Skip to main content
Back to Results
Cover image of Democracy's Schools

Democracy's Schools

The Rise of Public Education in America

Johann N. Neem

Publication Date
Binding Type

The unknown history of American public education.

At a time when Americans are debating the future of public education, Johann N. Neem tells the inspiring story of how and why Americans built a robust public school system in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. It’s a story in which ordinary people in towns across the country worked together to form districts and build schoolhouses and reformers sought to expand tax support and give every child a liberal education. By the time of the Civil War, most northern states had made common schools free, and many southern states were...

The unknown history of American public education.

At a time when Americans are debating the future of public education, Johann N. Neem tells the inspiring story of how and why Americans built a robust public school system in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War. It’s a story in which ordinary people in towns across the country worked together to form districts and build schoolhouses and reformers sought to expand tax support and give every child a liberal education. By the time of the Civil War, most northern states had made common schools free, and many southern states were heading in the same direction. Americans made schooling a public good.

Yet back then, like today, Americans disagreed over the kind of education needed, who should pay for it, and how schools should be governed. Neem explores the history and meaning of these disagreements. As Americans debated, teachers and students went about the daily work of teaching and learning. Neem takes us into the classrooms of yore so that we may experience public schools from the perspective of the people whose daily lives were most affected by them.

Ultimately, Neem concludes, public schools encouraged a diverse people to see themselves as one nation. By studying the origins of America’s public schools, Neem urges us to focus on the defining features of democratic education: promoting equality, nurturing human beings, preparing citizens, and fostering civic solidarity.

Reviews

Reviews

The book provides a compelling account of how Horace Mann, Reverend William Ellery Channing, Catharine Beecher, and other antebellum advocates of the United States’s common schools brought what amounts to a liberal arts education to the nation’s children. In the face of widespread cynicism about public education, Neem reminds us that public schools can liberate children’s minds from prejudice or vocational preoccupations.

There is much about Democracy's Schools to appreciate. Neem has immersed himself in a wide array of archival sources. He renders sensible a multitude of dense, sprawling treatises and texts. He produces a well-written, provocative, and cohesive narrative accessible to a lay and scholarly audiences. Moreover, one cannot finish Democracy's Schools without understanding why Neem personally has great faith in public education.

Neem's insights are timely in our twenty-first-century world. At a time when critics on both the Left and Right advocate homeschooling and charter schools as alternatives to traditional public education, when activists question the benefits of a liberal education in a technology-driven age, and when our nation grapples with the effects of ever-increasing cultural diversity, it is worth contemplating the role public schools have played in upholding our democratic institutions.

See All Reviews
About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
256
ISBN
9781421423210
Illustration Description
9 halftones
Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Introduction
1. Citizenship and Self-Culture
2. Democratic Education
3. Politics of Education
4. Teachers and Students
5. Containing Multitudes
Conclusion
Appendix
Notes
Index

Author Bio
Johann N. Neem
Featured Contributor

Johann N. Neem

Johann N. Neem is a professor of history at Western Washington University. He is the author of Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts and Democracy's Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America.
Resources

Additional Resources