Reformers Creating a Usable Past: Myths and Realities

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Consider the following:

*Progressive school reformers praise the 19th century one-room school for multi-age grouping, students helping one another learn their lessons, and close connections between school and community; conservative school reformers see the same one-room school house as a place where order and discipline ruled the day and students learned basic skills.

*Technology-driven reformers describe 21st century U.S. public schools as products of a late-19th century industrial age when schools became assembly-line factories and continue to this day to turn out graduates unequipped to enter a post-industrial, knowledge-based economy where jobs require collaboration, problem-solving skills, and creativity.

Both statements about the past are myths. Both derive from reformers-turned-historians with selective memories who seek to advance their current agendas. They create a usable past. And in doing so, they tip-toe around truth.

Professional historians wince when fellow historians and policy elites dip into the past and recover evidence that is…

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