February 23, 2004

New Interpretation of American common school movement

I am working on a popular history of the beginnings of the common school movement in the U.S. Most of my research is done and my tentative conclusions differ from most of the interpretations that I have read to date. My findings are probably closest to Carl Kaestle (Pillars of the Republic). I extend his focus from Protestant ideology to examine the importance of Calvinist beliefs, since most of the key leaders of the movement in the Ohio valley from 1815-1855 were Presbyterian.

My findings differ in four ways. My narrative is more western - the population center of the U.S. was dramatically moving west in the period. It is more rural -urban, industrial America was relatively small in comparison to rural, agrarian America, even at the end of the period I study. And the common school movement that I have studied is far more religiously-motivated than some of secular reasons posited to explain the first free public schools. The fourth reason is that I have "mapped" the political balance of power in several key states onto the passage of key legislation in those states and found a good
correlation between the two. It appears that a dedicated, small minority of evangelical Christians were able to push through enabling legislation at times when their political power gave them the most leverage. When their power waned too much, educational legislation was reversed.

While my work is intended for a popular history audience, I would like the opportunity to receive comments, criticism, suggestions from scholars who work in this area. At present, I am working up proposals for papers at the History of Education Society meeting and the Midwest History of Education Society meeting. If any one has any suggestions, please let me know, either on or off the list. thomas_hagedorn@excite.com

Posted by Thomas_Hagedorn at February 23, 2004 03:16 PM