cover image Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education

Parents and Schools: The 150-Year Struggle for Control in American Education

William W. Cutler, III. University of Chicago Press, $28 (298pp) ISBN 978-0-226-13216-7

Historian and school director Cutler has examined PTA minutes and local publications from the mid-19th century to the present to write an intimate history of the ambiguous and symbiotic relationship between home and school. This is in many ways a story about gender and class--and, eventually, race. ""Schools often had to fight the perception that they taught children to disrespect their families,"" but often educators and reformers ""agreed that many parents could no more be trusted with their children's health than with their education."" Immigrant and working-class parents in particular have been distrusted: Cutler shows how some social workers have been unapologetic in ""wanting the school to reform the family."" After WW II, the schools tried to build trust and communication with the home and, Cutler argues, ""paid a high price for not living up to expectations."" The reciprocity between home and school broke down as the larger society went through upheavals, and the PTA came to be seen as part of the failing system. (Although Cutler points out that ""fathers' clubs were not at all uncommon in the early history of home and school associations,"" the principal work of the PTA has always been carried out by mothers: ""men were often made to feel unwelcome."") With the ""demise of the intimate social networks that used to bind the home to the school,"" strife and strikes increased through the 1970s. Now, Cutler warns, parents and teachers must ""become more realistic about what can be reasonably expected from their cooperation"" to avoid repeating a ""cycle of failure."" (June)