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July 6th, 2015 by Mike Suarez

Comfortable Inaction, In Action*

Desegregating Chicago’s Public Schools: Policy Implementation, Politics, and Protest, 1965-1985. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 260 pp. $100.00

* The title paraphrases words spoken by President Kennedy in 1961 at the 14th annual convention of Americans for Democratic Action.

Desegregating Chicago's Public Schools

There has been a proliferation of historical scholarship over the past twenty years addressing school desegregation and state enacted policies outside of the South. Danns’ book explicates how educational inequality in Chicago withstood a political climate that sought to confront social inequities through legislation, such as the 1964 Civil Rights Act, to the 1980s, a moment when national politics were dominated by the New Right’s libertarian ideals of individualism and limited federal government. Historians have previously explored how Chicago became, what Dr. Martin Luther King called, “the most segregated city in the country.” Danns’ book offers a vital and important contribution to this historiography, as it sets out to specifically answer how and why segregation continued to exist in spite of federal policies and court orders requiring school desegregation in Chicago.

Concise and well researched, Desegregating Chicago’s Public Schools illustrates how state and federal policies failed to respond to the city’s racial divide. Danns contends that “the politics and disconnection between policy formulation and policy implementation” guised “the dynamics of a democratic society in which a white majority sought to protect its privileges even when it involved the continued marginalization of minorities.” The scope of Danns’ book reaches beyond simply presenting a political history of Chicago or its public school system, as the book also provides an excellent model on how to analyze and interpret the failure to enforce state and federally enacted policies. In doing so, Danns’ book offers readers a comprehensive historical analysis of school desegregation in Chicago, as well as an exemplar on how to critique not only institutional change, but also institutional torpor.

The central claim in Desegregating Chicago’s Public Schools suggests that, “political, economic, and social forces combined to make it difficult to fully desegregate the schools despite repeated efforts throughout the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s.” Danns frames her argument around three contentious, yet understudied areas of analysis: faculty desegregation, state involvement with student desegregation, and the federal government’s role in school desegregation. The narrative begins with an early case study of the Redmond Plan. In the middle of the 1967-68 school year Superintendent Redmond proposed a scaled-down desegregation plan that would bus Black students from specific neighborhoods to nearby predominately White schools. Regardless of race, public response to the idea was palpable. Employing an analytical lens grounded in critical race theory, Danns illustrates how the Redmond Plan was not truly a mode of integration, but rather a policy that put the onus on Black families and students. For instance, speaking at a PTA meeting on behalf of the Bryn Mawr community Mrs. Chatman Wailes stated, “Stabilization should not be placed as a burden on the backs of Negros. It should be a total community, understanding the solution does not mean a containment of minority groups. South Shore bigotry wants to sacrifice this generation of Negro pupils to keep white families here. If there are whites who want to leave let them go.” Ultimately, the district rolled out a very small-scaled, piloted version of the Redmond Plan. Still, and as would be the case with future initiatives, the application of the Redmond Plan was much more a “face-saving compromise with HEW’s Office of Education” to address a previous complaint filed under Title VI of the 1965 Civil Rights Act.

The Redmond Plan sets the stage for Danns’ first of three focal areas of inquiry, the desegregation of school faculty. Similar to issues raised about the Redmond Plan, faculty desegregation was a burden imposed upon the Black community and had debilitating effects on Black students and faculty. Jesse Jackson, the figurehead of Operation PUSH, one of Chicago’s larger community action organizations maintained, “the desegregation plan would only take experienced black teachers out of black schools and replace them with white teachers incapable of inspiring black students.” The Chicago School Board never sought full integration by dispersing its staff according to race and expertise. Instead, the district uprooted exemplary Black teachers and made it difficult for young Black educators to obtain initial employment. Access into the profession had already been difficult for new Black educators, as “many black teachers spent years on substitute lists until a position opened at a black school. Blacks also tended to be on substitute lists longer than whites, as they were identified and intentionally sent to black schools.” Those who did obtain teaching credentials were often limited to openings at predominantly Black schools. Meanwhile, the students in Black schools paid the ultimate price for the district’s approach to faculty desegregation. These schools lost strong, experienced Black teachers to predominantly White schools, and in turn received inexperienced or less effective White teachers.

Personal testimonies carry the narrative in this chapter framed strongly around sources including school board meetings, community organization protests, and newspaper editorials, along with a collection of personally conducted interviews. Well-substantiated, the chapter presents a new, northern perspective to Michael Fultz’ findings on school desegregation in the South: “Moreover, as African-American educators were acutely aware, desegregation was legally and politically structured in a manner which allowed deeply rooted White racial ideologies and practices virtual free reign in determining critical educational policy outcomes for most of the first two decades post-Brown.” Although this chapter succeeds at illustrating how Chicago Public Schools responded to a federal mandate, its tone stands somewhat alone from the rest of the book through its use of vignettes and individual accounts. Danns shifts the narrative in subsequent chapters toward the political backdrop of nearly twenty years of failed policy implementation. The chapters on state and federal involvement in student desegregation do offer some robust descriptions of individual and community perspectives, such as the 1963 and 1964 Freedom Day Boycotts. And, the analysis in these chapters piece together how and why the state and federal government failed to implement enacted policies.

Danns’ second field of inquiry explores the state’s languid attempt at enforcing school desegregation. In exceptionally detailed prose, this chapter exposes how a series of political maneuvers allowed school officials, alongside the city’s turgid Mayor Richard J. Daley, to side step the state’s demand for compliance with federally mandated orders for student desegregation. Danns states, “Without a clear indication that the state would hold Chicago Public Schools financially accountable, school officials continued to evade the state’s demands.” Local leader’s thwarted most attempts by the state to hold Chicago Public Schools accountable for school desegregation measures. To demonstrate this point, Danns highlights Superintendent Hannon’s proposal “Access to Excellence.” Limited in scope and failing to address the same concerns raised in response to the Redmond Plan, Access to Excellence required schools to serve no more than “90 percent white or minority students at an individual school.” Addressing the issue of inequality of educational opportunity, Access to Excellence promoted the implementation of more rigorous courses for all schools, such as Advanced Placement classes. Access to Excellence came under attack from both the state, for not meeting their minimal requirements, and from groups such as the Urban League, who noted the program’s implicit “elitism” through its support for those individuals and communities already receiving the most resources. Regardless of the growing amount of criticism from the state, community organizations, and a number of notable researchers such as Gary Orfield, the district was never seriously held accountable for implementing procedures that would comply with federal and state statutes. As the Urban League called it, things remained “business as usual.” Danns explains, “Because the state failed in its efforts, the federal government became involved in requiring student desegregation in Chicago. After years of pressure, the state lost its ability to force Chicago to meet its guidelines.” The failure of the state to impose true pressure on Chicago Public Schools to desegregate its students led to federal involvement.

Danns’ last area of analysis, the federal government’s role in school desegregation, illuminates how shifting federal policies from the mid-1960s through the early-1980s allowed for unabated inaction by the city’s public school district. Throughout the Johnson, Nixon and Ford administrations school officials in Chicago skirted the implementation of a systemic policy to desegregate its schools by proposing plans that minimally addressed the issue simply to obtain ESEA funds. Not until the death of Mayor Daley and his democratic political machine, alongside President Carter’s demand for compliance under Title VI of the ESEA, did Chicago Public Schools face a fervent attempt at forcing the city into action. However, when an updated version of the Access to Excellence plan was proposed to meet Title VI statutes, the district contended with an even more formidable opponent, a collective rejection of the plan from the city’s Black and White citizens. Danns shows how two communities with drastically different ideals and goals aligned in a collective unwillingness to accept Access to Excellence II. Delicately balancing the issue at both a micro and macro level, Danns excels at pointing out how hastily proposed policies neglected to consider the perspectives of the communities they would directly impact.

