Constructing a Culture

Life Adjustment Movement

American education was facing a dilemma immediately after WWII as the ideas of progressive education from the 1930s clashed with the paranoia of the early Cold War. As the fear of Communism grew, so did a general feeling that Americans were too immature to resist the ideas of Communism.[1] Therefore, it became the duty of secondary education to instill maturity in the nation’s youth to resist Communism through therapeutic education.[2]

The fear of the spread of Communist ideas, particularly among the youth through misguided education, led to the creation of the Commission of Life Adjustment in 1947.[3] The Commission on Life Adjustment was created by the U.S. Office of Education to redefine progressive education in the atmosphere of the Cold War.

The principles of the “life adjustment movement” became the major force behind American education. According to Andrew Hartman in his book Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School, the life adjustment movement was a reversal of the “radically reformist ideas of the educational reconstructionists of the 1930s, those ‘frontier thinkers’ who wanted to use the schools as means to a social democratic ends.”[4] In accordance with the life adjustment movement, American education no longer focused on “adjusting society to the child, in the hopes of creating a socialist society, the child was to be mentally adjusted to the decidedly un-socialist society already in existence.”[5]

The life adjustment movement emphasized four interrelated principles which were believed to be the ends to therapeutic adjustment: relevance, instrumentalism, social order, and patriotism.[6]  Instilling patriotism in American youth was especially important to protect national security and ensure that teenagers became adults that believed in the power of the U.S. and its democratic way of life.[7] There was also a shift in the way many secondary educators approached their jobs as they believed their schools should be run like a business to help support the industrial economy of the U.S.[8]  Therefore, it also became important for secondary education to help students fit into the American economy with a degree of vocational training.[9]

It is quite clear that the life adjustment movement was a coercive movement that tried to guide teenagers into pre-determined societal roles through therapeutic education. The role of secondary schools had been shifted by this movement to help teenagers find their relevant places within American society and they worked under the assumption that the American way of life did not need adjustments. It was the students that needed to be adjusted and therapeutically coerced into their ideal roles within a predetermined U.S. society and economy.
[1] Andrew Hartman, Education and the Cold War: The Battle for the American School (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2008), 58.
[2] Hartman, 58.
[3] Hartman, 55.
[4] Hartman, 55.
[5] Hartman, 55.
[6] Hartman, 56.
[7] Hartman, 56.
[8] Hartman, 62-63.
[9] Hartman, 62.

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