Tyack and Cuban with Dewey on Social Change
David Tyack and Larry Cuban do share similar views to John Dewey about the nature of the traditional education system in the United States as well as its origins. Public education as it exists today is a product of the 19th Century industrialization and urbanization process, which created schools that resembled factories, timetables and schedules, and teachers who acted like bosses on a factory floor. Dewey of course abhorred this system and criticized it unmercifully for decades, both in the way it was structured and the type of information it imparted to students. In the history of American education, there has never been a more vocal, prominent and outspoken critic of the traditional system than Dewey, and none has been the subject of greater wrath from conservatives and traditionalists, even decades after his death. Tyack and Cuban are well aware of the problems with traditional education, especially as the country was preparing to enter the 21st Century, but their idea of successful reform was always incremental and gradualist compared to Dewey. He was prepared to scrap the whole system and start over with a radically different blueprint, and one that has almost never been implemented in public schools as he would have wished.
Our public education system as it exists today was created by elite interests from the late-19th Century to the 1950s. All of the aspects of public education that students and parents have come to assume as normal, such as age-grading, separation of subjects, schedules and one teacher per classroom, are all part of this system created by the policy elites and which has changed little in the past 100 years. This grammar of schools also demands “strict discipline,” traditional subjects and rigid control of the classroom by teachers. Would-be reformers are simply not allowed to depart greatly from this model without incurring the wrath of the bureaucracy, business interests, teachers and parents (Tyack and Cuban, p. 9). Dewey would have agreed with them that the ‘grammar of schooling’ is a ‘dead ritual’ that has changed very little in the last 100 years, although some new and trendy reforms have been added and assimilated to the same basic structure.
Tyack and Cuban were under no illusions about the origins of this particular kind of educational grammar. They knew that business leaders had the greatest impact on public education as the United States industrialized in the 19th Century, and that they dominated most school boards up to the New Deal era of the 1930s, and again after World War II. Capitalists and those they funded and employed insisted that schools be run in a “business-like” manner, with schedules, timetables, age-graded levels, primarily to prepare students for work in factories and offices. Indeed, public schools came to resemble the factories and offices of industrial capitalism, run like the assembly lines of Henry Ford according to the ‘scientific management’ principles of Frederick Taylor (Tyack and Cuban, p, 85). This was the exact era in which John Dewey formulated his ideas on progressive education and of course his strenuous opposition to the ‘factory schools’ created by the industrial barons and their allies.
Dewey would have agreed with Tyack and Cuban that some progressive reformers had gone too far in the direction of faddishness and trendiness in their schools, and that this should be corrected. Dewey thought that some progressive schools had gone too far in the other direction, though, in the name of rejecting the evils and absurdities of the traditional school. He did not maintain that all guidance from teachers and adults must be rejected as “an invasion of individual freedom” (Dewey, p. 9). Not all experiences are “genuinely or equally educative,” while some are positively “mis-educative,” since some experiences may land the individual “in a groove or rut; the effect again is to narrow the field of further experience” (Dewey, p. 13). Experiences may be too “disconnected from one another” to have any overall pattern or meaning, or they may be enjoyable but do nothing to teach self-control (Dewey, p. 14). He denied that free activity was “an end in itself,” and regarded this as a great mistake in the application of his pedagogical principles (Dewey, p. 73). Dewey did not advocate simply allowing children to do whatever they felt like without any guidance from the teacher and asserted that “there is no intellectual growth without some reconstruction, some remaking, of impulses and desires in the form in which they first show themselves” (Dewey, p. 74).
Differences- Share the differences and ways in which they have contradictory ideas.
Tyack and Cuban considered John Dewey as one of many Utopian educational reformers in American history, even though he was probably the best known and most influential of them all. From the time of the American Revolution onward, reformers like Thomas Jefferson vested great hopes in the public education system that were almost certainly beyond its capacity to fulfill. In the 19th Century, the Protestant-republican ideology of Horace Mann dominated the early public school systems, with particular emphasis on assimilating and “Americanizing” immigrants, although this was also why many Catholic immigrants seceded from the public school system in favor of schools that taught their own religion and values (Tyack and Cuban, p. 16). Progressives like Dewey, with their faith in science, evolution and pragmatism, were also in continuity with this republic faith in the powers of public schools, now reformed and updated to meet the needs of the urban, industrial economy of the 20th Century. Dewey was fired with crusading, evangelical zeal as well, even though he had rejected traditional religion and its place in public education, much to the chagrin of Protestant evangelicals and fundamentalists over the last century. Dewey’s vision for the public school system — and for the larger society — was purely secular and scientific, and he wanted schools to prepare students to take their place as citizens in a modern, democratic society. He thought that the schools were turning out passive drones and robots on an assembly line rather than independent, critically thinking individuals, and that such as system was more suited for an authoritarian society.