In the end, the federal government did not successfully enforce compliance, nor did the district’s leadership even propose plans that would meet those requirements. So often was the case across the country, desegregation of Chicago’s public schools necessitated involvement by the justice department. Having not met the requirements of Title VI, the justice department forced a “consent decree” upon the school District in 1980. At this point, Danns’ claim that a federal policy in a state of constant fluctuation failed to resolve the issue of student desegregation in Chicago truly hits home. The court ordered consent decree came just as Ronald Reagan took office, which quickly ushered in changes to federal involvement with school desegregation. In the process, the federal government relegated the consent decree to the status of policy enactment without the necessary authority to ensure its enforcement. As many other historians have noted, Reagan’s presidency represented a shift in both American political ideals and its social agenda. More and more White citizens of Chicago and residents of its vastly growing suburbs aligned with a burgeoning political ideology that viewed state forced policies as an infringement upon individual liberties (or what Kevin Kruse called the desire for “freedom of association”). To go further, by the time of the Justice Department’s consent decree was established in 1980, “whites barely comprised of half of the city’s population.”

Desegregating Chicago’s Public Schools is an excellent political history in its own right, but given its implicit argument concerning socially just policies versus our present emphasis on individual liberties and choice, it can also be read as an excellent starting point to understand the origins of policies and practices undergirding our current dilemma of unequal opportunities in public schools. Danns’ book does what it sets out to do, show how “within the school system at least, segregation persists even as rhetoric and beliefs that suggests otherwise prevail”; and it leaves us with an important, thought-provoking question: “Is school desegregation still valued or is it an ideal whose time has come and passed?”

A Short List of Suggested Readings

About Chicago
Anderson, Alan B., and George W. Pickering. Confronting the Color Line: The Broken Promise of the Civil Rights Movement in Chicago. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008.

Danns, Dionne. Something Better for Our Children: Black Organizing in Chicago Public Schools, 1963-1971. New York: Psychology Press, 2003.

James R., Ralph Jr. Northern Protest: Martin Luther King Jr., Chicago, and the Civil Rights Movement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993.

Rury, John. L. “Race and the Politics of Chicago’s Public Schools: Benjamin Willis and the Tragedy of Urban Education.” Urban Education in the United States: A Historical Reader. Ed. John L. Rury. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2005.

Of Note
Bell, Derrick A. Silent Covenants: Brown v. Board of Education and the Unfulfilled Hopes for Racial Reform. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2004.

Burkholder, Zoe. “From Forced Tolerance to Forced Busing: Wartime Intercultural Education and the Rise of Black Educational Activism in Boston.” Harvard Educational Review 80, no. 3 (2010): 293-327.

Dudziak, Mary L. Cold War Civil Rights: Race and the Image of American Democracy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2011.

Fultz, Michael. “The Displacement of Black Educators Post-Brown: An Overview and Analysis.” History of Education Quarterly 44, no. 1 (2004): 11-45.

Green, Paul. “The Paradox of the promised Unfulfilled: Brown v. Board of Education and the Continued Pursuit of Excellence in Education.” The Journal of Negro Education 73, no. 3 (2004): 268-284.

Kruse, Kevin. White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism. Princeton, NJ: University of Princeton Press, 2005.

Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “Landing on the Wrong Note: The Price We Paid for Brown.” Educational Researcher 33, no. 7 (2004): 3-13.

Orfield, Gary and Susan Eaton. Dismantling Desegregation: The Quiet Reversal of Brown vs. Board of Education. New York: New Press, 1996.

Sugrue, Thomas J. Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North. New York: Random House, 2008.

Sugrue, Thomas J. The Origins of the Urban Crisis: Race and Inequality in Postwar Detroit. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2005.

Mike Suarez is a former high school teacher and current doctoral candidate in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His program emphasis is in Education Foundations, Policy and Practice. He can be reached at

Education’s Histories thanks Mike Suarez for serving as a book reviewer. Education’s Histories publishes both book reviews and methodological reviews of research and tools. If you are interested in reviewing with us, please email us at


April 29th, 2015 by Mike Suarez

We Are All Historical Actors: A Multilogue Response to Goldenberg’s “Youth Historians in Harlem,” Part 1 of 2

Michel-Rolph Trouillot once wrote, “Each historical narrative renews a claim to truth.” The manners in which individuals recall certain events or phenomena help explain the perpetuation of ideas and the transmission of culture, while also elucidating power and privilege in society. A pragmatic view of historical research acknowledges the importance the present plays on the reconstruction of the past. In this sense, a history says as much about the time when it is published as it does about its subject. Goldenberg’s work with youth in Harlem exemplifies this assertion and challenges the reader to simultaneously question a) Who has access to the construction of historical narrative; and b) Is objectivity in historical inquiry like, as one historian has claimed, “nailing jelly to the wall”?

Goldenberg sets his research agenda around two excellent guiding questions:

  1. When historians and local youth conduct historical research together, how does their work challenge notions of hierarchy and control, and/or complicate ideas about legitimate knowledge?
  2. How do processes of historical research shift, and responsibilities change, when creating history with students via online digital formats?

Both of these questions imply a critical lens to analyzing data sources. Coupled, with the author’s captivating prose, future installments to the essay series will offer important contributions to the field through its critique of how individual experiences align with, or contend with, edified historical narratives about Harlem’s past. Goldenberg triangulates his data with riveting sources, which will include oral histories from Harlem Prep alumni, analyses from 11th and 12th grade student-researchers, and the graduate students facilitating the Youth Historians in Harlem project. Going forward, it will be helpful to understand how these sources lend themselves to answering those questions, or if new ones arise out of the findings.

Goldenberg’s essay exposes the complexities and challenges of conducting important and innovative research. As such, he is also pressing readers to question their own subjectivities and stances on issues of reliability and validity. Goldenberg writes, “Although historical accuracy, on its most basic level remains important, events like a walking tour lend nuance to ideas of legitimacy in historical research, particularly around oral displays of perceived knowledge (or lack thereof) by the historical ‘storyteller.’” Oral histories will reveal evidence on how participants locate their own experiences and understanding of Harlem’s past. For the second essay, it will help the reader to learn more about the oral historian’s role in the research process:

  • What types of questions were asked?
  • What concepts could or could not be explored based on the availability of research subjects?
  • And most importantly, how the author analyzed primary records?

Goldenberg’s exciting research shifts the lens of historical inquiry outside of the academy, which can at times be too insular, by leveraging ideas conveyed by both students and their interviewees. Still, how will findings warrant valid, or what some methodologists call “credible,” claims? The interplay between individual recollections and broader historical narratives is complex, and subsequent installments to the essay series will provide insight into the process of analyzing these oral histories. Goldenberg references Hayden White, who once responded to criticism concerning relativism and solipsism by proclaiming that, “What we postmodernists are against is a professional historiography, in service to state apparatuses that have turned against their own citizens, with its epistemically pinched, ideologically sterile, and superannuated notions of objectivity.” Any individual can be a historical actor, demonstrating agency in the manner in which one recalls past events.

Personal memory is essentially subjective; however, historic events become part of a collective memory through negotiation between individuals in a society. Memory and the collection of oral histories cannot necessarily provide credible sources for accounts of past activity, but these sources do provide insight into how individuals internalize historical phenomena, and most importantly, how one perceives the present. Remembering the facticity of an incident does not matter as much as what the event means to those recalling it. Each person remembers an event in one’s own way. Internalizing past events and reconstructing them through memory can lead to more opaque or fictitious portrayals of past events. On the other hand, the stories people tell, whether to themselves or to a researcher, provide primary sources into the way individuals have internalized an event, how they perceive its importance, and what it meant. Parts two and three of Goldenberg’s essay series will contend with these difficult issues and in doing so, will provide the reader with all the more insight.

This well-articulated and compelling essay is an outstanding contribution to the field of historical scholarship on the history of schooling in America. Goldenberg’s focus on lived-histories will surely invoke new ideas and ways of thinking about the process of conducting historical research. As Trouillot states, “The past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past—or, more accurately, pastness—is a position.” There is no one truth in interpretive research, and historians accept that fact. Instead of bickering about relativism or the search for the defining historical account, the field is free to conduct research, present findings, and enter the discussion about a given state of affairs. Last, and most importantly, Goldenberg’s essay reminds the reader that historical narratives must account for the perspectives of the youth. These students hold the key to future understandings of civic engagement and how vitally important it is for youth to take the lead in constructing historical narratives that account for their perspectives and experiences.

