Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920

Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920

Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920

Schooling the New South: Pedagogy, Self, and Society in North Carolina, 1880-1920

Synopsis

Schooling the New South is a vivid account of the relationship between education and society during a time of sweeping social change. James Leloudis recreates North Carolina's classrooms as they existed at the turn of the century and explores the wide-ranging social and psychological implications of the transition from old-fashioned common schools to modern graded schools. He argues that this critical change in methods of instruction both reflected and guided the transformation of the American South. According to Leloudis, architects of the New South embraced the public school as an institution capable of remodeling their world according to the principles of free labor and market exchange. By altering habits of learning, they hoped to instill in students a vision of life that valued individual ambition and enterprise above the familiar relations of family, church, and community. Their efforts eventually created both a social and a pedagogical revolution, says Leloudis. Public schools became what they are today - the primary institution responsible for the socialization of children and therefore the principal battleground for society's conflicts over race, class, and gender. The book gives voice to the principal actors in this transformation - school administrators, teachers, reformers, parents, and students - whose characters and personal experiences shine through Leloudis's narrative. Based on the letters and reminiscences of parents, teachers, and students; on novels; and on more traditional documentary sources, Schooling the New South deftly combines social and political history, gender studies, and African American history into a story of educational reform.

Excerpt

Educational work in [the South] is . . . something more than the teaching of youth; it is the building of a new social order. --Walter Hines Page, The Rebuilding of Old Commonwealths

This is a book that I felt compelled to write. Its origins lie in my own childhood and the social upheavals of the 1960s. In the fall of 1963, I entered the third grade at the all-white Fairview Elementary School in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, a small tobacco town located in the eastern part of the state. Like most of my classmates, I was only vaguely aware of the battle for civil rights that was raging in the world beyond. We had all seen the pictures on television and heard adults talking, but matters of race seldom intruded into our daily lessons and playground games. Or at least they didn't until that year. By springtime, another boy and I were being shunned because our parents had stood up in a PTA meeting to defend the simple justice of desegregation. Brent and I became best friends before the term was out. At the time, the experience registered as little more than the pain of exclusion. Later, I realized that my school had become a battleground in the struggle to remake southern life, and that even eight-year-olds could be recruited for the cause.

When I entered graduate school in the late 1970s, those memories steered me toward the study of education. I wanted some historical context in which to understand my experiences. By that time, revisionist scholars had begun to challenge the prevailing view of public education as the capstone of democracy. Their accounts of schools deeply mired in class and racial conflicts helped make sense of both the segregated world in which I had grown up and the concerns of teachers who complained of . . .

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