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The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973


reviewed by Sol Cohen - 1975

coverTitle: The Great School Wars: New York City, 1805-1973
Author(s): Diane Ravitch
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: 0465027024, Pages: 449, Year: 1974
Search for book at Amazon.com


In few areas is the general public so misin­formed as in the field of the governance of public schools. It is the conventional wis­dom that the public schools are not in­volved in "politics," or that educational policy-making is dictated by advances in the Science of pedagogy, or by the inexor­able finger of Progress, or by some process of ratiocination uncontaminated by pro­fane motives. This bit of mythology has been widely accepted. It has not precluded school "politics," but simply lessened its visibility. That is, public schools have been largely removed from the realm of "pub­lic" politics to behind-the-scene politics. The operations of educational decision-makers, the stakes, the prizes, the contes­tants, and their strategies are largely invis­ible.

The fact is that public school systems are thoroughly political phenomena from top to bottom. Education must compete with other governmental functions for limited resources. More public money is spent for education than any other single function of state and local government. No public school in America exists without state legislative sanction. All over the United States school boards are elected or ap­pointed through a highly political process. The size, location, cost, looks, and

facilities of new school buildings are fre­quently matters of politics. The size, scope, and influence of city and state de­partments of boards of education are in­evitably controlled by political forces. The laying out of a bus route, the choice of textbooks, the decision as to what em­phasis to give in the instructional pro­gram—all are political questions.

School systems are not only political en­tities in themselves, but they are political in a broader sense because they are in­volved in questions of "value." That is, educational policies have something to do with who gets what, when, and how much of some of the good things in life: status, money, jobs, culture. Further, education is a form of statesmanship, of social action. Educational decision-makers have some conception of the social welfare, of ends deemed necessary and desirable. The great issues of public education are really great issues of public policy. This was a truth well known, for example, in the 1930s (one thinks immediately of George S. Counts, School and Society in Chicago), but then forgotten.1 Recently a new generation of political scientists has begun to study the political conditions of the school's exis­tence. Wallace Sayre, Thomas Eliot, and David Easton wrote the trumpet call arti­cles in the late 1950s.2  Then, in the early 1960s, Syracuse University Press tried single-handedly to make up for past years of neglect with its "Economics and Politics of Public Education" series.3 In Sayre's review of the latter series in this journal in November 1963, he stated that, if educators respond not defensively but with comparable analytical skill and discipline, the field will never again be as self-contained, as isolationist as in recent de­cades, and a new and fruitful collaboration will have been inaugurated. In the last ten years an extraordinarily rich and varied lit­erature has appeared on all phases of the polities of education by professors of educational administration as well as political scientists.4 Still, there is a need for continuing analysis of how the public schools are governed and a need to inter­pret these findings for the general public.


This is Diane Ravitch's contribution in The Great School Wars, an unpretentious and extremely readable account of four important episodes, "school wars," in New York City's educational history.

Most of the time educational systems may be said to rest in a state of equilibrium, what English sociologist P. W. Musgrave calls a "truce situation," the end product of a political compromise between conflict­ing interests.5 When strains become suffi­ciently intense, the equilibrium breaks down; an emergency situation exists which is usually resolved by a negotiated peace, and a subsequent "redefinition of the situa­tion," or a new "truce situation." These emergency situations are important be­cause they reveal in a flash, so to speak, where political power resides. The Great School Wars vividly portrays four emergency situations from 1805 until the late 1960s, spanning the clash between Catholics and Protestants in the early 1840s; the battle for centralization and professionalization in the late 1890s; the crusade for efficiency and economy in the immediate pre-World War I years; and the controversy over integration, decentraliza­tion, and community control of the schools in the 1960s. In each case the management of the public schools was bitterly disputed. But "The political system of the city and state, which . . . aims to compromise dif­ferences and pacify discontent, on each oc­casion engineered a political solution which . . . (terminated) the contest."

The first great school "war" occurred between Catholics and Protestants over the question of public funds for sectarian schools. Between 1795 and 1825, all city schools, most of which were under philan­thropic or church sponsorship, received direct financial support from state funds.

In 1805, a nonsectarian group of the city's business elite, headed by DeWitt Clinton, the city's mayor, founded the Free School Society "for the education of such poor children as do not belong to, or are not provided for by any religious soci­ety." Some years later, it adopted the name "Public School Society" and rapidly be­came the most powerful educational or­ganization in New York. From 1825, New York City's share of the state school fund was given exclusively to the Public School Society; by 1839, it was enrolling more than 20,000 children in its schools. For those children who were Catholic, how­ever, their clergy had other ideas.