Suggested Reading

Atkinson, Paul, Coffey, Amanda, and Delamont, Sara. Key Themes in Qualitative Research: Continuities and Changes. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press, 2003.

Novick, Peter. That Noble Dream: The “Objectivity Question” and the American Historical Profession. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988.

Portelli, Allesandro. The Death of Luigi Trastulli and Other Stories: Form and Meaning in Oral History. New York: State University of New York Press, 1991.

Richard Rorty, “Method, Social Science, and Social Hope,” in Consequences of Pragmatism: Essays, 1972-1980 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1982), 191–210.

Trouillot, Michel-Rolph. Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History. Boston: Beacon Press, 1995.

White, Hayden. “Introduction: Historical Fiction, Fictional History, and Historical Reality.” Rethinking History 9 (2-3), 2005, 147-157.

The author would like to thank Barry Goldenberg and the editors at Education’s Histories for giving him the opportunity to review this excellent essay and participate in this multilogue discussion. Mike Suarez is a former high school teacher and current doctoral candidate in the School of Education at the University of Colorado at Boulder. His program emphasis is in Education Foundations, Policy and Practice. He can be reached at

Education’s Histories would like to thank Mike Suarez for his careful review of Barry Goldenberg’s essay, “Youth Historians in Harlem: Exploring the Possibilities in Collaborative History Research Between Local Youth and Scholars (Part 1 of 2)” and for allowing us to publish his review in our experimental multilogue format.

February 27th, 2015 by John Frederick Bell

Race, Power, and Education in Early America

Craig Steven Wilder. Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013. 423 pp. $30.00.

Ebony and Ivy The relationship between higher education, race, and slavery has become a burgeoning field of inquiry. In recent years, historians and archaeologists have unearthed a wealth of information on the complicity of American colleges and universities in chattel slavery, scientific racism, colonization schemes, and the dispossession of Native Americans. Taking their cue from path-breaking historical commissions at Yale and Brown in the early 2000s, several prominent institutions including Emory, Harvard, the University of Maryland, the University of Virginia, and the College of William and Mary have sponsored long overdue initiatives aimed at recovering these unsavory chapters from their pasts. Craig Steven Wilder’s Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities represents a synthesis of these early findings, along with many of the author’s own conclusions. Given its important subject matter, it is a book historians of education and their students should know well.

As the first comprehensive monograph on the linkages between race, slavery, and higher education, Ebony and Ivy offers scholars valuable lessons for conducting further research in this subfield. Readers will naturally draw different conclusions from this extensive book, whose footnotes alone total 115 pages. This review focuses on Wilder’s main theme, the historical relationship between education and power, and considers its implications for our understanding of early American colleges.

*  *  *

Ebony and Ivy makes two overarching claims (Parts I and II of the book, respectively): early American colleges were active beneficiaries of the slave economy, and they furthered these systems of inequality through their exercise of intellectual authority and their production of knowledge. For Wilder, there was nothing subtle about the association of power and education in this era. “The American college trained the personnel and cultivated the ideas that accelerated and legitimated the dispossession of Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans,” he writes. “Modern slavery required the acquiescence of scholars and the cooperation of academic institutions.” Wilder portrays power and higher education’s relationship as symbiotic. Colleges needed the support of merchants, planters, and empires in order to survive, and these authorities depended on the academy to provide “intellectual cover for the social and political subjugation of non-white peoples.” Were universities the sine qua non of white supremacy? No, but Wilder ranks them as “the third pillar of a civilization built on bondage” along with the church and the state.

Wilder does not mince words in his characterizations. Early in Part I, he twice likens colleges to forts as he assesses their utility as tools of conquest for the French, Spanish, and British empires. At first, the claim feels exaggerated. How can he compare higher education to an armory or a garrison in its ability to suppress and subdue? Wilder best illustrates his point by describing occasions when, in fact, colleges operated much like these other instruments of empire. In 1711, for instance, the governor of Virginia ordered twenty Tuscarora hostages be sent to the College of William and Mary. The college was simultaneously receiving per capita donations from an English trust for Indians’ missionary training, so it may have actually profited from the arrival of these twenty prisoners. Devil’s bargains like these typified Indian education in its colonial heyday. Along with William and Mary, institutions like Harvard, Dartmouth, and the College of Philadelphia (the University of Pennsylvania) doubly cheated indigenous students, first by stripping them of their culture and then by using them as emissaries to ensure tribal obedience. Scholars might disagree with Wilder’s choice to forgo the trickier questions of hybridity and agency that often accompany discussion of colonial missions. Emphasizing colleges’ strategic value leaves less room for examining cultural exchanges between Europeans and indigenous people. As important as these considerations are, Wilder argues that at the end of the day, Indian education programs existed to reinforce white interests. Perhaps his strongest evidence comes from the simple fact that American colleges discontinued these programs when Native resistance waned.

Power abundantly reciprocated the support it received from education. Wilder follows the money to exhaustively detail how the African slave trade financed higher education in British America. In the mid-eighteenth century, merchant elites replaced religious organizations as the primary source of philanthropy for colonial colleges. Institutions cultivated West Indian slave traders as donors; immense Caribbean fortunes endowed scholarships and professorships and bankrolled building campaigns. Officials nurtured these sorts of relationships by inviting merchants to become trustees and recruiting their sons as students. Wilder further reveals the importance of alumni networks in connecting northern colleges to the wealth of the South and the Caribbean. Harvard and the College of New Jersey (Princeton) sent numerous graduates southward as tutors and clergy, developing interregional allegiances that would persist through the Civil War. By highlighting these connections, Ebony and Ivy complements other recent scholarship showing the importance of social capital to the development of early American education. If actions speak louder than words, understanding how schools maintained external support can go a long way toward illuminating their institutional character.

Wilder argues that college life contributed to students’ “moral comfort with bondage.” In the eighteenth century, faculty, trustees, and presidents frequently owned African slaves, who performed any number of chores and errands around American campuses, North and South. Unfree labor built not only the Universities of North Carolina and Virginia but also helped construct portions of Dartmouth and the College of Rhode Island (Brown). The regular presence of enslaved people acquainted uninitiated students with slavery and its methods. Yet some northern graduates maintained reservations about the peculiar institution, especially when confronted with its grosser manifestations on visits to the plantation South. “Such moments of moral reckoning were rare,” Wilder clarifies, but by interspersing a few in his narrative, he hints that whites should have known better because some, in fact, did. To make this critique explicit would be to risk anachronism. After all, colonial academics would probably be as repulsed by the values of today’s universities as we are by theirs. Moreover, magnifying white ambivalence would undercut his larger argument that “human slavery was the precondition for the rise of higher education in the Americas.” By concentrating instead on the overwhelming and appalling evidence of colleges’ complicity in bondage, Wilder lets the details do the damning.

Part II of Ebony and Ivy examines how the academy helped validate expansionism and white supremacy in the mid to late nineteenth century republic through its promotion of scientific racism and colonization. According to Wilder, it wasn’t coincidental that the “genesis of American medical science corresponded to…the ascent of race.” In the early national period, anatomy was as much a hegemonic practice as biological one. Scholars turned to dissection to substantiate their theories of human difference, and medical schools weren’t above defiling the graves of the under classes (blacks, American Indians, and Irish) for bodies with which to conduct their experiments. This “research” made academics prominent voices in contemporary debates over human origins. Recent works in Atlantic history have drawn on these exchanges to illustrate the influence of theology and colonialism on the evolution of race. Wilder contributes to this discussion by underscoring the role of American universities in reconciling competing scriptural and scientific arguments about human origins.

