School, Society, and State
A New Education to Govern Modern America, 1890-1940
“Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife,” wrote John Dewey in his classic work The School and Society. In School, Society, and State, Tracy Steffes places that idea at the center of her exploration of the connections between public school reform in the early twentieth century and American political development from 1890 to 1940.
American public schooling, Steffes shows, was not merely another reform project of the Progressive Era, but a central one. She addresses why Americans invested in public education and explains how an array of reformers subtly transformed schooling into a tool of social governance to address the consequences of industrialization and urbanization. By extending the reach of schools, broadening their mandate, and expanding their authority over the well-being of children, the state assumed a defining role in the education—and in the lives—of American families.
In School, Society, and State, Steffes returns the state to the study of the history of education and brings the schools back into our discussion of state power during a pivotal moment in American political development.
“In a rich and original historical account, Tracy Steffes explores the development of American schooling in order to illuminate the distinctive quality of the American state. Public education represents a system that is simultaneously local and national, an array of institutions that both cultivates the individual citizen and enables government power to penetrate deeply into the authority of parents to determine whether their children should attend school and what they should learn. School, Society, and State makes a powerful case for how the power of the state is constituted in everyday practices and “bottom-up” processes.”