The Catholic population of New York City rose from 1,300 in 1800 to 100,000 in 1850, largely due to the great Irish immigra­tion. As Catholics increased from about 2 percent to about 19 percent of the city's population, they were perceived as a grow­ing threat to the safety and well-being of the city's majority Protestant population. The first Catholic school was opened in 1801 and almost immediately began to receive state school monies along with other de­nominational schools. In 1815, another Catholic school opened its doors and began to receive state funds. This pluralistic ar­rangement was challenged by the Free School Society. Alarmed by the expansion of the Catholic schools as well as those of the Bethel Baptist Church, the Free School Society succeeded in 1825 in its campaign to exclude all denominational schools from obtaining state aid and to gain for itself a monopoly of "public" schooling. So now, as Ravitch points out, the city had a school system operated by public funds, but controlled by a private board of trus­tees. Most Protestants in the city ac­quiesced in this new arrangement; after all, the Free School Society was a quasi-Protestant society, the instruction in its schools was largely Protestant, non-denominational Protestant to be sure, but still Protestant in text and orientation.

By   1840, there   were   eight   Catholic parochial   schools   enrolling   more   than 3,000 children—about one third of Catholic children of school age in the city at the time. Angered by the mounting anti-Catholic prejudice, increasingly aware of their own growing political power as the main prop of the city's Democratic Party, encouraged by the sympathetic attitude of the state's Whig governor, William Seward, and led by the young, combative Bishop John Hughes, Catholics reopened the question of public aid to denomina­tional schools. In 1840, Catholics petitioned the city's Common Council for school funds, precipitating a bitter three-year conflict with the Free School Society.


The Common Council, after acrimoni­ous debate, decided against Hughes and his followers. Hughes then appealed to Se-ward and the state legislature. In the mean­time, while the state debated the issue, Hughes decided to enter politics directly, nominating at Carroll Hall a slate of legisla­tive candidates which excluded all Demo­crats who would not actively support the Catholic claim. The elections of November 1841 ended in a Democratic victory in which the only New York City Democrats to lose were those rejected at Carroll Hall, and in which even the winners depended on Catholic swing votes. The Public School Society agreed to remove from its schools all material offensive to Catholics. Hughes was not to be appeased, however. To Hughes, the very idea of "common schools," schools without religious in­struction, was anathema. He sought public support of Catholic schools, that is, a re­turn to the pluralistic system of pre-1825; or he would destroy the Public School Soci­ety and "cause an entire separation of our children from those schools and excite greater zeal on the part of the people for Catholic education." In April 1842, the newly-elected state legislature enacted and Seward signed the Maclay Bill, signaling the end of the Public School Society. Pub­licly elected ward trustees and ward com­missioners were to establish and supervise all new public schools. Hasty amendments provided for a central board of commissioners and prohibited sectarian teaching in the public schools. In 1853 the Public School Society turned over all its schools to the city's board of education. Almost inadvertently, as Ravitch remarks, the people of New York City had a public school system.

The result then was a highly visible polit­ical resolution of conflicting interests. For Catholics the hated Public School Society was defeated. But Hughes had set out to obtain public aid for Catholic schools, and he had failed (though Catholics could, and would, exert their influence in the wards where they were numerous). And the city had a public school system, publicly funded, publicly controlled by elected local or ward school boards, an outcome which none of the participants had sought. Now Hughes decided to abandon the public schools and devote his energy and talents to the establishment of a privately financed Catholic school system in New York City.

The ward school system was decentrali­zation and community control with a ven­geance. Each ward was the equivalent of an independent school district. Local boards of trustees had power to appoint and dismiss teachers, determine salaries, establish holidays, procure supplies, and control expenditures. What a splendid op­portunity for patronage. There was neither a merit system for jobs nor competitive bidding for contracts. And it was all largely controlled by Tammany, its base of power securely resting in the city's huge immi­grant population. (Interestingly, even in the heyday of the Tweed Ring, the schools were pretty clean, "almost alone among the public departments of this city," ac­cording to investigators.) After some greater centralization in the office of the mayor during the Boss Tweed years, the schools returned to the ward system of school governance in 1873 under reform Mayor William Havemeyer: a twenty-one-member board of education appointed by the mayor; the board responsible for appointing five trustees for each ward; three inspectors for each of seven school districts, appointed by the mayor; the city school superintendent possessing little power except to examine prospective teachers and inspect classes. The ward trustees hired teachers, selected sites for schools, awarded contracts for fuel, books, and other supplies. The local district in­spectors monitored the work of the ward trustees. The board of education's main responsibility was that of selecting the local trustees. As Ravitch notes, the Irish prospered. Their political power was re­flected in the number of Irish teachers employed by the ward trustees. After 1870, about 20 percent of the teaching staff was Irish; in wards which were heavily Irish it was not unusual to find public schools staffed almost entirely by Irish teachers.


