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The Rise of the South in American Thought and Education

The Rockefeller Years (1902-1917) and Beyond

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John M. Heffron

The Rise of the South in American Thought and Education: The Rockefeller Years (1902-1917), and Beyond documents the rise—both real and imaginary—of the South in American thought and education at the close of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The South’s main appeal to industrial statesmen like the Rockefellers, their philanthropic work a focus of the book, was what it symbolized to them at a time when traditional elites in both regions were facing a frightening new array of social and political conditions, much of them pursuant to the country’s very real industrial "takeoff." Those who presided over the nation’s economy understood the need for orderly change that would balance the demands (and dislocations) of modernization with America’s most cherished traditions. They viewed the reactionary South and its nationalization as an important counterweight to centrifugal tendencies in the North, including the rapid growth of cities and their "Romanization" by a flood tide of property less, uneducated, and discontented southern and eastern European immigrants. The traditional emphasis in the South on vocational education (the Christian ethic of work as redemption, not the Republican one of free labor), country life and living, racial segregation, and the centrality of nature study as a source of both science and religion, added up to a coherent vision that responded to "undesirable" economic and social change in the urban North. The survival of Southern cultural traditions, as antiquated as they were, posed no threat to the plans of corporate progressives; indeed, as the book argues, it facilitated them, and nowhere more so than in the field of education. Modern educators wanting to put into historical context relations of class, race, and ethnicity as they persist in today’s schools will find much here to inform them, putting to rest, for example, false distinctions in the history of school reform between a liberal-progressive North and a conservative and reactionary South. This book will also appeal to a popular audience of Americans curious to understand the illiberal foundations of the modern liberal state.

John (aka Jay) M. Heffron, Ph.D. is Professor of Educational History and Culture and Director of the MA Program in Educational Leadership and Societal Change at Soka University of America. He completed his doctorate in American history at the University of Rochester, working under the late Christopher Lasch. His most recent honor is the BELMAS Management in Education 2018 Best Paper of the Year award.