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The Importance of Being UrbanDesigning the Progressive School District, 1890-1940$
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David A. Gamson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780226634548

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226634685.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 04 August 2021

The Race for Urban Status

The Race for Urban Status

(p.14) 1 The Race for Urban Status
The Importance of Being Urban

David A. Gamson

University of Chicago Press

Chapter 1 explores why turn-of-the-century municipal reformers viewed cities as “the hope of democracy” and why they believed that public education—especially the large urban school district—was an essential institution for safeguarding children from the evils of modern, industrialized society. Urban educators turned Jefferson’s notion of democracy on its head, arguing that urban society, not the traditional agrarian community, was the best incubator of democratic principles. The chapter documents the educational problems identified by Progressive Era urban reformers, many of whom portrayed city schools as stultifying, unsafe, and unsanitary. Large percentages of elementary school students consistently failed to pass their promotion exams, thereby becoming overage “laggards” who swelled enrollments in the lower grades. Combined with the shifting demographics of the American West, these conditions exacerbated an instructional atmosphere that was already hostile toward immigrants, minorities, and children living in poverty. Taken together, these problems formed the agenda for the urban school reformers who undertook the improvement of school governance, instructional practices, and the treatment of children.​

Keywords:   urban history, municipal reform, Progressive Era, progressive education, laggards, American West, school reform, instructional practice, poverty, Ellwood Cubberley

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