Education History of Education in the United States
by
Christopher M. Span
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 October 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0013

Introduction

This annotated bibliography concentrates on the history of education in the United States. This history can be divided into two distinct areas: teacher training, and scholarship and research. Well before 1860, history of education, as a course of study, was associated with the professional education training of American teachers. To date, nearly all teacher education programs in the United States still incorporate the history of American education—even if only as part of a social foundations course—as a course requirement in its preservice teacher education programs. The assumption is that providing teachers with a general overview or survey of the most important developments in the history of education in the United States allows them to be self-reflective about the past and better understand the society in which they will teach. As a field of research, history of education has its earliest beginnings in the late 19th century, but by the mid-20th century it was a well-established field of study.

Journals

A number of journals specifically publish research on the history of education. The three most prominent journals in the field are the History of Education Quarterly (HEQ), History of Education, and Paedagogica Historica. Other important journals in the field are the American Educational History Journal, Historical Studies in Education/Revue d’histoire de l’éducation, and History of Education Review.

Professional Societies

There are a number of professional societies for historians of education. These professional societies allow historians of education the opportunity to present their research findings. The most prominent are the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Division F: History and Historiography, the American Educational Studies Association (AESA), the Association for the Study of Higher Education (ASHE), History of Education Society (HES), History of Education Society, UK (HES), the International Standing Conference for the History of Education (ISCHE), and the Organization of Educational Historians (OEH).

Textbooks

A number of textbooks are available for the teaching of the history of education in the United States. These textbooks provide a comprehensive overview of the social, philosophical, historical, and economic foundations of education in the United States. The most noteworthy and widely used textbooks in the field are Mondale 2002, Urban and Wagoner 2008, Spring 2011, and Tozer, et al. 2012. These textbooks provide the most comprehensive information related to the social foundations of American education. An excellent documentary history of the United States is Fraser 2009, a collection of primary sources of some of the most important personalities and milestones in the history of schools in the United States. Other textbooks that offer added value and alternative perspectives on the history of education in the United States include Gutek 2010, Spring 2012, and Rury 2012.

  • Fraser, James W. 2009. The school in the United States: A documentary history. New York: Routledge.

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    This text uses primary sources to detail the educational history of the United States. Particular attention is paid to the role religion, race, language, gender, and the law played in determining who would have access to public schooling.

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  • Gutek, Gerald L. 2010. Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. 5th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

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    Through the biographies of some of the leading educational theorists in the history of humanity, this textbook illustrates how education and schools evolved because of their ideas.

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  • Mondale, Sarah. 2002. School: The story of American public education. Boston: Beacon.

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    This short history is a compilation of essays from esteemed scholars in the field of history of education. It chronicles the evolution of schooling in the United States from the colonial era to the near present. It is the companion book to the PBS video documentary School.

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  • Rury, John. 2012. Education and social change: Contours in the history of American schooling. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

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    This short history of American schooling concentrates on the forever changing contours and evolution of schools. Considerable analysis is spent on the educational experiences of women, African Americans, and Native Americans.

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  • Spring, Joel. 2011. American education. 15th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This textbook offers a comprehensive overview of the history of American education. It is revised every two years to provide up-to-date analysis on the historical, social, and legal foundation of American education. It is formatted thematically around relevant issues of the day, such as educational equity and opportunity, diversity, and the politicization of American education.

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  • Spring, Joel. 2012. Deculturalization and the struggle for equality: A brief history of the education of dominated cultures in the United States. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This textbook offers a short educational history of groups—African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, women, etc.—historically marginalized in the United States. It has a specific focus on the impact of race and racism, segregation, and the deculturalization of Native Americans.

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  • Tozer, Steven, Guy Senese, and Paul Violas. 2012. School and society: Historical and contemporary perspectives. 7th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill.

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    This textbook illustrates the how schools arose in the United States and how certain issues—such as race, gender, region, socioeconomic status, and language—determined the overall schooling experiences of children in the United States. The text relies on a triangulated analytic framework of how schools, ideology, and political economy shaped schools from the colonial era to the present.

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  • Urban, Wayne J., and Jennings L. Wagoner Jr. 2008. American education: A history. 4th ed. New York: Routledge.

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    One of the most widely used textbooks on the history of education in the United States from the colonial era to the present. Well-written, and very inclusive of the diversity and ever-changing demographics of the nation, it offers an excellent chronology of the history of education (K-12 and higher education) in the United States.

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Pre-1950

Very little meaningful scholarship was published that surmised the history of education prior to 1950. Much of the pre-1950 scholarship pertained to statewide reports of schools or were cursory chapters embedded in dense tomes devoted to broader topics in the discipline of history. The earliest publications, such as Boone 1907, Thwing 1910, Dexter 1916, or Cubberly 1919, served as “house histories” or textbooks for professional teacher education courses. They were flowery narratives that chronicled the early history of schools in the United States. Minimal attention was paid to the role gender, race, religion, socioeconomic status, region, language, or special needs played in the educational experiences and lives of teachers, parents, administrators, or school children. The only publications to articulate aspects of these specifics were typically written by historians, who wrote counter-narratives to these traditional turn-of-the-century histories on American education; these works include Blandin 1909, Woodson 1919, Bond 1934, and Du Bois 1935.

  • Blandin, Isabella Margaret Elizabeth. 1909. History of higher education of women in the South prior to 1860. New York: Neale.

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    Offers a very early history of the higher educational opportunities of women in the United States prior to the Civil War. Particular attention is paid to women’s access to college in the South and the type of curriculum they were offered. Very little can be discerned as to what impact these collegiate experiences had on these women’s lives.

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  • Bond, Horace Mann. 1934. The education of the Negro in the American social order. New York: Prentice-Hall.