This local ward system of school man­agement was to last some forty years be­fore it came under attack for being parti­san, unprofessional, inefficient, and cor­rupt. In the mid-1890s the city's reform leadership (Protestant clergymen, mer­chants, civic leaders, prominent lawyers, and philanthropists), led by Nicholas Mur­ray Butler and the Public Education Asso­ciation, mobilized to evict the Tammany rascals and to modernize the school sys­tem. The abolition of ward school boards and school trustees became a crusade, al­most as emotionally laden as the call for community control in the late 1960s. In 1894, the city's "best men" (the Commit­tee of One Hundred, the Committee of Seventy, the City Club, the Good Gov­ernment Clubs) confronted Tammany. Reform of the schools was a central plank in their platform. To the reformers, the is­sues were clearly drawn: "On the one side stood Tammany, local control, the ward trustee system, corruption, favorit­ism, nepotism, inefficiency . . . and back­ward schools. On the other were the re­formers, centralized control, profession­al supervision, businesslike administra­tion . . . and modern schools." Reform candidate William Strong was elected two years later, and the school reformers won an almost total victory. The ward system was abolished, and the forty-six-man board of education was replaced by a streamlined twenty-one-man board ap­pointed by the mayor.

If Butler led the school reform move­ment, William H. Maxwell consolidated it. Under Superintendent of Schools Maxwell (1898-1918), centralization, professionalization, and bureaucratization became a re­ality; the New York City school system became a very model of the large-scale in­dustrial organizations rapidly emerging at the turn of the century. Power over the edu­cational work of the schools was now lodged in the hands of professional educators.

Implicit in this particular school war once again was the question of group rep­resentation: Whose views of public policy should prevail in education? As Samuel P. Hays put it in a broader but related context: Turn-of-the-century municipal reformers wanted "not simply to replace bad men with good; they proposed to change the occupational and class origins of decision-makers."6 To the reformers, poli­tics was not the Aristotelian science and art of government, but a term of abuse, a dis­ease to be combatted, eliminated, or cured by means of expertise and scientific man­agement. Their reforms could also be viewed as a technique to ensure their domination a little while longer of the city's public school system, "one of the last enclaves of the gentleman in public office."7

In 1914, Tammany was swept out of of­fice, and a new reform administration led by John Purroy Mitchel took over. The fusion platform on which Mitchel was elected was pledged to economy, efficien­cy, and home rule. Mitchel's administra­tion was immediately faced with one of the school's periodic crises, this one oc­casioned by the huge influx of immigrant children. The city's educational system under Maxwell was, in fact, responding to its new clientele, but too slowly. The schools were overcrowded, with many children studying on a part-time basis. "Progressive" innovations, such as in­dustrial education and the extension of child welfare services of all sorts, were controversial and expensive.


The criticisms that New Yorkers had of their school system: that it wasn't prepar­ing youth for the work of life; that it wasn't holding youth long enough; that it wasn't adjusted to the social needs of the city; and that it was too expensive, were not unique. In fact, they were typical of a nationwide spirit of municipal unrest which led pro­gressives in a desperate search for a final solution to the problems of urban educa­tion. At the Second National Conference on Vocational Guidance in New York City in 1912, some reformers were saying that the answer had been found by Superinten­dent of Schools William A. Wirt in Gary, Indiana. Little known in that year, the "Gary Plan" soon swept the country. The Gary Plan, or the "platoon school" plan or the "work-study-play" plan, as it was var­iously known, seemed destined to trans­form American public education.

Wirt was invited by Mayor Mitchel to New York as an educational consultant in the fall of 1914 at $10,000/year for two years, for one week's work each month (Superintendent Maxwell's annual salary). A few public schools were Garyized on an experimental basis in 1914. In September 1915, Mitchel asked for funds to extend the Gary Plan, and the storm burst. The Gary School War lasted two years, 1915-1917. The plan had many friends, including the Mitchel administration, the Public Educa­tion Association, the Women's Municipal League, the City Club, and the New York Times. But advocates of the Gary Plan hadn't counted either on the opposition of Maxwell and his board of superintendents, whom the Mayor and his hand-picked board of education had bypassed, or on the resistance of the teachers, whose numbers city Comptroller William Prendergast threatened to cut by 10 percent!

Mitchel ran for reelection on the Gary Plan in 1917. Immigrant parents, especially on the Lower East Side and in the Bronx, suspicious of the industrial features of the Gary Plan and the educational bureaucracy led by Maxwell and his board of superin­tendents, revolted. Their cause was taken up by Tammany Hall and the Hearst-controlled New York Journal and New York American, which were able to make marvelous political capital of the connec­tion between the U. S. Steel Corporation and the Gary School Plan (which, of course, bore the name of the head of U. S. Steel). "We will banish the imported Gary system, which aims to make our public schools an annex to the mill and factory," proclaimed the Democratic platform. In vain, the mayor, the New York Times, the Women's Municipal League, and the Pub­lic Education Association, tried to reas­sure the city.

The election of 1917 ended in a debacle for reform. What many progressives be­lieved the best administration the city had ever known was decisively repudiated. Tammany came back to power with the greatest plurality for any mayoral candi­date in the city's history up to that time. Judge John F. "Red Mike" Hylan, a Tam­many hack, carried every borough and al­most doubled Mitchel's vote. Even the Socialist candidate, Morris Hillquit, re­ceived only a shade fewer votes than Mitchel. The causes of the fusion disaster were complex. But Mitchel's extreme ef­fort to force the Gary system down the throats of New Yorkers must also be given a prominent place in any explanation for his failure to win reelection.

The election over, the Gary system ceased to be an object of excitement in New York City. It disappeared from pub­lic discussion as suddenly as it arose. The city's board of education gave orders to dismantle the shops and "de-Garyize" the schools, and it went back, under Tam­many, to the erstwhile progressive notion


of "a seat for every child." The city's pub­lic schools were recaptured by the educa­tional experts, the politicians, and the ethnics. Ironically, the reformers had fought for a smaller, more efficient board of education and won this fight; in 1917, the board of education was reduced to seven. But Hylan, not Mitchel, appointed the sev­en. Subsequently, as Lowi puts it, the board was pushed "irrevocably into the vortex of politics." "Especially," he con­tinues, "has the Board of Education since 1918 provided a dramatic example of the development of ethno-religious politics" in the city, i.e., the "balanced ticket."8

After World War II, a new group of im­migrants, mostly blacks and Puerto Ricans, crowded into the city, eager to get their share of the prizes of politics and edu­cation. Ravitch notes that, instead of at­tacking job discrimination, unemployment or underemployment, minority groups turned to the schools to break the vicious cycle of poverty and discrimination.9

The school scene was quiet. No great issues of public education had been de­bated since the LaGuardia years. Then in the mid-1950s, on the heels of Brown r. Board of Education and the Public Educa­tion Association's report on segregation in the city schools, the dam broke. The first response to the claims of the city's new minority groups was the school integration movement. But this phase of school reform was stymied by the resistance of parents, white, black, and Puerto Rican, to the vol­untary or forced transfer of children, then stopped dead by the fact, that black and Puerto Rican children had become a major­ity of the school register. Still, reformers seemed reluctant to confess some prob­lems insoluble. Their will-to-believe in panaceas is epitomized in State Commis­sioner of Education James E. Alien, Jr.'s "Desegregating the Public Schools of New York City" (1964), a report hailed as a "battle-plan for the civil rights move­ment," "a model for every Northern city," in the words of the NAACP. In reality, it was not a plan to desegregate the schools. In fact, Ravitch notes, while stating force­fully the education and moral virtues of integrated schools, the Alien report vividly detailed the demographic and sociological factors which made citywide integration unattainable. Yet Alien urged the city to attain the impossible and the city's board of education was instructed to implement it. The net results were that expectations were raised by an agency which had no responsibility to implement its proposals and that attempts at implementation could only heighten frustration and conflict in the city.

In 1965, after twenty-two years of Democratic rule, reform and the "best men" returned, now led by Mayor John V. Lindsay, the former congressman of New York's silkstocking district. Among the nation's municipalities, Ravitch points out, none reacted more earnestly to the de­mands for participatory democracy than the Lindsay administration. More and more in the late 1960s school reform moved from decentralization of the educational bureaucracy, around which there was a broad coalition, to the more radical com­munity control. It was over the issue of community control in the late 1960s, espe­cially in 1968 at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, that the normal political process almost broke down, to be replaced by the politics of putsch. For anyone interested, here is a case study on how to fight the system and lose. Indeed, the failures of school reform­ers in the late 1960s were so gross they seem almost to have been a matter of de­sign, as time after time the reformers snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, every concession dismissed as "token­ism." The coalition in favor of school de­centralization dissolved on the issue of community control. In favor of the latter was an odd coalition of City Hall, board of education, state commissioner of edu­cation, Ford Foundation, new left, a large portion of. the intellectual community, and spokesmen for minority groups, with some exceptions like Bayard Rustin. Op­posed was the UFT, which in 1961 had become the bargaining agent for the city's more than 43,000 teachers, and groups like PAT, and a small segment of the intellectual community, the old left, and the old ethnics—Jews and Irish and Italian Catholics.


Regarding the crisis at Ocean Hill-Brownsville, Ravitch is critical of the board of education, of the several superin­tendents of schools, and of the Ford Foun-.dation which "funded the demonstration precipitously, without concern for the adequacy of the plans and without regard to the consequences for the participants." She is also critical of the New York Civil Liberties Union which "might have been expected to defend the teachers' academic freedom and right of due process," but which instead "blamed the controversy on the UFT's desire to wreck decentralization and prevent community control." Ravitch has some especially sharp comments re­garding the role of the Education Task Force, part of the New York Urban Coali­tion, "a close approximation of the corpo­rate power structure in the city." She is fair to the UFT, though here is a case where fairness required a "tilt" in favor of the UFT.

Notwithstanding inept leadership and egregious errors in tactics and strategy on the part of the minorities and their allies in Mayor Lindsay and City Hall, Lindsay's board of education, the Ford Foundation, and a large portion of the intellectual com­munity, the "outs" finally did secure for themselves a place in the governance of the city's educational system. That they did is due in no small measure to the decency, the courage, and the political savvy of Albert Shanker and the UFT. School politics will go on in New York City. But now with this difference. The UFT's victory has estab­lished it as a political power in the city and state and one of the most powerful unions in the nation. A strong trade union organi­zation of teachers now exists, one with close ties to organized labor. This is a fact of life not true in the aftermath of earlier school wars. How the UFT will use its power remains to be seen. So far as the experiment in community control, Ravitch points out that, in fact, elected parent-controlled boards tend to be more con­servative, more bound to traditional approaches than most professional ed­ucators. And there is little proof that the children's education is enhanced. Finally, the state legislature passed and Governor Rockefeller signed a new school law in April 1969 providing for UFT-supported school decentralization; the demon­stration school districts, like the Gary schools in 1917, were dismantled.

In the late 1960s there occurred what Wirt and Kirst label a "new politicization of American schools." This new politici­zation of the schools has, of course, an historical dimension. In decades past, par­ticipants in the political process—WASPS, Irish and Italian Catholics, Jews, the edu­cational bureaucracy, etc.—have im­plemented their educational values in law and procedures. It is not to be unexpected, therefore, that new groups with new educa­tional values should seek to move the schools to redefine standards of gover­nance, curricula, and teaching. In this perspective, then, there is similarity in the past and present efforts of distressed groups to demand of the political system that it accommodate their interests. There is similarity, too, through the decades in the concomitant efforts of authorities to convert these demands in a way they expect will best cope with stress.

Ravitch then does touch on some very fundamental issues and provides some in­teresting details. On the other hand (there's always the reviewer's "other hand"), the title of this work is misleading. These are not "wars," and Ravitch is not a war cor­respondent. The "great school wars" has little to do with school "wars," and much to do with school politics. And it goes on all the time. As Wirt and Kirst put it, "the schools' involvement in the political process (is) intrinsic not accidental, and permanent, not occasional." So if Ra­vitch is serious about the connection be­tween politics and education, there can never be a time "between the wars," Ra-vitch's title for her Iransitional chapters. And since she patently wishes to demythol-ogize the governance of public educa­tion, her title becomes even less satis­factory.