Tyack and Cuban maintained that most of the various reform efforts of the past 100 years, many of which had failed, but Dewey would have found their attitude too conservative, cynical and pessimistic. His purpose was not simply to describe the system but to change it, and he thought that his model was far more in keeping with a democratic society. For progressives, traditional education was stultifying, with knowledge becoming an “imposition from above and outside” using subject matter and pedagogical methods that were “foreign to the existing capacities of the young” (Dewey, p. 4). Traditional education had many downright “brutal features” and students did not participate at all in what was being taught — most of which was simply “static” knowledge from the past that did not prepare them for life in the modern world (Dewey, p. 4). It treated students like robots with no respect for their humanity or individual personalities, and often failed to emphasize causality even though cause-and-effect was one of the fundamental principles of modern science, and “neither the relation nor grasp of its meaning is foreign to the experience of even the young child” (Dewey, p. 104). Dewey continually denounced traditional education as authoritarian, in which “passive and receptive students” received information from teachers and textbooks with no escape except “irregular and perhaps disobedient” acts (Dewey, p. 72). Subject matter in progressive education should be drawn from life experience than developed “into a fuller and richer and also more organized form,” just as an infant learns to crawl before walking (Dewey, p. 86). Dewey repeatedly reiterates that the “cardinal precept” of progressive education must always be “that the beginning of instruction shall be made with the experience learners already have” (Dewey, p.88).
Progressive education emphasized free activity as opposed to external control and coercion by the teacher, and learning from experience rather than texts, lectures, drills and memorization. It placed more value on “acquaintance with a changing world” rather than the dead world of the past (Dewey, p. 6). All of the most important learning in life came through personal experience rather than information imparted by teachers into the minds of students (Dewey, p. 8). Traditional education was dull and boring, and caused many students to lose interest in learning forever and to be “rendered callous to ideas.” After excessive drilling and memorization, they lost “the power of judgment and capacity to act intelligently in new situations.” They came to associate all learning with “dull drudgery” and lost interest in reading anything except “flashy” and simplistic materials. In short, traditional education provided many “defective and wrong experiences” that were actually damaging to real learning (Dewey, p. 15). Traditional education was so “bound up with the past as to give little help in dealing with the issues of the present and future.” Knowledge about the past was not “the end of education” but only a means (Dewey, p. 11). Progressive education had to formulate experiences that were interesting and enjoyable, that also “promote having desirable future experiences” (Dewey, p. 16). Traditional schools did not need to consider this because they operated only “from custom and established routine,” but this did not mean that progressive schools must go to the opposite extreme of “plan-less improvisation” (Dewey, p. 18).
Uniqueness- This section will be a place where you discuss any unique ideas that are not discussed by the other theorist.
Tyack and Cuban are content merely to describe the various educational reform movements that have come and gone over the past 100 years, many of which turned out to be merely trendy and ephemeral. At most, they advocate small and incremental changes in cooperation with parents, teachers and school officials that would not upset the applecart too much. Dewey in contrast was a fiery preacher and prophet who believed completely in the value of his proposed reforms and advocated for them constantly throughout his life. Compared to Tyack and Cuban, he was far more of an activist than an academic, and they do not spend much time describing a grand new vision of educational architecture and teaching methods as Dewey always did in his books.
Tyack and Cuban go into far more detail about the origins of the factory school in their book than does Dewey, who was content to denounce it repeatedly and call for its overthrow. They are evolutionary by nature while Dewey was a radical and revolutionary. Industrialization had changed the nature of American capitalism, which was no longer based on the sole proprietor, petty merchant, artisan or small farmer, but the giant corporation. In a very short time, “the capitalization of corporations valued at a million dollars or more jumped from $170 million in 1897 to $5 billion in 1900 and more than $20 billion in 1904” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 143). Instead of being trained as self-reliant, independent citizens of a basically rural, agrarian economy, most students in the 20th Century could expect to end up as employees of giant corporations and bureaucracies. Traditional schools were ill-equipped to supply the skilled and white-collar workers that the new economy required, much less the managers, engineers, technicians and accountants. This was the era when the “grammar of education” as it exists today came into being, and it has resisted all attempts and major reform and overhaul, no matter that much of the Fordist-assembly line economy for which it was expressly designed has now moved offshore. In this sense, the U.S. has been left with an education system created for a different era and an earlier type of social and economic system, but reformulating and updating it for the 21st Century has proven extremely difficult. This is not to say that there have been no changes at all for the last 100 years, for their have been — and some very significant ones.