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    First full-length history of the African American educational experience in the United States from the end of the Civil War to the contemporary present. Considerable attention is paid to the perceived role African Americans were to play in society, because this determined the type of schooling opportunities they would be afforded.

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  • Boone, Richard Gause. 1907. Education in the United States. New York: Appleton.

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    Offers a flowery and cursory overview of the earliest examples of schooling in the United States. Illustrates the differentiation in education—theological education, legal education, medical education, teacher training, etc.—at the time. Book is available through Google e-books.

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  • Cubberly, Ellwood P. 1919. Public education in the United States: A study and interpretation of American educational history. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

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    This work is an early textbook that illustrates the history of schooling in the United States from the colonial era to the early 20th century. Particular attention is paid to colonial Massachusetts, educational developments in the early republic, and the reorganization of the nation’s system of schools following the Civil War. Book is available through Google e-books.

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  • Dexter, Edwin Grant. 1916. A history of education in the United States. London: Macmillan.

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    An early textbook that offers a chronological history of schools in the United States from colonial Virginia to the beginning of the 20th century. Teacher training programs, higher education institutions, and regional analyses is the primary focus of the book. Book is available through Google e-books.

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  • Du Bois, William Edward Burghardt. 1935. Founding the public school. Chapter 15 in Black Reconstruction in America: An essay toward a history on the part which black folk played in the attempt to reconstruct democracy in America, 1860–1880. By William Edward Burghardt Du Bois. London: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    Magnificent social history on the role African Americans played in the social, political, economic, and educational reconstruction of the American South following the Civil War. The book provides the first comprehensive assessment on the founding of public education in the American South and the role former slaves played in this development.

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  • Thwing, Charles Franklin. 1910. A history of education in the United States since the Civil War. New York: Houghton Mifflin.

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    Offers a romantic overview of the major philosophical thoughts and organizational practices that defined schooling in the United States following the Civil War. Very little attention is paid to the diverse demographics of the nation and their schooling experiences, or how time, region, or context impacted the development of schools during this era. Book is available through Google e-books.

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  • Woodson, Carter G. 1919. The education of the Negro prior to 1861: A history of the education of the colored people of the United States from the beginning of slavery to the Civil War. Washington, DC: Associated Publishers.

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    Arguably the first history devoted to the education of African Americans in the United States. Great attention is paid to the role education played in the lives of enslaved and freeborn African Americans in the North and South, and how religion served as the primary catalyst for the earliest schooling opportunities of African Americans. Book is available through Google e-books.

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1950–1960

It was only in the 1950s, as history of education came under assault by schools and colleges of education across the nation, that scholars in the field began to write a completely different kind of history of both the purpose of schooling and the pedagogical value of history of education in the teacher-training curriculum. Historians such as Arthur Bestor spurred this shift (see Bestor 1953). He argued that schools or colleges of education were failing to train teachers to understand the past to educate the present and future. Historians of education responded in a series of publications defending the functionality and relevance of both their pedagogy and field of expertise. The most prominent of these publications came in a series of articles published in the first three issues of Volume 7 of the History of Education Journal in 1955–1956. The general themes of the issue focused on the past, present, and future role of history of education in the teacher-training curriculum, preparation of doctoral students as future academicians, and the advancement of scholarship based on original sources and research. Key texts in this effort were Butts and Cremin 1953, Cremin 1955, Cremin 1956, and Anderson 1956, written by three of the most prominent historians in the field. Some historians, such as Louis Harlan, wrote histories to explain contemporary issues, such as legal segregation in public schools (Harlan 1958). It was another way of demonstrating the functional role the history of education played in addressing some of the most pressing problems in American education.

  • Anderson, Archibald W. 1956. Bases of proposals concerning the history of education. History of Education Journal 7.2: 37–98.

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    Establishes the premise that the history of education as a course of study in the professional development of teachers is very functional and needed to enhance the everyday knowledge of teachers in their professional careers.

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  • Bestor, Arthur. 1953. Educational wastelands: The retreat from learning in our public schools. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Scathing critique of the educational philosophy, curriculum, and practices of schools during the Progressive Era. Bestor calls on the nation to abandon Progressive educational reform because he felt the nation’s schoolchildren had regressed under its guise. He calls for a return to the traditional curriculum that heavily emphasized literacy, rhetoric, and numeracy.

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  • Butts, R. Freeman, and Lawrence Cremin. 1953. A history of education in American culture. New York: Holt.

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    Offers a detailed overview of the history of education in the United States and synthesizes the aesthetics of American iconography and culture into this analysis. The central argument is that the way schools developed and evolved in the United States, writ large, is unique compared to any other nation-state.

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  • Cremin, Lawrence A. 1955. The recent development of the history of education as a field of study in the United States. History of Education Journal 7.1: 1–35.

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    Offers a short overview of the role the history of education has played in the professional development of teachers in the United States, and why it is necessary for the field to remain in colleges or schools of education rather than shift to departments of history.

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  • Cremin, Lawrence A. 1956. The role of the history of education in the professional preparation of teachers: Recommendations of the committee. History of Education Journal 7.3: 99–132.

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    This article lists five recommendations as to how history of education can continue to play a prominent role in the professional preparation of teachers, colleges of education, and the discipline of history.

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  • Harlan, Louis R. 1958. Separate and unequal: Public school campaigns and racism in the southern seaboard states, 1900–1915. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    First book to illustrate in great detail the impact racism had on the educational advancement of African Americans in the first decades of the 20th century. Written during the mass movements for human freedom in the United States, it utilizes the struggles of the times as the primary impetus for retracing this educational history.