Academics endorsed monogenesis while stressing the influence of geography in determining the “natural” characteristics of the races. The implications of this environmentalist argument would seem to contradict notions of inherent difference, and Wilder shows that for a time, antislavery views gained traction on college campuses across America. In the wake of Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, however, white power intervened in the South to redirect education toward its ends. Beholden to their slaveholding supporters, the southern academy began asserting its unique authority in studies of race “as bondage became peculiar to their region.” How northern and European scientists responded to these claims goes unaddressed, and Wilder misses an opportunity to discuss the vital contributions of Harvard’s infamous polygenist Louis Agassiz to southern science. Instead, he focuses on how college officials in the newly free states vigorously opposed the prospect of a multiracial society. After northern emancipation, academics became some of the region’s most vocal advocates of resettling free blacks in Africa, their “natural” environment.

Wilder painstakingly inventories the participation of college presidents, trustees, and faculty in the American Colonization Society, but his analysis of campus debates over immediate emancipation abolition is arguably more significant, albeit more subtle. The formation of student abolition societies troubled administrators in the 1830s, but not simply because these officials were colonizationists. Through the mid-nineteenth century, the civic function of higher education was to reaffirm, rather than realign, the social order. By opening the American promise to black Americans in even a limited way, abolitionism threatened the white establishment. Thus, administrators objected to students’ views on both political and educational grounds. In the end, colonization mostly carried the day, but the underlying tension between social conservatism and social reform dogged higher education for more than a century after slavery’s abolition.

Ebony and Ivy stand outs from previous scholarship in both its range and its daring. Prior studies of race and slavery in American higher education have examined particular institutions, though a few have considered regional trends. By widening the scope of inquiry to consider multiple schools, North and South, as well as multiple races (white, black, and American Indian), Wilder demonstrates the pervasiveness of white supremacy in early college culture. A comparative approach positions him to evaluate the financial, social, and intellectual networks that institutionalized racism within the academy. Wilder recognizes that as systems, education, imperialism, racism, and slavery require systemic analysis. Future historians of these subjects should heed his example. Ebony and Ivy inspires a wealth of avenues for new scholarship, from historical investigations of slavery and higher education in the Old Southwest and border states to transatlantic histories of scientific racism to studies of slavery’s influence on other emergent professional disciplines such as law. Whatever direction they choose, scholars should be sure to attend to the larger economies and ideologies of power that underlay their actors’ motives and mindsets.

Slavery and racism were omnipresent in early America. From the colonial period well into the twentieth century, white American society staked its fortunes on the exploitation of nonwhite people. If education is the process of cultural transmission, we should not be at all surprised that the first institutions of higher learning furthered the perverse value systems of their era. Yet Ebony and Ivy remains a profoundly unsettling read. Wilder alerts American academics that our professional world was built on a foundation of bigotry and violence. Historians of education have a critical role to play in recovering and elucidating this troubling past. Ebony and Ivy shows us how challenging and how necessary that work truly is.

Suggestions for Further Reading

A.J. Angulo, “William Barton Rogers and the Southern Sieve: Revisiting Science, Slavery, and Higher Learning in the Old South,” History of Education Quarterly, 45:1 (Spring 2005): 18-37.

Sven Beckert, Katherine Stevens, et al. Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History (2011)

Brown University Steering Committee on Slavery and Justice, Slavery and Justice (2006)\_Justice/documents/SlaveryAndJustice.pdf.

Terry L. Meyers, “A First Look at the Worst: Slavery and Race Relations at the College of William and Mary,” The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal 16: 4 (April 2008): 1141-1168.

Michael Sugrue, “‘We Desired our Future Rulers to be Educated Men’: South Carolina College, the Defense of Slavery, and the Development of Secessionist Politics,” Higher Education Annual 14 (1994): 39-71.

Stephen Tomlinson and Kevin Windham, “Northern Piety and Southern Honor: Alva Woods and the Problem of Discipline at the University of Alabama, 1831-1837,” Perspectives in the History of Higher Education 25 (2006): 1-42.

Kenneth Wheeler, “Higher Education in the Antebellum Ohio Valley: Slavery, Sectionalism, and the Erosion of Regional Identity,” Ohio Valley History 8: 1 (Spring 2008): 1-22.

Richard N. Wright, “Ambivalent Bastions of Slavery: The ‘Peculiar Institution’ on College Campuses in Antebellum Georgia,” Georgia Historical Quarterly 80: 3 (Fall 1996): 467-485.

Education’s Histories thanks John Frederick Bell for serving as a book reviewer. Education’s Histories publishes both book reviews and methodological reviews of research and tools. If you are interested in reviewing with us, please email us at


February 20th, 2015 by Charles Tesconi

Time for a New Revisionism

Don Warren offers several purposes (I counted 6) of “Waging War on Education: American Indian Versions.” They are interrelated, some interdependent, and are served in sections of this essay, which, taken together, amounts to a theoretical framework for a methodological approach to doing educational history. A new historiography is necessary, we learn, in order to exit what Don calls a methodological cul-de-sac inherited from Bailyn and Cremin. They mistakenly constructed histories through definitions of education that locked them into cramped and culturally arrogant methods.  Their definitions narrowed their educational embrace to the intentional and deliberate.  Their approaches are limited and limiting as well.  Warren’s eschews a priori definitions and invokes a trans-disciplinary methodology shorn of cultural myopia and open to sources once thought antithetical to convention.  Warren cites several publications to illuminate his envisioned methodology. These exemplars pay little to no attention to formal educational institutions and educational processes.  In fact, most of the authors of these works did not set out to do educational history as such.  According to Warren, however, all of them “treat education as the fraught process of cultural formation.”

Those familiar with Warren’s work, certainly his students, will see that “Waging War” has a long gestation period. He has been working, re-working, and advancing his proposal for a revised methodology for some time. I know this. I have known Warren for close to 50 years. He is my friend. And in this spirit of full disclosure, let me note what will be soon apparent. I am not an historian. Thus I accept Warren’s views of the works of Bailyn and Cremin and leave analysis to those who know better. I choose this approach because of my limitations and my belief that the methodological legacy Warren attributes to Bailyn and Cremin is incidental to the major contribution of this essay.

Until the 1960s, much if not most work in the history of education in the United States was occupied with the place, function, and prospects of schools and schooling in America. Like institutional history generally, educational histories were disdained by academic historians. Much the same can be said of the philosophy and sociology of education. Educational studies were not represented in the departments that housed the parent disciplines. Looking back, it is tempting to conclude that the subject of such studies, education, as well as works representative of them were both discredited and marginalized.

Bernard Bailyn’s Education in the Forming of American Society was expected to change things. Although he too was dismissive of the body of work in history of education, he did not dismiss, directly or otherwise, the study of education. His criticisms and insights welcomed a broader approach to the study of history of education; indeed, for the study of education generally. This opportunity came through an assertion, which, in retrospect, seems full of common sense, even ordinary. Echoing Emile Durkheim’s observation that education is the preservation of culture inherited from times past, Bailyn avowed that education is the transmission of culture across generations. If so, and if culture is the sum total of learned behavior patterns, values, beliefs, mores, knowledge claims and all other products of human work and thought, then the study of education must necessarily address all the ways and means through which culture is transmitted. Yes!

Received like an epiphany, Bailyn’s criticisms and insights were expected to change things. But taking full advantage of new possibilities has proven difficult. With few exceptions, it seems, post-Bailyn (and Cremin) work in educational history has not produced a transformational shift; as Warren would want it and as Bailyn’s insights invite. As Warren sees it, those who do history of education have, for the most part, retreated to familiar methods and terrain.

Some things obviously changed. Bailyn, and his staunch interpreter and defender Cremin, implanted, as Warren put it, a cultural orientation that put teaching and learning center stage in a boundless theatre. Some historians of education worked hard to distance themselves from the limitations of their craft so decried by Bailyn, who, by the way, was voicing what academic historians had been muttering for years about work in the history of education, as their academic counterparts in philosophy, sociology, and psychology had about educational studies linked to their disciplines. More people from different academic disciplines engaged educational studies. A functionalist and largely positive history of education was challenged by critical and radical conflict perspectives. An institution long regarded as a source of opportunity and social justice was portrayed as otherwise. Public education seemed to be at the center of public moral discourse.

