Preparation, protection, and practicality : anxieties in progressive era education
Perez, Laine Elise
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This project explores the anxieties and contradictions that appeared in discussions of education during the Progressive Era by examining education theory, as found in the journals Education and The Playground, and comparing this theory to children's books of the era. I argue that turn of the century educators and authors promoted practical education so that they could use the school, the home, and the playground to accomplish two goals simultaneously: protecting children from economic concerns in the present and preparing children for the future by helping them develop the skills they would need to be productive citizens. However, in attempting to accomplish both of these goals, these individuals turned the home, school, and playground into contradictory spaces. This project first explores how these educators and authors resolved the tensions and contradictions present in these spaces--and the problems of class and gender underlying their resolutions--before examining why they were invested in creating a protected space for childhood in the first place and finally showing how the protected space they attempted to create became destabilized. Ultimately, I claim that these educators and authors made the protected space of childhood contingent upon the child's ability to submit to and absorb practical lessons learned on the playground and in the classroom and the home. Consequently, it appears that these individuals believed that children must earn their right to a protected childhood, but by insisting that children earn their protection, these individuals allowed economic concerns to creep into the supposedly separate childhood space. Each chapter of this dissertation will explore a particular facet of Progressive Era education--specifically, humanities courses, vocational education, and the play and playground movement--to reveal the anxieties that surrounded the intersections among the establishment of practical education, the desire to protect children from the workforce, and the need to prepare children for their futures as productive citizens.