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Many Educational Pasts: Conservative Visions and Revisions of American Educational History


by Adam Laats — 2012

Background/Context: Recent attention to Texas’s revision of its state social-studies curricula has focused on the Texas School Board’s conservative vision of America’s history. Texas is not alone. Conservative educational activists have achieved a great deal of success in recent years in revising the historical narrative prescribed for America’s schoolchildren.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This article argues that in the past six decades conservative activists have offered not one but many visions of America’s history. Educational history in particular has been the subject of energetic and conflicting attempts at revision. This article surveys the themes common among conservative educational histories from the 1950s until the first decade of the twenty-first century.

Research Design: The article first examines the broad historical outline used by most conservative educational activists. To flesh out that outline and move beyond overly simplistic generalizations, the article then looks at four specific conservative activists—Milton Friedman, Max Rafferty, Sam Blumenfeld, and Henry Morris—to examine their significant differences in close detail.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Conservatives have used these different visions of America’s educational past to promote specific reform programs in their own times. This article suggests that anyone interested in understanding the contest for contemporary educational policy must understand the variety of contending conservative visions of the educational past.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 114 Number 3, 2012, p. 1-25
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16300, Date Accessed: 4/18/2014 4:04:07 AM

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About the Author
  • Adam Laats
    Binghamton University
    E-mail Author
    ADAM LAATS is assistant professor of education and history at Binghamton University (SUNY). This article was the result of his work as a National Academy of Education/ Spencer Foundation Postdoctoral Fellow. He is currently working on a history of conservative educational activism in the twentieth century. His first book, Fundamentalism and Education in the Scopes Era: God, Darwin, and the Roots of America’s Culture Wars, was published in May 2010 by Palgrave Macmillan.
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