Warren was among those who saw hope in these developments and in revisionist histories and related changes to educational studies. He summarized some of these changes and their implications for public policy in 1978:

Comparative and interdisciplinary approaches provide concepts and resources for assessing educational development in the United States. There is also a discernible trend away from survey history in favor of basic research and focused case study. A wealth of new literature has appeared that utilizes new sources and techniques, employs fresh critical perspectives, and in turn generates new research questions. …More significant, however, are advances in sophistication and subtlety by which complex educational phenomena are analyzed and explained.

Surely some of the change and hope evoked is owing to the work of Bailyn and Cremin. How much I leave to historians.

Warren agrees with Bailyn’s (and Cremin’s) notion of education as cultural transmission and the kind of educational history work it invites; up to a point, that is. Bailyn and Cremin failed to adopt a methodology that education as cultural transmission demands–one bereft of definitional gatekeeping and the cultural favoritism and blinders it elicits. In short, works by Bailyn and Cremin do not attend to the logical and ethical obligations their pronouncements invite.

American Indian Histories as Models of Education History

Warren discusses cultural continuity among American Indians and works about them as a means to illuminate many of his points about the methodology he indicts. He sees education as the best if not only explanation to account for cultural continuity and adaptation to change evident among American Indians, and, I would add, among ethnic groups as well. The persistence of culture, at least in some major aspects, reflects an investment of effort, time, energy, and other resources to transmit the received culture; especially so with cultures, such as those of American Indians and other Indigenous peoples, so long under attack. An educational lens provides access and explanatory possibilities to and for these phenomena respectively.

In seeking to account for the unrealized promise of broad and deep enduring methodological and subject changes in the doing of educational history, evident in the retreat he has partly documented, Warren reminds readers that Bailyn generated fears among professed historians of education, given his hope that his criticisms and insights would divorce “the present interpretation of education in American history . . . [from] its separateness as a branch of history, its detachment from the mainstream of historical research, writing, and teaching.” Education history was “a distinct tributary,” traceable to a marriage of convenience with professional teacher and other school professional preparation at the turn of the twentieth century. Bailyn wanted and anticipated education historians would be working within academic departments of history, free of professionalizing roles in their traditional homes. The divorce didn’t happen. History departments were not inclined to pursue educational matters. Educational history remains the pursuit of educationists, and according to Warren’s findings, retains its parochial focus.

Bailyn’s was not a new way of seeing education, as the above reference to Durkheim attests, and as Warren observes here and elsewhere; it was acknowledged by Bailyn and Cremin as well. There was, too, George Spindler’s invitation as early as 1954 to anthropologists to study education. Their perspectives and methods, as he and Louise Spindler subsequently demonstrated, revealed rich investigative possibilities. So, too, with works by Theodore Brameld: Cultural Foundations of Education: An Interdisciplinary Exploration and The Remaking of a Culture. Brameld wrote of the debt he owed to John Dewey’s works, especially Reconstruction in Philosophy as pointing the way towards the importance of these cultural approaches to the study of education in the U.S. Indeed, one cannot come away from Dewey’s admonition in “My Pedagogic Creed” without reflecting possibilities that inhere in a broad conception of the education. He put it this way:

I believe that all education proceeds by the participation of the individual in the social consciousness of the race. This process begins unconsciously almost at birth, and is continually shaping the individual’s powers, saturating his consciousness, forming his habits, training his ideas, and arousing his feelings and emotions. Through this unconscious education the individual gradually comes to share in the intellectual and moral resources which humanity has succeeded in getting together. He becomes an inheritor of the funded capital of civilization. The most formal and technical education in the world cannot safely depart from this general process.  (Italics added.)

For Warren, limitations that inhered in works by Bailyn and Cremin account in very large part for the return to established ways he sees and bemoans. They violate what is implicit in Bailyn’s admonition and explicit in Cremin’s interpretation of him; namely, that the study of, interpretation of, and explanation of history demands empathic understanding. Do not be ethnocentric. Yet, they were taking western European culture as their model.
Warren sees methodology as the major vehicle through which historians of education can make contributions to their field and, importantly, I think, to the study of history generally. The very nature of the educational requires the trans-disciplinary and diverse source methodology Warren advances. These two attributes are among several others (I counted 10) shared by the publications Warren recommends as models, none by a professed educational historian. The attributes that are most significant among the others do not presume a progressive or functionalist arc to education history. And, significantly, these works are not burdened by a priori definitions of education; indeed, most if not all of the authors did not set out to do a study of the educational. Warren, nonetheless, sees these works as studies in educational history. He points out in quoting Fenton that if attended to with “sharp eyes and ears” they are revealed as “deeply nuanced reconsiderations of educational processes.” Consequently, they move education and education history into new areas.

Through inferences drawn from the exemplars he cites, Warren concludes that

education history’s intrinsic and most inviting contributions begin as research methods. Hypothetically, any topic can be approached, and reach important destinations, if the approach itself is driven by accumulating evidence of when, where, and by what means individuals and groups have learned, for good or ill. (Italics added.)

It is “learning,” whatever its outcome, “for good or ill” as Warren writes, that marks what is educational. This strikes me as definitional, at odds with what I understand Warren thinks about such matters; although it is more open-ended, perhaps problematically so, and not as commanding and normative as the definitions of Bailyn and Cremin.

Warren contends that definitional approaches are at once confined and limiting, as exemplified in the Bailyn definition and the even more elaborate restrictive Cremin definitional. Both elicit ways of seeing the past through the present. They lead to seeing markers of attainment along the way to the known, and they open the door to an institutional lens and functionalist conclusions.

Warren wants room left for the serendipitous, accidental, experiential, and informal, or in Dewey’s terms, unconscious learning. Here, Warren makes explicit what is tacit in the work of Richard Storr whose work Warren has been taken with for some time and cites in support of his case: Bailyn and Cremin bequeathed an “inadequate, even crippling, research design. Knowing education’s appearance in advance, they could confidently locate it in trolling the past.”

What I see as Warren’s definition of education, stated explicitly as “learning for good or ill” is a bare bones one but with a broad embrace. On the other hand, his accounting for his claim about slavery as an educational institution suggests a conception of education that is rather specific in some ways.  Consider this:

The most pervasive, embedded, and effective agent of education in the U.S. during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was slavery. As an institution, it taught Americans how to see and measure their world and their own worth. It functioned as the lodestar of their moral compass, slanted public and scholarly rhetoric, and molded, unremarkably, the conceptual foundations of literacy, religion and theology, commerce, science, technological advance, and art. It was literally, although not ideally, the American common school.  It received direct and indirect public subsidies and political ratification. Slavery’s educative force encompassed the nation, shaping discourse, policy, territorial, state, and federal constitutions and laws, and accepted common sense. (Italics added.)

The italicized sentences strike me as defining attributes of what Warren would consider worthy of that which is educational, even the heavily, outcome freighted “educative.” Are the characteristics Warren invokes not definitional?  Warren doesn’t mention that Cremin saw slavery as “miseducative.” He may have though it unnecessary. After all, to say that slavery or any institution or process is miseducative is not to deny that they are educative. “Miseducative” suggests, among other things, that something is wrong with the outcomes attributable to some experience or process, that those outcomes are worthy of negative sanctions.

Warren’s choice to ignore this word in the context of his discussion of slavery may be a tacit acknowledgment that “miseducative” is not helpful (although he uses it in a question—“are some cultures more educative than others?”—and with respect to educative histories). Importantly, “educative” invites moral and cultural judgments—something Warren wants to avoid. Simply because we may disapprove of something learned does not deny its origins in the educational. We should get rid of the word.