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1960–1980

History of education evolved tremendously during these two decades as a distinct field of study. In addition to more detailed histories being written on the development of systems of education in the United States and abroad, historians of this time period began to write about the challenges facing contemporary society and how schools have been historically called upon to answer or provide remedy to these challenges. Bailyn 1960, Cremin 1961, Karier 1967, Katz 1968, and Tyack 1974 all established the argument that schools shaped the progress of the United States. How schools developed and evolved in essence determined the progress of society. As such, many publications during this time period both promoted and challenged the premise that schooling was the panacea to societal problems. No longer was there a uniformed opinion on why schools were created, that they were positive developments, or what their overall purpose was in the nation. The historians who wrote in this era can be divided into two distinct groups: revisionists and traditionalists (discussed in detail in the next two subsections). The histories written by both groups pushed the boundaries of how the history of American education was previously written. They synthesized the history of education into broader considerations in American history; they illustrated both the success and failures of schooling in the United States; and they disaggregated populations such as students, teachers, communities, administrators, theorists, and school communities to provide a more nuanced history of how systems of education evolved in the United States.

  • Bailyn, Bernard. 1960. Education in the forming of American society: Needs and opportunities for study. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    Provides a broader definition of education to illustrate the fundamental shifts in American education. Education was not just the formal pedagogy or practice of teaching in schools; it was the entirety of the American culture transmitted from one generation to the next. Ideology, political economy, and schools all shaped and reshaped each other, and this, in turn, formed American society.

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  • Cremin, Lawrence A. 1961. The transformation of the school: Progressivism in American education, 1876–1957. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

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    Details the rise and decline of Progressive education in the United States. Similar to Bailyn, the book expands the definition of education to include the myriad of cultures in American society.

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  • Karier, Clarence J. 1967. Man, society, and education: A history of American educational ideas. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

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    This book presents a history of the history of educational ideas and how they shaped American society and schools. It directly challenges earlier and contemporary histories that argued that schooling is by nature good for society. Karier argues that no real differences existed between liberalism and conservativism, since proponents of both ideologies deemed schools to be beneficial to societal advancement.

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  • Katz, Michael. 1968. The irony of early school reform: Education innovation in mid-nineteenth century Massachusetts. Boston: Beacon.

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    Offers an analysis of the development of schooling in Massachusetts during the 19th century. It particularly details the philosophies and practices of Massachusetts educational reformers. Whereas early histories offered sweeping overviews of the development of schools in Massachusetts, Katz situates his history in what he called a “small, concrete situation,” (p. 15) to illustrate how schools evolved in Massachusetts.

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  • Tyack, David B. 1974. The one best system: A history of American urban education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This history details the origins and challenges of education in urban America. It discusses the rise of massive levels of educational bureaucracy, decentralization, standardized testing, segregation, and ability tracking, and how education theorists and bureaucrats sought to develop one system of education to best meet the needs of all, regardless of their differences in access, ability, and outcome.

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Revisionists

Some historians, including those mentioned in the previous section, insisted that schooling was rarely if ever beneficial to everyone in the United States. They sought to offer a revision or corrective history to earlier or contemporary histories that offered interpretations that schooling was universally beneficial to the advancement of the nation and its citizenry. Revisionist historians argued in their respective publications that schools in the 18th, 19th, and first half of the 20th century were not beneficial to most Americans. These works include Karier 1972; Karier, et al. 1973; Clifford 1975; Bowles and Gintis 1976; Katz 1976; Webber 1978; Franklin 1979; and Butchart 1980. They argued that schools were established to replicate the status quo, to control discontent, to control the educational access and outcomes of marginalized populations, to be an engine for coercive assimilation, to determine access of opportunity to limited resources, to simply prepare individuals for employment, and a host of other factors. Using an array of primary source evidence, these historians set out to write the educational histories of how schools and society advanced democracy for some literally at the expense of others. Their emphasis pertained to writing histories of people who had been historically marginalized or simply denied schooling altogether. Their histories illustrated that schools were particularly harmful or unbeneficial, in general, to women, African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos, the poor, and immigrants.

  • Bowles, Samuel, and Herbert Gintis. 1976. Schooling in capitalist America: Education reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York: Basic Books.

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    Offers a quantitative and economic regression analysis of how schools have served to advance capitalism in the United States at the expense of advancing the overall livelihood of the average citizen. Discusses the uneven distribution of school resources, the origins of standardized testing, and the impact of intergenerational wealth and poverty on school performance and outcome.

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  • Butchart, Ronald E. 1980. Northern schools, southern blacks, and Reconstruction. Westport, CT: Greenwood.

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    A corrective history to earlier publications written on the role of northern teachers who taught freedpeople during and after the Civil War. Previous scholarship was deeply sympathetic to the South’s defeat following the Civil War. This book challenged this historiography and illustrates a more accurate portrayal of the northern teachers who taught African Americans—free and freed.

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  • Clifford, Geraldine Joncich. 1975. Saints, sinners, and people: A position paper on the historiography of American education. History of Education Quarterly 15.3: 257–272.

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    This Division F Vice-Presidential Address details the more recent publications in the history of education and suggests future directions of where the field should continue to grow and conduct research. A comprehensive bibliography of all the known publications on the history of education in the Midwest.

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  • Franklin, Vincent P. 1979. The education of black Philadelphia: The social and education history of a minority community, 1900–1950. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

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    A detailed history on the education of African Americans in Philadelphia. The book illustrates how African Americans were purposefully denied a quality education because they were thought to be inferior to whites. It also shows that the type of schooling afforded to African Americans served more as an impediment to the group’s social advancement rather than as a resource.

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  • Karier, Clarence J. 1972. Liberalism and the quest for orderly change. History of Education Quarterly 12.1: 57–80.

    DOI: 10.2307/367148Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Offered a sharp critique of liberalism as an ideology for social change and good with regard to schools, particularly when there is a crisis or difficult situation. The essay is the first of its kind to offer a critical assessment of John Dewey, the Progressive Era, and the limited impact schools have had in addressing systemic and structural problems in society.

