Alternative Schools: Diverted but not Defeated
Paper submitted to Qualification Committee
Table of Contents
Introduction . . . . . . . . . 1
The Development of a Centralized Bureaucracy. . . . 4
Opposition to Standardization . . . . . 8
Co-optation of the Opposition . . . . . . 13
Co-optation of Manual Training . . . . . 18
Resistance to Co-optation . . . . . . . 19
The Progressive Education Association . . . . 20
The Post-Progressive Period . . . . . . 23
Persistent Resistance . . . . . . . . 26
The Free School Movement . . . . . . 28
Since the Sixties . . . . . . . . 35
Continuation Schools . . . . . . . 37
Vouchers and Charters . . . . . . . 40
Conclusion . . . . . . . . . 44
Appendix A: The Politics of Education by Carl Rogers . . . 46
Appendix B: New StandardsTM Performance Standards . . . 48
References . . . . . . . . . 51
Every new idea, every conception of things differing from that authorized by current belief, must have its origin in an individual. New ideas are doubtless always sprouting, but a society governed by custom does not encourage their development. On the contrary, it tends to suppress them, just because they are deviations from what is current. The [person] who looks at things differently from others is in such a community a suspect character; for [him or her] to persist is generally fatal. Even when social censorship of beliefs is not so strict, social conditions may fail to provide the appliances which are requisite if new ideas are to be adequately elaborated; or they may fail to provide any material support and reward to those who entertain them. Hence they remain mere fancies, romantic castles in the air, or aimless speculations.
John Dewey (1916; p. 296)
The alternative school movements of 1890-1940 and 1960-75 have undergone considerable study. Prominent in this research has been the work of Cremin (1964), Deal and Nolan (1978a), Duke (1978), Cuban and Tyack (1995), Zilversmit (1993), Semel and Sadovnik (1999). But these studies are misleading when they discuss the causes and decline of these two "movements". These researchers emphasize the ideas of the reformers as the reason for both the emergence and decline of the alternative school movements. I would like to argue, instead, that it was the existence or absence of structural or institutional support which was dependent upon the larger historical context that accounted for the growth and decline of the number of alternative schools during these two periods. An “idea” is neither practical or impractical. It is an hypothesis or, as Dewey would say, a guide to action. The issue of practicality only becomes relevant when ideas are acted upon, at which point the methods of implementation, the degree of institutional or community support and the nature of the results all must factor into an evaluation of whether or how well the idea can be put into practice. For example, in the face of powerful institutional opposition, an individual’s attempt to implement an idea would not appear to be very “practical”. Or, an idea promoted and supported by a community with all the resources available to it would seem to be very practical indeed. Yet, if such an idea failed in spite of such support, perhaps the methods of implementation were ill chosen. Ideas of and by themselves need creative people committed to implementation and ongoing reevaluation of the idea as well as institutional or community support in order for them to be translated into practice.
It is also misleading to characterize alternative school movements as appearing only at two moments in U. S. History. Alternative schools have existed as long as the public school system has. One is the cause of the other. A standardized and bureaucratic public school system necessarily gave rise to resistance to it. Alternative schools are just that, an alternative to the prevailing system. Alternative schools “call for diversity in preference to common standards and uniformity” and “pose an organizational alternative to bureaucracy” (Raywid, 1994; p. 31). If one does not look at alternative schools in their historical context one can not fully appreciate the impulse behind their existence or the impulse behind the repression or co-optation of that resistance.
In order to support this claim, I wish to offer the following argument. The public school system which began to take shape in the 1840s has developed systematically as a standardized and bureaucratic system so as to allow business leaders to control the socialization process of the nation's children. Those interested in opposing this process created alternative schools. The goals, methodology and decision making process of alternative schools are in direct opposition to the goals, methodology and decision making process of the public school system. This resistance emerged as soon as the effects of the new public school system began to be felt. The resistance, however, was allowed to expand during two periods. Historians have labeled these periods as the Progressive Movement (1890-1940) and the Free School Movement (1960-75). During these two periods, business leaders, instead of attacking alternative schools, provided a small amount of structural support (funding networking, publicity and studies). It is this support which explains the actual growth of alternative schools during the Progressive Movement and the Sixties. Corporate foundations and business-led school boards provided support during these periods in response to the pressure brought by larger social movements at the time, as well as in response to the evident failures of the public school system (manifested by truancy, insubordination and dropping out). Corporate funding was withdrawn from alternative schools and a media attack was launched against them when business leaders became disappointed with the results of their support, or when they perceived the experimental schools as oppositional rather than alternative (Shapiro, 1990).
Instead of pointing to external or structural factors, Lawrence Cremin (1964) referred to internal factors to explain the decline of progressive educational reform after 1940. He argued that “success” brought “ideological fragmentation” and “ideological bankruptcy”, that the reformers were too negative (“protest is not a program”), and that alternative instructional methods and organization demanded too much of teachers (pp. 348-9). Taking Cremin’s lead, both Zilversmit (1993) and Semel (1999) find fault with the ideas of “progressive schools”. Zilversmit seems to believe that if the proponents of alternative schools had not departed from the ideas of John Dewey, then the “transformation” of the schools at the turn of the century would have been “progressive” in practice and not merely in theory. According to Semel, the reformers “misunderstood and misapplied” Dewey’s ideas thus “distorting” them. This emphasis on internal, programmatic factors implies that ideas, not social, political and economic factors, drive historical change. If one just has the right idea, it will prevail.
Deal and Nolan (1978) acknowledged that the non-public alternative schools which proliferated during the 1970s succeeded in providing “options”, were the “impetus for many reforms in the traditional schools” and “out performed traditional schools on vandalism, absenteeism and drop out rates” (p. 5). They faulted many of the schools, however, for either lacking “a systematic guiding philosophy” or for being “ahistorical” (p. 7). Deal and Nolan lament that these factors undermined their effectiveness and may have been responsible for the schools’ short lives. Daniel Duke (1978) dilutes the impact of the historical context in his assessment:
absence of any one predominant goal seems to suggest that no single factor can account for the development of recent alternatives or those in earlier years. The goals established by previous alternatives were motivated by factors as diverse as the utopian movements of the 19th century, rise of Populism and Progressivism, adoption of a scientific approach to teaching and radical socio-political critiques” (p. 36).
These movements, however, were not fundamentally diverse. They were all prompted by a humanistic response to industrial capitalism. Among the “utopians” of the 1830s and 40s, the Transcendentalists opposed materialism and imperialism; the Abolitionists, Owenites, and Nashobians opposed what Marx called the alienation of labor and generation of surplus value. The Populists opposed the monopoly of capital that eastern banks, manufacturers and railroads were creating. Progressive reformers were, indeed, diverse. While most political progressives worked to maintain hierarchy and an elitist ideology, most progressive educators opposed this.
There is never “one single factor” that can account for the emergence of a movement nor are movements caused and destroyed by ideology alone. One needs to understand the relationships among a variety of factors “to account for the development” of the alternative school movements beginning in the 1890s and 1960s. To claim simply that the causal factors are “diverse” is to imply no relationship among those factors nor to assign functions to each factor. In the assigning of functions and the establishing of relationships, one can develop a theory of change that accounts for human agency within the larger context of impersonal historical forces. To conclude that change in schools happens as a result of “an interaction of long-term institutional trends, transitions in society, and policy talk” (Cuban and Tyack, 1995; p. 59) does not explain why “significant segments of the democratic polity have not been heard in the process” nor what needs to happen in order to change that fact. In order to develop an understanding of how individuals and groups can act to change the system, one must begin to not only acknowledge the complex “interactions” to which Cuban and Tyack refer, but to begin to examine, in detail, the explicit relationships such “interactions” involve.
The Development of a Centralized Bureaucracy
crusade for the common school emerged in an era of tremendous upheaval. In the 1840s, the first factories were being
established in the Northeast, drawing
such threats to the existing hierarchy, it is not difficult to believe that
Horace Mann may have been motivated to campaign for a common school by the
desire to end the civil strife that he saw all around him. Mann wanted to establish a state school
system that would restore order by teaching every white child to obey the law
and evince the Christian morals of hard work and thrift (Spring, 1986; pp.
84-5). The leadership of the crusade for
such a system in
political implications of a crusade for a uniform system – one curriculum
for everyone – were understood by most and met with resistance by
many. During the same year that
fear of the Prussianization of the Massachusett’s schools was not
paranoia. A variety of educational
innovations were being practiced in
- Begin with the senses.
- Never tell a child what he can discover for himself.
- Activity is a law of childhood. Train the child not merely to listen, but to do. Educate the hand.
- Love of variety is a law of childhood - change is rest.
- Cultivate the faculties in their natural order. First, form the mind, then furnish it.
- Reduce every subject to its elements, and present one difficulty at a time. (Spring, 1986; p. 132)
spite of such resistance to a uniform system, the crusaders for a common school
were launched on the creation of a state system for which standardized
textbooks, graded classes, and administrative supervision of acquiescent
teachers would become defining characteristics (Tyack, 1967; p. 314). Tyack (1987) argues that “the first
element of bureaucracy” is the “centralization of control and
supervision.” Schools in the
growing number of schools and increasing student population within each of the
schools created greater challenges for city superintendents. The superintendent, to ensure uniformity of
content and method could no longer make periodic visits to all the classrooms,
nor could his administrative assistants fulfill such an increasingly burdensome
task. This led state legislatures to
turn their attention to systematizing teacher training. As a cost saving measure, state legislatures
had authorized private academies to train teachers to meet the growing needs of
the emerging common schools.
Increasingly, however, some legislatures found the need to establish
State Normal Schools or add grade levels to the public school so as to control
the training of the teachers more closely.
For example, in 1844, the
training became institutionalized and lengthened to assure superintendents a
predictable workforce. This workforce became
increasingly female for a variety of reasons.
The teaching force within schools became graded on a hierarchy with as
many as seven different levels. Each
level’s pay scale was less as one proceeded towards the bottom of the
hierarchy (Tyack, 1987; p. 69). Women
were the least expensive teachers, occupying the lower rungs of the teaching
ladder. As public high schools emerged
in cities, the populations of these high schools were dominated by women ( in
1852, two-thirds of the students in the Sommerville,
The preference for a bureaucratic organization suited the aims of the educational systems as expressed by the U.S. Office of Education. William Harris, U.S. Commissioner of Education, announced in 1871 that “the first requisite of school is order: each pupil must be taught first and foremost to conform his behavior to a general standard” so as to be able to “work in the manufactory” (Spring, 1986; p. 133). Such sentiments were echoed in an 1874 petition issued by the U.S. Office of Education. Signed by dozens of college presidents, state and city superintendents, the petition acknowledged that schools greatly stress “(1) punctuality (2) regularity (3) attention and (4) silence, as habits necessary through life.” The document also argued that schools are “obliged to train the student into habits of prompt obedience to his teachers” as well as cultivate “the habit of attention and accuracy”, “to discern the categories of the mind” and to introduce the child to “pure thought” (Tyack, 1967; p. 314). In 1919, the U. S. Bureau of Education issued A Manual of Educational Legislation for state legislators. The Manual described how state legislation could be written to promote standardization. By 1978, most of the recommendations had been written into the education codes of all the states (Tyack and Cuban, 1995; p. 116).
The developing supervisory bureaucracy oversaw teaching methods that apparently remained consistent from 1820 to 1880. Larry Cuban (1984) in citing Barbara Finkelstein’s research on elementary school pedagogy during this period argued, “. . .
teachers talked a great deal. Students either recited passages from textbooks, worked at their desks on assignments, or listened to the teacher and classmates during the time set aside for instruction. Teachers assigned work and expected uniformity from students both in behavior and class work” (p. 19). Cuban points out that no comprehensive study of turn of the century high school pedagogy has been done. But his review of existing piecemeal studies suggests that Finkelstein’s description of elementary education can be applied to high school instruction as well with the following qualifications: “ Subject matter was stressed far more . . . students traveled from class to class to meet with different teachers for about an hour at a time. . . “ and the high school classes were smaller than the elementary ones (p. 30).
