THE LAST LITTLE CITADEL: American High Schools Since 1940 by Robert L. Hampel

THE LAST LITTLE CITADEL: American High Schools Since 1940

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The final volume in an excellent series, A Study of High Schools, and like its predecessors it continues to examine US schools and what made them what they are today. The author focuses on the last 40 years in which tinkerers, iconoclasts, reformers and politicians screamed crisis at one moment, lapsed into passivity the next. Life adjustment was the thing in the 40's, he notes, curriculum experiments hot in the early 60's and various optional programs the big deal in the mid-70's. While the pros tinkered, the society around the high schools convulsed. In the end, he argues, we got the high school we deserved--the smorgasbord replaced the three Rs. The students that James Conant felt must be challenged or that Mortimer Adler hoped would be eager for the Socratic approach preferred friends, sports, sex, TV, music, and controlled substances to anything intellectually taxing. Hampel seems aware of the laws of inertia as they apply to education and this gives his analysis a sense of reality. Changes in the system, he feels, will be few, if any. Despite the Sturm und Drang, they will come slowly and the money required to do the job right will probably not be available. The interested factors in formulating the educational deal will dance around a decision and end up making an arrangement in which schools and students will be shortchanged. There are dedicated and talented teachers, he says, more than necessary in fact, but given the salary and status of the job, it is hardly likely we will get them. The author gives us a fine picture of what happened to our citadel and cautions us not to lament or exaggerate the good old days. However, many readers will do so, if only for the discipline that once prevailed in the schools. In sum, sobering.

Pub Date: March 29th, 1986
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin