Constructing a Culture

How Did We Get Here?

In 1945, the public education system in the U.S. was experiencing radical changes and in order to get a more complete understanding of the educational climate in 1945, a look back to the preceding years is required.  After World War I, the military became concerned with the fact that many of the Army’s draftees were illiterate and troubled by the challenges that illiteracy presented for training and developing soldiers.[1] As a result, there was a marked increase in public education enrollment. Especially impactful was raise in the mandatory school age during the Great Depression to help discourage young people from working and thereby eliminating some measure of competition from the job market[2]. Accompanying this increase in enrollment were two ideas: that education could be a vehicle for social change and that schools were no longer the exclusive domain of the college bound[3].

Education became an important tool to help facilitate the development of an informed electorate that would rely more heavily on reason than on political coercion to make their decisions. Schools still felt obligated to educate their students on multiple fronts and prepare them for college, but were now preparing students for life in the workplace, responsible citizenship and teaching them how to lead healthy, productive lives. But, there was concern among educators that traditional methods of education would not meet the needs, or hold the interests, of a less academic student population. [4]

In this time period we see the emergence of vocational tracks in schools, as well as the general education track, the less rigorous alternative to the college preparatory track.  As early as 1945, housing multiple educational programs in a singular school led to concerns about conflicts between the different student populations. To combat this widening divide, experts recommended having some shared classroom time between the different tracks to help facilitate interaction and understanding. [5]

What better way to facilitate learning experiences for various levels of students than the newly emerging genre of Audio-Visual education? Facing a teacher shortage after World War II, it made perfect sense for schools to utilize returning service people with audio-visual experience as teachers in the classroom![6] In fact, that was part of the stated mission of the newly formed Dept. of Visual Instruction of the National Education Association![7]

These new audio-visual teaching aids allowed new technology, techniques and training that were developed during the war to make their way into the classroom.[8]  It was believed that sound recording, exploded views and 3D diagrams would hold students interest in ways they never have before. Educators imagined that by utilizing the principles of psychology along with education and by combining seasoned educators with commercial producers they could make the classroom more fun and engaging. They believed that “color and humor have at last found their place in the teaching program.”[9]

Most important  however, was the ongoing debate at the time about federal financing of education. Educators made a strong case for the capabilities of audio-visual education and the need to properly finance its use. In 1945, as had happened many times in the past, individual teachers and the N.E.A. were lobbying congress in the hopes of achieving federal funding for education to eliminate the staggering inequality of resources between wealthy urban and poor rural school districts. There was a fear that federal funding would become federal control of schools. In addition, worries that racial and religious segregation would be undermined by federal interference and a reluctance on the part of the American electorate to continue the programs and spending policies of the New Deal[10].
[1]             Diane Ravitch, The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1985) 7-18
[2]             Ibid.
[3]             Ibid.
[4]             Ibid.
[5]             Ibid.
[6]             Boyd B. Rakestraw “ Proposed Objectives of the Department of Visual Instruction of the N.E.A. 1945-46” See and Hear: The Journal on Audio-Visual Learning 1, no. 1 (1945): 59-60
[7]             Ibid.
[8]             Paul Wendt, “Viewing the New in Audio-Visual Education” See and Hear: The Journal on Audio-Visual Learning 1, no. 1 (1945): 81-86
[9]             Ibid.
[10]            Diane Ravitch, The Troubled Crusade: American Education, 1945-1980 (New York: Basic Books, 1985) 3-18

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