U.S. Intellectual History Blog

Roundtable on Hartman’s Education and the Cold War (Part III): A Review by Tim Lacy

Both Gaither and Petrulionis, in their own way, begin their reviews by noting a few potential turn-offs of Hartman’s book: its political engagement, its historiographical un-trendiness, and Hartman’s explicit sympathy with forms of Marxian analysis. To me, however, these are precisely the things that turned me on while reading Education and the Cold War (hereafter ECW). As an historian of twentieth-century America with a specialization in education, I would have found—indeed sought after—Hartman’s book even if he were not my USIH colleague. Petrulionis wrote that ECW “interweaves and sustains several complex arguments,” and Gaither reflected that “Hartman covers a lot of ground for a two hundred page book.” They are both right. ECW is primarily an intellectual and educational history but with strong elements of political and social history (read: concern for power and class). Hartman’s book is thoughtfully dense, methodically building toward a complete understanding of the United States’s K-12 superstructure as of the late 1950s. If read closely and carefully, ECW will reward the thinking reader with the intellectual, ideological, and cultural connections it makes.

While Hartman cares about Marxian analysis, and is prone to some of its strengths and weaknesses, ECW is not a jargon-filled polemic on the destructiveness of capitalism in public education. On the contrary, the book carefully and thoughtfully dissects “progressive education,” anti-communism in education, liberalism, and the varieties of conservative commentary on the education establishment. To be sure, knowing Hartman’s philosophical care for Marxian analysis and sympathy for mid-century America’s embattled fellow travelers, his long look at Theodore Brameld is unsurprising. But Hartman’s treatment of Brameld is not uncritical or lacking in careful dissection.

As is the case with any author who gets close with their subject matter, ECW holds forth some as heroic, others as villainous, and a few characters ambivalently. I would expect no less from an historian who eats, sleeps, and breathes his analytical material for several years. In fact, I would be disappointed with a complete absence of passion. So while Gaither was apparently off-put by Hartman’s sympathies and “secondary motives,” I found the occasional enthusiasm or overstatement on behalf of the manipulated or powerless to be consistent with Hartman’s concerns—even if, per another of Gaither’s criticisms, the kids and those victimized by the system are not covered as individuals. A book does not have to function as a ground-up social history, replete with individual tales of oppression, to defend those who are moved through and permanently damaged by the system. To this reader there is no irony in Hartman’s Marxian philosophical framework being applied to high thinking and the superstructures of society, so thoroughly discussed in the works of Antonio Gramsci. See John Patrick Diggins’s The Rise and Fall of the American Left (Norton, 1992) for more on how academics have made use of Gramsci.

Gaither reproduced the main elements of ECW quite well. Both he and Petrulionis recognize that Hartman succeeds in connecting various educational crises to “ideological conflicts” and the “national political paradigm.” I will third that consensus. Petrulionis reported that ECW “casts only a shadow of chronological order.” I disagree. Although there are some gaps and areas covered less thoroughly, such as with regard to the educational exigencies of World War II, I found ECW to proceed in an orderly chronological fashion. In terms of the early Cold War, meaning the 1940s to early 1960s period, ECW should become the standard for thinking through the varieties of progressive educators (i.e. Dewey, his disciples—both approved and not, and sympathizers in general), critics of progressivism (anti-communist crusaders, Dewey haters, traditionalists, and back-to-the-basics folks), and what both groups meant to school administration and teaching.

Hartman brings alive his numerous conservative, anti-progressive villains (e.g. G. Stanley Hall, Irving Babbitt, Paul Elmore More, Bella Dodd, Albert Jay Nock, Elizabeth Dilling, Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, John T. Flynn, Allen Zoll, Max Rafferty, Admiral Hyman Rickover). I was impressed with Hartman’s thorough cataloging of conservative, K-12 education thought from the 1930s to the early 1960s. He shows how the various reactionaries, driven by the communist bugaboo, fed each other’s minds via a veritable canon of conservative writings. There is little doubt that the anti-progressives formed a coherent community of discourse. Hartman never uses David Hollinger’s term explicitly, as first articulated by him and others in Paul Conkin and John Higham’s New Directions in American Intellectual History (Johns Hopkins, 1979), but this sense provides a bridge for the reader seeking to ground thought in cultural history. ECW certainly adds to the growing body of historical work on the roots of twentieth-century American conservatism.