The contexts and ways through which any societal culture is transmitted are broad and varied. If Warren’s stated conception of education (learning for good or ill) is necessary to accepting his envisioned methodology, it commits to an acknowledgement that the educational domain embraces, among other processes, conditioning, training, indoctrinating, lying, and propagandizing. Different societies employ these means as they induct oncoming generations and other newcomers into their societies and culture. To acknowledge these as taking place under the rubric of “education” invites challenges to the moral freight embedded in “education,” “educational,” and “educative.” I think, therefore, Warren’s case will be advanced and rendered more acceptable to those who might be put-off by “learning for good or ill” by making a more expansive explanation of his conception of education. Such an explanation would help to account for what I see as a contradiction between his “learning for good or ill” and his claims about the educational functions of slavery. Those claims create another question for me. Is it the case that what is educational or educative can only be so determined after-the-fact, after outcomes have been effected? If so, doesn’t this invite the “teleology in reverse,” believing is seeing fallacy that draws Warren’s and Storr’s approbation?

I also think Warren would strengthen his case by distinguishing meanings and implications associated with cultural transmission and cultural formation. He and Bailyn use them interchangeably. While dictionary definitions may also treat them synonymously, it strikes me that they deserve more nuanced treatment in the context of Warren’s argument.

It seems to me that the kind of histories of education that Warren’s framework evokes takes a very special skill set and both a broad and deeply funded knowledge base. There are comparatively few who possess such talents and the inclination to invest the time to develop them and, in turn, invest them in a study that employs them. This may very well be the case with academics, particularly those in search for tenured positions. So, I think Warren could help his case by addressing this concern.

Finally, Warren’s theoretical framework stands on its own, independent of Bailyn and Cremin. This is not to suggest their work is not deserving of the criticism Warren directs at their work, but to observe that his methodology needs no foils. The methodological dead end left by Bailyn and Cremin may account for the retreat Warren finds wanting. But there are other explanations: the non-responsiveness of history departments to Bailyn’s invitation; the continuing professionalizing functions of the study of educational history in school professional training programs; the reward protocols in schools of education and other departments of history that serve to discourage the kind of trans-disciplinary work Warren promotes. In any event, it is the theoretical framework proposed that needs more attention.

Warren attempts a great deal in a relatively short treatise. His ideas are worthy of expanded treatment, a book-length manuscript. The need as I see it for the clarification and further explanation suggested above and the intrinsic worthiness of his theoretical framework and proposed methodology deserve it. Don’s theoretical framework has implications for educational studies generally. It reinforces and extends inquiry in anthropology of education, sociology of education, and philosophy of education.

Charles Tesconi is Professor Emeritus at American University where he served as Dean of the School of Education from 1989-2000. He was Dean of the College of Education and Social Services and Professor of Education at the University of Vermont (1978-1989), served on the faculties of Ithaca College, University of Illinois, Chicago, and has been a Visiting Professor at the Ohio State University. He is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of six books and numerous articles emphasizing the relation between socioeconomic background and educational opportunity. His last book, Good Schools (Hampton Press), examined the local policy environments of public schools unusually successful with economically poor students. Tesconi has served on the editorial boards of major social and educational journals, and has held appointive and elective office in professional and scholarly associations, including service as the elected President of the American Educational Studies Association. Charles Tesconi can be reached at

Education’s Histories would like to thank Charles Tesconi for his careful review of Donald Warren’s essay, “Waging War on Education: American Indian Versions” and for allowing us to publish his review in our experimental multilogue format.


December 3rd, 2014 by Abigail Gundlach-Graham

Questions of Methodology: A Review of the August 2014 History of Education Quarterly Special Issue

When we begin to consider Indigenous stories and acknowledge “that divergent epistemological beliefs and practices exist between Indigenous and Euroamerican groups, the premise of the question of ‘what is education’ necessarily shifts from definitional to methodological: How do we recognize it when we see it?”  In this essay, I look particularly at the methodological implications of the three articles and six responses that constitute the August 2014 History of Education Quarterly (HEQ) thematic issue about American Indian education, in which this quotation from Adrea Lawrence appears.

According to its introduction, the goal of the issue is to “conceptually, substantively and methodologically . . . examine American-Indian histories and demonstrate how they might further the field of the history of education.”  American Indian education history challenges the methods, periodization, and topical distinctions of history focusing on Euroamericans.  The essays explicitly argue that American Indian education history enriches the narratives of U.S. history broadly, but they also imply that dealing with the challenges of researching Indigenous history also enrich historians’ methodologies in ways that are transferrable to other topics. The methods that best fit research with or about American Indians, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and First Nations peoples (and Indigenous peoples around the world) may not be appropriate for any individual project with another topic, but the examples provided in the special issue suggest that “traditional” research methods aren’t sufficient either.  Together, the essays also critique the field of education history, promote multidisciplinarity, and introduce a variety of important questions.

Lawrence and Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy remind us that education is power, and that conflicting understandings of education have real consequences to those who hold them.  For example, Euroamerican colonizers preferred curricula that were not spatially specific, but organized according to chronological time, while for many Indigenous people, “place was the grounding focal point of cosmology, history, and morality.”  Research, which involves the creation and control of knowledge, is also power.  Historians of Indigenous education must therefore cope with different understandings of education, of time and place, and of social responsibility.  In his essay, Donald Warren comments on “multiple and different ways of sensing” and intends to “weigh the conceptual and methodological effects of American Indian histories on the history of education.”  Methodological concerns are thus central to—intertwined with—subject, reliability, and the resulting narratives.  How do we balance the interests of Euroamerican “mainstream” academia and Indigenous communities?  How do education historians avoid suggesting that Indigenous people have static worldviews and identities while accounting for epistemological differences?

Studying the history of education in Indigenous contexts is a relational endeavor that involves reflexive and collaborative approaches.  As the work of the thematic HEQ issue acknowledges, some of the questions underlying such efforts relate to identity:  How appropriate is it for non-Indigenous people to do this research?  To what extent should they (we) make efforts to do research grounded in Indigenous epistemologies?

Importantly, Warren emphasizes that scholarly research about Indigenous education inherently has both Indigenous and Euroamerican cultural elements:  Indigenous subjects and context, and Euroamerican expectations for research presentation.  Thus, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous researchers will encounter multiple epistemologies and standards of conduct, although they will be more comfortable with different portions of the research and presentation process.  I find this reassuring, and understand it to particularly encourage collaboration, so that we can acknowledge our personal points of comfort/familiarity and discomfort/unfamiliarity, and address them as people and as researchers.  Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert introduces a related consideration.  He explains that Indigenous researchers tend to privilege their groups’ worldview, but sometimes non-Indigenous audiences don’t understand or accept such work.  So, he argues, Indigenous people have a continued obligation to clarify for scholarly audiences their worldviews and contributions to the study of education and history.

This collection of essays begins to challenge the impression that non-Indigenous (primarily Euroamerican) scholars are the masters of the academic disciplines—including education history—and they occasionally and gratefully receive “help” from Indigenous people.  Instead, these authors suggest that we need a reconstruction of (power) relationships within the field and between historians of education and other experts to incorporate the epistemological complexity of Indigenous research methodologies.  Perhaps what is really needed is to acknowledge that Indigenous people have long created histories of education—a challenge to Euroamerican scholars in academia and to the concept of academic disciplines themselves.  In part, this requires seeking both primary and secondary sources that reinforce this work, and recognizing as colleagues those Indigenous experts working outside of academia, such as Elders, community leaders, educators, and activists.

Warren, Lawrence, and KuuNUx TeeRIt Kroupa, the authors of the HEQ articles, do not delve deeply into specifics of research methodologies, but instead focus on the argument that our methodological choices have substantial effects on resulting arguments and narratives.  If we take these essays as a starting point, the ensuing discussion needs to attend more to issues of evidence—to compatibilities and incompatibilities among types of sources, issues of validity, types of trust, relationships inherent to the research process, and responsibilities to multiple audiences.

Nevertheless, they and their responders mention that oral traditions reveal Indigenous perspectives in a way that documentary sources cannot.  They are reliable, epistemologically rich, and educationally consequential in themselves. But the new work extends beyond source choices, into conceptions of history and education themselves.  Kroupa provides an Arikara example demonstrating that Indigenous histories do not cease at some point in the past, and that contemporary institutions—in his essay, an Arikara Medicine Lodge and other cultural revitalization projects—have a place in education history research.