Cuban summarizes Tyack’s (One Best System) and Callahan’s (Education and the Cult Of Efficiency) research in the following way:
Embedded within teacher-centered instruction were a set of assumptions about school, children, and learning consistent with the profound changes occurring at the turn of the century in the larger culture. Notions of bureaucratic efficiency, organizational uniformity, standardization, and a growing passion for anything viewed as scientific were prized in the rapidly expanding industrial and corporate sector of the economy. School officials and teachers came to share many of these beliefs as well. Harnessed to an infant science of educational psychology that believed children learned best through repetition and memorization, these social beliefs, reinforced by the scientific knowledge of the day about learning, anchored teacher-centered instruction deeply in the minds of teachers and administrators at the turn of the century. (Cuban, 1984; p. 31)
Opposition to Standardization
Cuban and Tyack (1995) ruminate that “certain calls for change do seem to have recurred again and again in cyclical fashion. . .” (p. 41). Specifically they describe this pendulum swing between the following poles:
- [From] socializing students to be obedient [to] teaching students to be critical thinkers
- [From] passing on the best academic knowledge [to] teaching practical knowledge and skills
- [From] cultivating cooperation [to] fostering competition
- [From] inculcating basic skills [to] nurturing creativity and higher order thinking
- [From] only providing the basics [to] allowing for a range of choices
- [From] providing the means for assimilation into a dominant culture [to] affirming diversity
- [From] affirming gender roles [to] challenging gender roles
- [From] preserving the advantages of a favored class [to] providing equal opportunity to achieve high status and profitable remuneration
Rather than “recurring” calls for reform, I wish to argue that there has been persistent opposition to the development of a standardized and hierarchical system whose purpose is to serve the status quo as defined by the elites in this society. The choice of a standard and bureaucratic system, however, has limited the elites (business and professional educational leaders) in their choices of what they want the system to accomplish. A uniform system is inherently inflexible, necessitating a certain percentage of failure. At certain periods during which there is a crisis of legitimacy in the political system, elites want to do something about these failures. This explains periodic elite support of educational reforms proposed by opponents to the dominant system. While elites are not a monolithic entity, educational platforms of both major national political parties have historically been the same (Cuban and Tyack, 1995, p. 44).
The effects of a standardized curriculum and remote control teaching through centralized supervision were confronted by the Quincy School Board in 1873. Perhaps prompted by the need to cut costs by the onset of the 1873 Depression, the Quincy Board took a close look at its schools.
. . . [The school board] decided to conduct the annual school examinations in person. The results were disastrous. While the youngsters knew their rules of grammar thoroughly, they could not write an ordinary English letter. While they could read with facility from their textbooks, they were utterly confused by similar material from unfamiliar sources. And while they spelled speedily through the required word lists, the orthography of their letters was atrocious. The board left determined to make some changes . . .(Cremin, 1964; p. 129)
Katz (1973) suggests that the Board’s concern over the mechanical nature
of learning came from a desire to keep students in school rather than make sure
that what they learned was meaningful or useful. The evaluation committee complained that in
many schools “attendance is irregular, and often intermittent, and ceases
before a fair result can be expected.”
Katz discovered that “such complaints were neither new nor limited
Parker in charge of the
things soon began to happen. The set curriculum was abandoned, and with it the speller, the reader, the grammar, and the copybook. Children were started on simple words and sentences, rather than the alphabet learned by rote. In place of time-honored texts, magazines, newspapers, and materials devised by the teachers themselves were introduced into the classroom. Arithmetic was approached inductively, through objects rather than rules, while geography began with a series of trips over the local countryside. Drawing was added to encourage manual dexterity and individual expression (Cremin, 1964; pp. 129-30).
Such sweeping changes were not exactly what the city elites had had in mind. Opposition to such a “new” system was immediate and vociferous and eventually prevailed.
. . . there were continuing charges in
professional circles that the
the domination of conservative forces on the school committee, Parker resigned
in 1880, moving to
Johnson was as hostile to standardization as Dewey and Parker. After much reading and thought, Johnson came to a clearer
understanding as to why her experiences as a teacher in the public school
system were frustrating. Such an
understanding led her to start her own school.
Finding a funding patron in
In the kindergarten there were daily singing and dancing, stories selected for narrative interest and substantive content, trips over the surrounding countryside with subsequent conversations about the flora and fauna, creative handwork, and spontaneous, imaginative dramatization. These activities continued through the three life classes with the gradual addition of more systematic work in reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, arts and crafts and music.
The junior high school marked the real shift to more formal subjects. Arithmetic books were used for the first time. Nature study became elementary science, and literature, history, and geography were approached through more conventional readings. In the high school the youngsters traversed the conventional fields of study, but with an emphasis that discarded tests, grades, and formal requirements in favor of continuing encouragement for each child to develop his own purposes, use his own abilities to the fullest, and create his own standards for judging the results (p. 150). [my emphasis]
Fairhope was an unusual town. It was established in 1894 by farmers as the first (and largest) “single tax” colony in the nation (Semel, 1999). Henry George had inspired the “single tax” movement with the publication of his book Progress and Poverty in 1879. George called the growing poverty amidst increasing wealth of the so-called Gilded Age “the greatest enigma of our times” which has led to a “vague but general feeling of disappointment; an increased bitterness among the working classes; a widespread feeling of unrest and brooding revolution” (qtd in Zinn, 1980; p. 258). Exploration of this problem led George to propose an abolition of all taxes except one on land. This, he believed, would allow the government to generate enough revenue to solve the problems of poverty amidst progress. The colonizers of Fairhope implemented many of George’s proposals. The land and utilities were held jointly by the community. Each household had a 99 year lease whose rent paid for the town’s parks, library and school.
Johnson had gained the support of the city council so that many of the children could attend tuition free. City support was supplemented by well-to-do tuition paying winter visitors among whom were Upton Sinclair and Margaret Mead’s sisters. Johnson, herself, raised a great deal of financial support by going on the lecture circuit. An
the New York Times in 1913 was read
by a group of wealthy
continued existence of the
Co-optation of the Opposition
Alternative schools are often criticized for serving the privileged. Semel (1999)
wonders whether “progressive education can work for all children, or whether it will continue to be the province of the upper middle class, or whether it, in fact,
disadvantages African American, Latino, and working class students” (p. 20). Yet, if
one looks closely at the attempts by communities to meet local needs or educators to
provide an environment in which the child’s interests are served, one sees that it is not the
ideas or reformers that are at fault. Parker, Dewey and Johnson were committed to
education. Yet, Parker was driven into
the private sphere by a school board
increasingly dominated by businessmen.
factory owners of
attempted to make the “industrial activities of the household [become]
the industrial activities of the school
. . . [W]ithin individual subjects there was the typical attempt to
relate content to individual and social needs [as well as] a unified English
program closely tied to the group activities of the auditorium . . . [S]tudents
were given a considerable measure of freedom to work at the pace that best
suited them” (Cremin, 1964; pp. 156-7). But at the same time, individual students were
assigned their “individual programs” on the basis of whether tests
and interviews classified them as “rapid, normal, or slow learners” (Cremin, 1964). The eight volume evaluation of the
Cremin, however, does not address the fact
that teachers do not teach in a cultural or political vacuum. The aims of business and educational leaders
were very different from those of Dewey.
It is not fantastic to suggest that these elites were able to have an
impact upon the shape of the Gary Plan as it was implemented, given the shape
and content of the larger system within which it was trying to exist. Business and educational professionals were
interested in an efficient, cost-effective system that produced workers who
were obedient to authority. As a
result, the common school system was
expanding into a standardized bureaucratic institution. Opponents offered alternative theories of
organization and instruction. The
defenders of the economic and political status quo supported, promoted or
highlighted certain aspects of progressive educational theory, hoping to use it
to create a harmonious hierarchy. In
1915, the Gary School Board told Wirt to “trim” the program in order
to cut costs (Zilversmit, 1993; p. 58).
Until the Flexner report and Wirt’s controversial tenure in
Both traditional classics-bound educators and business leaders considered that some of the progressive methods might be effective in reaching their respective goals. Part of the attraction to progressive ideas by the corporate elite lay in their interest in the practical application of education. Those of the elite who supported a classical education had done so from the founding of Harvard in 1636 through the Report of the Committee of Ten in 1893. Their defense of a classical education rested on the concept of “faculty psychology” and the languages of the Bible. Learning Latin, Greek, and Hebrew involved memorizing grammatical rules and vocabulary. Memorizing in and of itself (regardless of purpose) was cherished most for the discipline it allegedly exacted. Subsequent application of these rules in the analysis of classical texts – e.g. Ovid, Cicero, Virgil, Homer, Hesiod - was believed to develop capacities of endurance, persistence and patience (Herbst, 1996; p. 13). This program of study was considered essential preparation for college during which students engaged in recitations, declamations, disputations and debates, developing skills seen as “practical” for a student’s career in medicine, politics, law or the ministry.
Yet, not only had these careers undergone a transformation as the commercial and then industrial revolutions transformed the economy of the United States, but new professions had emerged where a classical training was not considered practical at all. The desire for computational, bookkeeping, navigation and engineering skills came from merchants and manufacturers who wanted a middle class trained for the “active duties of operative life, rather than . . . the Pulpit, Bar or Medical Profession” (New York City Board of Education member in 1847 qtd by Herbst, 1996; p. 47). This tension between a classical education as preparation for college (and elite society) and a practical education to allow the sons of artisans and shopkeepers to enter a commercial or banking house underlay much of the debates over the nature of the development of state education systems from the Civil War until today (Herbst, 1996).
The context of this debate is important in understanding the role that corporate foundations played in promoting the alternative school movement from 1890 until 1940. The practical versus classical debate among elites explains why the call for “useful” knowledge and skills by the progressives found a responsive and financially rewarding chord among those who were making money from building railroads and steel mills and drilling for oil. Dewey (1944) could write in 1916:
To organize education so that natural active tendencies shall be fully enlisted in doing something, while seeing to it that the doing requires observation, the acquisition of information, and the use of a constructive imagination, is what most needs to be done to improve social conditions. To oscillate between drill exercises that strive to attain efficiency in outward doing without the use of intelligence, and an accumulation of knowledge that is supposed to be an ultimate end in itself, means that education accepts the present social conditions as final, and thereby takes upon itself the responsibility for perpetuating them (p. 137).
If John D. Rockefeller had read the above passage, he would have been nodding in vigorous agreement with Dewey’s emphasis on rigorous scientific inquiry. Rockefeller wanted a school system that would train people in the efficient use of intelligence and imagination as well as the practical application of knowledge. If progressive educators could offer methods to achieve these ends, then they should be given the opportunity to try. Rockefeller founded and funded the General Education Board in 1902 which quickly became the largest private educational philanthropy in the world. The purpose of the Board was to transform the public educational system from one based on classical humanism to one in which applied math and science predominated. These and other subjects needed to be taught so that students would have skills and knowledge that they could put to use in the “occupational world” (Hefron, 1999; p. 157). The public school system needed a major transformation because the drill and kill method which predominated was not “fully enlisting” the “intelligence” or “imagination” in the developing of knowledge and skills that men like Rockefeller wanted to see in their employees, whether shop foremen or architects.
this end, the General Education Board (GEB) teamed up with Teachers College at
Once such curricula were developed and tested, the GEB worked to make it the new standard throughout the nation, hoping to replace the traditional classical curriculum still promoted by many university educators. The GEB published textbooks based on what had proven successful in the classrooms of Lincoln High School. For example, the GEB funded the formation of the National Committee on Mathematical Requirements which helped make General Mathematics the junior high school standard. The GEB wanted to transform the school content and methods of the nation’s high schools by replacing the traditional, liberal arts with a “real use” course of study. Progressive theories such as Dewey’s and other opponents to standardized learning appealed to the foundation executives at the GEB as well as to those at the Carnegie, Ford and Mellon educational foundations. Corporate leaders were disturbed that the methods and content of the public school system seemed to fail to enlist the intelligence and imagination of the students in the service of skillfully building an industrial nation. While Dewey and Johnson wanted students to fully develop their abilities in the service of the children’s own aims and purposes (necessitating a transformation of society), corporate leaders wanted “well-knit personalities adjusted to the social order in which they live” (Heffron, 1999; p. 165).