QUALITY AND INTEGRITY WITH THE POLITICIZATION OF EDUCATION- Write a paper comparing and contrasting the ideas of Tyack & Cuban with the ideas of Dewey about how the quality and integrity of education can be preserved with the politicization of education.
Similarities- Share how their ideas are similar.
Just as much as John Dewey, Tyack and Cuban agree that education reform has always been political in its origins and outcome. Dewey thought that progressive education would improve American society, making it more open and tolerant, less racist, and more opposed to authoritarian and totalitarian influences of the Left and Right. Unusually for an intellectual in the 1920s and 1930s, he denounced both fascism and Communism as oppressive and totalitarian, and considered the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany to be police states with many features in common. According to Dewey, social control always exists, and even the anarchist who intends to abolish all formal government will end up substituting other forms of social control. Even children playing schoolyard games have rules, for “without rules there is no game” (Dewey, p. 55). In fact, rules are part of the game and when they are changed it becomes a different game entirely. Disputes only arise if someone violates these or if a decision by the umpire is regarded as unfair. Progressive education trained students to take their place as citizens of a democracy with its ideal being the “creation of power of self-control” rather than by coercion and external controls (Dewey, p. 75). Dewey stated at the outset of his book that educational philosophies have always been subject to political conflict “marked by the opposition between the idea that education is development from within and that it is formation from without” (Dewey, p. 1).
Needless to say, Dewey has always been a favorite target of conservatives and traditionalists in education, who always demand a ‘back-to-basics’ approach, for there has never been a more outspoken critic of this type of schooling. In traditional education, knowledge and information from the past are transmitted to students, including moral training and rules of conduct. Schools were very distinct organizations “sharply marked off from other social institutions” in which students were expected to have an attitude of “docility, receptivity, and obedience” (Dewey, p. 2). Their duty is to absorb all the knowledge of the past through lectures and rote memorization of texts, including the Bible, although Dewey did not mention this directly. The implication was always there in all of his writings, though, which is why evangelical Protestants and fundamentalists have always been especially hostile towards him. Battles between traditionalists and progressives in education date back to the early-1900s and still continue up to the present, with Dewey as a perennial target of conservatives. Because of his view that morality was based on experience rather than on traditions passed down by organized religion and texts like the Bible, they have often attacked him as an amoral pragmatist — and worse.
Tyack and Cuban assert that all school reforms “are intrinsically political in origin” and that many groups have engaged in school politics over the last 100 years for a variety of reasons, such as conflicts over race, religion and ethnicity. At all times, though, the dominant group has been “policy elites” such as business interests that “had privileged access to the media and political officials” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 8).
Differences- Share the differences and ways in which they have contradictory ideas.
Dewey was relentlessly critical of traditional education compared to Tyack and Cuban, who argued that gradual and incremental reforms often produced highly beneficial results. They describe the politics that lead to the creation of the traditional school in more detail than Dewey, although he was well aware of these factors. Naturally, they also address various reforms issues that arose long after Dewey’s death, although he would hardly have been surprised by them since they would have seemed quite similar to the many battles he had fought over education in his lifetime. According to Tyack and Cuban, all reforms of public education are political and conflicts have “arisen over ethnic, religious, racial, gender, and class differences” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 8).
There have been battles over segregation, over the use of the Bible and prayers in the classroom, the teaching of evolution vs. creationism, and over English or bi-lingual instruction. Business leaders frequently criticized schools from the 1890s onwards as not preparing students for the modern workforce, as did the 1983 report A Nation at Risk. In 1957 after the Soviets launched Sputnik, there was a wave of hysteria about why Johnny could not read and whether Russian students were far better trained in math and science than their American counterparts. On the whole, though, they are far more skeptical than Dewey about the value and effectiveness of most of these reform fads. No public school reform in history has ever taken place “with the previous slate wiped clean,” as Dewey would have preferred (Tyack and Cuban, p. 83). There has never been a case of school reform in U.S. history that “performs and persists precisely according to plan” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 60). Tyack and Cuban advocate not utopian ideals but gradual “improvement from the inside out, especially by enlisting the support and skills of teachers as key actors in reform” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 10). Dewey, in contrast, was fully prepared to start over with a radically new type of pedagogy, curriculum and teacher training.
