Battles over school politics from curriculum to funding to voucher systems are key and contentious features of the political landscape today. Many of these familiar fights started in the 1970s. However, these battles have roots even earlier in mid-twentieth century school reform debates according to Campbell F. Scribner
of the University of Maryland-College Park, who has a new book on the topic, The Fight for Local Control: Schools, Suburbs, and American Democracy
(Cornell University Press, 2016).
The Fight for Local Control
discusses rural struggles for local control of school districts in this earlier period, mostly in the North, and their connection to the later suburban/urban battles. Rural resistance to the closing of one-room schools and the consolidation of small school districts provided a language and model that was then used by suburban communities to fight urban, state, and federal regulation of their schools, including the famously contentious fights over integration in the form of busing. The book also examines how conservatives later abandoned local control arguments in favor of individual choice policies.
In this episode of the podcast, Scribner discusses how he got into the topic and the main insights of the book. He tells us about the regional differences in school systems and education politics. He explains some of the virtues and pitfalls of local control arguments and how his book might inform our thinking about current education politics. Finally, he also talks about doing research on rural schools with sparse, decentralized records.
Christine Lamberson is an Assistant Professor of History at Angelo State University. Her research and teaching focuses on 20th century U.S. political and cultural history. She's currently working on a book manuscript about the role of violence in shaping U.S. political culture in the 1960s and 1970s. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.