The GEB reformers wished to adopt some of the progressive ideology but not all of it. Heffron (1999) expressed his own consternation at the adoption of progressive methods for non-progressives ends
Just how all this emphasis on applied math encouraged such values as “open-mindedness” or fostered a critical attitude toward experimental results often remained vague in the writings of the [NCMR] math reformers (p. 164). . . Students were made to see every side of a complex issue . . . [They] learned the value of balanced and discriminating judgment but knew few passions that might have moved them . . . to submerge them in some larger cause (p. 168).
It was this unwillingness to embrace the entire philosophy of a Dewey or Johnson that allowed for limited support for such ideas. The Lincoln School was created in order to generate a standardized curriculum . It functioned as an alternative school only so long as it opposed the standard classical curriculum . Nor was it a school whose independence from the existing standards was to be replicated. Once new textbooks were generated by the non-standard “experimental conditions” of the school, Lincoln was merged with the Horace Mann school in 1939 – the experiment was over.
Co-optation of Manual Training
Calvin Woodward established the Manual Training School at Washington University in 1879. Woodward opposed the classical education for trying to create only gentlemen of knowledge through “aimless, grinding book learning.” He advocated a public school system which “aims to elevate, dignify, to liberalize, all the essential elements of society; and it renders it possible for every honorable calling to be the happy home of cultivation and refinement” (Cremin, 1964; p. 28-29). James Stout decided to fund a public school in Menomonie, Wisconsin in 1889 based on Woodward’s ideas. The Menomonie school used manual training as the basis of “learning by doing”. Carpentry, iron-working, stitching, cooking, basket weaving, painting, and farming were taught in conjunction with finance, literacy and nature study. Visitors were impressed with the “‘artistic and intellectual’ atmosphere that seemed to pervade the system” compared to the majority of public schools whose “work is dead and ineffectual.” But local elites also were pleased that such a curriculum and pedagogy made truant officers needless (Cremin, 1964; p. 144-7).
The National Association of Manufacturers, attracted by the success of Woodward’s ideas, ended up sponsoring most of the trade schools that were established from 1880-1900. These schools, however, simply adopted the graded method of teaching the manual skill and abandoned the original aims of Woodward, for they taught the hand without the mind. The federal government contributed to transforming the impetus for experientially based interdisciplinary education into specialized learning with the Hatch Act of 1882 (funding for agricultural experimental stations). The Manual and Agricultural schools were then incorporated into the public school system after the turn of the century as vocational and continuation education. After World War I, IQ tests were used by guidance counselors to place children into these courses. The bias of these tests insured that these would be the children of the working class.
The elites had been attracted to reformers like Parker, Dewey and Woodward not because their pedagogy promised to develop citizens who opposed a society that was sterile, standardized and stratified but because it promised to keep students interested in staying in school at a reasonable cost. The 1914 Congressional Committee Report which led to the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917 contained both the rhetoric of alternative school proponents (individual needs, learning by doing) and scientific management theorists (efficiency and utility). But its most revealing argument for federal support of vocational education was that it would reduce the discontent of workers since it would “fit workers for their calling” (Spring, 1986; p. 210).
Resistance to Co-optation
In spite of successive and fairly systematic co-optation of alternative school ideas by those espousing scientific management, opponents continued to emerge to challenge the dominant organization of the public school system. Carolyn Pratt established the Play School in 1914. She had not liked teaching from the graded manual labor texts which she believed offered “no real opportunities to the tenement children” in New York city. Instead, she established a school in which she offered the children of Greenwich village complex activities out of which the students themselves could express what they had experienced. Pratt and other artist-teachers created conditions that led to “an extraordinary flow of first -rate student art. . . poems, music, painting, sculpture and theater” (Cremin, 1964; pp. 201-07).
Cremin presents Pratt and other “avant-garde pedagogues” as “caricatures” of progressive education, responsible for distorting and discrediting the movement itself. But this assumes that there was or should have been a unified movement (apparently built around Dewey’s ideas). Pratt was rebelling against a co-opted “progressive” curriculum that was limiting her preschool students’ abilities to express themselves. Apparently, she saw the directed gradualism espoused by Wirt and Woodward as too standardized and controlling for a 5 year old. That her methods had inept imitators who were seized upon by critics as poster children for the attack on child-centered experiential education does not seem to warrant the appellation of “caricature” nor responsibility for causing the fledgling movement to be overwhelmed by World War II and the Cold War. The very essence of a rebellion against uniformity is to establish variety, not another uniform system. The negative judgement that rebellion against standardization and bureaucracy had failed to establish a different yet equally institutionalized and homogenous system seems to miss the point of the rebellion in the first place.
Cremin argues that the alternative schools movement failed to challenge seriously the bureaucratic public school system because the progressive pedagogy simply didn’t work. Cremin argues that child-centered Rouseauvian/Deweyan education did work when in the hands of competent teachers but can’t work on a system wide basis because there are too few teachers who are capable of pulling it off. Yet this argument ignores the importance of organizational and community support to individual endeavor. Alternative education didn’t die out because it was inherently incapable of operating on a large scale. It died out because of large scale and systematic attack or, at least, from lack of structural support. For example, when the faculty at the San Francisco Normal School began publishing teaching materials for those who wished to pursue the “Individual System”, the Attorney General of California in 1916 banned the sale of the bulletins (Cremin, 1964; p. 296). Cremin argued that word of the Individual System spread anyway by word of mouth. But what was banned was not news of the system but the very materials that would have helped teachers implement the system successfully. Without structural support and under constant attack by conservative critics, there was little hope of progressive education’s spreading throughout the country.
The Progressive Education Association
The Progressive Education Association (PEA) provided the structural support that allowed alternative schools to thrive from 1920-1940. Cremin (1964) attributed the founding of the PEA to the zeal of Stanwood Cobb who wished to transform the “entire school system of America” so it reflected the teaching practices of his high school English teacher, Andrew George.
As a student at the Newton (Mass.) High School at the turn of the century, [Cobb] had been “extremely bored by the recitation system, especially in the languages.” But [under George] “were we ever bored with futile recitations? Not at all! Disposing of the question of marks by a ten-minute written quiz at the beginning of the lesson, he devoted the rest of the period to free discussion -- a discussion which roved from the central theme of English literature out to any subject under the sun” (Cobb qtd in Cremin, p. 241).
No one person, however, starts a movement or even an organization. Cobb, as a frustrated teacher at the U. S. Naval Academy, went to one of Marietta Johnson’s lectures. Johnson gave Cobb a list of people in Washington, D. C. who were all interested in forming an organization that would provide support for educational reform (Cremin, 1964; p. 242). In the drawing room of Mrs. Laura C. Williams during the winter of 1918-19, the PEA was established and succeeded in supporting the efforts of progressive educators until it was disbanded in 1955.
Cremin argued that the failure of the PEA was “ultimately political”. The “PEA failed to understand the fundamental forces that move education.” It “failed miserably” in “unifying the forces of reform . . . one need only compare its utter political na‘vet» with the sophisticated machinations of the National Society for the Promotion of Industrial Education between 1906 and 1917 to realize how miserable the failure really was” (p. 273). Whether the members or leadership of the PEA were “na‘ve” or not, it is difficult to believe that any “understanding” could have compensated for the power of corporate-led educational reform. Cremin, himself (1964), points out that in 1928, the PEA only had 6,000 members and a budget of $35,000. It wasn’t until the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations were interested in sponsoring the Eight Year Study in 1930 that the PEA gained the status of a “professional organization”. When the Foundations dropped their funding in 1941, PEA membership plummeted.
The Progressive Education Association succumbed to red-baiting, government and media attacks and loss of corporate funding, not because it was diverse or failed to understand the “general trend in educational reform”. Cremin points out that
Criticism of progressive education was mounting; indeed, the year 1940 was something of an open season on progressive teachers, as national magazines, reacting to a decade of extremist pronouncements, lashed out against the movement as naively sentimental on the one hand, dangerously subversive on the other. Moreover, reports flowing in from the field testified to growing opposition from teachers and administrators as well (p. 267).
Criticism of progressive education was increasing in proportion to the increase of criticism of the increasingly white female dominated teaching force run by professional administrators enamored of scientific management. The latter, however, was successfully labeled “extreme” by the former.  When Margaret Haley challenged William T. Harris’ rosy depiction of the public school system at a 1901 NEA Convention, Harris responded
Pay no attention to what that teacher down there has said, for I take it she is a grade teacher, just out of her school room at the end of the year, worn out, tired, and hysterical. . . It was a mistake to hold NEA meetings at this time of year. . . and if there are any more hysterical outbursts after this I shall insist that these meetings be held at some other time of year.” (Spring, 1986; p. 267)
One may question who was being hysterical. The NEA, in 1901, was seemingly impervious to diversity of viewpoints which may help explain its ability to thrive while the PEA came under increasingly harsh criticism for seriously entertaining the kinds of questions with which Margaret Haley was challenging the NEA. There certainly seems to be a confluence of factors putting tremendous pressure on organizations like the PEA.
The general attack by the media would undermine support from within the ranks of those promoting alternative education as well as those without. That the attacks reached fusillade proportions by 1940 is not a coincidence. The PEA was listed in The Red Record as early as 1934, but anti-communism reached a fever pitch by 1940 because of the growing strength of the Communist Party USA and the Non-Aggression Pact between Hitler and Stalin in 1939. That red-baiting was successfully used to discipline the AFL and CIO, limiting membership and goals (Foner, 1982), testifies to the power it must have exerted once it was systematically used against the alternative school movement. At the end of World War II (1945), communities were “showered with leaflets about the ills of modern education” (Cremin, 1964; p. 342).
I don’t believe that the PEA declined after 1940 because it failed to define a platform, or that it was too diverse or politically na‘ve, as Cremin suggests. Rather, it declined because it did not deny that most of its members were critical of prevailing teaching techniques and school organization, and thus was seen as “tearing western society to pieces” (Cremin quoting Walter Lipmann in 1940). And with the decline of the PEA went the loss of structural support for an alternative school movement. Without such institutional backing and a wider atmosphere of tolerance for deviance and diversity, the “movement” reverted to its previous existence as a “gnat worrying a dog”.
The Post-Progressive Period
By 1951, the public school system enrolled nine-tenths of children aged five to nineteen years old (Tyack and Cuban, 1995; p. 21). Professional administrators had a small fiefdom over which they ruled through a highly bureaucratic, standardized yet differentiated system. Despite an intramural dispute in the 1950s among the elites over curricula and pedagogy, the administrative structure remained intact and the classroom experience of the vast majority of students continued to experience what Dewey observed in 1952 as “fundamental authoritarianism” (Cuban, 1984; p. 137).
Although the corporate and professional elite had rejected many progressive educational practices (particularly at the high school level), they were uneasy over the continuing high rates of academic failure. To the elites, the public school system was still not capable of holding on to “those of low ability, interest and motivation who responded neither to the pre-professional academic curriculum nor to vocational education designed for the highly skilled trades”(Herbst, 1996; p. 171). The U. S. Office of Education estimated this “low ability” population to be 60 percent of the high school population and worried about “low achievement” and “juvenile delinquency” (Herbst, 1996; p. 177). Such a concern spawned support for the Life Adjustment Movement from 1945-50. Again, progressive tactics and rhetoric were appealed to without a concomitant embrace of progressive goals. The Commission on Life Adjustment Education for Youth promoted a curriculum that should “emphasize active and creative achievements as well as an adjustment to existing conditions” (Cremin, 1964; p. 336).
