Core Course 2 (Revised March 2000)

The Historical Context of Urban Education:

Race, Class, Gender, Ethnicity and Religion

(3 credits)

Course Description

             This course will explore the emergence and transformation of urban educational institutions--public and private, inclusive and selective, fee-paying and free, religious and secular-- out of the dynamic interplay of individual, group (racial, immigrant, migrant, language, religious, national/ethnic), and larger scale intellectual, social, political and economic factors.  Students will study the formation of social identities in the history of education, specifically race, class, gender, ethnicity and religion, and the relationship of identity formation to current issues in education.  The history of the politics of education also will be studied, especially as politics relates to defining educational mission, determining resources, including or excluding  individuals and the increasingly diverse groups in the urban mix, providing equity of educational opportunity, and encouraging community participation in establishing and maintaining schools. 

 The course will develop the concepts and skills of historiographic research through an  examination of prevailing concepts of education and schooling, schooling and identity formation, concepts of childhood and youth, perceived missions of schooling, available technologies, teacher recruitment and student enrollments, contemporary pedagogies and curricula, and the resulting educational institutions and programs which emerge at a given historical moment. It will examine the responses of urban schools to an ever changing and increasingly diversified population of national/ethnic, linguistic, racial, religious groups.


 Contemporary students of urban education need to be aware of the antecedents of the issues which they now confront.  As David Tyack has argued, current reformers both within and outside of the educational establishment act as if “history was something to be overcome, not a source of insight.”  Policy analysts need to be aware of the context (political, social, and economic)  and actual alternatives which confronted institution-builders and decision-makers in the past; whether conscious decisions were made or if events dictated policy; and, if conscious choices were made, which alternatives were selected, which rejected, and which never seen. Analysts also must determine if and how policies were implemented and what the outcomes were, intended as well as unintended.  Curriculum theorists need to be able to explore the past to see how knowledge was perceived, valued, transmitted, received, and validated within the crucible of educational institutions, and the dynamics which drove changes over time.

  The course also will explore how educational goals and opportunities were influenced by race, class, gender, ethnicity, and religion, and hence the potentially varied impact of schooling on different segments of the population in the past and today.

Tentative Course Outline*


I. The origins of public schooling in Urban America (the anti-bellum period)

--origins of schooling in America

--the emergence of mass education in the early 19th c.

--public responsibility for the education of children; settled populations and new Irish and German immigrants

--the changing nature of religious and moral instruction in public education

--the changing nature of secular instruction in public education


II. Institutionalizing Education (post-bellum era)

--urbanization, industrialization and class formation

--the place of race

--immigration; Southern Italians, East European Jews and others enter the urban mix

--Compulsory education and the Americanization of Irish, German, Italian Jewish, Slavic and other immigrant communities

--gender and education

--creating a teaching force

--models of teaching and learning

--political control of urban education


III. The Progressive Era

--progressivism as a philosophical/political movement in government, race relations and education

--the impact of ideological and political movements on urban education (e.g., suffrage , labor, and good government movements, radical political philosophies of the left and right)

--urban reform and educational reform

--arriving at “the one best system”: bureaucratic organization of public education

--ideology, curriculum and textbooks

--models of teaching and learning

--immigration and Americanization


IV. Urban Education in Hard Times (The Great Depression)

--the economics of schooling

--schooling and the replication/transformation of social class

--ideology, curriculum and textbooks

--models of teaching and learning

--relationship of schools to social and economic changes

--changing urban demographics; the complexity of educating a racially and ethnically diverse student population


V. Education in the Post-World War II era

--urban schools’ responses to race, new waves of migration and immigration, ethnicity and language, and children with special needs

--educational policy-making as crisis management: Sputnik, declining literacy rates, dropouts, and declining standards

--gender and schooling

--models of teaching and learning

--ideology, curriculum and textbooks

--public/private space in the field of education: rethinking public responsibility for the education of children

--recruiting, training, and retaining teachers and administrators

--changing technologies of education

--the end of “the one best system” and the rise of alternative models of urban schooling




* Issues of historiography will be infused throughout the course. Each topic will explore issues of race, class, gender, ethnicity and religion, and how these variables have interact with each other.

The course also will examine how each era answers the questions and problems it confronts. These questions and their proposed solutions will be compared across historic periods.