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  • Karier, Clarence J., Paul C. Violas, and Joel Spring. 1973. Roots of crisis: American education in the twentieth century. Chicago: Rand McNally.

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    This book offers a revisionist history of education in the first half of the 20th century. It challenges established interpretations that important personalities and milestones in education in the United States were not producers of social good, but instead were producers and maintainers of social control. This book quickly became the standard for revisionist educational history.

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  • Katz, Michael. 1976. The origins of public education: A reassessment. History of Education Quarterly 16.4: 381–407.

    DOI: 10.2307/367722Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This article offers a revisionist critique and response to scholars opposed to Katz’s interpretation and findings in The Irony of Early School Reform (Katz 1968, cited under 1960–1980). It offers additional interpretation as to why and how public schools in the United States were established and what outcomes can be ascertained from their development and maintenance.

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  • Webber, Thomas L. 1978. Deep Like the Rivers: Education in the Slave Quarter Community, 1831–1865. New York: W. W. Norton.

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    First comprehensive study of the formal and informal education of enslaved African Americans during the antebellum era.

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Traditionalists

Contemporaries of revisionist historians were quick to respond and defend their historical interpretations that proffered schooling as essentially the quintessential hallmark of American democracy. Historians such as Jill Conway, Lawrence Cremin, Edward Krug, and Diane Ravitch argued that schooling contributed to a more productive economy, gave the average citizen greater access to resources and opportunities, and alleviated societal ills (see Conway 1974, Cremin 1970, Cremin 1980, Krug 1972, Ravitch 1974, and Ravitch 1978). Despite the limited progress some groups in the United States had achieved, schools were not the primary culprit of their underdevelopment, according to these historians; instead, it was the very reason many individuals within these marginalized groups achieved economic and social mobility. Schools were a story of democracy at its best, of places where opportunities abounded if one applied one’s talents, and of places that defined the very meaning of societal progress. Without schools there would be no societal advancement, so schools, according to traditionalists, were not as detrimental as the revisionists wrote. Notwithstanding this belief, the challenge for traditionalist historians was that as primary source evidence became increasingly available, and as people from historically marginalized or denied populations demanded their histories be written and told, it became nearly impossible to adhere to the interpretation that schools did more good than harm in remedying the needs and wants of these, and many other, groups in American society. As such, fewer and fewer histories were written from this perspective in the decades that followed.

  • Conway, Jill K. 1974. Perspectives on the history of women’s education in the United States. History of Education Quarterly 14.1: 1–12.

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    Offers a brief overview of the early educational opportunities of women in the United States. The article is part of a themed issue in the Quarterly on “Reinterpreting Women’s Education.”

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  • Cremin, Lawrence A. 1970. American education: The colonial experience, 1607–1783. New York: Harper & Row.

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    The first of a three-volume synthesis of the history of American education. The books adheres to the argument that American culture—an American Paideia—defined how schools and democracy, writ large, would be developed in colonial America and beyond.

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  • Cremin, Lawrence A. 1980. American education: The national experience, 1783–1876. New York: Harper & Row.

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    The second of Cremin’s three-volume synthesis on the history of American education. Despite the greater emphasis on specificity of example and analysis in other contemporary histories of education, the book still adheres to a broad definition and interpretation of education. This interpretive framework made it difficult to assess the strengths and limitations of schooling in the United States during this time period.

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  • Krug, Edward A. 1972. The shaping of the American high school, 1920–1941. Madison, WI: Univ. of Wisconsin Press.

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    Offers one of the earliest and most complete histories of the rise of the high school during the Progressive Era.

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  • Ravitch, Diane. 1974. The great school wars: New York City, 1805–1973; A history of the public schools as battlefield of social change. New York: Basic Books.

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    Details the early educational history of the denouncement of the common school model in New York City. The book highlights the influential work of Catholic Bishop John Hughes, who singlehandedly defended the culture and religion of Irish Catholics in the city, the rise of parochial education as an alternative to public schooling, and how New York City public schools evolved in the 20th century.

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  • Ravitch, Diane. 1978. The revisionists revised: A critique of the radical attack on the schools. New York: Basic Books.

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    A series of essays that challenge contemporary histories written by historians critical of historical scholarship, and emphasizing the progress schooling historically had on society.

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1981–Present

Since 1980, scholarship in history of education has become more nuanced, complicated, and abundant. Every possible topic related to the field of education has been effectively research by historians of education. Some areas—such as the African American educational experience, the history of higher education, women’s educational experiences, and the history teachers in the United States—have been more thoroughly research than other areas—such as the history of special education, or the Asian American, Native American, and Latino educational experience. These subsections contain the foremost publications in each of these respective areas.

General Histories

There are a number of general histories in the field of history of education that provide excellent insights regarding the development and advancements of schools in the United States. Histories such as Kaestle 1983, Ravitch 1983, Mirel 1993, Beatty 1995, Tyack and Cuban 1995, Angus and Mirel 1999, Donato and Lazerson 2000, and Graham 2005 are still the standard interpretations in their respective field of specialty in history of education. These publications vary in style and emphasis. Some are longitudinal regional studies, and others are more concise state or case studies. Nonetheless, all are well researched and/or ask questions relevant to future directions of the field of history of education. They illustrate to current and future historians how to effectively use evidence and historical methodology to write histories of education relevant to questions and concerns in the present, and to American history in general.

  • Angus, David F., and Jeffrey E. Mirel. 1999. The failed promise of the American high school, 1890–1995. New York: Teachers College.

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    This book is a reinterpretation of the history of the high school in the United States. It illustrates the rise of the differentiated curriculum, struggles over educational equity, and the perceived role of the high school in preparing youth for citizenship and employment. Latter chapters offer insight as to how the federal educational reform of the 1980s shaped educational outcomes and curriculum.

