America Goes to School: Law, Reform, and Crisis in Public Education

By Robert M. Hardaway | Go to book overview

Preface

In discussions of American public education, perhaps no word has become more of a cliche than the word "reform." Second only to the word "crisis," reform has become so overused in this context that it has almost ceased to have meaning. And yet both of these words have become such an integral part of the vocabulary of public education that it has become almost impossible to engage in any serious discourse about the state of American public education without the use of both overworked words--witness the subtitle and chapter titles of this book.

The study of public education has become essentially a study of its reform. For this reason, the thrust of much of this book is historical. Only by understanding the origins of public education can its traditions be fully appreciated. For example, it is not commonly known that much of American education is based on the Prussian model of age segregation and male dominance--what David Tyack has referred to as the "pedagogical harem," consisting of a male principal and a number of female classroom teacher. 1 Indeed, the first principal of the first graded American public school set forth the essential "leadership" elements of the Prussian model: "Let the principal have the general supervision of the whole, and let him have one male assistant or sub- principal, and ten female assistants, one for each room." 2

The adoption of the Prussian model required the creation of a vast hierarchical bureaucracy of administrators, which in turn led to the abandonment of the one-room schoolhouses, the consolidation of the public schools, and the strict segregation of children according to age. Although laws and public policy with regard to the roles of men and women in public education have changed considerably in recent years, an understanding of the Prussian and sexist origins of public education is essential to a comprehensive evaluation of proposals for educational reform. Without knowing where public education has been, we can not competent propose where it should go.

The Prussian model of administrative leadership and segregation by age has now become so ingrained and accepted in public education that its origins have been forgotten and attempts to challenge its basic premise are fiercely resisted. Only by looking at the past can we understand how the traditional American model of public education was abandoned, and realize that there was once a day in American

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