Even without embracing the goals of social transformation, the Life Adjustment Movement sounded threatening enough to many conservatives to be attacked in the 1950s. For example, Bernard Iddings Bell thundered in 1949 that the present educational theory and practice was not transmitting the elemental wisdom of the race because religion was not central to the curriculum (Cremin, 1964; p. 338). Without the support of the corporate elite, Life Adjustment was abandoned. Instead, the elite continued their commitment to a standardized curriculum and continued to follow the lead of Rockefeller’s General Education Board. In 1950, the Congress of the National Science Foundation formed to continue to develop national curricula for science and math. In 1953, the Ford Foundation established the Advanced Placement program and the National Merit Scholarship program in 1955 (Herbst, 1996; p. 179). It seems that they believed that a renewed emphasis on “academics” could be made more effective than in the past if a tracking system and school guidance counselors were added.
While the corporations were funding the “academic counter punch” to the Life Adjustment movement, parents in local communities were more concerned with declining financial support of the public school system due to national media attacks and Congressional investigations into their supposedly subversive nature. From 1949 – 1955, thousands of “citizen school committees” formed to demonstrate the need for increasing funding of the school system. While they demanded new buildings to relieve overcrowding they also were demanding that schools teach more than the “3 R’s”. These local organizations wanted field trips, music and art classes as well as school counselors to help students identify their interests (Zilversmit, 1993; pp 112-113).
Citizen school committees, nevertheless, were on the defensive. They were very cautious and somewhat narrow in their demands so as to not appear extreme. Opposition to standardization was very much on the defensive during this period and could only take the form of elaborations upon a core curriculum or modifications to established uniformity. Zilversmit (1993) provides examples of how this played out in two different yet previously progressive communities. In wealthy Winnetka, the school board had instructed the superintendent to make “a major reevaluation of the curriculum toward giving a much larger emphasis to scholarship and standards.” When the teachers opposed moving in this direction, the superintendent berated the union for its “unbecoming posture of coal miners or teamsters huddled in collective security.” The teachers, however, were able to insist upon locally developed curriculum materials with individually paced progressions. But the desks were once again neatly arranged in rows facing front, and “activities”, from then on, were only those related to the academic curriculum (Zilversmit, pp. 121-125).
In nearby blue collar Waukegan, parents fought a losing battle against a school board intent on building one central junior high school building. From 1945 onwards, the rapid growth of the student population required the building of new facilities. The school board argued for one large building so as to reorganize the junior high school curriculum along departmental lines. Parents, however, were less concerned with how to efficiently (cost-effectively) impose a standardized “academic” curriculum and more concerned with the distance their children would have to travel if such a centralized system were built. Instead, the parents wanted new rooms to be added on to neighborhood schools. The parents were able to defeat the board’s proposal in 1947 but were not able to pass their own. By 1953, the mayor, city council, civic groups, and the editor of the local newspaper joined forces and succeeded in getting a referendum passed authorizing the building of a centralized junior high school. The curriculum was departmentalized and tracking was introduced (Zilversmit, 1993; pp. 144-147).
Opposition to standardization continued to exist even after the demise of the alternative “movement” of 1890-1940. The Organic School continued to cling to its trademark folk dancing curriculum. Caroline Pratt’s successor at the City and Country School, Jean Murray, continued to run the school based on the philosophy that “growth cannot be hurried except at the risk of losing depth” (Semel, 1999; p. 133). The Highlander School, established in the 1930s, continued to teach future labor leaders and civil rights workers. Nevertheless, opposition to standardization, whether public or private, was in retreat, under tremendous pressure from a corporate elite which had become disillusioned by its experience with progressive techniques. For example, many schools shared the fate of Helen Parkhurst’s Dalton experiment. Parkhurst resigned as headmistress in 1942. The Board of Trustees then hired the editor of Fortune Magazine who oversaw the school’s transition from an environment allowing students to explore their own interests to one that was strictly college preparatory (Semel, 1999). It would take the social and political upheavals of the Sixties to interest the corporate elite to explore, once again, what progressive educators had to offer; to encourage, once again, an environment open to experimentation.
The Highlander School is an example of the persistent resistance to standardization even under conditions of persecution. Founded during one alternative school movement, it survived to provide support and assistance to the next movement. In the 1930s Miles Horton founded the Highlander School in Tennessee on the principle that “people had the means to solve their own problems without relying on experts or institutions” (Gold and Emery, in press). Horton wanted a school that would promote democracy as defined by Jane Addams whom he met while studying at the University of
Chicago. She told him that democracy means “people have the right to make decisions. If there is a group of people sitting around a country store and there’s a problem they’re talking about, there are two ways to do it. The can go out and get some official to tell them what to do, or they can talk it out and discuss it themselves” (Horton, 1998; p. 49). Initially, the staff of Highlander encouraged students to participate in strikes. At the time, the staff believed union activity to be one of the best examples of participatory democracy. But, when the Congress of Industrial Workers (CIO) abandoned the principle of racial equality, the school shifted its focus to civil rights activity (Gold and Emery, in press).
After the 1954 Brown decision in which the Supreme Court overturned the “separate but equal” principle, Highlander began holding workshops to discuss implementation of school integration in the South. Horton believed that students who came to these workshops had learned all their discussion skills from theories in books. The Highlander workshops turned the students’ attention to their own experiences and to the immediate problems of integration. Adults attended workshops as well. Rosa Parks completed a Highlander workshop weeks before her arrest in Montgomery.
In 1959, the Tennessee legislature appointed a committee to investigate Highlander. The committee questioned whether Highlander could be called a “school” at all. “No regular classes are held. They maintain no regular full-time faculty, no regular standard curriculum and do not carry on the usual activities as one would normally associate with school activities.” The committee concluded that the “School” was a “meeting place for
known Communists and fellow travelers” and recommended revocation of the school’s charter. The school was closed down in 1960 but it resettled itself in Knoxville as the Highlander Research and Education Center. There it continued its civil rights agenda by offering a 3 day leadership workshop for beauticians as well as more general voter registration classes. Highlander programs addressed the problems of adult literacy, acknowledged the constraints placed on tenant farmers by the agricultural calendar and trained teachers to work in such programs (Gold and Emery, in press).
Septima Clark took the Citizen Education Program from Highlander and made it the foundation for the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) Citizenship Schools. Highlander continued to be a training ground for teachers in the SCLC schools. These schools taught its students canvassing and fund raising tactics, black history, penmanship as well as how to make a long distance phone call and use bank drafts. The sixty-four Freedom Summer Schools in Mississippi in 1964 used the Citizenship curriculum from the SCLC schools as a template and molded it to the specific purposes of Freedom Summer - to create a parallel political party to the all-white Mississippi Democratic Party.
The need for Freedom Summer Schools arose as a response to the inadequacies of the existing public school system which was not only segregated but suffered from, in Dewey’s words, “fundamental authoritarianism.” The curriculum supplied to the teachers of the Freedom Schools and the emphasis during their training was to create learning situations for the students that dealt directly with the specific experiences of those students. The teachers were told that “You, your colleagues, and your students are urged to shape your own curriculum in the light of the teachers’ skills, the students’ interests, and the resources of the particular community.” The purpose of the curriculum was not “to impose a particular set of conclusions [but] to encourage the asking of questions, and hope that society can be improved” (Freedom School Curriculum, qtd in Gold and Emery, in press).
Citizen Schools and Freedom Schools were an integral part of the Civil Rights Movement which inspired the Counter Cultural, Free Speech, Women’s and Anti-Vietnam War Movements of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Many white, middle-class “northerners” traveled to the South in the late Fifties and early Sixties and were radicalized by their experiences. Upon returning home, these volunteers became key players in promoting further rebellion against a system perceived by many as inimical to individual freedom. Part of that rebellion manifested itself in the formation of alternative schools.
The Free School Movement
Cremin (1978) called the alternative school movement in the 1960s and 1970s “notoriously atheoretical and ahistorical”, Semel (1999) calls the Sixties “blatantly ahistorical” (p. 355) and Cuban (1989) observed that “the lack of passion among its partisans for formal ties may account for the shallowness of the organizational root system among open classroom enthusiasts.” (p. 151) These statements are presented as reasons for the “astonishing brevity” of the movement. These historians emphasize intrinsic factors as reasons for the emergence and demise of the movement. Cuban acknowledges that the alternative school movement of the 1960-70s took place within the context of a larger social reform era, but never establishes the role or function such a context plays in affecting the fate of most of the alternative schools of that period. If the alternative schools of the 1960s and 1970s were “ahistorical” yet reproduced most of the features of the alternative schools of the 1890s, then those features most likely emerged in response to similar conditions in which the schools found themselves in those two periods. The steadily increasing size of junior and senior high schools, the increasing student population while the number of teachers and administrators declined, and the increasing number of state and federal mandates had contributed to an unwieldy and unresponsive school system that was a constant and growing concern to many educators and parents. Given the significance of these conditions, looking to intrinsic ideological factors to fully explain the success or failure of alternative schools seems to be ahistorical itself.
From 1940-1960, there was little support for reformers who wished to counter the impersonal, test-driven and teacher-centered school system. But in the 1960s, the general climate was changing which once again gave impetus and structural support for these reformers. The successes of the Civil Rights movement in forcing desegregation led to white flight from cities to the suburbs as well as the creation of white only independent schools. The embarrassments of racism and poverty to a national government telling the world of its superiority to communism led to federal support for education under the Economic Opportunity Act of 1964 and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Corporations set up “Learning Centers” and “Research Laboratories” to successfully compete for federal dollars on the promise of improving the performance of low achievers thus fostering concerns about the failings of the public school. Foundations became interested again in alternative education as a means to cope with increasingly rebellious students. While the Carnegie Foundation had provided the bulk of the money for the PEA, Ford, in 1961, began funding “lighthouse” schools and the Danforth Foundation gave one million dollars to the National Association of Secondary School Principals for the Model Schools Project (Cuban and Tyack, 1995; p. 103).
The swelling critique of American society as oppressive and unfair moved liberals once again to support experimentation in alternative schools. Given the space and funding lacking since the 1940s, such schools grew in enough numbers (anywhere between one to five thousand by 1975, depending on one’s definition of “alternative”) to
be considered a phenomenon by scholars and the media. In looking at descriptions of the alternative school of the 1960s and 70s, I am struck not by their diversity as Duke and Deal were but by their attempts to create and nourish real democracy. Whether free, free-open, open, open-modified or modified standard (Fantini qtd in Deal, 1978a; p. 52); whether the students were considered plants, agents of change, philosophers, problem solvers or bargainers (Kohlberg and Mayer qtd in Deal, 1978a; p. 8)); whether the purpose was exploratory, preparatory, revolutionary, participatory, therapeutic, academic or demonstrative (Duke, 1978; p.26), their effect was to offer an alternative to the hierarchical decision-making, division of labor, and standardized curriculum that alienated a large segment of the student population.
Lacking theoretical and historical knowledge of the earlier progressive period, teachers, students and parents, nevertheless, created child-centered and integrated curricula throughout the country. In 1967, the Newton, Massachusetts, board of education gave North High School administrators an empty elementary school building to relieve the overcrowded high school. The administrators, unhappy with the general performance and behavior of their high school students, came up with the idea of using the new building as a site for an alternative school, the purpose of which was to test alternative methods that might later be incorporated into the high school at large. One hundred and seventy students and six staff members volunteered for the project. Given the freedom to design the curriculum and decision making structure of the new school, the teachers and students jointly and continuously designed a program that was a mixture
of traditional coursework and experiential/student-centered projects. “Personal inquiry and reflective action” as well as “having students gain experience in the exercise of responsibility” were the principles underlying the design of the curriculum. During the third year of the school, twice as many students applied for admission than could be accepted (Brandt, 1972).