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  • Beatty, Barbara. 1995. Preschool education: The culture of young children from the colonial era to the present. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    This book offers a comprehensive history that details the policies and programs that shaped preschool education in the United States from the colonial era to the present. This well-researched book illustrates that preschools, despite their effectiveness in preparing children for formal schooling at the elementary level, have not been universally accepted as part of the public school system.

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  • Donato, Ruben, and Marvin Lazerson. 2000. New directions in American educational history: Problems and prospects. Educational Researcher 29.4: 4–15.

    DOI: 10.3102/0013189X029008004Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important article that discusses the state of the field and the role historians of education will need to play in 21st-century educational reform. Forty historians of education gathered to reflect upon the past and speculate about the future of the field.

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  • Graham, Patricia A. 2005. Schooling America: How the public schools meet the nation’s changing needs. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book is a comprehensive history of schooling in the 20th century. Assimilation, desegregation, access to special education programs for the gifted and disabled, and the role everyday people play in the education of children are all illustrated in this magnificent publication.

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  • Kaestle, Carl F. 1983. Pillars of the republic: Common schools and American society, 1780–1860. New York: Hill and Wang.

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    This book still serves as the standard in the field on the history of common schools in the United States. Kaestle details the development of public schools being funded through local taxation, the establishment of teacher education training institutes, the debates over the uniformity of a standard curriculum, and the overall purpose that schools served in 19th-century America.

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  • Mirel, Jeffrey. 1993. The rise and fall of an urban school system: Detroit, 1907–81. Ann Arbor: Univ. of Michigan Press.

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    This book is an excellent, well-research history on the Detroit public school system in the 20th century. Arguably the most detailed case study of a major metropolis ever published in the field.

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  • Ravitch, Diane. 1983. The troubled crusade: American education, 1945–1980. New York: Basic Books.

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    This book traces the educational developments of the mid-20th century. It argues that educational reforms during the mid-20th century were mediocre at best, and offers an interpretation of why schools failed during this era.

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  • Tyack, David, and Larry Cuban. 1995. Tinkering toward Utopia: A century of public school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    This book asks great questions about the role of educational reform, why society thinks schools have regressed, and why it is so difficult to change or shift school culture and practices. It is an excellent resource for anyone interested in assessing current school reform with past considerations.

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African Americans

One subfield of history of education that has been well researched is the educational history of African Americans. The standard interpretation in this subfield is provided by Anderson 1988. Most histories written after this important publication either reference or borrow the important theses proffered by Anderson. The best historiographic essay published in this subfield is Butchart 1988. The other publications listed in this subsection—Walker 1996, Williams 2005, Fairclough 2007, Moss 2009, Span 2009, and Butchart 2010—are quickly becoming standard interpretations in the field, as they extend one’s understanding of the educational history of African Americans from their arrival in 1619 to the present.

  • Anderson, James D. 1988. The education of blacks in the South, 1860–1935. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

    DOI: 10.5149/uncp/9780807842218Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Pioneering study, arguably the best book ever written on the subject. This book is still the standard interpretation in the field regarding the education of African Americans in the South. Virtually all publications related to the history of the African American educational experience have either complemented or challenged the central and subsidiary theses in this book since its initial publication.

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  • Butchart, Ronald E. 1988. “Outthinking and outflanking the owners of the world”: A historiography of the African American struggle for education. History of Education Quarterly 28.3: 333–366.

    DOI: 10.2307/369087Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    To date, the only historiographical essay on the African American educational experience. Provides tremendous insight with regards to the ways historians and social scientists wrote the earliest educational histories of African Americans.

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  • Butchart, Ronald E. 2010. Schooling the freed people: Teaching, learning, and the struggle for black freedom, 1861–1876. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    Rich in primary source evidence, and extremely well written, this book offers an excellent reinterpretation of the teachers who taught southern blacks following the Civil War. Answers to questions such as who the teachers were, where they came from, and what they taught are all provided in great detail in this magnificent history.

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  • Fairclough, Adam. 2007. A class of their own: Black teachers in the segregated South. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press.

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    Pioneering study on the lives of African American teachers in the segregated South. The book adds a much-needed layer of complexity to the lives of these teachers and is a far departure from the general assessment that African American teachers were powerless in the face of segregation by law.

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  • Moss, Hillary J. 2009. Schooling citizens: The struggle for African American education in antebellum America. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226542515.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A magnificent study that traces the early schooling opportunities of African Americans in three antebellum cities. The book highlights the tension between the rise of universal schooling for all and the rise of systemic racism that precluded African Americans from being able to gain full access to public schools and other accommodations of public life.

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  • Span, Christopher M. 2009. From cotton field to schoolhouse: African American education in Mississippi, 1862–1875. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    Excellent case study of African American education following the Civil War. The book illustrates the educational motivation of formerly enslaved African Americans in Mississippi and how they sought to develop a system of schools for themselves and their children. It is the first comprehensive history of African American education in Mississippi.

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  • Walker, Vanessa Siddle. Their highest potential: An African American school community in the segregated South. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1996.

    DOI: 10.5149/uncp/9780807845813Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Groundbreaking case study on a segregated school community in North Carolina. Through primary source evidence and interviews, Walker illustrates how one African American school community succeeded in providing a nurturing educational environment to its students. This book is required reading for anyone doing research on the African American educational experience in the 20th century.

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  • Williams, Heather Andrea. 2005. Self-taught: African American education in slavery and freedom. Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press.

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    This book is the standard interpretation in the field as it relates to the role African Americans played in advancing their own education during and after the Civil War. It is arguably the best book in the field on the subject.

