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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perplexed about Educational Slogans and Progressive Education?, July 21, 2008
This review is from: Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School (Hardcover)
Many people will not appreciate this book. Any candid review should help such readers save their precious money and more scarce reading time. It is on this initial caveat that I condition my strong recommendation in favor of this scholarly analysis of a timely and politically charged topic. But if you believe the expenditure of public funds in support of free and secular education to be an inappropriate role for a government; if you think the only proper places to learn to read, calculate, and write are in the church basement or at your own breakfast table, then you should avoid this book. With all due respect, it does not weigh in to your squabble, but presumes public education to be both beneficial and appropriate.

Andrew Hartman, these days Assistant Professor of History at Illinois State University and formerly a public school teacher, interweaves and sustains several complex arguments, the most central of which emerges from a causal analysis of the theoretical developments in the public school curriculum. As one might expect, this analysis includes a detailed description of the socio-political context for successive curricular policies. But it also paints a convincing, if more subtle, portrait of the opposite, the impact of the curriculum on the national political paradigm of the Cold War era. Surprisingly, the resulting conclusions are not so stark as to place either educational curriculum or political concerns into dependable correspondences. Parallel to this historical analysis runs another more philosophical argument about the relative or absolute nature of truth, or at least the way various participants in this venerable debate have been invoked to excuse periodic interventions conducted in both the name of "the child" and for the good of "the nation."

Hartman accomplishes these ambitious goals by focusing on the Cold War Era, but he recaptures the threads of the narratives where they begin, even when it may require a visit to Cotton Mather or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. This is not a simple story to tell but the tenacious reader will be well compensated.

The book is organized according to developments in the American public school curriculum; therefore it casts only a shadow of chronological order. Since policies and practices of public education rarely moved in uniformity in all regions of the United States and at all levels of government, Education and the Cold War succeeds in achieving coherence by beginning and finishing one story--usually-- before undertaking the next. Not diversions, and certainly not pauses for analysis, these individual pieces of the mosaic are each engaging narratives in themselves. Reconsidered here are important episodes from the careers of educators and administrators, of course progressives like William Heard Kilpatrick and George Counts, but also others, like William Torrey Harris, who resisted the early gains of "child centered" innovations.

Much new ground is cleared here and fallow fields have been productively re-plowed. This book will appear on graduate school reading lists for scholars preparing in education history, curricular theory, American philosophy, and the history of the cold war. I hope that some clever press will entreat the author to conduct a similar analysis of the next generation. This next project would explain how the Cold War era's rejection of "progressive education" morphed into a subsequent crisis, code named, "No Child Left Behind," yet another bugle call to blame the "kids of today" on the progressive school system left, presumably, in the wake of the Cold War. Perplexed?
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