Beyond These Shores: Internationalizing the History of Education

reviewed by Ronald K. Goodenow - 1983

coverTitle: Beyond These Shores: Internationalizing the History of Education
Author(s): W.F. Connell
Publisher: John Wiley, New York
ISBN: 0807780243, Pages: , Year:
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Historians of American education have generally not framed their work in international or comparative contexts. When they analyze the evolution of such global phenomena as progressive education and policies on higher education, enhanced educational opportunity and multiculturalism, the focus is too often exclusively and misleadingly domestic.

An unfortunate aspect of this situation is that many topics seem to be defined solely within the confines of our national experience and character, giving them an unduly unique quality. Another is that analyses usually overlook the transfer issue. They fail to consider that for much of this century the United States has been a leading exporter of educational influence. “American education,” whether represented by John Dewey, the Carnegie Corporation, the Agency for International Development, the postwar reconstruction of Germany and Japan, the wholesale development of educational systems in American colonies, or the building of universities and teacher training programs in Africa, has been transferred and transformed. Considering the involvement of many of the very same people and institutions responsible for its development at home, far too little has been done to utilize this phenomenon to gain new insight into domestic education. Nor have its links to national education and overall U.S. foreign policy been studied adequately.

This neglect is ironic and unnecessary. Comparative educationists have been interested in some of these issues for many years, spurred by the development of the field of comparative education and the controversies that have swirled around Western-oriented policies. As Robert Cowen noted recently in a special issue of the International Review of Education, “the impact of educational ideas from the various metropolitan centers is now increasingly analysed, and in parts of the world increasingly resisted.“1

Further, some of the newer literature on First-Third World relations, the nature and impact of colonialism and Western cultural imperialism, the media, curriculum materials, and other informal means of socialization and control has been influenced by the historiography of American education. Other studies on reform consider contemporary domestic historical research, and participants in American overseas programs are starting to provide retrospectives considerate of comparative and historical scholarship. Strangely, historians have remained aloof from their own influence.2

Although a few American historians have striven to make the field more cosmopolitan, encouraging international communication and cooperation between national societies, educational history’s current isolation is a luxury to be ill-afforded at this time in our national history. There is ample evidence of growing international illiteracy and isolationism among American students and political leaders. Blacks, Hispanics, and other peoples of Third World ancestry are becoming eligible for higher education at increasing rates here and abroad, and foreign students—the vast majority of whom come from the Third World—continue to flood our universities, all requiring a cosmopolitan and sympathetic environment and solid teaching on international affairs. Argument on many post-World War II foreign and domestic educational policies, moreover, extends beyond the halls of academe. As Cowen and others have suggested, there is scrutiny and criticism throughout the Third World and in many international agencies on the goals and impact of Western “development” and social modernization schemes in which American education has played a powerful, if not a dominant, role.

Domestically, many exporting nations themselves face a confused malaise about systems of public education now under attack from diverse (and often divergent) ideological quarters. Harold Silver, a British historian now engaged in the comparative study of post-World War II educational policies to confront poverty, wrote recently on this mood. “Increasingly in the 1960s and 1970s,” he argues

it has become difficult to recognize educational orthodoxy, to know what is progressive, to identify what is radical. In matters of school provision, what is taught, when and how, there has been endless controversy, experiment, disillusion, and abandonment of the field to whatever and whoever happens at the moment to have the largest visible amount of confidence. Going forward has come to be interpreted as going backward, or nowhere. . . . Locating the issues in a historical discussion is not an evasion of the issues; it is an attempt to find out if the issues exist.3

Locating issues in these perplexing times is one thing. Studying them and becoming engaged in policy debates and formulation is another. Despite some obvious similarities in the work of American historians and comparativists and the importance of the policy dilemmas we now face, it may be unrealistic to expect major changes in historiography or the commitments of academic educational historians. To some the past few years have already seen shifts into research areas that are complex and time-consuming enough. Gender, work, ethnic minorities, urban affairs, teaching, and federal policy require such basic new inquiry that one is tempted to leave the international setting to comparativists or students of foreign policy. This is not to say there would be disagreement with another scholar when he writes that “this important and puzzling period in educational history can probably best be understood by seeing it in comparative perspective. Comparative studies of two nations can help provide meaningful general statements about historical patterns and causes.“4 Unfortunately, however, developing a data base and methodology appropriate to doing so is something else, as is finding a general literature against which new work may be situated.