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Asian Americans

This subfield in the history of education in the United States is an emerging field of inquiry. The standard interpretations— Ng, et al. 2007; Pak 2001; Tamara 1994; and Tamara 2001—illustrate the educational histories of Asian Americans and their important contributions to the United States. Asian Americans have been advocating for equal schooling in the United States since the mid-19th century. These publications are important because they offer corrective histories to past publications that ignored or underresearched the educational experiences of Asian Americans in the history of schooling in the United States.

  • Ng, Jennifer C., Sharon S. Lee, and Yoon K. Pak. 2007. Contesting the model minority and perpetual foreigner stereotypes: A critical review of literature on Asian Americans in education. Review of Research in Education 31.1:95–130.

    DOI: 10.3102/0091732X06298015Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Excellent historiography of the Asian American educational experience and the challenges this group has historically faced in the United States. It is a must read for any interested in this field of inquiry.

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  • Pak, Yoon K. 2001. Wherever I go I will always be a loyal American: Seattle’s Japanese American schoolchildren during World War II. New York: Routledge.

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    This book is the standard interpretation in the field and illustrates the educational history of Japanese American schoolchildren during World War II. Pak interviews some of these children as adults to further detail this painful history. The combined use of oral and archival history makes for a narrative that is both methodologically sound and engaging.

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  • Tamara, Eileen H. 1994. Americanization, acculturation, and ethnic identity: The Nisei generation in Hawaii. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    Exceptional history that examines the widespread discrimination against the Nisei—children of Japanese immigrants—experienced in Hawaii during World War II. Well written and well researched, this book is one of the earliest histories on the Asian American experience in the United States.

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  • Tamara, Eileen H. 2001. Asian Americans in the History of Education: An Historiographical Essay. History of Education Quarterly 41.1: 58–71.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-5959.2001.tb00074.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A historiographical essay that details the limited research and publications related to the educational history of Asian Americans.

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Higher Education

Higher education, as a subfield of the history of education, has a long history. Midcentury publications such as Rudolf 1962 and Veysey 1965 still serve as important interpretations in the field. More contemporary histories offer a more detailed overview of higher education in general. The most notable of these publications are Lucas 1994 and Thelin 2004. Thelin 2004 is the standard interpretation in this subfield. More recent scholarship, notably Gasman 2007 and Loss 2011, has positioned the impact higher education has had on the overall development of the everyday citizen, or on those institutions of higher education that have been historically marginalized, such as the historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs). There is also a growing body of scholarship on the history and impact of the community college, the most notable being Brint and Karabel 1989.

  • Brint, Steven, and Jerome Karabel. 1989. The diverted dream: Community colleges and the promise of educational opportunity in America, 1900–1985. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

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    This book details the rise and evolution of the community college in the United States. It illustrates the important role it played in offering higher educational opportunities to adults unable or uninterested in attending a traditional four-year baccalaureate university. This book is one of the earliest comprehensive histories on the community college.

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  • Gasman, Marybeth. 2007. Envisioning black colleges: A history of the United Negro College Fund. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    This book addresses an important gap in the historiography of higher education as it relates to philanthropy and African American education. It demonstrates the struggles historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) have faced since their creation in the late 19th century to sustain themselves in the wake of ever-increasing costs and dwindling revenue.

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  • Loss, Christopher P. 2011. Between citizens and the state: The politics of American higher education in the 20th century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press.

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    Informative social history that deepens our understanding of American higher education. The book illustrates the meaningful role higher education has had in shaping progress in the American social order.

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  • Lucas, Christopher J. 1994. American Higher Education: A History. New York: St. Martin’s.

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    This book offers a general overview of the history of higher education in the United States. It illustrates that the origins of higher education in the United States come from Europe, and it chronicles important events and developments that shaped the history of higher education in the United States.

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  • Rudolf, Frederick. 1962. The American college and university: A history. New York: Knopf.

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    This book was the first to offer a detailed history of higher education in the United States. Despite the outgrowth of higher education opportunities in the United States in its publication, the book is still deemed a standard in the field.

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  • Thelin, John R. 2004. A history of American higher education. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Magnificent publication and the standard interpretation in the field on the history of higher education. This book details the long history of higher education in the United States from the colonial era to the present. It is a must read by any in the field of the history of higher education.

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  • Veysey, Laurence R. 1965. The emergence of the American university. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

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    This book is a complementary publication to Rudolf’s history of higher education in the United States (Rudolf 1962). Veysey concentrates on the development of the American university at the close of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century. He offers a more nuanced assessment of the everyday experiences of students, faculty, and administrators in the university setting.

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Native Americans

Since the 1980s, historians of education have chronicled the educational experiences of Native Americans. The standard interpretation in this specific subfield of the history of education is Adams 1995. Virtually all other important contributions in this subfield—Lomawaima 1995, Deyhle and Swisher 1997, Szasz 1999, Reyhner and Eder 2004, and Lawrence 2011—reference or complement the theses offered by Adams. The challenges Native Americans faced in the United States are unique to any other population, and historians of this era have chronicled this history well. From their earliest informal educational experiences among English colonists in the early 17th century to the present, no group in the United States has had their overall livelihood obstructed and altered as have Native Americans.

  • Adams, David Wallace. 1995. Education for extinction: American Indians and the boarding school experience, 1875–1928. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

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    Offers the first comprehensive history of boarding schools for Native Americans in the United States. Arguably the best book written thus far on the history of Native American education.

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  • Deyhle, Donna, and Karen Swisher. 1997. Research in American Indian and Alaska Native education: From assimilation to self-determination. Review of Research in Education 22:113–194.

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    Extensive review of literature on the educational experiences and history of Native Americans. Arguably the most comprehensive review of literature on the subject.

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  • Lawrence, Adrea. 2011. Lessons from an Indian day school: Negotiating colonization in northern New Mexico, 1902–1907. Lawrence: Univ. Press of Kansas.

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    This book offers a biographical sketch of two educators in an Indian day school in Santa Clara Pueblo in northern New Mexico. It addresses important gaps in the historiography of Native American education.

