Who will tell you that your utopian school-improvement gambit has been tried before?

Jack Schneider is the star of Amy Scott’s Marketplace piece last Friday on the XQ competition to redesign high schools:

[P]eople have tried to reinvent high school before.

“That idea is as old as students sitting in desks and a teacher lecturing at the front of the classroom,” said education historian Jack Schneider, an assistant professor at the College of the Holy Cross.

In the mid-20th century there was a movement to make high schools much bigger, with more courses from which to choose, Schneider said. Fifty years later, people decided high schools were too big. The Gates Foundation spent $1 billion promoting smaller schools. Neither was a smashing success.

High school is far from perfect, Schneider said, but it’s been evolving all along.

I could also point out the idea of computer literacy as a fifth “R” in A Nation at Risk (1983) — something Mayor deBlasio probably is unaware of — let alone the New American Schools Development Corporation created under President George H.W. Bush, the Coalition of Essential Schools founded by Ted Sizer, and so forth. Laurene Powell Jobs may succeed where others have stumbled, but we should not ignore the fact that high schools have changed over time, and others have likewise had utopian visions for school redesign.

Today, we also have Stephen Sawchuk’s article on the decline of history of education courses in teacher education programs. Which raises the question, if courses and jobs in the field are declining, where will historians of education be when the next ahistorical proposal for education reform comes down the pipeline?1 I have a (paywalled) article from earlier this year, Prophet or Fool: The Professional Position and Role of Historians of Education, and the brief answer is, less from inside colleges of education and more from outside colleges of education. Jack is in a liberal-arts college with a liberal-arts education curriculum, like another Jack historian of education, others are in history departments, and others who write with an historical perspective are journalists such as Audrey Watters and Dana Goldstein.

Those of us who care about new scholars in the history of education need to prepare the next generation of scholars to be able to migrate across fields, and those of us who care about ongoing scholarship in the field must value good work wherever it comes from.

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  1. There is the other question: in a world where our courses and jobs are declining, why are we still portrayed as the Saruman of teacher ed? []