Reviews

Trey Kay, Deborah George, Stan Bumgardner, The Great Textbook War (West Virginia Public Broadcasting and American Radio Works, 2009).

“The Great Textbook War captures one of the most dramatic moments in our nation’s educational history–in Kanawha County, West Virginia, circa 1974–through the lens of someone who was there as a 12 year old student. The story is told through first person accounts and interviews with major players in the conflict, offering multiple and contrasting perspectives. A violent struggle that began over what students would and would not read became what is now regarded by many as the first shot in the culture wars. This is a remarkable program documenting one key episode from a tumultuous time in our educational history when battle lines were being drawn and groups of citizens, reacting to the liberation movements of the 1960s, sought to censure, control, and limit change. The Great Textbook War embodies the perennial struggle over whose values will be passed on to the younger generation, whether schools will focus on socializing young people to tradition, or confronting and questioning our nation’s faults. The Kanawha County wars were the beginning of a trend toward the basics and accountability, away from free inquiry, social issues, and exploration of competing values, a shift that is having a disturbing impact on schools today.”
–Ronald W. Evans, San Diego State University, author of The Tragedy of American School Reform (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011)

Christoper R. Leahey, Whitewashing War: Historical Myth, Corporate Textbooks, and Possibilities for Democratic Education (New York: Teachers College Press, 2009).

“Whitewashing War challenges the fundamental assumptions underlying the corporate regime of standards, textbooks, and testing and exposes the distortions, manipulation, and lies that result. Leahey builds a compelling case for critical inquiry and dialogue. Highly recommended!”
–Ronald W. Evans, San Diego State University, author of The Social Studies Wars

C. Gregg Jorgensen, John Dewey and the Dawn of Social Studies: Unraveling Conflicting Interpretations of the 1916 Report (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2012).

“I first met Gregg Jorgensen in the summer of 2008 when he approached me and asked for my help with his doctoral dissertation. His dissertation, which formed the foundation for this book, is a history of the seminal 1916 Report on Social Studies, a key topic in the history of social studies and curriculum history. At that time the dissertation needed significant re-writing and re-thinking. After reading Gregg’s proposal and early draft, I made specific and detailed recommendations for improvement. Over the span of a year or so we met several times to discuss each segment of his work and to develop a plan for improving it. I am very pleased to say that this book, based largely on that earlier work, is a testament to its author’s intelligence and perseverance.

Scholars have long disagreed in their interpretations of the 1916 Report. The earliest historians of social studies celebrated the Report as the founding document of progressive social studies education. However, in the years immediately following its release, the Report met a variety of reactions. Historians greeted the report with an initial silence then castigated it for “diminishing history” to “boost civics.” Many social scientists were also less than supportive and complained about the tendency to focus on societal problems at the expense of “scientific” inquiry. However, school leaders and teachers were generally supportive, and the Report became a mainstay of social studies and a founding document for the field. In more recent years, while most scholars acknowledge the Report’s influence, many have taken a critical perspective and have viewed the Report as a “social efficiency” document, embodying principles of Taylorism and education for social efficiency.

Since the 1980s, with the advent of the revival of traditional history, educational conservatives and critics of social studies such as Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn have lambasted the Report as the founding document of “tot sociology” or the work of the “lunatics” in the “asylum” of colleges of education. Others have taken a more moderate and, I think, more realistic view, arguing that the Report embodies a mix of influences and represents a curricular compromise or hybridization.

Through all of this scholarly debate, the role of John Dewey has been at issue, highlighted by some but underplayed by many. This book is a reminder that Dewey was a strong influence on the origins of the social studies field. Many of the Committee members were disciples of Dewey and the new progressive education. Moreover, as Jorgensen points out, Dewey was quoted extensively and cited frequently in the Report.

Regardless of one’s perspective, it is clear that the Report and the work of the Committee has had a strong influence on both the rhetoric and reality of social studies in schools. It set a general pattern for the social studies curriculum that lasted most of a century and still has substantial power. It also promoted an emphasis on problem solving and active learning that continues to have a strong influence in the rhetoric of education, and has had some impact on classroom practice, though not as much as its advocates might hope.

This is by far the most comprehensive book ever written of the work of the Committee on Social Studies of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education. It examines the various persons involved; the major influences on the work of the Committee; its three published statements; the evolving record of scholarship on the Committee and its work; and its impact on educational thought and practice in social studies. It is remarkably fine work that provides a helpful new synthesis, and makes an important contribution to our knowledge of the 1916 Report and its implications for teaching. Perhaps most importantly, it challenges one of the most common understandings of the Report, offers a wide-ranging overview of alternative interpretations, and makes a strong argument for re-examining the Deweyan perspective that played a strong role in the Report’s development. Revisiting the 1916 Report, the work of the Committee on Social Studies, and the influence of John Dewey are all worthy of our time, both as a reminder of our roots and for the perspective it provides on the current direction of social studies in schools. We can learn a great deal on both counts.”
–Ronald W. Evans, San Diego State University

Stewart Kwoh and Russell C. Leong, Eds., Untold Civil Rights Stories: Asian Americans Speak Out for Justice (Los Angeles: UCLA Asian American Studies Center, 2009).

“An imminently useful resource for teachers and students filled with accessible, useful knowledge from a seldom seen side of American life. Behind the “model minority” stereotype are individual and collective acts of bravery and heroism, of Asian Pacific Americans who courageously stood up for their rights. Here are stories of actors, journalists, soldiers, students and citizens who suffered egregious wrongs, some public and well known, others private and subtle. From Lily Chin to Fred Korematsu, these tales make visible what has for too long been invisible to so many Americans. Changing demographics and simple justice mean we need these stories for a deeper understanding of our history and for the hope and inspiration they bring. An important contribution to the literature on multiculturalism and social justice.”
–Ronald W. Evans, Professor, School of Teacher Education, San Diego State University

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