Yesenia Lucia Cervera provides this effective summary of a point that appears in Lawrence’s article:  “because basic concepts, such as time and place, have different meanings for different cultural groups, contextualizing historical episodes requires understanding historical actors’ cultures and worldviews.” Academic theories tend to generalize, and we must consider particular cultural groups within their own contexts.  Relatedly, Kroupa’s article leads Gilbert to emphasize that it is not sufficient for historians of education (or, I imagine, other researchers in the social sciences and humanities) to consider policy and theories of colonialism, racism, and related concerns, but we must also “think more broadly and ask questions directly related to a particular Indigenous group.”

The HEQ issue incorporates multiple disciplinary perspectives and literatures and introduces unresolved problems and questions.  Warren challenges the very boundaries of the field of education history, writing, “Pushed inductively, education history becomes more essentially a family of methods than a topical jurisdiction.”  Methodologies, definitions of education, and understandings of the field are intertwined here, as they should be.  Indeed, Cervera shows, through a historiographic review, that the study of American Indian education history, as it is done in our field today, comes more out of the radical revisionist movement than the cultural revisionist movement.  Thus, research has focused on imposed schooling—the social control of marginalized people—not on diverse types of education.  While such studies are valuable, they are insufficient; the work represented by this special issue incorporates ideas from both cultural and radical revisionism.

Education is revealed in Indigenous natural sciences, spirituality, arts, social relationships, and medicine; together, the authors assert that education historians will be more competent and comprehensive researchers if we resist the Euroamerican imposition of discrete disciplines.  Warren, for example, constructs a list of “needed disciplines” from which “researchers synthesize leads”:  anthropology, archaeology, history, folklore, oral traditions, genetics, demography, plant biology, economics, and statistics.  K. Tsianina Lomawaima writes that despite all of the source and methodology recommendations made in the HEQ issue, an important question is neglected:  “How do scholars build a culture that values and rewards interdisciplinarity: reading, thinking, and writing across boundaries?”

For this collection to be most valuable, we have to accept that it suggests many, many questions, even some that the authors don’t explicitly or intentionally introduce.  Warren and Lawrence’s articles repeatedly ask the questions:  What is education?  How do we recognize it, how do we find it?  Kroupa’s asks, “If pre-contact Native people engaged in education, what did they seek to transmit? How so? How can scholars unearth American Indian learning processes?”  And he introduces “a fundamental question: When did American education begin?”  Gilbert asks a question in the context of his own research, but well suited to guide methodology in other Indigenous studies:  “Is there a Hopi way of understanding what happened to the Hopi people?  And if so, why does this matter?”  I would amend the question to ask:  What Hopi ways exist for understanding events?  Finally, Gilbert also asks the question guiding my own reading of the issue and the writing of this essay:  “How can historians apply what the authors of this special issue have suggested to change the way historians construct and interpret Indian education narratives?”  In a sense, the preceding questions aren’t meant to be answered, nor should they be neglected in any education history study.

Some potential answers, as well as some additional questions, arise from consideration of the authors’ language.  The issue’s introduction, however, indicates that the authors want to avoid an emphasis on terminology.  On the surface, this sounds reasonable.  Unfortunately, it masks some of the discrepancies among the essays and neglects the significance of definitions and word choice in a few instances.

Importantly, although the terms “Indigenous peoples” and “Natives” are used, the issue is undeniably focused on American Indians.  What does it mean that Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, and First Nations peoples are mostly left out?  If the point of the HEQ special issue is theoretical—about what this research adds to our understanding of U.S. history or education—why limit the subjects to American Indians instead of Indigenous peoples more broadly?

The use of the term and concept of colonialism is also worth mentioning.  For example, Warren casually uses the phrase “from colonial times forward.”  But the nature of this kind of research is such that we must notice and examine enduring colonialism; in other words, we are in “colonial times.”  Lawrence, interestingly, acknowledges Office of Indian Affairs Superintendent Clara D. True’s position in 1909 as simultaneously colonizer and critic of colonial mentality.  To me, the connection to today’s historians studying Indigenous pasts is clear: many of us are doing the same, and perhaps from an even more privileged position.

Throughout the special issue, there is an undercurrent of struggling to understand the meaning of education.  As especially Brayboy and Lawrence argue, the definition of education is not stable or universal; it is contested, adaptable, and culturally central.  Cervera, in her review, introduces two of the definitions of education that have grounded the field since the 1960s:  Bernard Bailyn’s—“the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across generations”—and Lawrence Cremin’s—“the deliberate, systemic, and sustained effort to transmit, evoke, or acquire knowledge, attitudes, values, skills, or sensibilities, as well as any outcomes of that effort.”  Cervera explains that Bailyn’s was easier to get behind, but Cremin’s was more meaningful and implied that historians of education are important in particular.

Warren returns to definitional work throughout his article.  Within three sentences, he describes education as “attempted cultural adaptations,” ”personal, fraught, and experimental,” and “the dynamics in cultural change and continuity and the process that merges them.”  Several pages later, he writes, “Conceptualized as experiments in cultural formation, education served American Indians in their distant pasts as a weapon against disruption and surprise, whatever the causes, and later systemic, often savage colonialism.”  And near the end of his essay, Warren works on his (and our) understanding of education by beginning with questions:

Who learned what, from whom or what influences, in what context, and with what consequences?  The questions rely on a multidimensional concept of education as the thrusting, yet anchoring process amid cultural change, demise, continuity and renewal.  Its essential character is experimental, thus lacking guaranteed results.

All of his cumulative, complementary characterizations of education demonstrate that learning about American Indian education enriches all of history of education because it helps us address these recurring, fundamental, unresolved questions about the nature of education, its history, and the field.

Nevertheless, there is one quite persuasive argument for paying less attention to terminology and classification.  As she did in her 2011 book Lessons from an Indian Day School, Lawrence shows that schooling and learning outside of schools are not opposing categories.  In this way, her work suggests that we stop worrying about the terminology of education, but look at all the forms and sites of education and how they interact, recognizing that academic subjects are not all that is learned in schools.

The essays of the August 2014 HEQ thematic issue present its readers—from undergraduates to senior education historians—with valuable questions without imposing strict methodological rules or taxonomies.  It is my hope that these questions provoke and support similarly thoughtful and resourceful studies.

Abigail Gundlach-Graham is a Ph.D. candidate in the History of Education program at Indiana University.  She studies education in Alaska Native pasts, and is especially interested in the many sites and forms of education in U.S.-colonized villages.  She can be reached at

July 24th, 2014 by Sara Clark and Adrea Lawrence

Tool Review: Working in WordPress and InDesign, a Conversation

A Bit About the Beginning of Education’s Histories

Adrea: We began our collaboration at the History of Education Society (HES) meeting in Nashville in early November 2013. I had set up the site,, in 2012 with the intention of publishing solo. Though the bones of the site were in place on a WordPress site, no content was published. I knew we wanted to focus on methodological issues in the history of education, but I was unsure where to begin. Conceptually, it was clear the site could address some things that was not part of what I was hearing by lots of people at HES conferences: applications and tools that can be used for historical research, reading education outside of schooling, and what education history might look like if we treat “education” as a methodological frame instead of a definitional starting point. In thinking and talking about these issues with colleagues, I have been repeatedly impressed at the innovations that folks like Jack Dougherty and Andy Anderson are developing. I have also been struck by the incredulous expressions some of their presentations garnered. I wondered, “Do education historians have Ludditic tendencies? If so, what does this mean for how they [we] conceptualize the field and its movement?” When Sara and I talked after a long day of conferencing in early November, I felt like our conversations had given me some traction in how to begin the first essay. Our collaboration released the sense of being stymied.

