War, Activism, and A Field of Study

Vincent VanGogh “Trees and Undergrowth” 1887

As World War II began, activism again took the energies of teachers away from professional advocacy.

As is commonly the practice, teachers put aside their own self interests to speak out and help those who were being victimized or were candidates for oppression and inequality.

In stark contrast to the minimizing view of rural teachers as housekeepers in a 1941 article , a student Sophie Scholl distributed leaflets against the Nazis at the University of Munich because “somebody, after all, had to make a start.” Librarian Clara Breed helped Japanese-American children sent to prison camps. Like teachers, nurses increased social activism during these times as well.

Even war could not convince corporate leaders to relinquish their disdain for education and teachers, however. The New York Times published a 1943 article criticizing college freshmen for not knowing U.S. History. Henry Ford said that his Fordlandia rubber plant in the Amazon forest provided instruction that our urban children would envy while refusing support for children’s education of his plant workers.

1946 saw the passage of the Mental Health Act and psychologists continued to publish their opinions on how education (teaching) should be changed.

This was the same year Dr. Benjamin Spock’s book Baby and Child Care revolutionized parenting and with resulting effects not only on the students that teachers would be receiving but the parental attitudes that would change the conversations between parents and teachers. IMG_1871

F. Skinner published Walden Two, two years later, which advocated lifelong learning, people freely choosing what they wanted to learn. Obviously this was in direct contrast to the pressures from corporate and governmental tax interests on educational expectations. Meanwhile the same year the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights included as education as one of these rights, adding to pressures. On the side of equality, Cambridge opened degrees to women that same year.

The forces to treat education as a field of study in itself saw the beginning of formalization when Ralph W. Tyler published Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction in 1949. Like many who would go on to prescribe what veteran teachers should do, Tyler, the son of a minister and a graduate in science, taught one year in South Dakota to a classroom of farmer’s children and civil servants’ children. As many do, he left the classroom after only one year to study it and then to tell teachers what they should do. He earned a master’s in education at the University of Nebraska. While studying for this he supervised student teachers of science and had a light load in the university’s high school. Going on to his doctorate at the University of Chicago, his work showed the mark of the “engineering” approach to educational “management”.  Such male hubris became the norm and such fast tracks were never opened to women teachers, who were too busy teaching.



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