The History of American Education
Part II:
What Is School For? Thoughts on Teaching the History of Education

with Academy Fellows Jenna Alden and Daniel Freund
Tuesday, October 19, 2021
4:30 p.m. – 6:00 p.m. EDT

Registration is closed.
Deadline: October 18.

Since the nation’s founding, Americans have cast their children’s education as central to democracy’s preservation. To pursue such a lofty goal, many schools have been agents of mass assimilation: they have privileged opportunities for some, at the expense of others, and have often failed as great democratizers. However, it is no less true that they have helped to define—for better and worse—what American democracy is and can be. In this session, two teachers who specialize in the history of education will argue that teaching the history of American education can be a deeply engaging way to grapple with our nation’s tortured entanglements of race, class, gender, and power. We will consider why we have schools, whom they serve, how to teach the history of education, and how that history promotes a fuller understanding of the nation’s past. We will also explore practical ways to insert the history of education into broader surveys of US history.

Jenna Feltey Alden has taught history at Bard High School Early College, Queens since 2010, from ninth-grade US History to eleventh-/twelfth-grade electives like “The Cultural History of Self-Help.” She earned her PhD in US History from Columbia University in 2012, after writing a dissertation on the influence of humanistic psychology on postwar corporate management theory. Two years ago, she developed an elective called “Why School? American Education and Its Critics” in response to her students’ troublingly chronic anxiety and burnout, on the one hand, and New York City’s entrenched school segregation in an age of racial reckoning, on the other. Radical critics and historians helped her start to understand how we got here; educational activists and visionaries helped her imagine what we might change. Listening to students’ thoughts about these topics has been the most rewarding experience of her teaching career.

Dan Freund has been teaching at Bard High School Early College, Manhattan since 2007, working with ninth-graders in the History of the Americas, and eleventh- and twelfth-graders in electives, including “The History of American Education.” For one year, he co-taught that class with a math teacher as part of a tutoring and teaching practicum, first designed by two other colleagues; for the last ten years, it has been a stand-alone history elective. He started at BHSEC after completing a PhD at Columbia University with a focus on Urban America. His book, American Sunshine: Diseases of Darkness and the Quest for Natural Light, looks at how Americans dealt with the loss of natural light and fresh air in the early 1900s, as cities grew larger and more polluted and people increasingly moved indoors. One section of that book looked at Progressive Era school design, which helped to spark his interest in the history of education.

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