Eminent historian of education, Professor Richard Aldrich has assembled a team of contributors, all noted experts in their respective fields, to review the successes and failures of education in the last century and to look forward to the next. A succinct overview of twentieth century social, economic, political and intellectual developments in the first chapter is followed by chapters on ten key topics.
Each chapter has four sections: This is a work of information, interpretation and reference, which demonstrates the strengths and weaknesses of education during the twentieth century and identifies educational priorities for the twenty first. For more content, see Journal of Asian and African Studies.
African and Asian Studies 12 , , 30 ; https: Most cited this month Analysing Males in Africa: Chinese Farms in Zambia: Researching African Women and Gender Studies: New Social Science Perspectives Authors: Sign in via your institution. Register Register now to access more content. There are probably over 7, species of wood on the planet, and each of these woods has many unique properties and hundreds of techniques associated with its use.
Furniture, houses, newspapers, and books are all manufactured from wood products, and Ravitch undoubtedly uses dozens of these products each day. There are hundreds of varieties of metals and probably thousands of ways of shaping, treating and using them. Within contemporary industrial education, there are hundreds of specialty areas, each with an associated highly technical knowledge and skill base that can require years of study and training to master.
To say that these are mundane tasks is more than a distortion; it is a supreme, confident display of ignorance. I prefer to imagine this is an oversight on Ravitch's part, inadvertently criticizing a short-lived and extremely focused movement in industrial education like the manual arts movement. But because most of her readers will not know that this is an inaccurate portrayal of vocational and industrial education, we must fault her for its omission and attempt to correct it.
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Schultz , for example, argues that the exact opposite of her argument is true, that in fact the genesis of each of the so-called academic disciplines is to be found in the very skills about which Harris and Ravitch speak so disparagingly. Ravitch attempts to convince readers that it is academic education that is venerable, while vocational and industrial education is a johnny-come-lately fad, stating: It became one of many movements that periodically swept through American Education" p.
This, too, is a distortion that ignores the long, rich, and profound history of apprenticeship, craftsmanship, and technical education that greatly preceded academic education, as well as the repeated calls for practical education across history from such pillars as Martin Luther and Amos Comenius.
Further, it ignores societal changes and challenges that were apparent to all at the end of the 19th century -- the end of the frontier and the massive influx of almost 40 million eastern European people into U. One of the essentialists who denigrated progressivism was Arthur Bestor, of whom Ravitch writes:. Arthur Bestor charged that progressive education had turned into "regressive education," having "severed all real connection with the great world of science and learning.
The west was not settled by men and women who had taken courses in "how to be a pioneer.
I for one do not believe that the American people have lost all common sense and native wit so that they now have to be taught in school to blow their noses and button their pants. The frontier, however, was gone, and the rugged individualists who had settled that frontier were not the sorts of citizens likely to be accommodated in the row houses of the crowded cities and time-clock regulated factories of the now industrialized country.
Much of Ravitch's argument flows from her thesis that progressivism has enabled anti-intellectualism to flourish. For example, she writes:. By discrediting the generally understood and broadly accepted definition of schooling for intellectual growth, pedagogical experts such as Edward L. Stanley Hall, and David Snedden cleared the way for the new education based on utility. The experts also cleared the way for two of the worst manifestations of anti-intellectualism.
First, the loss of education's historic rationale meant that the definition of education was up for grabs, available for capture by any idea, fad or movement.
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But her argument that there was an intellectual rationale for education is from its inception confounded by her admission on the first page of the introduction that "those who seek the 'good old days' will be disappointed, for in fact there never was a Golden Age" p. In other words, she admits that there was no universal agreement on the purpose of education being solely for intellectual development, contrary to her later assertions.
Although she alleges that there was universal support for liberal arts education and access to university among parents, it seems more likely that the parental regard for a college education was fostered on the possibility of securing an economically promising profession rather than a sound intellectual footing. Throughout the book, Ravitch has a tendency to frame her arguments in a fashion most favorable to her conclusions. Actually, these are inherently questions of political and sociological importance, because they are really about who will be empowered and enriched in our society, and they are not solely educational.
By making them mere educational questions, Ravitch ignores their broader societal context and dodges their implications for a democratic republic. Ravitch's analysis is much better when she focuses on the years with which she has first-hand experience. Her memories and understanding of the time period in which she came of age in the s and when she was a university student in the s are deeper and more significant. She is gentler with progressivism during this time period, too, and more tolerant of some of the odd twists of educational excess that occurred during the s and s.
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Unfortunately, she is still harshly critical of industrial and vocational education. Ravitch has kind words for the work of several commissions and people active during the s and s a time during which she assumed increasingly important positions in education.
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There's a deep irony in this praise, because these are people with whom Ravitch is associated and, frankly, there is no more evidence provided to support the benefits of their points of view than there is for any of the movements which Ravitch has previously criticized. In fact, Stedman and Weaver describe a report generated by the Sandia National Laboratories which indicated that there were no achievement score declines as suggested in a Nation at Risk , and on which Shanker and Hirsh made the case for national standards.
If this is true, secondary technology education and vocational education programs across the nation have suffered from declining enrollments for almost 20 years due to increasing graduation requirements which were predicated on the worst kind of demagoguery, of the sort that Ravitch has been complaining about throughout her book. This analysis has examined Diane Ravitch's book Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms and found that it is flawed conceptually, historically superficial, opinionated, and occasionally wrong.
The ability to read analytically and use language effectively sometimes gives readers the impression that good writers actually know what they're talking about. There's an old saying that applies here: In my defense, at least I can claim I am doing this for defensive reasons, while Ravitch is purely on the offense. Frankly, criticism is easy, and to build something is hard.
Both Ravitch and I should devote our time to building something difficult and substantive. Given our education backgrounds and interests, I would suggest that we help to build an educational system that acknowledges each person's gifts, and devises the best educational opportunities possible given that person's interests and the interests of the society we live in. At best this book offers a narrow, utopian, "east coast" point of view rather than an attempt at truth.
At worst it is an apologetic for elitism and schools that cater to those who will be scholars. It imagines that, contrary to Thoreau, we all march to the beat of the same drummer. Somehow in the United States we continue to confuse democratic ideals with notions of sameness; that somehow, in order to be equal, we must be the same. What is truly surprising is that this is a narrow and parochial book.
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I fear it means that our finest institutions are turning out scholars, leaders, and policy makers who have never worked with their hands, who have never strayed far from the library, and who are dead certain of their prejudices. This is an alarming trend.