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Report Cards

A Cultural History

Wade H. Morris

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The definitive history of the report card.

Report cards represent more than just an account of academic standing and attendance. The report card also serves as a tool of control and as a microcosm for the shifting power dynamics among teachers, parents, school administrators, and students. In Report Cards: A Cultural History, Wade H. Morris tells the story of American education by examining the history of this unique element of student life.

In the nearly two hundred-year evolution of the report card, this relic of academic bookkeeping reflected broader trends in the United States: the...

The definitive history of the report card.

Report cards represent more than just an account of academic standing and attendance. The report card also serves as a tool of control and as a microcosm for the shifting power dynamics among teachers, parents, school administrators, and students. In Report Cards: A Cultural History, Wade H. Morris tells the story of American education by examining the history of this unique element of student life.

In the nearly two hundred-year evolution of the report card, this relic of academic bookkeeping reflected broader trends in the United States: the republican zealotry and religious fervor of the antebellum period, the failed promises of postwar Reconstruction for the formerly enslaved, the changing gender roles in newly urbanized cities, the overreach of the Progressive child-saving movement in the early twentieth century, and—by the 1930s—the increasing faith in an academic meritocracy. The use of report cards expanded with the growth of school bureaucracies, becoming a tool through which administrators could surveil both student activity and teachers. And by the late twentieth century, even the most radical critics of numerical reporting of children have had to compromise their ideals.

Morris traces the evolution of how teachers, students, parents, and administrators have historically responded to report cards. From a western New York classroom teacher in the 1830s and a Georgia student in the 1870s who was born enslaved, to a Colorado student incarcerated in the early 1900s and the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants applying to college in the 1930s, Report Cards describes how generations of people have struggled to maintain dignity within a system that reduces children to numbers on slips of paper.

Reviews

Reviews

Report Cards takes something seemingly small and uses it to open up rich and important conversations about the historical role of schools in children's lives—as sites of monitoring and control, social mobility, and, of course, learning. Wade H. Morris gets an A+ for this lively and illuminating book.

In this prodigiously researched and well-argued book, Wade H. Morris explains why report cards are simultaneously controversial and ubiquitous. In tracing how report cards became part of a Foucauldian regimen of examining and testing in Jacksonian America, Morris uncovers a history in which report cards, as stand-ins for merit-based values, have become the weapon of choice as often for the powerless as the powerful.

Report cards give Morris the material and lens for showing how the records institutions keep help us recall and reconstruct the individual and collective experience of going to school. Morris's compelling story and engaging writing style, combined with his strong historical context, create a classic book about the development, diffusion, and use of report cards as an important example of the uses and abuses of organizational data.

Report cards are a ubiquitous feature of almost every school, a permanent record of every student's academic performance. Thanks to this beautifully written, engaging history by Wade H. Morris, we now know why they have enjoyed such lasting power and influence.

Wade carefully and compellingly traces the social history of the report card. Over time, the report card was both welcomed by individuals with varying identities as an indicator of good performance and served as a point of contention and unit of control by different stakeholders in the US education infrastructure.

About

Book Details

Publication Date
Status
Available
Trim Size
6
x
9
Pages
240
ISBN
9781421447162
Illustration Description
31 halftones, 5 line drawings
Table of Contents

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Civil War, Pandemic, and Report Cards
Chapter 1. Rousing the Attention of Parents
Chapter 2. Unity, Efficiency, and Freed People
Chapter 3. Overworn Mothers

List of Figures
Acknowledgments
Introduction. Civil War, Pandemic, and Report Cards
Chapter 1. Rousing the Attention of Parents
Chapter 2. Unity, Efficiency, and Freed People
Chapter 3. Overworn Mothers and Unfed Minds
Chapter 4. The Eye of the Juvenile Court
Chapter 5. Mobility, Anxiety, and Merit
Chapter 6. The Pursuit of Educational Dignity
Conclusion. Pulling Weeds and Foucault Fatigue
Appendix I. Depiction of African American Parents in American Missionary, 1867–1881
Appendix II. Ladies Home Journal and the Defense of Teachers
Notes
Essay on Sources
Index

Author Bio
Wade H. Morris
Featured Contributor

Wade H. Morris

Wade H. Morris teaches history at United World College East Africa, an international high school in Moshi, Tanzania.