The Philadelphia Parkway Program was founded by John Bremer (1971) who believed that the public school system operated like a factory producing disciplined and obedient workers but not students who were capable of participating as citizens in a democracy. The Philadelphia School Board and administration, however, was not as concerned with “helping children become happy, in their own terms” (p.7) but worried over dropping test scores and a demonstration by 3500 black students demanding black history courses as well as better training to be able to make a living after leaving school (p. 131). The School Board saw the Parkway program as a means of blunting such protests and perhaps helping to raise test scores. Nevertheless, their ambivalence to Bremer’s more radical agenda revealed itself when the Board failed to deliver on promised funds. The school only got off the ground because of Bremer’s personal connections to Ford Foundation officials who filled the financial gap for him (p. 102).
Entry to the school was determined by eight separate lotteries for eight districts in the city. As a result, the first group of 144 students at Parkway in 1969 were half white and half black. The students were divided into three groups. Each group with their teachers, was responsible for governing itself, creating a curriculum, finding space for a headquarters, and negotiating with members of the community what their contribution would be to the student’s education. Parental feedback was built into the evaluation process. While Bremer’s goal was to create a structure in which students learned to make responsible decisions based on their own interests, the independent formal evaluation team which arrived at the end of the school’s second year was interested, instead, in how the school dealt with the prominent urban issues of drug use, dropping out, gangs, overcrowding, integration, basic skills and “irrelevance” (p. 83).
Opportunity for educators like Bremer and the Newton teachers and students existed for the development of alternative methods and curricula because of the perceived “crisis” by educational leaders and corporate foundations. What reform educators and students did with the structural and financial support was not necessarily what the educational leaders wished. The leaders were motivated by wanting to improve the existing system but without changing the nature of the decision-making process. The reformers saw the highly centralized process and standardized curriculum as the root of the problem. A brief alliance was formed because each side spoke in terms of vague euphemisms like “democratic citizenship”. But in practice, it became clear that each side defined these general terms very differently. The discomfort and ambivalence of the actual effects of supporting the growth of alternative schools affected the nature of the structural support these institutions received. Without such support, it is impossible to expect a school to survive.
Metro High in Chicago (Crabtree, 1975) received a great deal of initial support. The school board hired the Urban Research Corporation for $150 million to design a program resembling Parkway. They wanted a school in which a “community of learners learned in real life situations from businessmen, lawyers, electricians, artists, newspaper reporters, etc.” (p. 91). The school opened in 1970 with 150 students and grew to 350 by 1975, sharing the fundamental features of Parkway. According to Crabtree, however, the school was in trouble by then because “outside community participation declined from 35 percent to 20 percent.” The principal told Crabtree that “Not enough business and professional people want to be involved any more. . . without the help of the community which provides us with meeting space, resources, instructors, even with the whole programs, Metro cannot exist.” (p. 96) Again, the lack of a real commitment to such a school by “business and professional people” essentially sealed the fate of the school.
Terrance Deal (1978b) explained that the purpose of his case study of “A School Above a Bakery” was to reveal “what to do and what to avoid when starting an alternative school” (p. 97). The existence of state funds (in California) for redesigning secondary schools combined with a school board concerned about a 300 percent increase in early graduation rates from 1965-68 led to a willingness to allow a PhD student to design and implement a public alternative school for September 1972(?). Thirty students, two teachers and a principal met during traditional school hours in three rooms above a bakery. At first, the only structure consisted of two rules: (1) the students would keep the staff apprised of their whereabouts; and (2) the students would pursue scholarly tasks. After the novelty of the first two months wore off, student behavior became erratic. A survey of both parents and students was made to discover what the problems were. The results of the survey were discussed in all school meetings out of which a revised set of goals, learning plans and evaluation procedures were established. At the end of the year, the board was presented with a formal assessment. The student “alienation index” had declined from 56 percent to 12 percent, 29 of 34 parents said the school should continue and 28 of the 30 students wished to return. The board voted 5-0 to continue the school.
That the curriculum and method were negotiated among parents, students, and
teachers made this school an alternative to the public school system. While the school board was focused on the “alienation index”, the school community was concerned that students develop problem solving skills, a cohesive set of values, self-worth, at least one cultivated enjoyment and the ability to assume a personally satisfying role in society (Deal, 1978b; p. 111). Students did so by establishing individual contracts that would allow them to “explore long range goal alternatives”. For example, if a student was interested in Corvettes, he or she would work in a shop pursuing that interest. After successful pursuit, the student might then question the interest as an end in itself and thus be led to a decision to go to college. Then the student would work on the development of basic skills by researching and writing about Corvettes (p. 113).
Nolan (1978) participated in the creation of a student run alternative school in Roselyn, New York from 1970 to 1973. In 1970, several students read Summerhill and were aware of two alternative schools in neighboring districts. The students started meeting after school to discuss the possibility of creating their own alternative. In 1971,
the students submitted a proposal to the board of education. The board turned them down. In 1973, Nolan helped the students rewrite their proposal which quoted liberally from Carl Roger’s Freedom to Learn. Before re-submitting the proposal to the board, the students enlisted the support of the Parent’s Association, the principal of their high school and the head of the teacher’s union. With widespread community backing, the board voted 7 to 0 in favor of establishing three classrooms as a separate section of the high school. Nolan implicitly acknowledged the ahistorical approach of the students by concluding that the “rewards of a student run school are probably the greatest for the initial group . . . some students suggested destroying the school to force successors to have to recreate the process . . .reinventing the wheel can be valuable” since the process of discovery is where the learning takes place (p. 140). Kathy Grooz (1978) concurred. She believed that the success of the school that she, as a high school student, started in a New Jersey suburb rested upon “what she learned by creating the school” (p. 173). Her success in starting a school didn’t depend on historical and theoretical knowledge of past movements. Instead, it depended on “a general dissatisfaction with high school” and the practical advice available from those she was put in contact with through the New School Exchange.
In the following paragraph, I have paraphrased Hernandez’s description (1978) of the short history of Casa de la Raza in Berkeley. This story may appear to be fundamentally different from the examples cited above. Yet, the issues of structural support were fundamental to its success and failure. This variable, however, was complicated by race. I include this example because the research literature (Semel, 1999 and Delpit, 1995) raises the question whether “progressivism” can “come to terms with poor and minority communities.” The story of Casa de la Raza seems to say more, however, about the failure of the federal government to deal with local concerns rather than about the limitations of an alternative to standardization. Again, it is not an idea that can be blamed or extolled for results associated with it. Methods of implementation, historical context , including in this case decisions by federal authorities, have a great deal to do with what happens to an idea when it becomes a “guide to action”.
When the Berkeley, California school board established its “Experimental Schools Program”, several parents and teachers petitioned the board to start an alternative school. In 1971, Casa de la Raza opened. The school was run by and for “Chicanos”. The students’ culture and language was used as the medium for instruction. There were bilingual classes and the students’ families and community were the focus of most activities, many of which were done in groups. Basic skills were focused on in the morning while afternoons were devoted to individual and peer tutoring. In spite of being housed in an old army barracks, the school continued to survive until the school district shut it down in 1973. The United States Office for Civil Rights cited the school in violation of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and threatened to withhold federal funds to the Berkeley school district unless Casa de la Raza were either closed or integrated (Hernandez, 1978). Yet, the closing of this school did not result from the failure of the ideas of its creators nor a failure in implementation of those ideas. It came from a failure of the federal government to support or acknowledge such ideas and practices when they were pursued in a context that violated bureaucratically interpreted regulations.
Carl Rogers (1983) observed the brief transformation of the Louisville, Kentucky public school system from a traditional to a “person-centered” mode of education (see Appendix A for an explanation of his typology). In 1969, the school board appointed a new superintendent to deal with “disastrously low” achievement. The superintendent, Newman Walker, enrolled 1600 teachers and administrators in a week long residential retreat over a period of six months.
That fall, in [the fourteen] schools chosen for their first project, an enthusiastic group of principals and teachers with the assistance of young teacher interns turned the classrooms upside down. Open classrooms, team teaching, giving students much freedom of choice – all kinds of innovative things were done. The result, in many instances, was turbulent and chaotic. Kids who had been under authoritarian control for years burst out in various ways when given a taste of freedom. Criticism came from all angles.
But the turbulence was constructive. It was a “purposeful controlled chaos in the classroom”. It was recognized that enthusiasm and freer communication with students were not enough. So the staff rethought their purposes, regrouped to learn how to teach, without giving up this aim of creating an environment where students could choose and learn responsibly.
Gradually the project schools became a coherent educational program, operating well in all essential respects. In a relatively short period of years, the impact of this first project, and the impact of all the other projects – similar in aim, but diverse in form – was tremendous. A ghetto school system had been turned around. With the aid of large federal grants, a model had been established . . .the decline in achievement scores had stopped [my emphasis]. Staff and student morale was high (Rogers, 1983; pp. 228-9).
The “model”, however, was terminated when court ordered desegregation resulted in the merging of the city with the suburban system. Walker was forced to resign by the wealthy, white suburbanites and the “humanistic learning programs” were dismantled under pressure from anti-busing riots (Rogers, 1983; p. 232). It is difficult to imagine that a better theoretical or historical understanding of the Progressive period could have altered the fate of either Casa de la Raza or the model schools of Louisville. Both were alternatives to the standardized public school system. Both were created with and survived because of community and state support. Both failed due to loss of institutional support.
Since the Sixties
The so called brevity or failure of alternative schools reveals more about the nature of the strength of support for a standardized, bureaucratic and teacher-centered public school system than it reveals about the inherent strengths or weaknesses of alternative schools. Corporate elites and educational professionals have consistently perceived alternative schools as an experimental or compensatory dimension to the basic standardized and hierarchical public school system. The degree to which they have seen a “crisis” in the basic system has matched the degree to which they have provided support for “alternatives”. While the growth of oppositional alternative schools during the Sixties ended abruptly, the development and existence of compensatory alternative schools has persisted. If one looks at the number of documents available on the ERIC database using “alternative school” as the descriptor, one finds the following results:
This data seems to indicate that professional interest in alternative schools peaked in 1973, yet, there has been a fairly steady interest since then. Much of that interest is perhaps due to
two enduring consistencies [which] have characterized alternative schools from the start: they have been designed to respond to a group that appears not to be optimally served by the regular program, and consequently they have represented varying degrees of departure from standard school organization, programs, and environments (Raywid, 1994; p. 26).
Raywid (1994) has identified “three pure types” of alternative programs that exist today. Type I programs “seek to make school challenging and fulfilling for all involved.” Type II programs are those to which “students are sentenced – usually as one last chance prior to expulsion.” Type III are for those students “who are presumed to need remediation or rehabilitation – academic, social/emotional, or both” (p. 28).
All of these types, with few exceptions, are still oriented towards standardized definitions of academic success. Raywid (1994) is particularly enamored of Central Park East Secondary School as the epitome of a Type I school. Deborah Meier (1996), director of CPESS from 1974 to 1994, concedes that in spite of keeping
Students in multi-age class rooms with the same teacher or teachers for at least two years; [in spite of continuing] to create schedules and curricula that had room for personal preferences, flexibility, overlapping disciplines, and sustained work individually or in collaboration with others; [in spite of finding] ways to organize space so that youngsters had room to build over a period of time, to have their work valued and analyzed by real audiences, and to make choices of when and how they would pursue a topic . . .for all that, we kept a careful eye on how our practices would look to colleges (pp. 273-4).
Meier believes that putting the focus on “getting students into college” meant paying a “price” that they never believed they should have to pay.
The compromises we have made mean that we lose students on both ends – those who cannot enter into even our academically focused, decontextualized frameworks and those who seek entry into the most rigid traditional schools. We look good statistically, but only we know the prices that have been paid (p. 273) . . .The arts suffered, although we regularly decried that fact. Youngsters with odd ball passions or with strong traditional vocational interests were largely left to feel a little inadequate, a little bit like failures (p. 274).
With college entrance requirements as the standard by which all students are judged and “all such post secondary possibilities [not] to be of equal merit” then students of all types of alternative schools are necessarily stigmatized as misfits needing remediation. This is the limited vision that corporate and professional elites have historically imposed on alternative schools, a vision that has been, nevertheless, continually challenged by the likes of Caroline Pratt and Deborah Meier.
Deirdre Kelly’s (1993) history of continuation schools in California provides evidence of how corporate funding has been crucial to both the survival of alternative schools but also to their simultaneous subordination to the interests of corporate and professional elites (all page references in this section refer to Kelly, 1993). Established in 1919, continuation schools are, today, the largest single category of alternative schools. In 1993, one fifth of California’s 11th and 12th graders were enrolled in continuation schools (p. xv). Kelly argues that, in its seventy year history, California alternative schools have been
able to survive because they can change their image, presenting themselves as an innovative solution to the community’s latest, most pressing fears and concerns about teenagers . . .tying [the schools] into the current way of thinking about students on the margins of schooling’s mainstream (p. 34).
Specifically, the continuation schools have been “repackaged” twice since their inception. From 1920 to 1945, continuation schools were presented as part time schooling for employed youth. From 1945-60, they were promoted as schools which addressed the psychological problems causing students to be rejected by the system. From 1960 to the present, continuation schools have been defined as “alternative” schools to reach students “in all their diversity”.
Kelly argues that, in spite of the repackaging, these schools served the same population throughout its history – those who were considered “threats to the social order” – misfits, dropouts, and push-outs (p. 35). Furthermore, while administrative directives would alternate in the degree of emphasis on academic subjects (following the debates among elites over degrees of college preparatory curriculum all students should have), much of the organization of the continuation schools remained the same throughout. Most continuation schools maintained the structural characteristics of alternative schools -- flexible schedules, small class sizes, life-skills emphasis, independent instruction, and open entry and exit (p. 35).
Government or corporate funding was essential to the survival of these schools. In 1917, Congress passed the Smith-Hughes Vocational Education Act which earmarked one-third of its funding for the creation of part-time schools for workers who were 14 years old or older. The arguments for such schools by the elites ranged among the need to Americanize foreigners (especially eliminate criticism of capitalism), prevent crime (get unemployed off the street), and increase the skill level of the workforce. Progressive educators like Dewey objected to the schools as they led to compartmentalization of learning and social stratification (pp. 38-41).
With the growth of comprehensive high schools and the fiscal crisis of the Depression, most states began to lose interest in separate continuation programs. California was an exception to the rule. The California Continuation Educational Association lobbied state legislators vigorously to maintain the program by arguing that such a program could now be a transition back into high school rather than a transition to work (p. 51). In 1953, the California Youth Authority (state’s prison system for juveniles) co-sponsored a state study of continuation schools funded by a San Francisco businessman, Max Rosenberg. Each of the interested parties wanted to know why so many students were dropping out of high school. The study concluded that it was primarily “lack of adjustment”. An intramural debate ensued among the authors of the study (Rosenberg Foundation members and professional educators) over whether the students were “capable” or not. Yet, all agreed to support further funding of a few continuation schools. The Rosenberg Foundation gave a grant for another study of eleven California continuation schools in 1964. The study led to legislative hearings on “push outs” in 1965 and a state law mandating that all school districts must provide continuation education for those suspended for ten or more days (pp. 51-56).
Corporate and Government Support of Continuation Schools
Approximate enrollment in federally funded continuation schools
Enrollment in continuation schools in California
Tracking introduced into high schools
1963, Federal government discontinues funding
Rosenberg Foundation funds study of continuation schools in California
1965 California law establishing district continuation schools
(Kelly, 1993; p. 36, 52)
Even though a California State Department Bulletin in 1973 referred to continuation schools as “alternative” schools whose constituency were the “bright but bored”, Kelly (1993) argued that the subordinate position and stigma attached to continuation schools allowed them to be used by public school staff as a threat to induce conformity among public school students (p. 68). The continuation school’s subordinate position is enforced by the system’s demand that continuation schools be used as a “safety valve” for comprehensive schools. “As long as the academic curriculum remains central and the comparative and selective functions of schools remain unchallenged, alternative schools are liable to get pushed to the margins and devalued” (p. 218).
Kelly’s history of continuation schools reinforces the evidence concerning the interests of corporate and professional elites in alternative schooling. An educational program that starts with the interests of the child, for which Dewey and many others have long argued, if funded by corporations or the government, will be turned into a program that serves the interests of corporate capitalism. They will either become dumping grounds for those “threats to the social order”, or laboratories to develop standardized curriculum that is more engaging yet not empowering, be a means of establishing prestige for a wealthy community whose children don’t seem to be thriving in the public system or adapted and modified to promote cost-cutting efficiency. Truly person or child-centered schools like the Sudbury or Highlander Schools will continue to exist since there will always be resistance to a centralized bureaucracy. But without a widespread, grassroots community movement, these schools will remain but small puddles in the arid plain of public education.
Vouchers and Charters
Corporate interest in alternative schools as a means to support the public school system has continued since the Sixties. I do not believe it is a coincidence that the charter schools, either supported by vouchers or by corporate funding or both, emerged at the same time as the New Standards Movement. This movement was launched n 1989 by the Business Roundtable (more than 200 of the top CEOs in the United States) who met to decide how to coordinate efforts to establish state legislated standardized tests and frameworks for the public schools. These tests are beginning to be used today to “sanction” failing schools and reward successful schools. Success and failure is defined by cut off scores on the state standardized tests. The Business Roundtable (BRT) has built its theory of educational reform around what it believe to be the Nine Essential Components of a Successful Education System: Performance Assessment; School Accountability; School Autonomy; Professional Development; Learning Readiness; Parent Involvement; Technology; Safety; and Discipline (BRT, 1995). Shortly after the launching of the Standards Movement, the Edison Project was founded and conservative think tanks began to promote Milton Friedman’s voucher theories. While the Education Task Force of the Business Roundtable has been able to persuade 49 out of 50 state legislatures to adopt state curriculum frameworks and standardized testing, resistance to implementing the program has led the BRT and its partners to retreat and reevaluate in order to “turn up the heat”. Edward Rust, chairman of BRT’s Education Task Force, wrote in a section of a document called “Turning up the Heat”:
It is said that large organizations such as schools “don’t change because they see the light; they change because they feel the heat.” Business Roundtable CEO’s have successfully applied the heat on state policy makers, while state coalitions are helping the public and educators see the light about the need for change. We need to keep it up . . . (Rust,, 1999)
Recently, the New Schools Venture Fund (NSVF) was established by a group of Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in order to “improve K-12 education by supporting a growing community of education entrepreneurs” (NSVF, 2000a). NSVF funds and directs the activities of five organizations: Teach for America, GreatSchools.net, Success For All, University Public Schools and the Carnegie Learning Institute (NSVF, 2000b). Each of these organizations either promotes the concept of “alternative schools” or alternative curricula. Yet, these alternatives are not ends in themselves but a means to put the public school system’s feet to the fire – to force public schools to align their teaching and curriculum to the state standards which are enforced by state tests. Continuation schools are beginning to fill up with students who fail to pass the tests while charter schools are rightly perceived by public school teachers as a threat to the existence of a public school system as it stands now. Don Shalvey, co-founder of University Public Schools, is explicit. His plan is to build clusters of eleven schools (6 elementary; 3 middle and 2 high school) in each of California’s ten largest school districts. He believes that “when enrollment [in these charter schools] reaches 10% of the local population, the district will be forced to improve their own programs or better yet adopt [the UPS system]” (UPS, 2000).
Reed Hastings, the other co-founder of UPS, is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a member of California’s State Board of Education. Shalvey is the co-founder of Californians for Public School Excellence which successfully sponsored AB544 resulting in the California Charter Schools Act of 1998. Shalvey is currently a member of California Superintendent Delaine Eastin’s Charter School Committee. As superintendent of the San Carlos school district, Shalvey turned one of the district’s schools into a charter school and then sent a letter to all the other schools in the district to encourage them to become charters. The original charter soon became an “R & D” lab “for programs and methods then adopted by the district” (UPS, 2000)
Teach for America trains and supports “dedicated corps members [who] quickly become central players in school-wide programs and reform efforts”, “efforts” dedicated to raising scores on state mandated standardized tests (TFA, 1998-9). GreatSchools.net, founded by Bill Jackson, is an online guide to K-12 schools in California and Arizona. It’s mission is “to provide competition and accountability in K-12 schools” (GS, 2000a). On its web page, one can access the results of the STAR system for any school, access a list of questions to ask school officials when shopping for a school, read “tips for parents” to find out how to “support your child’s education” and discover programs “that work”. One of the weekly features in the “Exploring What Works” section of Jackson’s web page was the Bridges Program used by the Palo Verdes Elementary School. It was developed by Intellectual Development Systems and billed as addressing the issue of “Readiness to Learn” (one of the nine “essentials” of the BRT agenda). While standardized test scores are the measure of success, Bridges boasts a computerized program which computes the results of 37 pre-tests “producing a highly customized program based on an individual’s areas of weakness” (GS, 2000b).
Success For All (SFA) has designed and packaged “The Middle School Project”. SFA offers a “contract” to a school. The school must demonstrate eligibility for the “contract” which includes evidence of ability and desire to adopt the SFA curriculum, training and structural recommendations (SFA, 2000b). In return, the SFA argues that, if properly implemented, the school will then be on the way to achieving the following goals:
1. increasing reading scores at or above grade level by 20% each year
2. increasing student scores on standardized state tests
3. increasing attendance rates by 5% each year
4. decreasing suspensions
5. increasing parental involvement
6. increasing student self-esteem and self concept (SFA, 2000a).
The SFA curriculum is geared to use an interdisciplinary approach and computer technology to solve “real life problems making learning meaningful and personal”. For example, “World Lab” allows Fifth grade students “to learn about the world by experiencing it in simulated form and by investigating important, real world problems and topics in cooperative groups”. The example provided on the SFA web page is a computer assisted simulation of a South American conference on economic development and ecology. The students represent different countries and debate the impact of economic development (global capitalism?) on the environments of their respective countries using maps, statistics and models generated by purchased computer software (SFA, 2000c).
The SFA “alternative” program has adopted many of the means of progressive theory – integrated, active, cooperative learning about the real world – but seems to be studiously avoiding the ends of progressive education – students learning how to decide what the goals of society should be. The designers of World Lab argue that “. . . it doesn’t matter at all who ‘wins’ an argument; what matters is the evidence each group
and individual can use to support the group’s position” (SFA, 2000c). This is remarkable when one considers that the outcome of debates can be very important. Why else are large corporations willing to spend $400 an hour per lawyer to defend themselves in court? In teaching students how to “develop techniques and knowledge to suggest solutions to pollution problems of a river” without teaching them the skills that would allow them to evaluate whether that river should be polluted in the first place, is to train students to be mere technicians in the service of other’s goals. Dewey, if not other progressives, would not approve of such a curriculum. This may also explain the level of interest by corporations in the alternative curricula being promoted by SFA. Is the moral of the lesson in World Lab “its okay to pollute rivers because we can clean them up? Any debate merely revolves around how to do so?”
Another organization promoting charter schools and funded by New Schools Venture Fund is LearnNow. This organization promotes a curriculum and organization that also adopts many progressive methods but with non-progressive ends. Each charter school that it “collaborates” with is committed to aligning its curriculum to the “New StandardsTM Performance Standards”. The progressive methods of LearnNow’s School Design include individual learning plans for each student, in-depth learning, integrated curriculum to solve “real world problems” and a diversity of instructional approaches. The non-progressive ends are the standards themselves to which every child is directed.
In addition to state and national standards, LearnNow measures success on a criterion referenced basis. The entirety of the program is designed to take students that come in with disparate levels of preparation and accelerate their performance to ensure that by graduation students can: demonstrate mastery of calculus and/or higher order mathematical concepts; write a well-researched, cogent 25-page essay; demonstrate proficiency in a foreign language; and successfully complete a “knowledge-work” internship (LN, 2000).
Duke (1978) wanted to classify and sort the alternative school movement in order to “bring a degree of orderliness to a wide open and previously unresearched area.” (p. 3). Deal and Nolan (1978a) wish to see a consensus among researchers over what to “single out” and give “special attention” in order to establish “unifying conceptual schemes to assist in the classification and evaluation” of these schools. (p.5) Neither, however, explain what will be gained by such orderliness, although the implication seems to be that such an understanding will lead to the creation of more successful alternative schools. Semel seems to think that if prospective teachers read Dewey, Parker, Johnson, Pratt, Parkhurst or Flexner, then school reformers today would not be spending “an inordinate amount of time reinventing the wheel” (p. 356). In citing the “recent high school reforms in New York City, which have built small, alternative high schools as an antidote to large, bureaucratic comprehensive schools,” Semel argues that such alternative schools “would have been implemented years ago if reformers had only looked to history” (pp. 374-373).
It all depends on which history one looks at. I would argue that, given the history laid out in this paper, it is not the knowledge of the history of alternative schools, the orderliness with which the evidence is adduced or how unifying one’s conceptual schemes are that leads to the creation of alternative schools. The determining factor is the degree to which corporate and professional elites perceive a crisis of legitimacy that determines whether they will lend crucial resources and structural support for the pursuit of alternatives to the public educational system. Yet such “alternatives” are in means only. Deborah Meier has made it clear that as long as the ends are determined by university entrance requirements, no school or school system can serve all children. I would extend the argument by suggesting that, as long as corporate financed institutions promote standardized testing and support alternative schools only if those schools submit to externally imposed standardized aims, then no true alternative school movement can exist.
Corporate and professional elites will not give up control of the ends voluntarily. Dewey argued that if a student pursued his or her own interests in the context of joint activity with others, society would be transformed into a true democracy. This principle rests upon a fundamental belief in the inherent sociability of humans. It does not guarantee, however, a polarized economic order supporting a privileged class. It is this order that alternative schools based on progressive or person-centered educational theories threatens, and so they cannot be allowed to flourish by those defending the order. Rogers (1983) believes that the evidence of the effectiveness of person-centered learning to produce both moral and economic capacity in individuals is incontrovertible. Neither more research nor more history, however, will increase the spread of such education as long as the ends of education support a class based society – that is, a society in which corporate profits take precedence over individual development and well-being.
When an organization is truly democratic, when persons are trusted and empowered to act freely and responsibly, this poses an enormous threat to conventional institutions. Our culture does not as yet believe in democracy. Almost without exception the “establishment” – and the people – believe in a pyramidal form of organization, with a leader at the top, who controls his or her subordinates, who in turn control those further down the line. When some form of organization, other than authoritarian, flourishes and succeeds, it challenges a way of being that is deeply rooted in our society. . . so I see, as one of the major factors in the shortened lives of [person-centered] organizations, the fears of the “establishment” – fear of self-directing individuals and enterprises, fear of any entity deeply rooted in a democratic way of being (Rogers, 1983; pp. 245-6).
[The information below is intended to elaborate upon Roger’s explanation of his experiences with the Louisville school system, see page 34 of this text]
The Politics of Education (excerpts)
By Carl Rogers (1983; pp. 185 - 194)
Traditional education and person-centered education may be thought of as the two poles of a continuum. I think that every educational effort, every teacher, every institution of learning could locate itself at some appropriate point on this scale. . .
The Traditional Mode
I believe that following are the major characteristics of conventional education, as we have known it for a long time in this country and as it is experienced by students and faculty.
1. The teacher is the possessor of knowledge, the student the expected recipient.
2. The lecture, the textbook, or some other means of verbal intellectual instruction are the major methods of getting knowledge into the recipient. The examination measures the extent to which the student has received it. These are the central elements of this kind of education.
3. The teacher is the possessor of power, the student the one who obeys.
4. Rule by authority is the accepted policy in the classroom
5. Trust is at a minimum
6. The subjects (students) are best governed by being kept in an intermittent or constant state of fear.
7. Democracy and its values are ignored and scorned in practice.
8. There is no place for the whole person in the educational system, only for her intellect.
The Person-centered Mode
The person-centered approach is at the opposite end of the scale. It is sharply different in its philosophy, its methods, and its politics. In our present educational culture, it cannot exist unless there is one precondition. If this precondition exists, then the other features listed may be experienced or observed at any educational level, from kindergarten through graduate school.
- The precondition is: a leader or a person who is perceived as an authority figure in the situation is sufficiently secure within herself and in her relationship to others that she experiences an essential trust in the capacity of others to think for themselves, to learn for themselves.
- The facilitative teacher shares with the others – students, and possibly also parents of community members – the responsibility for the learning process.
- The facilitator provides learning resources, from within herself and her own experience, from books or materials or community experiences.
- The student develops her own program of learning, alone or in cooperation with others.
- A facilitative learning climate is provided.
- The focus is primarily on fostering the continuing process of learning.
- The discipline necessary to reach the student’s goals is a self-discipline . . replaces external discipline.
- The evaluation of the extent and significance of the student’s learning is made primarily by the learner . . .may be influenced and enriched by caring feedback from the other members of the group and from the facilitator.
- In this growth-promoting climate, the learning tends to be deeper, proceeds at a more rapid rate, and is more pervasive in the life and behavior of the student than is learning acquired in the traditional mode.
From a front page article in the Wall Street Journal by Emily Nelson, January 24, 2002.
Behind the frenzy to scrutinize the mundane aspects of everyday life is Procter & Gamble Co., whose products—from Pampers to Pringles to Pantene—are found in 98% of American households. P&G marketers are constantly seeking ideas for new products and changes in existing ones. And the famed “P&G Way” requires extensive data for all major decisions, such as why a shampoo should be green. (Green connotes tough cleaning to women, P&G research has found.) So P&G spends $150 million on 4,000 to 5,000 studies a year, testing everything from the ergonomics of picking up a shampoo bottle to how long women can keep their hands in sudsy water. [my emphasis]
[below is copied directly from the web page of the National Center on Education and the Economy (NCCE, 2000a)]
New StandardsTM Performance Standards
Published by the National Center on Education and the Economy
A Sample from the Performance Standards
Middle School Science
S1 Physical Science Concepts
S2 Life Sciences Concepts
S3 Earth and Space Science Concepts
S4 Scientific Connections and Applications
S5 Scientific Thinking
S6 Scientific Tools and Technologies
S7 Scientific Communication
S8 Scientific Investigation
Work Sample & Commentary: Paper Towels
What follows are two pages, and the associated commentary, of a five-page piece of middle-level work. This piece of student work illustrates a standard-setting performance for the following parts of the science performance standards at the middle school level:
S4a. Scientific Connections and Applications: Big ideas and unifying concepts.
S4b. Scientific Connections and Applications: The designed world.
S5a. Scientific Thinking: Frame questions to distinguish cause and effect; identify or control variables in experimental or non-experimental research settings.
S7a. Scientific Communication; Represent data and results in multiple ways.
S8a. Scientific Investigation: Controlled experiment.
The piece is included in its entirety along with the circumstances under which it was produced in Volume 2 of the New Standards performance standards.
Students in a physical science class were asked to test the effectiveness of one of several different common products. The task required them to perform detailed and accurate testing and report results in a form for public presentation. Further, the students were asked to design and give a presentation promoting the most successful product.
Students had two weeks to complete the task which was part of a unit on scientific methodologies.
Science required by the task
Paper towel testing is a common middle school activity, but many students select variables that are social in nature (e.g.,cost, appearance) and are more easily measured than are strength or performance. This project tackled variables that required more imagination and effort to measure.
[The first column contains a list of the standards demonstrated in “the work” as well as a description (in italics) of how the students demonstrated the standard. The letters A, B, C, D in the first column correlate to the letters in third column so as to specifically identify where in “the work” the standards are “performed”]
What the work shows
S4a Scientific Connections and Applications: The student produces evidence that demonstrates understanding of big ideas and unifying concepts, such as . . . form and function . . .
A The sutdent related the thickness (form) of towels to the characteristic of strength (function).
S4b Scientific Connections and Applications: The student produces evidence that demonstrates understanding of the designed world, such as . . . the viability of technological designs.
A The student provided evidence of thinking through the design of paper towels and how well they would serve the intended purpose.
S5a Scientific Thinking: The student frames questions to distinguish cause and effect; and identifies or controls variables in experimental and non-experimental research settings.
B There is ample evidence of the student’s recognition and control of variables.
S7a Scientific Communication: The student represents data and results in multiple ways, such as numbers, tables. . . drawings, diagrams, and artwork. . .
B The experimental set-up is communicated in both words and drawings.
D The results are communicated in tables, graphs, and words. The histogram is more effective than the pie chart.
S8a Scientific Investigation: The student demonstrates scientific competence by:
• Questions that can be studied using the resources available
• Procedures that are safe, humane, and ethical: and respect privacy and property rights
• Data that have been collected and recorded (see also Standard 6) in ways that others can verify, and analyzed using skills expected at this grade level (see also Mathematics Standard 4)
• Data and results that have been represented (see also Science Standard 7) in ways that fit the context.
Problem: Will the product, Brawny paper towels be stronger than the other 3 brands of paper towesl? Which brand is the strongest brand?
Research: Strength is a major part of this experiment. The word strong or strength doesn’t necessarily have to deal with muscles. To be strong you must be powerful and able to resist attack. As well as being powerful, you must well established [sic], firm, solid, not easily broken, or steadfast. The word steadfast basically comes down to being firmly fixed, steady, and well built. The word strength has a similar meaning. To have strength it means to have the ability to endure, support, or force in numbers.
Paper is a material made by pressing pulp of rags, straw, or wood into thin sheets.
A towel can be cloth or paper. Based upon this experiment the towels being tested are made of paper. Drying is the major purpose for a paper towel, but sometimes they’re used for scrubbing surfaces.
Carpet is a woven or felted piece of material that covers floors. In many cases carpet must be cleaned. Usually they are cleaned with vacuums but sometimes when there is a spill a cleaning solution and a bundle of paper towels will do the job.
Hypothesis: Based from the research, I think our product, the Brawny paper towel will be stronger. Being that the towel is made of thin sheets of paper, there is the likely reason that it will rip if wet. But unlike the other brands Brawny is thicker. When we compare the characteristics of strength Brawny fits all of them. Brawny can resist attack. It is well establish [sic], firm, solid, (thick in other words), and well built. In our second test we will actually find out if it can handle scrubbing a spill on a rough, woven piece of carpet.
Set Up: In this experiment the first step is to wet one area of the carpet by squirting it 9 times with the water bottle. The area will be squirted 9 times in the exact area for a single test. Then when the second brand is tested we’ll move to a different area and squirt nine times (and so on). The wet surface will be scrubbed with one sheet of the paper towel. The carpet will be scrubbed over and over with the paper towel until the paper towel begins wearing away. With the first notice of “wear and tear” we’ll stop rubbing. Each brand will be timed for the number of second [sic] or minutes it was able to hold up without tearing. Then the data will be recorded.
[page two consists of a free hand drawing with each piece labeled: woven carpet; wet spot; 9 squirts, water bottle, water, paper towels]
Brawny 30 seconds
Job Squad 60 seconds
High Dry 12 seconds
Bounty 16 seconds
[results depicted on free hand drawn bar graph with a description including x and y axis as well as a conclusion “None of the other towels were close to Job Squad’s performance”.]
