Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980

Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980

Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980

Managers of Virtue: Public School Leadership in America, 1820-1980

Synopsis

Can America's faith in public education be restored? As they analyze the ways in which public school leaders successfully formed and transformed American education, historian Tyack and political scientist Hansot conclude that the main challenge facing today's leaders is to create a new community of commitment to public education as a common good.

Excerpt

At the turn of the century the British educator Michael Sadler observed that "the American school is radiant with a belief in its mission, and it works among people who believe in the reality of its influence, in the necessity of its labors, and the grandeur of its task." Americans have long had faith in the power of education to shape the future. The architects of public schooling took literally the motto on the Great Seal of the United States, Novus Ordo Seclorum, believing that their crusade for common schools was part of a providential design to make America a new order for the ages.

After the American Revolution a deep vein of millennial thought in religion became suffused with republican aspirations. Many of the public-school promoters of the mid-nineteenth century were convinced that America was literally God's country, the land He had chosen to bring about the redemption of mankind. The version of millennialism they most commonly shared was not that of an apocalyptic Second Coming, but rather the gradual creation of the Kingdom of God on earth and the triumph of Christian principles in government and society. This process of redemption was not passive or deterministic, however; the common-school crusaders regarded themselves as God's chosen agents. This sense of being part of a larger providential plan infused even ordinary tasks with a larger meaning. In the Progressive era, school leaders retained much of this earlier moral earnestness and sense of mission, but they lost much of the specifically religious content of millennialism. Instead, they drew on a newer aspiration to control the course of human evolution scientifically through improving education. Each group had a firm sense of its place in the trajectory of human events. Each felt qualified, in different ways, to be managers of virtue.

Today both a sense of the past and hopes for the future are in disarray in public education. Few would now affirm that the teacher is "the prophet of the true God and the sharer in the true kingdom of God" or would recall that John Dewey wrote those words in My Pedagogic Creed. Today the media focus on pathologies: violence in classrooms . . .

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