Each of the "school wars" described by Ravitch could profit from a full-length book of its own; the first already has one.10 And there are already several books out on the controversies of the 1960s with different interpretations of the same events por­trayed here, and with no doubt, more books to come.11 Ravitch's treatment of her four case studies is then inevitably sketchy. To give one example, one really can't understand the UFT's position in the 1960s without knowing more about its his­tory.12 Having said this, perhaps it's unfair to mention one episode Ravitch neglects. It occurred in the 1930s. Not the Harlem riots of 1935 nor Fiorello LaGuardia's inept at­tempts in the late 1930s and early 1940s to throw his weight around in the board of education, followed by his rebuke sub­sequent to a full-scale investigation by the National Education Association. Rather, I refer to the transformation in the public schools' curricula principles and practices inaugurated in 1934 by LaGuardia's board of education and his Superintendent of Schools Harold B. Campbell and known as the "activity program." As Ravitch acknowledges, educational progressives found in Campbell an "articulate advocate of their fondest hopes." He and his board of superintendents simply redefined educa­tional retardation out of existence by deemphasizing the formal curriculum, standards, and grades: "No longer did the school speak of failure or retardation, but of maladjustment, social problems, and personality difficulties." No "school war," but an extremely worthy subject of investigation for all of that, i.e., the subtle politics with which these extraordinary in­novations were accomplished. The imposi­tion of the activity curriculum might well be viewed as a product of a contest in which there are stakes and prizes, contes­tants and rules governing the strategies of the contestants.13


Of course, New York's experience is important. Many cities have faced similar "wars." The New York experience should sensitize the reader to certain influ­ences and relationships which are likely to be found in other large cities. Still, I'm puzzled why the case study method Ravitch employs couldn't have been pro­fitably supplemented by some comparative study.14 For readers of this journal there is a charming naivete here, a naivete absent, incidentally, in Ravitch's book reviews and articles.15 Thus Nicholas Murray Butler is described as "a white Anglo-Saxon Protes­tant" (italics mine). Regarding the cult of the expert, Ravitch turns amateur psychologist: "It was, though uncon­sciously, an elitist philosophy" (italics mine). Many groups in this book are "un­consciously" this or that. Ravitch's moral orientation, especially flagrant in her first section, is also a distraction. The trustees of the Public School Society are selfish and self-interested. On the other hand, Gover­nor Seward is "idealistic." But the trustees were not all that ignoble; Seward not all that altruistic. Seward may have been con­cerned with improving or extending public education to all the city's children for "idealistic" reasons. But surely he in­tended also to win or., yes, to buy Catholic votes by subsidizing Catholic schools; it was good politics.16 In Ravitch's last sec­tion, racism is assumed, not argued. Perhaps this term should be put in cold storage, at least until we are able to use it more accurately and honestly.

Finally, with any thoroughgoing concep­tion of the politics of education, Ravitch could not conclude with a list of school "problems" still "unsolved." In politics


there are no final solutions, only resolu­tions of conflict, which are concrete, specific, and dependent upon time and place and circumstance. The fundamental political and historical question is who gets what, when, and how for a particular era in time. There are no permanent solutions to problems in the "unheavenly city." Ravitch knows this to be true at the begin­ning of her book, but forgets it at the end.

I suppose then what is most surprising is the lack of sophistication in the political framework for analyses. One really needs to have a better grasp of the political mat­rix, the political web in which the schools exist, to understand the episodes described here. For example, the politics of educa­tion as waged at the state level is virtually ignored after the 1840s, as is the Catholic Church as an interest group. Nor do I un­derstand the lengthy and caustic references to Professor Marilyn Gittell. Professor Gittell gets more space than the pathetic and blundering mayor of the city who ac­quiesced in the politics of putsch in Ocean Hill-Brownsville. This is the man who the Herald-Tribune in early 1964 referred to as the "East's brightest Republican star," Rockefeller's potential successor, and more, a presidential aspirant.17 Lindsay's role, his fate, is neglected. Again, the prob­lem is one of organizing the parts into a whole. The solution was simply to adopt some conception, some "system" or "model" of the politics of education. . To understand who is doing what, with whom, for what stakes, with what strategies, and with what consequences, Ravitch might have employed the perspective, the in­sights, the nomenclature provided by Sayre and Kaufman's Governing New York City, or at least exploited Sayre's no­tion of the "field of forces."18 Finally, those who expect comprehensive foot­notes and bibliography will be disappointed. The Great School Wars then is theoreti­cally weak. But this is a first book by a young and skilled journalist turning schol­ar. Ravitch's writing is clear, crisp, un­adorned, and forceful. The cast of charac­ters and their achievements are neatly and economically sketched and the pages en­livened with provocative asides. Undoubt­edly, Ravitch fulfills a need for knowledge and understanding of a difficult and con­troversial decade. The public will find The Great School Wars a relevant and informa­tive overview of a critical period, while scholars will be encouraged to look anew at New York's educational history.