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  • Lomawaima, K. Tsianina. 1995. They called it prairie light: The Story of Chilocco Indian School. Lincoln: Univ. of Nebraska Press.

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    History of an off-reservation boarding school designed to assimilate Native American children into white Anglo-Saxon Protestant culture. It utilizes the first-person testimonies of former students to both recall the hardships of attending the school and the love and support they developed with their fellow students while attending Chilocco.

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  • Reyhner, Jon, and Jeanne Eder. 2004. American Indian education: A history. Norman: Univ. of Oklahoma Press.

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    A comprehensive history of Native American education from the precolonial era to the present. Thematically written, the book offers an excellent synopsis of the events, developments, and personalities that shaped schooling for Native Americans in the United States.

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  • Szasz, Margaret Connell. 1999. Education and the American Indian: The road to self-determination since 1928. 3d ed. Albuquerque: Univ. of New Mexico Press.

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    This book traces the evolution of the federal reforms related to Native American education from the 1928 Meriam Report to the passage of the Indian Education Act in 1972. It is the first comprehensive history to detail the education of Native Americans and their struggles both in and outside of schools in the 20th century.

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Latinos

Another emerging subfield in the history of education in recent decades is the history of Latinos in the United States. The majority of publications in this subfield have offered case studies of the educational experiences of people of Mexican, Central American, Puerto Rican, and South American origin. More recent contributions such as McDonald 2001 and McDonald 2004 extend our understanding of the long educational history of Latinos in the United States. McDonald’s scholarship also points to how this group has been misrepresented and under-studied in the field of history of education. Much of the scholarship on Latinos has concentrated on their schooling experiences in the 20th century. San Miguel 1987, San Miguel 2001, Gonzalez 1990, and Donato 1997 have all established important interpretations of the agency and expectations of Latinos in the California, Colorado, and Texas, and during important milestones in American history such as the rise of compulsory schooling and the high school during the Progressive Era (1910–1940) and the civil rights movement (1954–1968).

  • Donato, Ruben. 1997. The other struggle for equal schools: Mexican Americans during the civil rights era. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    An excellent book on the educational history of Mexican Americans during the Civil War. Emphasis is placed on the role Mexican Americans played in advancing the legal and educational rights of all in American society. The book addresses an important gap in the civil rights historiography.

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  • Gonzalez, Gilbert G. 1990. Chicano education in the era of segregation. Philadelphia: Balch Institute.

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    This book examines the history of Chicano education in the American Southwest between 1910 and 1950. It illustrates the immense inequality Chicanos faced with regard to schools, economic opportunities, and political empowerment. It also proffers that the type of segregated schooling Chicanos received made them a permanent and subordinate underclass in American society during this era.

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  • McDonald, Victoria-María. 2001. Hispanic, Latino, Chicano, or “Other”?: Deconstructing the relationship between historians and Hispanic-American educational history. History of Education Quarterly 41.3: 365–413.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1748-5959.2001.tb00093.xSave Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Historiographical essay on the educational history of Spanish-speaking people in the United States. The article is both a survey and critical examination of the historical works written on this group. It is a must read for anyone in this specific field of inquiry.

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  • McDonald, Victoria-María, ed. 2004. Latino education in the United States: A narrated history from 1513–2000. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    A documentary history of Latino education from 1513 to 2000. First documentary history to detail the different educational experiences of Spanish-speaking people in the United States. An important contribution to an ever-growing field of study.

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  • San Miguel, Guadalupe, Jr. 1987. “Let all of them take heed”: Mexican Americans and the campaign for educational equality in Texas, 1910–1981. Austin: Univ. of Texas Press.

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    This history illustrates the efforts of Mexican Americans to achieve educational equality in Texas in the 20th century. It is a well-researched and well-written book that documents the challenges segregation and inferior schooling posed for Mexican American children.

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  • San Miguel, Guadalupe, Jr.. 2001. Brown not white: School integration and the Chicano movement in Houston. College Station: Texas A & M Univ. Press.

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    This book offers a comprehensive history of the efforts of Chicanos in Houston to achieve public school integration. The book illustrates the complexities of concepts like race and ethnicity and highlights how local white officials sought to legally define Chicanos as “white” in order to achieve their desegregation efforts and avoid sending white children to school with African Americans and Latinos.

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Women, Gender, and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LBGT)

In recent years, no subgroup has been more thoroughly researched in the field of history of education than women. Since the beginning of the 20th century, historians have written about or included the educational experiences of women, but these histories were generally flowery descriptions of their inclusion in education settings. Since the 1980s, however, countless scholars have historicized the role women have played as active agents of change in schools. Solomon 1985 and Eisenmann 2007 contextualize their role as students in both K-12 and higher education very well. Few works have articulated their roles or identities as teachers better than Rousmaniere 1997, Weiler 1998, Blount 2006, and Graves 2009. In addition, Gordon 1990 and Nash 2005, general overview histories on the education of women in the United States, provide excellent context and depth on the role women have played as administrators, parents, and advocates.

  • Blount, Jackie M. 2006. Fit to teach: Same-sex desire, gender, and school work in the twentieth century. Albany: State Univ. of New York Press.

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    This book is the standard interpretation in the field. It is impressively researched and is arguably the most important book published on the subject. It is the first comprehensive history on same-sex issues in public schools in the United States.

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  • Gordon, Lynn D. 1990. Gender and higher education in the Progressive Era. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Early history on the women in higher education during the Progressive Era. It highlights the second generation of women to attend college and how this group of women differed from their predecessors.

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  • Graves, Karen L. 2009. And they were wonderful teachers: Florida’s purge of gay and lesbian teachers. Urbana: Univ. of Illinois Press.

