From Civic Imperative to Bird's-Eye View: Renegotiating the Idioms of Education Governance during the Reconstruction Era

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Abstract

The nineteenth-century debate about the role of the US Bureau of Education was marked by negotiations between the civic republican language of antebellum common school advocacy and a social scientific language of educational professionalism. To advance this argument, this essay traces how members of Congress defined, criticized, and delimited the Bureau's institutional role between 1865 and 1872. First, avoiding calls for direct federal intervention, the Bureau's initial congressional advocates defined the Bureau as a vehicle for indirect influence on the states through the use of data and statistics. Second, after the Bureau's founding, its legislative critics used rhetoric to chastise and question both the Bureau's comprehensive vision and power. Finally, beginning with Commissioner John Eaton's tenure in 1870, the Bureau's functions were narrowed. Due to Eaton's reimagining of the Commissioner role, further congressional critique, and failed efforts to expand Bureau authority, the Bureau eventually became a government-sanctioned purveyor of social scientific expertise-one with little direct authority to intervene in education.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)199-228
Number of pages30
JournalHistory of Education Quarterly
Volume58
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - May 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • History

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