ENDNOTES

1    George S. Counts. School and Society in Chicago. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and Co., 1928. And in the 1930s, Charles E. Merriam. The Making of Citizens. New York: Teachers College Press, 1966(1931); Jesse H. Newlon. Educational Administra­tion as Social Policy, Report of the Com­mission of the Social Studies, Part III. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934; Bruce Raup. Education and Organized In­terests in America. New York: Putnam and Sons, 1936; Nelson B. Henry and Jerome G. Kerwin. Schools and City Government. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1938; John A. Vieg. The Government of Education in Metropolitan Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1939; and V. O. Key, Jr. Politics, Parties and Pressure Groups. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1942, Ch. 24, "Education as Politics.


2   David Easton, "The Function of Formal Education in a Political System," School Review, Vol. 65, August 1957, pp. 304-316; Wallace S. Sayre, "Additional Observa­tions on the Study of Administration," Teachers College Record, Vol. 60, No. 2, November 1958, pp. 73-76; and Thomas H. Eliot, "Toward an Understanding of Public School Politics," American Political Sci­ence Review, Vol. 53, December 1959, pp. 103-251.

3    There are twelve monographs in the series—studies by economists, political scientists, and sociologists. Especially sig­nificant are: Stephen K. Bailey et. al. Schoolmen and Politics: A Study of State Aid to Education in the Northeast. Syra­cuse, N. Y.: University of Syracuse Press, 1962; Roscoe C. Martin. Government and the Suburban School. Syracuse, N. Y.: Uni­versity of Syracuse Press, 1962; and Warner Bloomberg, Jr. and Morris Sunshine. Sub­urban Power Structures and Public Educa­tion. Syracuse, N.Y.: University of Syra­cuse Press, 1963. Also in the early 1960s there appeared the masterful Wallace S. Sayre and Herbert S. Kaufman. Governing New York City. New York: Russell Sage Foundation, 1960. Also relevant and impor­tant for our purpose is Theodore J. Lowi. A t the Pleasure of the Mayor: Patronage and Power in New York City, 1896-1958. New York: Free Press, 1964, a monographic ex­tension of the Sayre and Kaufman volume.

4 E. g., Frederick M. Wirt and Michael W. Kirst. The Political Web of American Schools. Boston: Little, Brown, 1972; Michael W. Kirst, ed. The Politics of Edu­cation at the Local, State, and Federal Levels. Berkeley, Calif.: McCutchan, 1970; Jay D. Scribner. "The Politics of Educa­tional Reform: Analyses of Political De­mand," Urban Education, Vol. 4, 1970, pp. 348-374; Laurence lannaccone. Politics in Education. New York: Center for Applied Research in Education, 1967; Robert Grain. The Politics of School Desegregation. Chicago: Aldine, 1968; Philip Meranto. The Politics of Federal Aid to Education in 1965. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1967; Ralph B. Kimbrough. Political Power and Educational Decision Making. Chicago: Rand McNally, 1964; Nicholas A. Masters et. al. State Politics and the Public Schools. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964; Robert H. Salisbury, "Schools and Politics in the Big City," Harvard Educational Re­view, Vol. 37, Summer 1967, pp. 408-424; and Alan Rosenthal. Pedagogues and Pow­er: Teacher Groups in School Politics. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1969.

5    P. W. Musgrave, "A Model for the Analysis of the Development of the English Educa­tional System from 1860," in P. W. Mus­grave, ed. Sociology, History and Educa­tion. London: Methuen and Co., 1970, pp. 16-17.

6    Samuel P. Hays, "The Politics of Reform in Municipal Government in the Progressive Era," Pacific Northwest Quarterly, Oc­tober 1964, p. 163.

7    Lowi, op. cit., p. 29ff.

8    It was difficult to create a balance with seven members. In 1948 the size of the board was increased to nine, ibid., pp. 31-33. Lowi has some fascinating material here which could just as well provide an important footnote to Ravitch's first school war. Thus the Catholic "defeat" on the school issue has been tempered through the decades by control of important posts in city government, e.g., Catholic mayors, 1914-1933 and 1946-1964 and almost com­plete Catholic control of the posts of fire commissioner, police commissioner, and buildings commissioner. See his Ch. 7.

9    David K. Cohen, "Education and Race," History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 10, Fall 1969, p. 284ff, pursues this line a bit further.

10    Vincent P. Lannie. Public Money and Parochial Education: Bishop Hughes, Governor Seward, and the New York School Controversy. Cleveland, O.: Case Western Reserve University Press, 1968.

