Cover image for Parents and schools : the 150-year struggle for control in American education
Parents and schools : the 150-year struggle for control in American education
Cutler, William W.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chicago : University of Chicago Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
xiii, 290 pages : illustrations ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
LC225.3 .C86 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Who holds ultimate authority for the education of America's children--teachers or parents? Although the relationship between home and school has changed dramatically over the decades, William Cutler's fascinating history argues that it has always been a political one, and his book uncovers for the first time how and why the balance of power has shifted over time. Starting with parental dominance in the mid-nineteenth century, Cutler chronicles how schools' growing bureaucratization and professionalization allowed educators to gain increasing control over the schooling and lives of the children they taught. Central to his story is the role of parent-teacher associations, which helped transform an adversarial relationship into a collaborative one. Yet parents have also been controlled by educators through PTAs, leading to the perception that they are "company unions."

Cutler shows how in the 1920s and 1930s schools expanded their responsibility for children's well-being outside the classroom. These efforts sowed the seeds for later conflict as schools came to be held accountable for solving society's problems. Finally, he brings the reader into recent decades, in which a breakdown of trust, racial tension, and "parents' rights" have taken the story full circle, with parents and schools once again at odds.

Cutler's book is an invaluable guide to understanding how parent-teacher cooperation, which is essential for our children's educational success, might be achieved.

Author Notes

William W. Cutler III is associate professor of history and educational leadership at Temple University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

History professor Cutler has researched well the relationship between parents and teachers, which varies from alliance to occasional antagonism. He examines the major trends in education, from the adoption of compulsory schooling to the advancement of teaching as a profession to the current issues of charter schools, teaching about drug abuse, and sex education. He inspects how the centralization and bureaucratization of teaching have widened the gulf between parents and teachers and ignited, most notably, the matter of accountability for declining school performance. He considers how sex, race, and class biases have affected relations between schools and parents, in particular homing in on the impact of immigration policy on education. He explores questions of how parents and teachers should interact and how changes in their relationships affect and are affected by public policy. Some themes that get recurring attention are the necessity of parental involvement, the parental desire to be involved, and the fact that the teacher-parent relationship is and always has been political. --Vanessa Bush

Publisher's Weekly Review

Historian and school director Cutler has examined PTA minutes and local publications from the mid-19th century to the present to write an intimate history of the ambiguous and symbiotic relationship between home and school. This is in many ways a story about gender and classÄand, eventually, race. "Schools often had to fight the perception that they taught children to disrespect their families," but often educators and reformers "agreed that many parents could no more be trusted with their children's health than with their education." Immigrant and working-class parents in particular have been distrusted: Cutler shows how some social workers have been unapologetic in "wanting the school to reform the family." After WW II, the schools tried to build trust and communication with the home and, Cutler argues, "paid a high price for not living up to expectations." The reciprocity between home and school broke down as the larger society went through upheavals, and the PTA came to be seen as part of the failing system. (Although Cutler points out that "fathers' clubs were not at all uncommon in the early history of home and school associations," the principal work of the PTA has always been carried out by mothers: "men were often made to feel unwelcome.") With the "demise of the intimate social networks that used to bind the home to the school," strife and strikes increased through the 1970s. Now, Cutler warns, parents and teachers must "become more realistic about what can be reasonably expected from their cooperation" to avoid repeating a "cycle of failure." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Choice Review

Cutler (Temple Univ.) traces the history of the bureaucratization of the home-school relationship by examining its evolution from 1850 to the present. He endeavors to portray the frequent conflicts arising between parents and teachers as their roles in public schooling changed and expanded. These tensions frequently resulted when groups representing gender, ethnic, and social class interests vied for greater institutional roles and responsibilities. Cutler shows how this occurred primarily through the growth of political power of organizations such as the National Congress of Parents and Teachers (presently the PTA). Using primary sources that include 20 manuscript collections, Cutler carries his discussion to contemporary US education, noting that the home-school relationship is "a litmus test for excellence in education." As history demonstrates, each part of the relationship benefits only when the participants perform their separate, yet related tasks, collaboratively. Cutler persuasively supports his thesis, utilizing contributions from numerous educational historians, including Michael B. Katz (Class, Bureaucracy and Schools: The Illusion of Educational Change in America, 1975, and Reconstructing American Education, 1987). Yet, he inexplicably omits significant historian Lawrence A. Cremin (American Education: The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980 (1988). Recommended at all levels. P. M. Socoski; University of Florida

Table of Contents

List of Illustrationsp. ix
Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Introductionp. 1
Chapter 1. From Adversaries to Advocatesp. 15
Chapter 2. Home Rule or Ruled at Home?p. 42
Chapter 3. In Search of Influence or Authority?p. 70
Chapter 4. Heard but Not Seenp. 99
Chapter 5. Twenty-Four Hours a Dayp. 127
Chapter 6. From Advocates to Adversariesp. 164
Epilogue: Recurring Themesp. 199
Notesp. 209
Bibliographic Notep. 267
Indexp. 273