In the Shadow of Authoritarianism: American Education in the Twentieth Century – FALLACE (THT)

FALLACE, Thomas D.  In the Shadow of Authoritarianism: American Education in the Twentieth Century. New York: Teachers College Press, 2018. 215p. Resenha de: OROMANER, Mark. The History Teacher, v.52, n.3, p.525-526, may., 2019.

In the Shadow of Authoritarianism is a timely contribution to the understanding of how American primary and secondary elite educational thinkers responded to perceived threats from approximately World War I to the 1980s. These perceived internal and external threats (the “Other” against which American educational philosophy evolved) are: Prussianism, propaganda, collectivism, dictatorship, totalitarianism, the space race, mind control, and moral relativity. A chapter is devoted to each of these chronologically ordered episodes. Thomas D. Fallace covers this almost century-long period in a clearly presented and well-documented 149 pages of text. The book is suited as an overview in undergraduate and graduate courses in the History of Twentieth-Century American Educational Philosophy and in other courses in education, sociology, political science, and history that focus on the relationship between politics and education. For students who wish to pursue a particular thinker, time period, school of thought, or social/political movement, Fallace has provided thirty-two pages of Notes and eighteen pages of Bibliography.

During the twentieth century, authoritarianism was used “to depict the outlook… characterized by social hierarchy, ideological homogeneity, and intolerance for dissent” (p. 1). Schools were central for the transmission of authoritarian ideology and values to young people. Under such a system, students were taught to be docile, obedient, intolerant, and compliant. In contrast, under a democratic system (e.g., the United States), students were taught to be open-minded, balanced, and skeptical. These contrasts are, of course, ideal types—however, they are “what most U.S. educators told themselves and one another repeatedly between World War I and the 1980s” (p. 1). Regardless of the changing geopolitical realities, listed above, the reaction of “most leading American educators remained constant” (p.1). That is, to teach students how to think, not what to think. Thus, the avoidance of propaganda and indoctrination in the classroom.

The general agreement that the emphasis in schools should be on the how rather than the what to think left U.S. intellectuals to debate the meaning of this phrase and to adjust to the various challenges the American system faced. Should the curriculum be based on liberal arts, on social issues, on discipline inquiry, on exploration of students’ values and morals? Fallace is well aware that the Constitution of the United States delegates authority over education to the states, and that it is an error to assume that the rhetoric of reform of educational leaders “reflected what was actually going on in the majority of U.S. classrooms at any given time” (p. 3). Throughout most of the twentieth century, the most prominent and influential educational thinker was the Teachers College, Columbia Universitybased philosopher John Dewey. In a 1916 address, Dewey argued that the U.S.

should no longer emulate the German system of education (Prussianism) with its emphasis on bureaucracy, centralization, and regulation. Rather, the American system should emphasize persuasion, expert knowledge, and a student-centered philosophy and pedagogy that stressed how to think. World War I also gave rise to a perceived domestic threat to democratic education; government propaganda to gain support for the war. Given current and recent fears over the contents of textbooks, social media, “fake news” in the traditional media, and the concentration of media channels, Chapter 2, “In the Shadow of Propaganda,” is of particular relevance today.

The reactions of educational leaders to Prussianism and propaganda set the stage for later reactions to fascism, Nazism, and communism, and to post-World War II threats from mind control and technological challenges symbolized by Sputnik. Limitations of space prevent me from describing the nuanced job that Fallace does in presenting the often conflicting views of anthropologists, psychologists, sociologists, and philosophers in attempting to ensure that the American educational system is student-oriented and continues to emphasize the how rather than the what to think. In the final chapter (Chapter 8), Fallace argues that the liberal consensus after World War II “collapsed under the weight of domestic turmoil brought on by the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War” (p. 136). One influential reaction was the emergence of Lawrence Kohlberg’s developmental framework as a guide to moral growth in a democracy. The pressing question now was: How do we teach values and morality and still say that in a democratic society, education will stress how to think and not what to think? The answer appears to be that the importance of schools as sites building free-thinking citizens has been marginalized by a view of the schools as sites that prepare students for college and careers. I know of no better source to engage students in analyses of where American educational philosophy has been during the past century, and where it may be in the near future than In the Shadow of Authoritarianism: American Education in the Twentieth Century.

Mark Oromaner – New York City

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