Cover image for Whose America? : culture wars in the public schools
Whose America? : culture wars in the public schools
Zimmerman, Jonathan, 1961-
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Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 2002.
Physical Description:
307 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
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Item Holds
LC191.4 .Z56 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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What do America's children learn about American history, American values, and human decency? Who decides? In this absorbing book, Jonathan Zimmerman tells the dramatic story of conflict, compromise, and more conflict over the teaching of history and morality in twentieth-century America.

In history, whose stories are told, and how? As Zimmerman reveals, multiculturalism began long ago. Starting in the 1920s, various immigrant groups--the Irish, the Germans, the Italians, even the newly arrived Eastern European Jews--urged school systems and textbook publishers to include their stories in the teaching of American history. The civil rights movement of the 1960s and '70s brought similar criticism of the white version of American history, and in the end, textbooks and curricula have offered a more inclusive account of American progress in freedom and justice.

But moral and religious education, Zimmerman argues, will remain on much thornier ground. In battles over school prayer or sex education, each side argues from such deeply held beliefs that they rarely understand one another's reasoning, let alone find a middle ground for compromise. Here there have been no resolutions to calm the teaching of history. All the same, Zimmerman argues, the strong American tradition of pluralism has softened the edges of the most rigorous moral and religious absolutism.

Author Notes

Jonathan Zimmerman is Director of the History of Education Program at the Steinhardt School of Education, New York University.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

Zimmerman, director of the History of Education Program at the Steinhardt School and Education Program, New York University, examines the culture wars that have been fought in America's schools since the Civil War and divides what is commonly held to be one battle into two distinct conflicts, each with its own unique beginnings. These two conflicts are fought over the teaching of history and religion and are aptly named Chicago and Dayton after their place of origin (the Chicago School Systems and Dayton, TN, respectively). The author chronicles the struggles by ethnic minority groups against the Anglo-Saxon majority to gain a place in the history texts and curriculum. Interestingly, these conflicts sometimes resulted in fundamentally opposed organizations landing on the same side of an issue. Zimmerman then turns his discerning eye to the tangled politics of religious instruction, prayer, and sex education in the schools. By placing these conflicts within their historical context, the author leads readers to a deeper understanding of the issues and how they have influenced and continue to influence public school instruction. This landmark piece of scholarship is recommended for academic and public libraries and education history collections. Mark Alan Williams, Web Lib. & Document Storage Svcs., Chicago (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Zimmerman (New York Univ.) argues that the educational culture wars over religion in the schools and the content of history and social studies courses are separate battles with different stakes, and that the former have been more contentious than the latter. He offers histories of both since the 1920s to illustrate his point and concludes with suggestions about how the religious wars might be resolved. This is a thought-provoking and well-written book, whether or not one agrees with Zimmerman's point of view. The narratives of the battles over the past century make very interesting reading. It might have been useful, however, for the author to recognize explicitly that these battles did not suddenly begin in the 1920s, and one can question whether the fights over sex education are primarily a part of the religious culture war. Notwithstanding these minor criticisms, this is essential reading for anyone concerned with these issues. Recommended for upper-division undergraduates and above. M. Engel Westfield State College

Table of Contents

Introduction: Beyond Dayton and Chicago
I History Wars
1 Ethnicity and the History Wars
2 Struggles over Race and Sectionalism
3 Social Studies Wars in New Deal America
4 The Cold War Assault on Textbooks
5 Black Activism, White Resistance, and Multiculturalism
II God in the Schools
6 Religious Education in Public Schools
7 School Prayer and the Conservative Revolution
8 The Battle for Sex Education
Epilogue: Searching for Common Ground