The core argument is this. In American politics of education in the 19th century, there were four competing models of how schools could be organized and governed. Katz calls them paternalistic voluntarism, democratic localism, corporate voluntarism, and incipient bureaucracy. By the end of the century, the bureaucratic model won out and ever since it has constituted the way public school systems operate. But at the time, this outcome was by no means obvious to the participants in the debate.
At one level, this analysis provides an important lesson in the role of contingency in the process of institutional development. Historical outcomes are never predetermined. Instead they’re the result of complex social interactions in which contingency plays a major role. That is, a particular outcome depends on the interplay of multiple contingent factors.
At another level, his analysis unpacks the particular social values and educational visions that are embedded within each of these organizational forms for schooling.
In addition, the models Katz shows here never really went away. Bureaucracy became the norm for school organization, but the other forms persisted, in public school systems, in other forms of modern schooling, and in educational policies.
This is a piece I often used in class, and I’m drawing on class slides in the discussion that follows.
First, consider the characteristics of each model:
Pauper school associations as the model (which preceded public schools)
This is a top-down organization: we educate you
Elite amateurs ran the organization
The small- town district school as the model
Purely public in control and funding, governed by an elected board of lay people: we educate ourselves
Anti-professional, anti-intellectual, reflecting local values
Private colleges and academies as the model
Independent, local, adaptable; on the border between public and private
Funded by student tuition and donations
Owned and operated by an elite board of directors
An interesting composite of the others
As with PV, it’s a top down model with elite administration
As with CV, it provides some autonomy from democratic control
But as with DL, it answers to an elected board, which exerts formal control
Questions to consider:
How have paternalistic voluntarism, corporate voluntarism, and democratic localism persisted in modern schooling?
What difference does this make in how we think about schools?
Consider how all of these forms have persisted in the present day:
Means tests for educational benefits (Chapter I)
School reformer’s emphasis on the education of Other People’s Children (e.g., no excuses charter schools)
Teach For America
Private colleges and private schools continue this model
Decentralized control of schools at the district level — 15,000 schools districts that hire teachers, build schools, and operate the system
Elected local school boards
Still the most visible element of the current structure of schooling
Katz sees democratic localism as the good guy, bureaucracy as the bad guy
Is this true? Consider the downsides of democratic localism
David F. Labaree is Lee L. Jacks Professor at the Stanford University Graduate School of Education and a professor (by courtesy) in history. His research focuses on the historical sociology of American schooling, including topics such as the evolution of high schools, the growth of consumerism, the origins and nature of education schools, and the role of schools in promoting access and advantage more than subject-matter learning. He was president of the History of Education Society and member of the executive board of the American Educational Research Association. His books include: The Making of an American High School (Yale, 1988); How to Succeed in School Without Really Learning: The Credentials Race in American Education (Yale, 1997); The Trouble with Ed Schools (Yale University Press, 2004); Someone Has to Fail: The Zero-Sum Game of Public Schooling (Harvard, 2010); and A Perfect Mess: The Unlikely Ascendancy of American Higher Education (Chicago, 2017).
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