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Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

The imagined schoolhouse: A mass-cultural history of education in America
by Weaver, Heather A., Ph.D., University of Washington, 2009, 211; 3377333
Abstract (Summary)

In America around the turn of the twentieth century and the years that followed, there was a proliferation of mass-cultural industries distributing their products on a national scale. Innovations were likewise playing out on an arguably unprecedented level in the world of educational ideas and practice. And, indeed, the makers of culture identified with the progressivist spirit of education during this period. But the striking irony is that they did not generally render schools in the light of that spirit.

This dissertation demonstrates that in everything from movies to the covers of national weeklies to stereographs to the Sunday funnies, American mass culture in this era of newness tended to err on the side of conservatism in depicting the experience of schooling. This was a time, for example, when the great majority of teachers were women, and yet one was as likely as not to see a schoolmaster on the screen or on the mass-distributed page. Educators had done much to professionalize teaching, yet moviemakers (taking cues from comics and children's literature) were portraying the teacher as largely helpless in the face of student-generated mayhem. Student enrollment was on the rise, yet magazine cover art was depicting the recalcitrant, hooky-playing schoolboy as the norm. The central and common message was that school was an institution best understood in terms of old-fashioned conceits and retrograde practices.

This complicates our understanding of ideas about education during an era known for its progressivist spirit. Unlike progress-minded theorists such as John Dewey or George Counts, the makers of mass culture were not generally advocating any kind of serious reform when they highlighted the ways in which school was an old-fashioned institution. They were attempting to sell entertainment. And when early-twentieth-century filmmakers, magazine illustrators, and other culture makers portrayed traditional images of schooling, they did so primarily because the school offered them an ordered setting that was the perfect foil for the stunts, gags, and inversions that largely defined entertainment at the time.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Beadie, Nancy
School: University of Washington
School Location: United States -- Washington
Source: DAI-A 70/09, Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: American studies, Education history, Mass communications, Film studies
Keywords: Film, Mass culture, Representations, School, Schooling, Students, Teachers, Traditional images, Visual
Publication Number: 3377333
ISBN: 978-1-109-39575-4
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