Thursday, July 12, 2007

Charles A. Bennett's Histories of Manual and Industrial Education, volumes I and II are an amazing accomplishment outlining the divergent theories of education, but also placing them against the background of the political and social forces at work to shape American society. At some point, I hope to have more time to share some of Mr. Bennett's vast contribution to the manual training movement and his role as a progressive educator.

He chose to finish his histories at the year 1917 with the passage of the Smith-Hughes Act, even though the publication date of the concluding volume of his books was not until 1937.

While the Smith-Hughes act, brought federal money into vocational education and was regarded as a huge triumph by some, it also spelled the end for those idealistic and progressive American educators whose understanding of the connection between the hand and brain had drawn them to conclude that manual training was necessary for all. In essence, the Smith-Hughes Act solidified in law the class structure that plagues us to this day. I think you will find in the sad resignation of Bennett's closing remarks, the disappointment he felt. For Bennett, the most interesting part of the history of Manual and Industrial Education ended with the eclipse of Educational Sloyd:

The signing of the Smith-Hughes act, thereby creating a federal directing and reimbursing law with reference to certain types of vocational education, was the beginning of a new era in manual and industrial education in the United States and therefore the end of the era concerning which this book was written. Throughout the years of effort to obtain the law, there were three constantly recurring and conflicting interests that had to be harmonized or at least propitiated. One was between the manufacturer and the labor union - each wished to regulate vocational training in order to control the labor market. Then there was the conflict of ideals between those who sought more practical education in the public schools and those who feared that vocational training would lower the standard of cultural education. And finally, when the need for vocational training was admitted, some believed that it could be effective only when separated from the public-school work of general education; while others insisted on the unity of control in public education and saw no good reason for a dual system. The law passed was probably the best compromise that could have been obtained at that time.

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