Educating for equality: a comparative history of the ethical culture school and the downtown community school

Catania, Roger P, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Pusser, Brian, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Hoffman, Diane, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Deutsch, Nancy, CU-Leadshp, Fndns & Pol Studies, University of Virginia
Duke, Daniel, University of Virginia

Although America's schools have been celebrated as vital instruments for fostering equality and social mobility, few historical examples exist of schooling committed to eradicating inequality and promoting social reform. Rather, historians of education and progressivism ordinarily highlight the contributions of schools dedicated to social efficiency or to individualism through child-centered schooling, with social reformism often relegated to theory and discourse. This historical dissertation provides that missing contribution by chronicling the histories of the Ethical Culture School (ECS) and the Downtown Community School (DCS), two independent New York City institutions that made educating for equality their highest purpose.

This study investigates each school's philosophy and pedagogy, attending closely to the ways each confronted the class and racial inequities dominating public schooling during the 19th and 2Qth centuries. Founded by Felix Adler in 1878 as a Free Kindergarten and Workingman's School, and dedicated to providing New York's poorest children with the best education available anywhere, ECS evolved into a K-12 common school, educating the poor alongside privileged children. Guided by Adler's Ethical Idealism, ECS pioneered innovations like manual training, direct ethical instruction, and prevocational schooling to inspire students toward a life devoted to social justice and human equality.

A group of idealistic parents committed to racial and economic justice established DCS in 1944, bringing children from different racial, ethnic, religious, and social class backgrounds together from its inception. Committed to an interracial and intercultural philosophy articulated by longtime leader Norman Studer, DCS modeled integrated schooling in an era when de facto segregation dominated northern urban education. Heterogeneous classrooms, black studies units, an interdisciplinary core curriculum, and adult intercultural education all served to promote DCS' egalitarian mission.

Both schools utilized enrollment, pedagogy, teacher training and retention, community education, and social activism to advance democracy and social equality in school and society. Both had to contend with competing purposes threatening to undermine institutional direction, and neither compromise nor resistance prevented ECS' altered mission or DCS' eventual shutdown. Ultimately this study joins concepts of democracy, social equality, and progressivism in education by documenting how each was practiced in these two unique schools. Member Dedication This dissertation is dedicated to all of my students, who for the past 25 years have taught me so much, and to my children, Louis and James, and all of America's children, from whom we still have so much to learn.

Note: Abstract extracted from PDF file via OCR.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Department of Educational Leadership and Foundations

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