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 As will be noted later in this paper, girls stayed in school longer than boys. The longer one is “in” an institution, the more likely one is to adopt the values and orientations of that institution.
 Threats to the legitimacy of U. S. capitalism and its attendant institutions comes periodically and in various manifestations. The U. S. has experience periodic economic “panics” or depressions (1837, 1857, 1873, 1893, 1907, and 1929) each of which provoked organized challenges to the status quo and equally organized response to those challenges. In the context of economic hard times combined with high levels of immigration, elites interpreted increasing drop out rates, truancy and even demands for early graduation as serious threats to the legitimacy of the public school system.
 Katz (1973) noted that after two years of Francis Parker’s reforms, truant officers were no longer needed (p. 79). These apparently beneficial effects did not last long, however. The School Board continued to pay its teachers and superintendent less than surrounding school boards did. In 1880, Parker left with one quarter of the town’s teaching force. Subsequent superintendents proceeded to dismantle Parker’s reforms (p. 81). Katz argues that the School Board’s desire for economy and efficiency placed lower costs ahead of desired results. The appointment of a superintendent was also “opposed by those who argued that this innovation would add another chunk to the already burdensome school taxes. Committee members countered by asserting that the salary of the superintendent would be more than offset by savings that would result from efficient management. The committee won its case in 1875. . .” (Katz, 1973; p. 71).
 Nathan Oppenheim’s The Development of the Child, C. Hanford Henderson’s Education and the Larger Life and the early pamphlets of Dewey.
 The post-Civil War period was indeed becoming characterized by labor and farm unrest accompanied by violent repression of those protesting the increasing maldistribution of the nation’s wealth. One of many significant manifestations of opposition to a country run by corporations for corporations came with the appearance of third parties on the national scene. The Greenback-Labor Party ran James Weaver for the Presidency in 1880 and Ben Butler in 1884. The Populist Party nominated Weaver as its presidential candidate in the 1892 elections. The Socialist Party ran Eugene Debs for president in the 1904, 1908 and 1912 elections. Henry George and the Single Taxers were only a small part of the larger movement against corporate excesses. Another indication of the influence of third party movements in progressive educational reform is revealed by the appointment of S. R. Logan in 1926 as assistant superintendent of the Winnetka School system. Logan had come from Montana where he was involved in promoting rural cooperatives as an alternative to corporate mining and farming. Logan kept Skokie Junior High School’s Activity Program alive long after the wealthy parents became disillusioned with the Winnetka program (Zilversmit, 1993; pp. 41-43).
 The “single-taxers” were not alone in demanding public ownership of utilities. Fundamental to the farmer’s and worker’s revolts occurring during this period was a demand that private corporate monopolies be made illegal as well as well as a demand for public ownership of railroads, utilities and banks. The Sherman Anti-Trust Act was passed by Congress in 1890 to appease such concerns. Interestingly, mergers increased after passage of the Act while Eugene Debs, head of the American Railway Union and Socialist Presidential candidate, was put in jail for acting “in restraint of trade”.
 Semel is referring to Delpit’s (1995) compilation of her own and other teachers’ experiences with “progressive” educators since the Sixties. These experiences occurred during workshops on “writing as a process”. Delpit observed that “writing process projects initially attracted a few blacks or minority teachers but soon they dropped out of the program” (p. 16). Delpit believed this happened because of a fundamental cultural conflict. Delpit reminisces that she and other black teachers experienced “a certain paternalism [that] creeps into the speech of some of our liberal colleagues as they explain that our children must be ‘given voice’” (p. 19). Delpit argues that many African-American teachers “have been able to conquer the educational system because they received the kind of instruction that their white progressive colleagues are denouncing” (p. 19). For example, when a black teacher asked her white workshop leader when the “technical skills of writing standard prose” were to be taught, the workshop leader “began to lecture [the black teacher] on the dangers of a skill’s orientation in teaching literacy.” The black teacher never returned to the workshop (p. 16). I disagree with Delpit that such insidious racist paternalism is inherent to progressive ideology. In fact, Dewey argues that free and unfettered dialogue (the opposite of what Delpit describes) is fundamental to progressive ideology (see Dewey, 1916; pp. 84-87). I would like to argue that the experiences Delpit describes are some manifestations of the many ways in which progressive ideology has been co-opted to maintain the status quo.
 Rockefeller would have defined “improved social conditions” as the elimination of labor unrest.
 a wealthy lumberman and Chairman of the State Senate Education Committee from 1896-1910.
 Rogers (1983) identifies five reasons for the brevity or impermanence of “humanistic, innovative, person-centered” schools in the Sixties. (1) They pose a threat to the pyramidal organization of society; (2)There is a small pool of leaders; (3) Creeping bureaucracy; (4) The lure of “power over” and (5) Lack of experience. In the last factor, Rogers addresses the issue institutionalization: “. . .there can never be a codifiable pattern for the operation of a person-centered institution. By empowering the members of a group, we guarantee that each situation will be unique, and must be dealt with by the group in its own special way” (p. 248).
 Rockefeller’s General Education Board provided $1.5 million and the Carnegie Foundation provided $70,000 to support the PEA.
 Zinn (1997) points out an irony that only in politics does the word “extreme” carry a negative connotation. Someone who is extremely beautiful or kind is laudable. An extremist in politics, however, “may mean that the person desires a change in the status quo . . . For instance, in a period when most people are willing to free the slaves, but not to enfranchise them, one wanting to give them equal rights would be considered an extremist. Or it may mean someone who urges a more drastic action to attain a goal shared by most people; that is someone who advocates slave revolts (like John Brown) rather than compensated emancipation followed by colonization abroad (like Lincoln).” Zinn argues that “the actual alternatives put forward in any one situation are usually much fewer than the total range of possibilities. And the most extreme suggestion put forward at the time will be labeled ‘extremist’ even though it may be far less sweeping than other possible courses of action” (p. 116). “We accept these labels [moderate and extreme] because they afford us a test simple enough to avoid mental strain. Also, it is easy and comfortable – especially for intellectuals who do not share the piercing problems of the hungry or helplessly diseased of the world (who, in other words, face no extreme problems) – to presume always that the ‘moderate’ solution is the best” (p. 118). Corporate leaders wanted to use some of the techniques promoted by the PEA but not in the service of changing the status quo. The PEA would have continued to be funded and nurtured by corporate funding if it had given up its “extremist” positions. But, then, it would no longer have been the organization that attracted men like Cobb to it. Today, the Business Roundtable Education Task Force has managed to manipulate the debate so that anyone who opposes “standards” as the BRT has defined them can be dismissed as “extreme”.
 This expression has been used by Marian Wright Edelman (1988) to describe the possibilities and limitations of an individual approach to systemic change. Cuban (1984) captures the dilemma of the individual teacher trying to implement child-centered or progressive techniques on her own without institutional or community support. From 1900-1940 “. . . scores of fellow teachers kept their classroom doors closed to [progressive] techniques because of the high price in energy that they, and not their superintendent or principal, had to pay in personal time, loneliness that might arise from introducing changes and making oneself different from colleagues, lack of tangible and explicit incentives to make such changes, and uncertainty of whether promised outcomes would indeed benefit children.” (p. 137)
 In the 1950s, the alliance of professional educators and business began to break down when the latter joined the federal government in accusing the schools being the weak link in the United States “defense” against communism (Spring, 1986; p. 257).
 Another example would be the Sudbury School, established in 1968 and continuing today in its unrepentant democratic ways. Holzman (1997) argues that schools like Sudbury reject learning theories and organizational paradigms as “causing more problems than [they] solve” (p. 95). But, she does argue for a principle of action – the need to “create a continuously emergent community”. To avoid the creation of “static institutions that reproduce themselves” a community needs to “reach out to all kinds of people and give them the opportunity to participate in whatever ways they choose in the work of creating new kinds of schools, etc. . . that meet their needs as they define them” (p. 11).
 Deal and Nolan (1978) define the shared features as: individual student needs; experience as the beginning point; teacher as advisor; school as community; active learning; skills as means and not ends; student participation in the decision-making process (p. 3). Daniel Duke (1978) defined the common characteristics of the schools he studied in the 1970s as reflecting “discontent with standard curriculum” (p. 31), “most stressed information and skills relevant to youth today” (p. 43), and redistribution of decision-making away from administration to teachers, pupils and parents (p. 55).
 The widespread belief that there was a “Crisis in the Classroom” gave rise to and was thereby reinforced by the proliferation of books and articles critical (from a variety of ideologies) of the existing system. Charles Silberman, editor of Fortune magazine, was hired by the Carnegie Foundation in 1968 to study the condition of the public school system. Michael Katz wrote in 1972 that Silberman’s 500 page plus book “will be as widely read, considered, and influential as a book about education can be. . . most of his criticisms have been made before by other observers, but it is useful to have the case against the schools gathered together and put before the general public in such a persuasive fashion.” (p. 340) Silberman’s indictment of the system was that it failed to act as an equalizer of opportunity, was repressive and spirit-breaking.
 In 1975, the International Consortium on Options in Public Education identified approximately 5,000 alternative schools, 20 percent of which were continuation schools and 3 percent were free schools. A University of Massachusetts/NASP study of 1975 identified 60 percent of these schools as having begun between 1971-74 (Deal, 1978a; p. 3). Graubard (1972) identifies 20 to 30 Free Schools established in 1967 and again in 1968, 60 to 80 established in 1969, over 150 established in 1970, and over 200 established in 1971 (pp. 40-41).
 The Berkeley, CA, school board believed early graduation rates were a sign of alienation. Such a concern led them to commission a study in 1971 which determined that 23 percent of the 1200 Berkeley high school students were “highly alienated” (Deal, 1978b; p. 98). When trying to understand the school board’s interpretation of early graduation rates, one might consider the motive behind the move for compulsory education at the end of the 19th century. Increasing immigration made the need for child labor unnecessary, creating a pool of unemployed youths hanging around street corners. Increasing the age of compulsory schooling at least “got adolescents off the street”. A capitalist economy needs a certain amount of unemployed (to keep wages down) but not too much unemployment.
 Deborah Meier points out that in Chicago, “the home of get-tough reform”, “the number of students expelled from elementary and secondary schools in Chicago has nearly doubled in the last two years” (Meier, 2000; p. 3). The New York Times reported on July 7, 2000 that “nearly 14 percent of [Connecticut] public school students in the state were expelled or suspended at least once during the 1998-99 school year” (A15).
 STAR is California’s “Standardized Testing and Reporting “ system. California students at specified grade levels take the SAT-9. Individual schools are ranked according to an Academic Performance Index (API) which is posted by the State Department of Education on their website. Many newspapers throughout the state post the API scores of the schools in their area on their websites as well.
 Apparently, the individualized program lists the “labs” which the child needs to attend. One of these “intellectual development labs” consists of a wall upon which two pencils are attached. On one pencil the alphabet is listed. On the other pencil the alphabet is listed in reverse. The student balances on a board with a rounded bottom while reading the alphabet from one pencil to the next, that is, “A”, “Z”, “B”, “Y” and so forth. These labs “train the different parts of the brain to connect and function more effectively” (GS, 2000b).
 These Standards have been developed by the National Center on Education and Economy, a non-profit organization based in Washington D. C. The content and performance standards published by NCEE “are derived from the national content standards developed by professional organizations, e.g., National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCEE, 2000). See Appendix B for an example of a middle school science performance standard which sounds uncannily like a paper towel commercial. NCEE publishes a newsletter and sells several products among which is America’s Choice School Network (formally the National Alliance for Restructuring Education mentioned in “the federal Obey-Porter legislation that provides grant funding for the Comprehensive School Reform Demonstration program”) (NCEE, 2000b).