This book uses a case study of education and educational reform in Los Angeles as a lens for viewing a wide range of political and cultural questions involved in urban development in the American West, notably the manner and motives of those who changed school policy. Rapid population growth after 1885 and the recognition that large numbers of school children were either non-white or non-English-speaking compelled Western Progressives to reestablish order and end corrupt schoolboard practices. Drawing on the ideas of Jane Addams and John Dewey, reformers made the Los Angeles school system an instance of apparently effective reform, not only in educational terms, but also administratively and in the broad range of social services provided under school direction - penny-lunch programs, after-hour playgrounds, day-care centers, adult classes, and home classes for shut-in mothers. But these achievements bore increasingly equivocal results as industrialization, immigration, and urbanization contributed to immense social and economic problems, and reformers intensified programs to Americanize immigrant children.
More complicated and divisive progressive politics vied increasingly sure from immigrant groups to determine education policy. Many of the leading Los Angeles reformers were women, newly empowered by suffrage, who expanded their campaigns for social change. Also, since women composed most of the teaching force, they began to see themselves as professional educators. But professionalization proved to be a double-edged sword. Better trained than their predecessors, women nevertheless had to fight to hold on to their status as the school system became more efficient, more structured, and more impersonal. Professionalization also led to clashes between professionals: psychologists introduced IQ measurement, and many classroom teachers found mental testing unreliable and sought alternate methods to evaluate the abilities of children. Reformers, educators, and ethnic organizations worked assiduously to modify the social behaviour of the now-diverse school population. Despite differences, these groups together built a new social fabric, a patch-work shaped by the unrelenting realities of twentieth-century America. The book is illustrated with 14 photographs.<