My only quibble with Hartman’s treatment of his conservative body of thinkers was his use of the “New Humanist” label, as applied by Ronald Lora in his 1971 book, Conservative Minds in America (Rand McNally), to describe counter-progressive thinkers beginning with Babbitt and More. I find that label too generous in its allowing the reader to believe, even faintly, that these thinkers were really concerned with the same ground-level interests of earlier humanists. Those identified by Lora and Hartman—later conservative/traditional educational thinkers—cared primarily about identifying and developing the already talented. I cannot truck the humanist label being applied to this kind of anti-democratic tracking in education. But maybe that is my having bought into the radically democratic educational thought of Mortimer Adler and various Paideia group reformers.

Of course ECW is no mere diatribe against reactionary educational thought. Hartman finds much to recommend in John Dewey himself (if not his therapeutic, life-adjustment disciples), Theodore Brameld (as noted above), and Paul Goodman. One might go as far as to say that they—especially the latter two—are the heroes of the narrative. As Petrulionis wrote of Hartman’s story: “John Dewey regains the complexity of a philosopher and an administrator, fully invested yet never able to unilaterally dictate” the terms of his legacy and followers. Despite being liberals, it seems clear that Brameld and Goodman were not ideologically affiliated with Liberalism as a political project. And none of the three feared being a unique, lonely voice. I also found Hartman’s analyses of quintessential liberals and anti-progressive critics, such as Robert Hutchins, Arthur Bestor, and Richard Hofstadter to be both sensitive and nuanced. Unlike Gaither, who saw Hartman lacking sympathy for these thinkers, I felt that Hartman stretched himself, for instance, on behalf of Hutchins. Hartman probably would have found more to like if he had explored the detailed Hutchins biographies by Harry Ashmore (Unseasonable Truths, 1989) and Mary Ann Dzuback (Robert M. Hutchins: Portrait of an Educator, 1991). Furthermore, an exploration of the abovementioned Adler’s work, who influenced Hutchins more than many Hutchins fans will admit, could have added more depth to Hartman’s exploration of Liberalism’s anti-progressives.

In terms of sources in general, Hartman’s work is not heavily based on archival resources, but it is most certainly grounded in primary documents. Chapters four and seven use archived material, but the rest of the chapters are based on the published writings of progressives and anti-progressives. While ECW is most certainly synthetic, it does not, as Gaither noted, draw “more on the published works of other historians than on his own original research.” As one whose own dissertation relied heavily on twentieth century figures, I can say with considerable authority that one could probably write an original, synthetic, primary-document based book from published writings alone. Many times what you find in an author’s archived papers are simply confirmations of what she/he put in her/his published works. I suspect this is what happened, at times, with Hartman.

I have my own criticisms of ECW, most of which are inconsequential to Hartman’s overall goals. For instance, his class, ideological, and power-based perspective avoids a deliberate, well-constructed consideration of the role of religion in the progressive/anti-progressive dichotomy. A deeper look at Catholicism, for instance, would help explain that group’s consistent criticism of the communist influence in public schools and in education in general. For the religious critique of progressive education was no different than Brameld’s desire for an “audacious and cosmic vision” in education (p. 149). While Catholicism forwarded a particular metaphysics through this period (Thomism or revised Aristotelianism), it too sought an educational philosophy that reminded people of ethics, legitimate a priori premises, and that the ends are as important as the means. But even without a thorough consideration of religion (beyond noting Catholic figures and Reinhold Niebuhr’s realism/cynicism), ECW stands on its own merits. A deeper consideration of Catholicism or American Protestant Christianity in general would only give the book more nuance—and probably have prevented its publication through being too long.

Hartman’s book provides the reader with careful guidance in mapping the highways and byways of “progressive education.” I can think of no better analysis of how Progressivism in education developed, from Dewey forward, nor of another work that better applies ideological anti-communist thought to the K-12 education scene from the 1930s to the 1960s. Hartman’s felicitous connections and turns of phrase consistently reward the patient reader: you won’t leave ECW with a less than thorough understanding of education in the early Cold War period.

But now I must stop. My review of Hartman’s work and its reviewers for our Roundtable has gone overly long. I can say more, of course, but will leave that praise and criticism for the discussion following Hartman’s reply. – TL