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Bureaucracy and the Common School: the Example of Portland, Oregon, 1851–1913

  • David Tyack

Abstract

“The most fundamental principle observed in the present conduct of the Portland school system is the maintenance unchanged of a rigidly prescribed, mechanical system, poorly adapted to the needs either of the children or of the community.”1 So concluded a team of educational experts led by Ellwood P. Cubberley of Stanford in a 1913 study of the Portland Public Schools. “Because of lack of opportunity to exercise initiative,” they observed, teachers and administrators were “carrying out a system in whose creation they had little or no part. The result is a uniformity that is almost appalling.” Administrators were mere inspectors, certifying or compelling compliance with rules. The curriculum was “vivisected with mechanical accuracy into fifty-four dead pieces.” Children trotted on one stage of the treadmill until they could advance to the next by passing an examination. “School board and superintendent, as well as principals, teachers, and pupils, are victims of the system for which no one is primarily responsible.”2 The origin of the bureaucracy was a mystery; pride, ritual and fear maintained it. Cubberley and his colleagues were describing—with some caricature—a social pathology which had afflicted urban schools for decades. In 1880 Charles Francis Adams Jr. blasted school superintendents as “drill sergeants” and described their schools as “a combination of the cotton mill and the railroad with the model State-prison.”3 In a series of articles in the Forum in 1892, Dr. Joseph M. Rice attacked regimentation in city schools of the East and Midwest.

Keywords

Public School School System Urban School School Board Progressive Education 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Ellwood P. Cubberley, The Portland Survey (Yonkers-on-Hudson, N.Y., 1916), p. 125.Google Scholar
  2. 5.
    On school systems as bureaucracies see Charles E. Bidwell, “The School as a Formal Organization,” in Handbook of Organizations, ed. James G. March (Chicago, 1965), p. 974; on bureaucratic structure generally see Reader in Bureaucracy, eds. Robert K. Merton et al. (Glencoe, IL, 1952).Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    On early district schools see Clifton Johnson’s Old-Time Schools and School-Books (New York, 1904); the quest for standardization is a theme of practically all histories of the common school reform and reports of state superintendents—as an Oregon sample, see Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction, First Biennial Report (Salem, OR, 1874), pp. 24–27.Google Scholar
  4. 8.
    David Tyack, “The Tribe and the Common School: the District School in Ashland, Oregon, in the 1860’s,” Call Number, XXVII (Spring 1966), 13–23;Google Scholar
  5. Marshall Barber, The Schoolhouse at Prairie View (Lawrence, KS, 1953);Google Scholar
  6. Milton E. Shatraw, “School Days,” American West, III (Spring 1966), 68–71.Google Scholar
  7. 9.
    Aaron Gove, “Duties of City Superintendents,” NEA, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses … 1884 (Boston, 1885), p. 27; for a similar point of view see Superintendent of Public Schools, San Francisco, Twenty-Second Annual Report (San Francisco, 1875), p. 140; T. L. Reller, The Development of the City Superintendency of Schools in the United States (Philadelphia, 1935).Google Scholar
  8. 10.
    Richard C. Wade, The Urban Frontier (Chicago, 1964), pp. 314, 317; see Third Annual Report of the General Superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools (St. Louis, 1857), pp. 324–29, 354–69.Google Scholar
  9. 11.
    Duane Doty and William T. Harris, A Statement of the Theory of Education in the United States of America as Approved by Many Leading Educators (Washington, D.C., 1874), pp. 14, 13, 12;Google Scholar
  10. see Oscar Handlin’s discussion of the urban demand for chronological precision in The Historian and the City, eds. Oscar Handlin and John Burchard (Cambridge, 1963), pp. 13–14.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    NEA, Report of the Committee on Salaries, Tenure, and Pensions of Public School Teachers in the United States (Winona, MN, 1905), p. 195.Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Sociology and Contemporary Education, ed. Charles N. Page (New York, 1964), pp. 83, 76–114.Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    See Lawrence Cremin, The Transformation of the School (New York, 1961).Google Scholar
  14. 23.
    Thomas H. Crawford, “Historical Sketch of the Public Schools of Portland, Oregon, 1847–1888” (typescript, Oregon Collection, University of Oregon Library), pp. 9, 13–14; Alfred Powers and Howard M. Corning, “History of Education in Portland” (mimeographed W.P.A. Adult Education Project, 1937), p. 48.Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    David Tyack, “The Kingdom of God and the Common School: Protestant Ministers and the Educational Awakening in the West,” Harvard Educational Review, XXXVI (Fall 1966), 447–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. 44.
    Lucien Kinney, Certification in Education (Englewood Cliffs, N. J., 1964), pp. 77–79; the discussions in the department of superintendence of the NEA at the turn of the century dealt extensively with the problems of the spoils system in education, as did the series of articles on public education in Atlantic Monthly in 1896; on the issue of the “book trust” see the Oregonian, Sept. 23 and 24 and Oct. 28, 1894.Google Scholar
  17. 52.
    Wallace Sayre, in “Additional Observations on the Study of Administration,” Teachers College Record, LX (Nov. 1958), 73–76, analyzes some of the “serviceable myths” developed by educational bureaucrats in their quest for autonomy and outlines some issues that need to be studied to clarify the external relations of schools to their environment; I am indebted to his suggestions.Google Scholar
  18. 65.
    E. H. Whitney, “Partial History of the Portland School System, 1896–1913, with Biographical Sketch of Frank Rigler” (Seminar Paper, University of Oregon, 1922).Google Scholar
  19. 67.
    Lee A. Dillon, “The Portland Public Schools from 1873 to 1913” (Master’s thesis, University of Oregon, 1928), pp. 26–27.Google Scholar
  20. 71.
    NEA, Journal of Proceedings and Addresses ... 1901 (Chicago, 1901), pp. 188–89.Google Scholar
  21. 73.
    Michel Crozier, The Bureaucratic Phenomenon (Chicago, 1964), p. 187, defines bureaucracy as “an organization that cannot correct its behavior by learning from its errors”; at a meeting of school patrons on Dec. 27, 1912, a citizen (not a school board member), W. B. Ayer, was the person who proposed that the investigation of the schools be made (Report for 1913, pp. 32–33); for a bitter indictment of the Rigler machine see The Telegram, Mar. 21, 1914.Google Scholar
  22. 75.
    Raymond Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency (Chicago, 1962).Google Scholar
  23. 76.
    Cubberley, Public School Administration (Boston, 1916), p. 338.Google Scholar
  24. 78.
    Cubberley, Changing Conceptions of Education (Boston, 1909), pp. 56–57.Google Scholar
  25. 81.
    In 1917 P. W. Horn did a follow-up study to see if the Cubberley recommendations were followed: Report of Supplementary Survey of Portland Public Schools (Portland, 1917).Google Scholar
  26. 82.
    John Dewey, School and Society (Chicago, 1956), pp. 7–11; Dewey was somewhat ambiguous in posing an organizational model for the school, for he realized that large-scale organizations were a permanent feature of modern industrial society, and he wished workers to realize the functional significance of their contribution to these enterprises.Google Scholar

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© John L. Rury 2005

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  • David Tyack

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