Episode 10 – Accidental Activists



In Season 2, we’re going to focus more on connecting the past to the present. In this episode, we take our first look at teachers as activists and look at 3 accidental activists, Oliver Brown, John Scopes, and Bridget Peixotto.







Defining Activism:

Brown v. The Topeka Board of Education

The Scopes Monkey Trial

Bridget Peixotto (and Henrietta Rodman)

  • Carter, P. A. (2016). From Single to Married: Feminist Teachers’ Response to Family/Work Conflict in Early Twentieth-Century New York City. History of Education Quarterly, 56, 36-60.
  • Sochen, J. (1970). Henrietta Rodman and the Feminist Alliance: 1914–1917. The Journal of Popular Culture, 4(1), 57-65.





Episode 9 – Dress Codes

Group photo of students, 18 months after being enrolled at The Carlisle Indian Industrial School  Source

Few things in education are as messy as the issue of dress codes. In this episode, we look at Indian schools that forced indigenous children to cut their hair and wear certain clothes, the evolution of uniforms in American schools, and the complicated mess that is policing what children put on their bodies.


  • Native Student Denied Wearing of his Beaded Graduation Cap (Native News Online)
  • School uniforms: A history of ‘rebellion and conformity’ (BBC)
  • ProCon.org on uniforms
  • Girls fight back against gender bias in school dress codes (NEA Today)
  • Girl sent to office for showing her collarbone (Huffington Post)
  • Guide to Teaching the Bill of Rights (ACLU)
  • Hey schools, stop body shaming girls! (Mashable)

Pop Quiz video:

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Episode 8 – School Reform

Google Books Ngram for “school improvement” and “school reform”

It’s likely that about ten minutes after the first class was taught in the first schoolhouse in America, someone had advice or ideas how how it could be made better, fixed, or reformed. This week, I put Paul in Black Widow’s shoes and ask him to pick a side: Team Reform or Team Traditional Public Schools (TPS). It’s messy and meandering, but I do my best to give him all of the information he needs to make an informed decision.

Related Sources:

Stuff You Missed in History on redlining and the road to Brown V. Board of Education

New report is ‘huge warning sign’ that desegregation has failed in US schools (retrieved May 20, 2016)

Cited Sources:

Goldstein, Dana. The teacher wars: A history of America’s most embattled profession. Anchor, 2014.

Tyack, David B., and Larry Cuban. Tinkering toward utopia. Harvard University Press, 1995.


Episode 7 -Grades AKA Shorthand for Learning


Candidates for government jobs in 1540 China wait to hear their scores  (Source)

“It is within the last decade that serious attention has been paid to such queries as: What should the mark really represent? Should the mark be based upon ability or performance, or even upon zeal and enthusiasm? What is the best set of symbols to represent ability or achievement?” Isidor Finkelstein wrote that in 1913 in the midst of pondered the great mystery of grades. One hundred years later, we are still trying to figure out the answer. Today’s episode is an attempt to follow the convoluted path that is grading and reporting in American schools.

Origin Story 1:
Source – Thom Hartmann’s Complete Guide to ADHD 

Correction – Why You Never Got an “E” in School

Example of Origin Story 2:
How We Measure” chapter in Now You See It by Davidson

A Factory Model for Schools No Longer Works by Horn and Evans

Cited texts:

The Marking System in Theory and Practice (Finkelstein, 1913)

Making the Grade: A history of the A-F Marking Scheme (Schneider and Hutt, 2013)

The Massachusetts teacher (Volume 17, 1864)

The history of report cards (Morrow, posted on YouTube in 2010)

Merit, The History of a Founding Ideal (Kett, 2012)

Episode 6 – Vacation (All I Ever Wanted)

Mullen’s Alley, New York by Jacob Riis, 1888 (Source)

Light, short, and sweet. Just like summer vacation, today’s episode is focused on the question: Why does public education abandon children for two months in the summer, leaving them to their own devices? (Or as a young Paul saw it, give them two months of unbridled freedom, fun, and fire starting?)


Short read: Agrarian roots? Think again. Debunking the myth of summer vacation’s origins (retrieved May 2, 2016)

Long read: Gold, K. M. (2002). School’s in: The history of summer education in American public schools (Vol. 25). Peter Lang Pub Incorporated.

Pop Quiz Quote 1:

The rule of the soul over the body is natural, [which makes] the male by nature superior and the female inferior; the one rules and the other is ruled.  The courage of man is shown in commanding, of a woman in obeying. Aristotle

Pop Quiz Quote 2:

While our men seem thoroughly abreast of the times on almost every other subject, when they strike the woman question they drop back into sixteenth century logic. They leave nothing to be desired generally in regard to gallantry and chivalry, but they actually do not seem sometimes to have outgrown that old contemporary of chivalry–the idea that women may stand on pedestals or live in doll houses,… but they must not furrow their brows with thought or attempt to help men tug at the great questions of the world.
Anna Julie Cooper


Episode 5 – Anna Cooper and Carnegie Unit


This week we go through the last requirement of high school graduation in America: the credit unit. We connect the amazing Anna Julia Cooper, explore the just as important but less well know Committee of Fifteen (this one, not this one), and shake a fist at Andrew Carnegie.

