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Challenging Orthodoxies

Toward a New Cultural History of Education


Sol Cohen

Challenging Orthodoxies explores the implications of linguistics, literary criticism, and language theory in general for historians of education. This book introduces the core ideas of the «linguistic turn» and some of its major theorists, Hayden White, Richard Rorty, Michel Foucault, and Clifford Geertz. By arguing for the primacy of language, textuality, and linguistic structures in historical narratives, this study revises conventional understanding of the writing and interpretation of histories of education. The author reassesses the oeuvre and career of the late Lawrence A. Cremin, generally acknowledged as the most important historian of American education of his time. By redescribing progressive education solely as a language system, the author transforms our understanding both of the progressive education movement and of its continuing influence on American education. In his exploration of the mental hygiene movement and the «medicalization» of American education, the author uncovers a new chapter in the history of American education. The author breaks new ground in tracking the influence of school reform movements on change in education and provides fresh contexts for discussing present and future prospects for school reform in the United States by defining language and language systems as evidentiary sources and basic units of historical inquiry. Challenging Orthodoxies also calls attention to film as a legitimate source for historical research and interpretation of American education and demonstrates that integrating film into the historiography of education is feasible and productive in broadening our understanding both of history and of education.