The transfer issue and these other concerns set this reviewer’s sights in reading the Australian historian W. F. Connell’s A History of Education in the Twentieth Century World. Published in the United States at Teachers College, Columbia University, one of the leading centers of international educational scholarship and influence, the volume’s more than 450 oversized pages are profusely and handsomely illustrated, charted, and footnoted. Oriented to the worldwide adoption of “progressive” educational methods and the use of educational means to fuel the liberal social progress and change now under siege, its chapters range widely and authoritatively, documenting Connell’s contention that

the twentieth century has been a time of profound revolution, and education has played an increasingly important part in fostering and shaping the transformation. . . the movement of education has everywhere been away from a teaching process that is centered in the classroom, is concerned principally with the study of books, and gives the teacher the sole responsibility for planning, directing and conducting the pupil’s education.

Treatments of John Dewey, A. S. Makarenko, and many other educators, educational science, and various aspects of progressive education are complemented by extensive discussion of British, Western European, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, American, and Soviet schooling. Africa, fascist education, and international organizations get useful attention. Overall, this detailed book is both primer and educational grand tour, blending biographical study with sweeping cultural and political generalization.

The virtues of Connell’s book are undeniable. He demonstrates convincingly the international quality of much educational change and reform in this century, rightly emphasizing the work of the New Education Fellowship. His surveys of various national education systems show a commonality of interest in expanding opportunity, differentiating curricula, and meeting a range of vocational challenges. He is somewhat sensitive to industrialization, more integrated national and international economies, and international intellectual transfer and communication on research and policy development. The treatment of Soviet education is detached and that of the responses of Third World peoples to Western educational domination is by and large a sensitive and sensible one. His attention to the use of “progressive” methods in fascist societies is intriguing, as is his narrative on German, Italian, and Soviet youth movements. In his presentation on many societies—the USSR being perhaps the best example—Connell is properly alert to tensions between national and international influences. So, too, he notes conflict between child-centeredness and education for broader social needs, many of which are linked to the demands of modernization or, in the face of growing mass political pressure and the aftermath of war, democratization.

All this being said, there are serious deficiencies to A History of Education in the Twentieth Century World, many of which point to a need for further research and dialogue between historians and comparativists. Taken as a whole, the book’s organization is at times perplexing; the mixing of national and biographical sections with those on broader themes and epochs is confusing and highly distracting, miring comparative motifs in too much detail and chronological discontinuity. There are curious omissions that do real damage. Despite, for example, Connell’s very worthwhile attention to progressive education movements, the chapters on the United States do not seem to benefit from a reading of the work of Lawrence Cremin and other authorities. Hence, progressivism’s definition and history are grossly oversimplified and in some cases—as in his discussion of social reconstructionism—downright misleading. Links between progressivism and liberal politics, professionalization, the internal dynamics of the Progressive Education Association and the New Education Fellowship, as well as other ties and topics, are given too little thought. And, while we read about the important progressive missionary work of T. Percy Nunn, Michael Sadler, Fred Clarke, and many others who endeavored to transfer progressive educational ideas internationally, we learn virtually nothing of what motivated their progressivism. A closer reading of their careers would turn up biases rooted in an emergent British Commonwealth ethos inclusive of administrative, religious, and cultural values reminiscent of some of David Tyack and Elisabeth Hansot’s conclusions on twentieth-century American administrative progressives. Too, Connell overlooks the central role of powerful schools of education, such as Clarke and Nunn’s University of London Institute of Education and Teachers College, Columbia University, in the transmission of liberal educational ideas and mechanisms throughout the world.5

To be fair, Connell’s neglect on this last point is part of a larger one, for scholars have yet to discover the international roles of such institutions in disseminating research, curricula, educational consultants, theory, and administrators. But significant links between the international progressive education movement and the evolution of Anglo-American policies on African education at governmental and nongovernmental levels are also missed, and with less justification because Connell takes up the general topic of African education. He does, for example, spend ample time on the 1920s “progressivism” of the Phelps-Stokes reports, the work of the American funded Advisory Committee on Education in the Colonies, and other colonial and independence-era developments. Missing, however, is a critical analysis of the transfer of the Hampton-Tuskegee ideal to Africa by Thomas Jesse-Jones and American philanthropists, missionaries, and educationists, which could, as Kenneth King has in Pan-Africanism and Education, show the conservative side of a progressive education so readily celebrated in the book.6 Again, the reader suffers from lack of both a critical perspective and a reasonable understanding of recent interpretive trends.

