Every morning in my inbox I receive an email from something called www.delanceyplace.com. The email includes a summary of a book, a kind of a contemporary Reader’s Digest Condensed Version for people who only have time—or perceive they only have time—to read a paragraph or two. I look at the topic each day. Some I read. Some I delete. Some I save until later.
Just a few days ago I receive a summary of a book by Paula Fass called The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child. It was published in 2006, so is already a decade old. I Googled Fass and discovered that she taught social and cultural history at UC Berkeley for more than 30 years.
Fass’ words captured my GS4A attention immediately. Without including the entire entry, here are some key passages…
“…The American faith in education was nowhere more pointedly advertised than in the creation of the high school. The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection put this faith in ringing terms in 1934: ‘The school is the embodiment of the most profound faith of the American people, a faith that if the rising generation can be sufficiently educated, the ills of society will disappear. The constantly lengthening period of school attendance, the constantly enlarging contributions of money for the maintenance of the school, the rising standards of preparation of the teachers . . . these and many other evidences attest the faith of the people in their schools.’ …”
“Unlike the equivalents of high schools elsewhere in the West such as the lycée or gymnasium— places of exclusive higher learning attended by only a tiny fragment of the population— American high schools became democratic almost as soon as they became an important part of the educational system.”
“American education was truly revolutionary in this regard, since it succeeded in enticing the majority of adolescents into a longer school regime and created a uniquely American institution to contain them. Nothing better expressed America’s new prominence in the world or Americans’ elevated expectations regarding the future. By the middle decades of the twentieth century, the vast majority of adolescents, regardless of where they or their parents were born, were drawn into the ambit of the high school.”
I do not know if the “ills of society” will disappear if we achieve socio-economically integrated schools. What I do know is that we cannot continue on the path we are on, in Rochester, or other communities across the nation.
We are not making this up. It is in the best of our American history and is lodged deeply in our American DNA. Our task now is simply to seek to live into the legacy and promise of that history. That will take creativity and boldness and determination, which seem so very counter-cultural but which are essentially American. The good news is that we have history on which to base our efforts, if we simply remember it.