11    David Rogers. 110 Livings ton Street: Poli­tics and Bureaucracy in the New York City School Systems. New York: Vintage, 1968; Bert E. Swanson. The Struggle for Equali­ty: School Integration Controversy in New York City. New York: Hobbs, Dorman, 1966; Marilyn Gittell. Participants and Par­ticipation: A Study of School Politics in New York City. New York: Center for Urban Education, 1967; Martin Mayer. The Teachers Strike: New York, 1968. New York: Harper & Row, 1968; Marilyn Gittell et al. School Decentralization and School Policy in New York City. New York: Praeger, 1971. There's a representative col­lection of articles in Maurice R. Berube and Marilyn Gittell, eds. Confrontation at Ocean Hill-Brownsville: The New York School Strikes of 1968. New York: Praeger, 1969.

12    Rosenthal, op. cit.; Celia Lewis Zitron. The New York City Teachers Union, 1916-1964. New York: Humanities Press, 1968; Stephen Cole. The Unionization of Teachers: A Case Study of the UFT. New York: Praeger, 1969; Robert J. Braun. Teachers and Power: The Study of the American Federation of Teachers. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1972; and Hol­land Dewing, "The American Federation of Teachers and Desegregation," The Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 42, Winter 1973, p. 79ff.

13   Michael W. Kirst and Decker F. Walker, "An Analysis of Curriculum Policy-Making, " Review of Educational Research, Vol. 41, December 1971, pp. 479-501. The latter conclude that curriculum is not only influenced by political events, "it is an im­portant political process in many ways," p. 480. See also Kirst and Wirt, op. cit., Ch. 10; and Jerome Bruner, "Culture, Politics and Pedagogy," Saturday Review, May 18, 1968, pp. 69-70.

14   Vincent P. Lannie and Bernard C. Die-thorn, "For the Honor and Glory of God: The Philadelphia Bible Riots of 1844," His­tory of Education Quarterly," Vol. 8, Spring 1968, pp. 44-106; Elinore Mondale Gersman, "Progressive Reform of the St. Louis School Board, 1897," History of Education Quarterly," Vol. 10, Spring 1970, pp. 3-21; William H. Issel, "Moderni­zation in Philadelphia School Reform 1882-1905," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 94, July 1970, pp. 358-383; David Tyack, "Bureaucracy and the Common School: The Example of Portland, Oregon, 1851-1913," American Quarterly, Vol. 19, Fall 1967, pp. 475-498; Michael B. Katz, "The Emergency of Bureaucracy in Urban Education: The Bos­ton Case, 1850-1884," History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 8, Summer 1968, pp. 155-188, and Fall 1968, pp. 319-357; Counts, op. cit.; Lillian B. Rubin. Busing and Backlash: White Against White in a California School District. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972; and Joseph M. Cronin. The Control of Urban Schools: Perspective on the Power of Education Reformers. New York: Free Press, 1973.

15     Ravitch's writing here seems labored in comparison with her book reviews and arti­cles. E.g., Ravitch treats the Ford Founda­tion more acutely in her "Foundations: Playing God in the Ghetto," The Center Forum, Vol. 3, May 15, 1969, pp. 24-27. See also her sharp "Community Control Re­visited," Commentary, Vol. 53, February 1972, pp. 69-74.

16    John W. Pratt, "Religious Conflict in the Development of the New York City Public School System," History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 5, June 1965, p. 111ff.

17    David S. Seeley, "A Big City Mayor Tries His Hand at School Reform," in Frank W. Lutz, ed. Toward Improved Urban Educa­tion. Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1970, p. 187ff. See also Nat Hentoff. A Political Life: The Education of John Lindsay. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1969, p. 21; and Mayer, op. cit., p. 12, passim.

18    Sayre, "Additional Observations on the Study of Administration," op. cit., pp. 72-73. There is also the Easton-influenced "systems analysis" approach in Wirt and Kirst, op. cit., and Scribner, op. cit. For more specific issues there is also theoretical help at hand, e.g., Robert F. Lyke, "Politi­cal Issues in School Decentralization," in Kirst, The Politics of Education at the Lo­cal, State and Federal Levels, op. cit.; and Michael Lipsky, "Protest as a Political Re­source," American Political Science Re­view, Vol. 62, December 1968, pp. 1145-1158.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 76 Number 3, 1975, p. 505-515
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1392, Date Accessed: 10/26/2021 4:39:12 PM

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