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    This book is the first state study to historicize the challenges gay and lesbian teachers faced in their profession. It is an important contribution to a growing body of historical research on gay and lesbian experiences in schools in the United States.

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  • Eisenmann, Linda. 2007. Higher education for women in postwar America, 1945–1965. Baltimore: John Hopkins Univ.

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    Groundbreaking book about the impact higher education opportunities had on women following World War II. It is the standard interpretation in the field and is a must read for historians of higher education and women.

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  • Nash, Margaret A. 2005. Women’s education in the United States, 1780–1840. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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    Comprehensive national study on women in higher education. This book is another standard interpretation in the field that highlights the social, economic, and cultural forces that shaped and reshaped the educational experiences of women in the 18th and 19th centuries. It is an extremely important book in the field.

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  • Rousmaniere, Kate. 1997. City teachers: Teaching and school reform in historical perspective. New York: Teachers College.

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    Arguably the best book written on the history of teaching. Rousmaniere interviews teachers from the 1920s and combines their testimonies with an astonishing cache of archival source materials. It is the first history to utilize the firsthand perspective of former teachers.

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  • Solomon, Barbara. 1985. In the company of educated women: A history of women and higher education in America. New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press.

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    Early comprehensive history of women in higher education. It reads as a contributionist history that acknowledges a major gap in the historiography of higher education at the time, when women were excluded from such analyses.

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  • Weiler, Kathleen. 1998. Country schoolwomen: Teaching in rural California, 1850–1950. Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press.

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    This book focuses on the lives of female teachers in rural California. It offers an excellent social history and biographical sketch of the successes and challenges of teachers on the frontier.

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Alternative Schools

Scholarship on alternative schooling is growing in the United States. Ravitch 1974 was one of the first to offer a history of Catholic or parochial schools in the United States; this was the first alternative school system in the United States. This book was followed up by a short history, Buetow 1986. In recent decades, many more publications have concentrated on alternative school models to public schooling. Home schooling, the rise of charter schools, and the new push to offer virtual public schooling all serve as examples of the evolution of alternative schools in the United States. Holt 1964 was the first to articulate the need for another alternative to public, private, and parochial schools, and Holt questioned the way federal educational reforms like the National Defense Education Act (1958) changed what children would learn in school. His efforts led to the push for home schooling in the United States. During the 1980s and 1990s, the federal report A Nation at Risk similarly forced many Americans to rethink the advantages of public schools. It was during these decades that many parents chose to send their children to a parochial or charter school rather than a traditional public school. Arguably the best educational history on these contemporary issues regarding alternative schooling is Labaree 2007.

  • Buetow, Harold A. 1986. A history of United States Catholic schooling. New York: National Catholic Education.

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    Short history of Catholic schooling in the United States. Illustrates the earliest establishment of the Catholic school system in New York City, the three plenaries of the 19th century, and how Catholic schools evolved in the 20th century.

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  • Holt, John. 1964. How children fail. New York: Pitman.

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    Nonfiction polemic on the impact federal educational reform and poor public school options had on children reaching their highest potential. Holt argues that one remedy to the poor preparation schoolchildren received from their educational environments was for parents to educate their children at home. This book ushered in the rise of home schooling in the United States.

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  • Labaree, David F. 2007. Education, markets, and the public good: Selected works of David F. Labaree. London: Routledge.

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    This books details the market indicators that impact public schools. The collection of essays in the book challenges the notion that education is a necessary public good and that alternative models of schooling such as vouchers, charter schools, and parochial schools are necessary disruptors to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education in the United States.

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  • Ravitch, Diane. 1974. The great school wars: New York City, 1805–1973; A history of the public schools as battlefield of social change. New York: Basic Books.

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    Details the early educational history of the denouncement of the common school model in New York City. The book highlights the influential work of Catholic Bishop John Hughes, who singlehandedly defended the culture and religion of Irish Catholics in the city, the rise of parochial education as an alternative to public schooling, and how New York City public schools evolved in the 20th century.

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Education Reform and Policy

Historians of education in the United States have also written on education reform and policy and their impact on schools. The most notable of these publications are Ravitch and Vinovskis 1995, Vinovskis 2005, and Vinovskis 2008. Vinovskis has singlehandedly written the standard histories and interpretations in the field on this subject. Others, such as Charles Payne, Jane David, and Larry Cuban, have used their expertise as historians to weigh in on important debates and issues about education reform (see Payne 2008, David and Cuban 2010).

  • David, Jane L., and Larry Cuban. 2010. Cutting through the hype: The essential guide to school reform. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education.

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    A book about how educators can address the countless education reforms and policies they have to endure while teaching or administering their schools. The book particularly highlights the difficulties educators have with education reforms and expectations in impoverished school communities with a high minority population.

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  • Payne, Charles M. 2008. So much reform, so little change: The persistence of failure in urban schools. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education.

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    This books assesses thirty years of school reform in Chicago, Illinois, and how little has changed for the better. It shows the challenges of overcoming decades of neglect, poverty, racism, and low expectations. It is a must read for anyone interested in urban education reform and policy.

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  • Ravitch, Diane, and Maris Vinovskis. 1995. Learning from the past: What history teaches us about school reform. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

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    Important contribution to understanding the impact federal education policy has had on the evolution of schooling in the United States.

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  • Vinovskis, Maris. 2005. The birth of Head Start: Preschool education policies in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press.

    DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226856735.001.0001Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Illustrates the rise of educational reforms and policy related to the establishment of preschool education in the United States.

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  • Vinovskis, Maris. 2008. From A Nation at Risk to No Child Left Behind: National education goals and the creation of federal education policy. New York: Teachers College.

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    Offers a detailed history of the impact federal educational reforms and policy in the last two decades of the 20th century had on schools in the United States. Illustrates the long history of educational reform and policy in 20th-century schooling.

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