Now, one need not accept the arguments or conclusions of revisionist scholars who have stirred so much controversy in recent years, but these critical comparativists and historians cannot be ignored any more than should the work of Cremin, especially because the matter of transfer has become important in the literature of the former. What we end up with here is another book built around some rather shopworn notions on modernization and the apparent struggles of enlightened educators to control technology, mass communications, social change, and the socialization of the child. So, while he acknowledges that much pre-twentieth century education was “class bound,” the concept of class disappears almost entirely among the efforts of Connell’s valiant progressives; the relationship between educational leadership, schooling, and social stratification in this century is only hinted at. He leaves his audience with too little insight into the overall international relationship between educational change and social mobility, elite formation, and other issues of concern to contemporary scholars—and more than a few progressives like George Counts and Fred Clarke. There are many charts showing how educational systems have been reformed and streamlined but their meaning is far from complete because of a lack of elementary sociological data on the societies under scrutiny. A linked problem is that of bureaucracy—related by many scholars to educational control in this century. Bureaucracy is virtually nonexistent in the book, as is the issue of administration and how ideas about it have been transferred internationally through professional organizations and the schools of education. The revisionist side of this reviewer would thus have welcomed some hard questions. Is there a powerful interlocking set of institutional, financial, research, and personal interests operant globally? And if so, how does it relate to the politics of national interest and any mechanisms for the accumulation and transfer of wealth and power? A set of negative responses that suggest something more autonomous and “altruistic” would at least have given us an interpretation to chew on.

To cite one or two additional examples, Connell’s obliviousness to much contemporary scholarship hurts elsewhere. He discusses the rise of educational psychology in detail and as he does so we become vaguely aware that there may have been some (minimal) concern about ethnic bias. Yet his wholly uncritical, if not effusive, narrative does not refer to key controversies over the World War I Alpha/Beta testing he discusses in some detail or the occasionally racist conclusions of Cyril Burt, Edward Thorndike, T. P. Nunn, and other “progressives” who influenced the uses of testing in the Third World.7 Recent work in the United States and Britain that extends the debate over testing beyond race into areas of class bias is similarly unacknowledged. Further, if a lengthy treatment of the evolution of educational research is in some respects useful, it considers inadequately links between it and educational policy development and control. This is part of Connell’s larger neglect of rapidly changing policy areas, including, in the case of the United States, the role of the federal government, the impact of the Brown v. Topeka decision, the subsequent civil rights movement and battles over Northern segregation. The presentation on UNESCO—where many progressive ideas and educators took root—is  helpful and long overdue, but it overlooks the interplay of national-interest politics and over bureaucratization that has plagued that organization’s policies and effectiveness since its inception.8 Most sadly, one would never know that progressive education and the much lauded John Dewey have been subject to much debate and revisionism.9

As it stands, then, this new book reads like a relative of many of the international yearbooks once produced at Teachers College and the London Institute and the treatments of the “new education” to be found in the pages of The New Era and Progressive Education. National developments and influential personalities are better described than the actual dynamics of international educational relations and transfer. Discussion of political, economic, and other such conditioning forces as urbanization takes a back seat to optimistic appraisal. Educational knowledge and programs are explained historically, philosophically, and sociologically from a rather traditional pragmatic-positivist social science orientation. There is ample breadth, but erratic depth in terms of demography, politics, the social structural components of national culture, and the lives of young people. A plethora of citations from materials produced by educators, national commissions, and the like is fine, but not enough from scholarly secondary and interpretive sources is utilized.

To conclude, Connell has penned a cosmopolitan grand tour that does offer more detail than anything in a literature still straining to be born properly and for this reason A History of Education in the Twentieth Century World may prove useful to many readers. The discerning critic from virtually any of the nations the book discusses will doubtless find fault-books unread and key questions overlooked-but then a truly global and comprehensive history of education may be as illusory as writing global history itself. At a time of educational (and international) crisis it is valuable to have a stimulus for further discussion and debate as well as a reminder that collaboration between comparativists and historians around such issues as transfer must set the stage for more sophisticated endeavor.


Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 84 Number 3, 1983, p. 753-759 ID Number: 838, Date Accessed: 5/25/2022 10:22:48 PM

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