Tyack and Cuban noted that Utopianism about education always existed from the time of the Revolution onward. Hannah Arendt believed that public education played a more important political role in the United States than any other country in the world because of the waves of immigration that required some system to ‘Americanize’ the children of new arrivals. In the era of the Great Society of the 1960s, Lyndon Johnson claimed that all national problems could be cured by education (Tyack and Cuban, p. 2). No matter how many utopian reformers and dreamers like Dewey came along over the years, “actual reforms have rarely matched such aspirations, though” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 1). Indeed, they found that such utopianism always bred “disillusionment and to blaming schools for not solving problems beyond their reach” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 3). Contrary to the hopes and integrationists and the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, education cannot really eliminate racism from American society or the “gross disparities in wealth and income” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 4). There have always been inequalities in U.S. schools, between the suburbs and inner cities, for example, as well as “race, class, and gender discrimination” and “great disparities in political power between groups” (Tyack and Cuban, p. 8). This was true in Dewey’s time and it remains true today, but changing this harsh reality is simply beyond the capacity of the education system. Indeed, contrary to Dewey, Tyack and Cuban have relatively low expectations of the public school system, beyond being a sort of mediocre factory that churns out future employees for the capitalist economy. This is not what Dewey wanted, and perhaps not even what they want, but it has been the reality nevertheless for the last 100 years.
Uniqueness- This section will be a place where you discuss any unique ideas that are not discussed by the other theorist.
Tyack and Cuban discuss major changes and reforms that occurred after the death of John Dewey, some of which he would have welcomed and others that he would have found appalling. In Dewey’s time, for example, schools were rigidly segregated by race, especially in the South with its dual school systems, and Dewey would have been pleased to see that type of apartheid dismantled had he lived into the 1950s and 1960s. Although he was well aware of the racism and class differences in American education, and as a democratic socialist eager to change them, during his lifetime there was really no chance for school desegregation in the United States. Nor would Dewey have been surprised by continuing pressure from capitalists and the military to teach more science, math and technical subjects that would be useful skills for future employees and soldiers. He had seen such pressures on the public education system every day during his lifetime although naturally he would not have agreed that the main goal of education was to turn out more skilled technicians and computer operators.
One of the most wrenching changes in public education were the busing and integration battles from the 1950s to the 1970s that abolished dual school systems segregated by race, at least in law if not necessarily in reality. These provoked intense opposition from whites, and not only in the South but in Northern cities like Boston, Detroit and Chicago. Not all blacks by any means favored integration, since they were well aware of the potential of violent reactions by whites. They were greatly disturbed by the murder of Emmett Till, a black teenager in Mississippi who whistled at a white woman and was beaten, shot and dumped in a river weighted down by a cotton gin fan — an act that was symbolic of the deeply embedded violence within a segregated society and the dangers of demanding change (Tyack and Cuban, p. 27). Partially in response to desegregation, there has been a decline in the vision of the common school in America that Mann and Dewey once found such a hopeful symbol of democratic aspirations. White students ended up being re-segregated in private and religious schools, while minority students in the inner cities were essentially left to their own devices in decaying and impoverished school districts. Religious parents also removed their students from the public system to private and denominational schools, or even renewed home schooling, because of various court rulings banning the prayer and Bible from public schools. Others demanded that their schools teach Biblical creationism instead of Darwinian evolution, a battle that had been going on since the Scopes case in Dewey’s time.
In the 19590s and 1960s, another major concern of business leaders was that automation and computers were going to revolutionize the workplace yet the graduates of American public schools were not being prepared to use these new technologies. In the age of the Internet and personal computer over the past thirty years, this concern has often been repeated by corporate America. During the Cold War, the American military was also concerned that the public schools were not keeping up with the latest scientific and technical developments (Tyack and Cuban, p. 117). Dewey would not have been at all surprised by the demands of business that the public schools teach the ‘basics’ as well as preparing students to take their place in the workforce. That is what they had always been demanding in his time, under the assumption that the goal of education was to service the needs of the capitalist economy. Under the conservative administrations of the last thirty years, that goal has been reaffirmed constantly, along with repeated attacks against public schools, teachers and their labor unions. Unlike Dewey’s time, it has hardly been a propitious era for progressive experiments in education such as self-directed learning or classrooms without formal grading and tests, but rather an era of intensified school discipline, surveillance and coercion, standardized tests and curricula, and an emphasis of back-to-basics and training in practical skills. Ultimately, Tyack and Cuban were correct that not much remains of Dewey’s bold experiments in progressive education, and that no one should be surprised that the dominant political and economic interests in society had the last word.
List of References
Dewey, J. (1938, 1998). Education and Experience: The 60th Anniversary Edition. Indianapolis, IN: Kappa Delta Pi Society.
Tyack, D. And L. Cuban (1995). Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform. Harvard University Press.
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