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Progressivism and Curriculum Differentiation: Special Classes in the Atlanta Public Schools, 1898–1923

  • Barry M. Franklin

Abstract

Addressing the Atlanta Board of Education at its January 1898 meeting, Superintendent William F. Slaton called for the adoption of a regulation to “prevent children of dull minds and weak intellects from remaining 3 or 4 years in the same grade.” Their presence, Slaton stated, was leading “to the annoyance of the teacher and detriment of the grade.”1 This call to deal with low achieving students was not the only recommendation to alter existing school policies and programs that the city’s Board of Education heard that year or the next. In his annual reports for both 1898 and 1899, Slaton called on the Board of Education to introduce vocational education into Atlanta’s course of study to meet the needs of high school students who, as he put it, “are bread-winners early in life and subsequently heads of families.”2 And during May 1899, the Board of Education received proposals urging it to introduce physical education into the curriculum and to establish kindergarten classes in several of the city’s schools.3 Here were the first stirrings of Progressive educational reform, which would lead in Atlanta, as in other urban school systems, to a differentiated program, including vocational education and guidance, kindergartens, junior high schools, and special classes for handicapped children.4

Keywords

Special Classis Junior High School White Child Grammar School Cumulative Record 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Atlanta Board of Education, Minutes, 6 Jan. 1898, 2: 522.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Atlanta Board of Education, Twenty-seventh Annual Report, 31 Dec. 1898, 52–53, and Twenty-eighth Annual Report, 31 Dec. 1899, 28.Google Scholar
  3. 6.
    Atlanta Board of Education, School Directory, 1920–1930. The two special classes for black children in existence in 1920, one at Carrie Steele School and the other at Pittsburg Night School, were closed the following year and replaced by two classes at Storrs School. The next year, however, those classes were also closed. There were no other special classes for black children until 1929. For a discussion of special education for blacks in Georgia, see Jane Vivian Mack Strong, “A Study of Educational Facilities Available to Atypical Negro and White Children in Georgia” (M.Ed. thesis, Atlanta University, 1949).Google Scholar
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    The definition of the state used in this essay derives from Theda Skocpol, “Bringing the State Back In: Strategies of Analysis in Current Research,” in Bringing the State Back In, ed. Peter B. Evans, Dietrich Rueschemeyer, and Theda Skocpol (Cambridge, 1985), 3–37;CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  41. 53.
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  42. 55.
    To protect the identity of the Lee Street special class students, I have given them pseudonyms that indicate their gender. For a discussion of the meaning of the scores on this first version of the Stanford-Binet Test, see Lewis M. Terman, The Measurement of Intelligence: An Explanation of and a Complete Guide for the Use of the Stanford Revision and Extension of the Binet-Simon Intelligence Scale (Boston, 1916), ch. 5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  45. 60.
    The cumulative records of thirteen of the Lee Street special class students listed the occupations of their fathers. I categorized those occupations according to Thernstrom’s Socio-Economic Ranking of Occupations as follows: high white collar-owner of a furniture factory (1 child); low white collar—foreman (1), insurance agent (1), postman (1), shipping clerk (1), skilled-railroad engineer (1), carpenter (2), plumber (1), semiskilled/unskilled—packer (1), textile worker (2), waiter (1). I combined semiskilled and unskilled because it was not possible to tell from the information on the cumulative record in which of these categories the occupations fell. See Stephan Thernstrom, The Other Bostonians: Poverty and Progress in the American Metropolis, 1880–1979 (Cambridge, 1973), 289–302 (Appendix B). Although this data set is exceedingly small, I have decided to report the results. I am doing so because after three years of searching records in Atlanta, I have not been able to identify any other special children.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. 62.
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  47. 63.
    For a discussion of how Progressive Era school reforms undercut the ideals of the common school movement, see William J. Reese, “Public Schools and the Common Good,” Educational Theory 38 (Fall 1988): 431–40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

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  • Barry M. Franklin

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