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Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation's Changing Needs

How have America's public schools changed to meet the nation's needs? And what does this tell us about the future of public education in the United States? These questions are the focus of Warren Research Professor Patricia Albjerg Graham's new book, Schooling America: How the Public Schools Meet the Nation's Changing Needs. Drawing on a wide range of sources, including personal anecdotes and government reports, Graham illustrates Americans' changing demands for schools, and how schools have responded by providing what critics want, though never as completely or as quickly as they would like.

On Friday, November 4, at 3:00 pm, Graham will be discussing the book at the Harvard Bookstore as part of their Friday Forum series.

Graham identifies several disparate roles that public schools have played in the nation's life. For instance, in the 1900s as waves of immigrants swept the nation, the American public wanted schools to assimilate students into American life, combining the basics of English and arithmetic with emphasis on patriotism, hard work, fair play, and honesty. In the 1920s, the focus shifted from schools serving a national need to serving individual needs. Education was to help children adjust to life. By 1954 the emphasis moved to access, particularly for African American children to desegregated classrooms, but also access to special programs for the gifted, the poor, the disabled, and non-English speakers. Now Americans want achievement for all, defined as higher test scores. And with swelling enrollments and groundbreaking research the norm, colleges now occupy a prominent position in this debate.

A leading historian of American education, Graham served as dean of the Ed School from 1982 through 1991. She has also directed the National Institute of Education and served as the head of the Spencer Foundation, the nation's leading funder of educational research.

For more information, visit the Harvard Bookstore website.