of validation.

A student in a Licensed Practical Nursing Program praises an instructor she would go to when she felt overwhelmed. The instructor told her that “she could see it in me that I was meant to do this,” and encouraged her to not only complete the LPN program but to continue toward a Registered Nurse’s degree, which she did.

“I was a strange kid,” a high school English teacher says reflecting back on his time in twelfth grade, “but not to [his English teacher] Mrs. Howard. She saw me the way I wanted to be seen. It changed my life. Every day I work to see kids the way they want to be seen.”

A middle school teacher starts talking to a boy serving detention and senses a “hunger” that leads her to invite him onto the school’s fledgling debate team. When I ask how she senses that hunger, she says, “by talking to someone and answering their questions. You can see it in their eyes.”

A high school Spanish teacher raises the issue of college to a junior whose energies are more invested in soccer than academics, but who has a way with people and exhibits a certain savvy as he navigates eleventh grade. The teacher follows his instincts and connects the young man to a college bridge program. Looking back on it, our soccer player, now a graduate student, says of that teacher, “He saw potential in me that I didn’t see in myself.”

These teachers seem to operate with an expansive sense of human ability and are particularly alert to signs of that ability, signs that might be faint or blurred by societal biases or by a student’s reticence or distracting behavior—or that the student him or herself might barely comprehend. Through the way they teach, through mentoring, or through some other intervention, these teachers help develop the abilities they perceive. We don’t hear a lot about this powerfully humane element of teaching, for so much current discussion of teacher education and development is focused elsewhere: from creating measures of effectiveness to mastering district or state curriculum frameworks. These are important issues to be sure, but they have crowded out so much else that makes teaching a richly humanistic intellectual pursuit….


Filed under dilemmas of teaching, how teachers teach

Schools as Conservative Institutions

Over the years, I have written often about the contradictory obligations that U.S. public schools face. Since the origins of tax-supported schooling in the 19th century and its surging growth in the 20th century through immigration and national reform movements aimed at bringing schools and society closer, two competing responsibilities appeared time and again.

The first was to change students, imbue them with knowledge, skills, and values that they would use to gain personal success and make America a better place to live in. The duty of public schooling as an agent of individual and societal reform took off in the early 20th century as Progressivism and has been in the educational bloodstream ever since.

The second obligation was for the tax-supported school to actively conserve personal, community and national values ranging from inculcating traditional knowledge, obeying authority including that of teachers, show respect for religious beliefs, practicing honesty, and displaying patriotism.

Often conserving such values can be seen in rules posted in nearly every classroom across the nation at the beginning of the school year. For example:


So here is a national institution that has had from its very earliest years conflicting goals–reform and conserve.

Most policymakers, practitioners, parents, and researchers are far more familiar with  efforts to reform schools over the past century than the persistent urge for conserving family, community, and national practices and values.

From the educational Progressives of the early 20th century to 21st century charter school and “personalized learning” advocates, beliefs that schools then and now failed their students and society and programs and practices had to (and have to) change. Even though there were splits among Progressives during their heyday of reform (1890-1940)–efficiency-minded and pedagogical wings–they sought and achieved major changes in what many reformers sneeringly called “traditional schools.”

Yet there were educational conservatives during these decades who insisted that traditional schools transmit a common curriculum of academic subjects through classroom practices to all children and youth. Such schooling had to remain the norm and not be changed.

Diane Ravitch in Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reform resurrects critics William Bagley and Isaac Kandel who from the same pulpit as  Progressives William Kirkpatrick and Harold Rugg, that is, Teachers College, Columbia, voiced sharp objections to the mainstream Progressivism flowing through the nation’s schools. Bagley, Kandel and others wanted an academic curriculum that all, not just some, students took. They wanted children and youth, in Bagley’s words, to acquire knowledge and skills in “industry, accuracy, carefulness,steadfastness, patriotism, culture, cleanliness, truth, self-sacrifice, social service, and personal honor” (Ravitch, p. 285).

Historian of education, Adam Laats in The Other School Reformers points to what occurred in the Tennessee Scopes trial in the mid-1920s over the teaching of evolution in the schools, the struggle over Progressive social studies textbooks in the late-1930s, the battle over progressive ideology controlling district leadership in Pasadena (CA) in the early 1950s, and the conservative attack on school texts used to subvert community and family beliefs in Kanawha County (WVA) during the 1970s. Each episode, Laats asserts, reveals the strong countervailing effort by conservatives to slow down the steamroller of Progressive reform in the 20th century.

And those challenges persist. Today conservatives of all stripes, across ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic status challenge reform-minded boards of education, administrators, and practitioners about both the quality of the schooling their children receive and the values embedded in what their sons and daughters learn. Conservatives today seek more school competition (e.g., establishing charters, issuing vouchers) and transmitting a uniform curriculum (e.g., E.D. Hirsch’s “core knowledge”), teaching patriotism (e.g., controversy over Advanced Placement U.S. History in Colorado), and reduced federal intervention in education and greater role for states and local districts in managing public schools (e.g., Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015). In short, there are many strains of conservatism at play among and between reformers in 2019.

Educational conservatives of all stripes, of course, are not allergic to change. They seek stability and many realize that stability can be maintained only when some changes occur. Called “dynamic conservatism,” examples of cooperation between Progressives and conservatives then and now are evident. No Child Left Behind (2002) joined Congressional Republicans and Democrats to pass the first bill in President George W. Bush’s initial term. Introduction of Common Core Curriculum standards across most states (although many educational conservatives believed it had too many federal thumbprints on it) is another instance of achieving a common course of study for all students. Both conservatives and certain Progressives legislators and donors  have joined forces to expand parental choice (although many current progressives oppose vouchers). “No excuses” schools such as KIPP and Success Academies practice what conservatives have sought in traditional schooling for decades. And Progressive changes in classroom practices, that is, teachers shifting more instruction to small groups and independent work from whole-group teaching and increased use of technologies in classroom lessons, conservatives have embraced.

The contradictory obligations of reforming schools while conserving traditional knowledge and classroom practices has been in the DNA of tax-supported public education for well over a century. It won’t go away. Those cheerleaders for the next new reform need to understand this paradox at the heart of U.S. schooling.




Filed under Reforming schools