The Once and Future School: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of American Secondary Education

The Once and Future School: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of American Secondary Education

The Once and Future School: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of American Secondary Education

The Once and Future School: Three Hundred and Fifty Years of American Secondary Education

Synopsis

Jurgen Herbst traces the debates, discussions, pronouncements and reports through which Americans have sought to clarify their conceptions of the goals and purposes of education beyond the common school. The Once and Future School argues that to make sense of the current trials of secondary educational system and to maintain any sense of direction and vision for its future, we need a clear understanding of its path in the past and of its setting in a multi-national world. From their beginnings in colonial America to the present day, Jurgen Herbst traces the debates, discussions, pronouncements and reports through which Americans have sought to hammer out and clarify their conceptions of the goals and purposes of education beyond the common school.

Excerpt

In the decades following World War II, Americans have called for the reform of public secondary education. They have protested what they have held to be the excesses of progressive education and the "treason" of "life adjustment." Their demand for a return to academic rigor brought the curricular innovations of the "new math" and the "new social studies." When the Soviet Union's sputnik appeared in the skies, Congress responded with the National Defense Education Act of 1958. The 1960s crises of integration, poverty, and urban rebellions then shifted the spotlight from curricular to social and economic issues. This shift led to experimentation with alternative schools and concern with school-to-work relationships. When, in the 1980s, the United States faced a deteriorating position in world markets and growing foreign, especially Japanese, competition at home, a renewed emphasis on curricular matters came to the fore.

All the while, school administrators continued to portray the comprehensive senior high school as the embodiment of their and the nation's commitment to democracy in education. But dissatisfaction with the performance of public high schools, particularly in large urban areas, rose among parents and taxpayers until by the 1990s, the school-choice movement was seriously challenging the formerly only spasmodically contested dominance of the comprehensive high school.

Throughout these decades, Americans blamed public education, and especially the programs of our high schools, for the country's problems. Progressive education and life adjustment, many believed, had ill prepared Americans for the challenges of the post-World War II period.

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