The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System, 1838-1920

The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System, 1838-1920

The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System, 1838-1920

The Public and the Schools: Shaping the St. Louis System, 1838-1920

Excerpt

The development of systems of public education was one of the great accomplishments of nineteenth century urban society. At the beginning of the century few cities supported public schools; by 1900 they were an accepted feature of urban life. Initially, they competed for the young with a number of other institutions. By midcentury public schools had become the chief educator of youth, demanding increasing commitments of time and money and generating hopes for social reform and individual betterment. Despite the enormity of this achievement and the significance that has been attached to it, much is still not known about how it was accomplished. Because of a traditional focus on the ideas of educators and of social philosophers, historians so far have neglected to analyse how ideas about education were translated into the building of schools. The result is an abundant superstructure of rhetoric without the support of a foundation in the social and political forces that shaped individual systems.

Case studies provide the best means of correcting this imbalance. Since the United States, unlike other western or modernizing nations, has never had a coherent national educational policy, the implementation of ideology and the management of schools have always been a local endeavor with prime responsibility in the hands of municipal and other local officials. Nevertheless, there has been widespread imitation because of a considerable interchange of personnel and ideas and because of similarities in problems and expectations. The reconstruction of the history of the St. Louis system, which commanded much national attention, not only informs us about schooling in a particular city but can illuminate developments and issues in the history of urban education.

Beginning with the superintendency of William Torrey Harris . . .

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