During the first third of the 20th Century there was a radical change in the way in which popular American History textbooks began to present information. Instead of focusing on the past as a series of disconnected events with nothing more than a temporal connection to the contemporary world, there began to be more of a progressive movement toward examining the ways in which society has evolved, with the hopes of creating a better society in the present day. One textbook author in particular, Harold Rugg, viewed history through the lens of social class as a means of both engaging students and enacting social change. Initially, Rugg’s textbooks were incredibly popular and influential, but by the 1940s Rugg was accused of distributing subversive propaganda and was completely undone. Rugg’s story is an example of the tension between teaching history and teaching “thinking”, and of the ways in which historical study is affected by the political and social climate of its time period.
Harold Rugg was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts on January 17, 1886. His father was a craftsman, but not a terribly successful one, so the young Harold “saw firsthand the stifling effect that difficult economic conditions could have on family life”. As a young man, Rugg began to work in a textile mill, where his immersion within the life of the working poor further caused him to consider class issues. The need to rationalize and explain the economic divisions within American life would become a defining cause for Rugg, and would ultimately lead to the controversy which would plague his later career. Rugg decided eventually to attend college, and ultimately wound up receiving a doctoral degree in Education from the University of Illinois in 1915.
The field of educational study was still in its infancy at this time, and the methods and pedagogy of American public schools were still being shaped. It is important to note that during his graduate studies... [continues]
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