Sara: I first met Adrea on the page as I read her Lessons From an Indian Day School (2011) in Fall 2012. I can remember breathing a sigh of relief, as I felt I had found someone in active pursuit of education history, the type of history that did not feel bounded by classroom walls or long retold institutional narratives. We both wanted to create a space that encouraged questions to emerge, a place for uncertainty. Questions like “Who and what is a teacher?” “How can education historians demonstrate and promote interdisciplinary scholarship?” and “What is the relationship between the historian and her subject(s)?” are just a few that have allowed me to locate methodological uncertainties. Our collaboration was born out of the spirit of this shared pursuit. In November 2013, I was wrapping up work co-curating an exhibit at Indiana University’s Mathers Museum of World Cultures and turning my attention toward the digitization project of the same exhibit, “Ojibwe Public Art, Ostrom Private Lives.” This project allowed me to dive head first into emergent museum digitization practices while simultaneously venturing into unknown territory with Education’s Histories. The digital museum project was built using Omeka, a free and open-source content management system (CMS), which enables cataloguing of digital collections, while Education’s Histories relies on WordPress, another free and open-source CMS, known for its reliance on plugins to provide additional features.

WordPress—Talking About It and Working Within It

Adrea: I have been using WordPress for several years for my course websites. In fact, I have conducted online courses with WordPress and some of the available BuddyPress plugins. I felt like a competent user, though I didn’t—and still don’t—know how to code in html and css. Rather than using a new platform, such as Drupal, I opted to set the Education’s Histories site up with WordPress. One of the challenges and motivators in operating in a digital environment is that the aesthetic sensibilities can help convey the modus operandus of the endeavor. For example, I am a historian, and I love and appreciate how footnotes document and provide contextual information about a writer’s thinking and argument construction. Because of this, I like footnotes to appear with the text they reference. In print form, book publishers have lately tended to sequester notes at the end of chapters or at the end of books. This makes them difficult to follow as one reads. Many journals, like the History of Education Quarterly, do print footnotes, which allows the reader to read the body text in tandem with the note text. This does not work so well, however, in a scrolling digital environment. That was the primary reason for using the Side Matter plugin on WordPress: they make the reader’s job easier and more informed. The only constraint in using the Side Matter plugin was finding a theme with which it would work, and that turned out to be relatively easy. I chose The Frances Wright theme developed by ThemeSweet and named after the illustrious Scottish feminist, abolitionist, and advocate for free schools. Not only does the theme work with the Side Matter plugin, but it also has clean lines and ample white space. Collaboration on has proven to be quite easy. WordPress allows for multiple contributors, editors, and administrators. In adding tools to and modifying the site, we met regularly on Google Hangouts, which allowed us to hold up drawings that each of us had done to visualize the site, talk face to face digitally, and literally show each other what we were seeing on our screens through the screenshare feature. In fact, it was Google Hangouts that signaled to us that collaboration with InDesign might well be difficult, if not impossible.

Sara: As Education’s Histories has grown, so has our awareness of what efforts do and do not scale. We’re excited to begin publishing articles and review essays written by new collaborators. With this hopefully comes increased site traffic and readers with the desire to cite these works in future research. Although we’ve been preparing for the questions that follow since the beginning of Education’s Histories, we are now more than ever aware of the need to scale our curatorial efforts in order to better manage the site for user experience. Unlike Omeka, the WordPress Dashboard does not easily enable archiving and connections among related articles and essays. The built-in options are more familiar for their blog-like qualities, rather than as digital scholarly publications. This visual discrepancy leaves us in search of plugins to fill these needs. For example, we are currently testing the Organize Series plugin as a possible solution for linking essays published in serial. We also utilize the built-in category function to label articles according to their general subject in order to make them more searchable as our catalog grows. At this point we are satisfied with with the WordPress platform, specifically for its easy theme-based page and post design. However, we remain anxious to find solutions to problems of scale that will encourage increased reader accessibility to and searchability of previously published essays and articles.

InDesign—the Beauty and the Frustration

Adrea: Because we were using Side Matter on the Education’s Histories site, we wanted to continue using sidenotes for the pdf versions of essays that we were publishing. Microsoft Word for Mac, which we both use, does not offer the possibility of formatting footnotes as sidenotes. After doing multiple searches on how one might create a printable file that uses sidenotes, we settled on Adobe’s InDesign, which is part of its Creative Suite. Being at large research universities proved a benefit in this case—both of our institutions offered the software without additional cost to us. I had drawn the maps for my book, Lessons from an Indian Day School, with Adobe Illustrator, so I felt like I could learn InDesign with practice. I found a Dynamic Sidenotes script that we could run in InDesign, which looked to be both flexible and easy to use. And if Sara and I could share files and work collaboratively on the print versions of essay by sharing our files on Box, all the better. This proved to be our hangup. Most of the Creative Suite software was already loaded onto my computer, but it was version 5. Sara had access to version 6. Both of us are used to working in Word, where different versions typically do not prove to be a disaster, particularly if it is a basic document file. InDesign was different, though. I began putting together “Our Trickster, the School” in InDesign, version 5, and saving it in our shared Box folder. When Sara began to work on the document, I could no longer open it. We thought we found a workaround by saving it as a backwards compatible file type, but much of the formatting was either lost or garbled. This was more than frustrating because it defeated not only our attempts to collaborate through this software, but it deformed the design, which was the central reason for us using InDesign in the first place. It also meant that only one of us could put together the print version of each essay. This had significant implications for our research and writing schedules. In comparing summer schedules, we determined that I would create the print file for “Our Trickster, the School.” Before starting over in formatting the essay in InDesign version 5, I asked our tech office if they had Creative Suite version 6 and a license that would permit me to use it. They did, and they loaded it onto my computer. This took half a day. After beginning again on formatting the essay, I completed a portrait version of the file, which looked good on my monitor. When I printed it out, though, it looked very compressed and busy. I changed the width of the sidenotes and the margins for the essay, and it still looked compressed and busy. So, I scrapped that file and created a new one. This time, the essay was in landscape format. When I finished formatting the new version of the essay, I liked it much better. There was considerably more white space, the sidenotes were complementary to the text, and the graphics all came out well.

Sara: The potential for capturing and understanding history creatively stands out as both underutilized and one that digital tools are particularly well-suited to encourage. Although it’s been seven years since I’ve used InDesign with any regular frequency, it’s mainstay toolbar features remain familiar, and I looked here when hoping to create a color-matched theme for our pdf publication. We utilized ColorZilla, a free browser add-on available for Chrome and Firefox, which provides an eyedropper, color picker, and color analyzer. This tool allowed me to use an eyedropper, much like the one found on the InDesign toolbar, to get a color reading from anywhere in the browser. In our case, I made color readings from our logo at These readings could then be easily pasted into InDesign’s color swatches tool using the RGB color model for an exact match. These color readings were also easily shared with Adrea, even as we navigated our versioning issues.

A Bit About the Future of Education’s Histories

Sara: Education’s Histories remains wholeheartedly a work-in-progress. Our web publication skills are primitive but our desire to engage in conversations about methodological innovation and ongoing research is here now. We needed to start yesterday. If this essay is not your first foray into our project, then you have likely noticed that we consider our webspace to be a laboratory. It’s a place for testing web applications and modifying page design as we learn new skills. We hope those who write with us consider these as opportunities. We feel that waiting for perfection may hold back learning and certainly prevents the conversation from beginning. We know we have more to learn; this is intentional. By choosing to share our works-in-progress, we hope others will lean in to share their own skills and growing expertise. In the eight months since joining Adrea’s adventure, I’ve learned to listen even more broadly than before. Last week I was listening as Evan MacGonagill, who writes for Educating Women (blog of the Albert M. Greenfield Digital Center for the History of Women’s Education at Bryn Mawr College) shared thoughts on, “Technology and Feminism: Rethinking our Digital Tools.” Empowered by a recent feminist digital humanities training session McGonagill, the Center’s Assistant Director, reminded readers that technology is never free from social power structures:

Clean and elegant design, by many definitions “good design,” makes for a smooth and pleasant user experience but also narrows the group of people who have access to what it offers. An important extension of this idea is that technology is never neutral: it is always situated in context, relationships, and history.

We are listening and hopeful to keep our conversation, design, and technology necessarily open-ended.