“These were not the textbooks of the elite but of the masses,” explains Thomas Sowell. “From 1836 to 1920, McGuffey’s Readers were so widely used that they sold 122 million copies.” …
So, what happened?
THE PUSH TOWARD ILLITERACY: THE PROGRESSIVES’ WAR ON LEARNING
The essence of the Progressive education movement is the notion that the primary goal of education is the “socialization” of the child and that this is more important than academic training—more important than studying literature, history, science, math. The leading Progressive educators differed on some points, but all agreed that a “narrow focus” on academic training must give way to something that focused on the “whole child.”
Nor were they vague regarding what this meant. For example, famed social worker Jane Addams (1860–1935) was an early Progressive educational reformer who grumbled, “We are impatient with the schools which lay all stress on reading and writing, suspecting them to rest upon the assumption that all knowledge and interest must be brought to the children through the medium of books.” She wanted the schools to engage students in group activities and prepare them to work in the factories.
Lawrence Cremin, a leading scholar of Progressive education, wrote of Addams’s theory, “Industry . . . would have to be seized upon and conquered by the educators.” The writer Charles Sykes adds, “In particular, she [Addams] thought modern man needed to be trained and educated in collective, group activities, which she invoked as the ‘spirit of teamwork.’”
This emphasis on group work was a theme that would be sounded over and again by Progressives and their intellectual descendants.