Show Notes

Canady, R. L., & Rettig, M. D. (1995). Block scheduling: A catalyst for change in high schools (Vol. 5). Eye on Education.


Pop Quiz

Schofer, G.. (1976). G. Stanley Hall: Male Chauvinist Educator. The Journal of Educational Thought (JET) / Revue De La Pensée Éducative, 10(3), 194–200. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/23768789

Episode 4 – For Whom the Bell Tolls


During our first brainstorming session, the nature of high school – bells, schedules, class periods – came up and I put them on the “if we run out of topics” list. While doing some other reading, I kept running into phrases like “cells and bells” and the “factory model” and then I started to get angry and annoyed and Paul’s complaint became mine. In this episode, we look at the role of bells in schools and what happens when history is re-written.

Show Notes:

Intro Quote #1 is from John* Taylor Gatto’s Underground History of American Education (p. 222) – John. Not James, despite what I said in the podcast.

Gatto’s quote about Thomas Jefferson is on page 229 of the PDF version of his book Weapons of Mass Instruction.

Intro Quote #2 is from “Why you should take your children out of public school” (para 18ish)


On-line documents (all retrieved the week of April 15, 2016):


  • Callahan, Raymond E. Education and the cult of efficiency. University of Chicago Press, 1964.
    Rose, Todd. The End of Average: How to Succeed in a World that Values Sameness. Penguin UK, 2016.
  • Fraser, James W., ed. The school in the United States: A documentary history. 2014.
  • Ravitch, Diane. Left Behind: A Century of Battles Over School Reform. Simon and Schuster, NY, 2000.

The 1916 quote in Paul’s pop quiz was from Callahan’s book, page 122. Note – I changed some of the wording as to not tip Paul off. Cause I’m sneaky like that.

The quote on initiative fatigue is from a 2010 book by Doug Reeves.

Finally, the Student Efficiency Test is from page 109 of Callahan’s book and can be read on page 11 in this chapter excerpt.

Episode 3 – The New York State Regents


A momentary bright light in his high school experience, Paul didn’t hate the Regents exams. In today’s episode, we indulge all of Jennifer’s odd quirks related to semantics and get very, very New York-centric.

Related Podcast: “Pass/Fail” on Backstory


New York State Department of Education, History of the Regents Exams (retrieved April 12, 2016)

Johnson, Carol Siri, History of the New York State Regents Exams (retrieved April 12, 2016)

Suggested text from Jack Schneider: From Student Markets to Credential Markets: The Creation of the Regents Examination System in New York State (1864-1890)

Pop Quiz Sources:

Old Regents exams can be found here. Pour yourself a glass, grab a fellow nerd, and have a blast looking at the kinds of questions high school graduates throughout New York State’s illustrious Regents history were asked.


Episode 2 – Graduation




Ahh… the sweet, sweet freedom that is high school graduation. Or at least for Paul it was. In this episode we try to figure out when and how 17 became the year teenagers could be let loose on the world. We look at the history of high school in America, including HBCU’s and Indian Schools, and explore some of the mixed messages that make American education history so interesting to talk about.

Pop Quiz Quote: “This is not an accurate description of the ordinary graduate of the American [high school] today. There are so many children who have been given the high-school diploma for serving time “four years” and accumulating “fifteen units” of credit with “passing marks” that high-school graduation has lost its significance.”

In this episode, blame Paul’s love for the movie Hot Fuzz for an incredibly obscure, barely detectable joke.


Dorn, S. (1996). Creating the Dropout: An Institutional and Social History of School Failure. Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT

Goldin, C. (1998). America’s graduation from high school: The evolution and spread of secondary schooling in the twentieth century. The Journal of Economic History, 58(02), 345-374.

The Carlisle Indian School, Wikipedia, accessed April 7, 2016.


Episode 1 – Compulsory Ed



In our first episode, we explore the history of compulsory education in America. We look at the first group of students who were compelled to learn particular things, the ideas and decrees that led to towns being compelled to build schools, and then the rapid rise of the “common” and then public schools. Please blame my accent or the glass of wine for the fact I can’t pronounce “compulsory” correctly.

Reference list:

The quote from the end is from Carl F. Kaestle in the book School: The Story of American Public Education:

In our society, that we provide common public schooling is inherently a compromise – We must therefore strive continually to find a creative balance between local and central direction, between diversity and standards, between liberty and equality.

The answer to the pop quiz is from the book, The Testing Wars by William Reese.