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Gateways to the West, Part II: Education and the Making of Race, Place, and Culture in the West

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 February 2017

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In his 1916 book, The Measurement of Intelligence, Lewis Terman presented the first version of the Stanford-Binet scale and his testing results for groups of California children. Singling out a few children whose scores fell in the range he categorized as “feeble-minded,” Terman commented:

[They] represent the level of intelligence that is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they came. The fact that one meets this type with such extraordinary frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have to be taken up anew and by experimental methods.1

Historiographical Essay
Copyright © History of Education Society 2017 

In his 1916 book, The Measurement of Intelligence, Lewis Terman presented the first version of the Stanford-Binet scale and his testing results for groups of California children. Singling out a few children whose scores fell in the range he categorized as “feeble-minded,” Terman commented:

[They] represent the level of intelligence that is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they came. The fact that one meets this type with such extraordinary frequency among Indians, Mexicans, and negroes suggests quite forcibly that the whole question of racial differences in mental traits will have to be taken up anew and by experimental methods.Footnote 1

That racist assumptions shaped the idea of intelligence and the practice of IQ testing in America is well-known in the history of education. Stephen Jay Gould's scathingly detailed critique of the testing movement and its foundation in the earlier racialized science of craniometry is now 35 years old, though it still bears rereading.Footnote 2  Since then, leading scholars in the field, such as Gilbert Gonzalez, Judith Raftery, Paula Fass, John G. Richardson, Robert Osgood, Carlos Blanton, and R. Scott Baker, have examined how ideas of intelligence and practices of mental testing shaped the thinking of school officials and students’ experiences in the twentieth century.Footnote 3  Within this literature, western cases—especially the states and cities of California and Texas—figure prominently. Still, the emergence of the IQ idea itself has so far been treated as an essentially placeless phenomenon—as a matter of intellectual history and thus of transatlantic influence rather than as an event in the politics of knowledge, in which localized experience and strategic considerations may have played important roles.

Certainly, Terman's racialist assumptions preceded his arrival at Stanford University and his revision of the Binet scale. They were already present, for example, in his 1906 doctoral dissertation from Clark University in Massachusetts, where he identified contrasts between the Anglo-Saxon and the “negro,” “Eskimo,” “Indian,” and “Australian native” as illuminating the “apparent kinship between general intellectual and inventive ability.”Footnote 4  Still, Terman's specific reference to “Spanish-Indians and Mexican families of the Southwest” in 1916, at a formative moment in the history of the IQ idea, is worth noting. In the decade between completing his doctoral work at Clark and publishing the Stanford-Binet scale, Terman worked as a school principal in San Bernadino and a professor at Los Angeles Normal School before being recruited by Ellwood Cubberley to join the Stanford faculty in 1910 as a professor of educational psychology.Footnote 5  The possible influence of Terman's California context on the development of his ideas has not, however, so far as we know, been previously suggested or explored.

More broadly, the possible influence of the West, not only on the “science” of intelligence but on ideas of race and on racism itself, has yet to be investigated in the history of education. In a provocative 2003 presidential address to the Western History Association, entitled “Reconstructing Race,” Elliott West questioned the way that US historians have “allowed the South to dominate the story of race in America.”Footnote 6  He asked what that story would look like if we expanded its geography and chronology to consider the full implications of the enormous territorial expansion of the US in the 1840s, an expansion that increased the area of the United States by 66%and the number of languages spoken by more than 100%. In West's account, this expansion also triggered “an American racial crisis”—a crisis that was not just about the potential expansion of southern slavery but about how people conceived of the relationship between race and nation. Quoting racializing statements by US political leaders about Mexicans and Indians from this period, West highlighted what he called the “racial rationale for conquest” and the ongoing dialogue between the West and the South in shaping US federal policy.Footnote 7

West's ultimate point was that the history of the American West was central to forming American ideas of race and racism in all their variety. Taking a cue from Stephen Jay Gould's own grisly account of the collection and (mis)measurement of Native American skulls in the decades before the Civil War (to which were later added Chinese, African American, and additional Native American specimens), West captured the tangible significance of western influence on ideas of intelligence and race in a powerful image. As West put it: “Scientific racists held up Indian skulls and pronounced them proof that black slavery was good and proper.”Footnote 8  What place could be better than the West for a psychologist with Terman's interests to begin his career and develop his ideas?

Since West's address, a number of insightful studies in western history have explored the issues it posed. In this historiographical essay, we bring these and other examples of scholarship from western history to bear on literature in the history of education to frame new perspectives and questions for the field. As in Part I of the essay, published in August 2016, our aim is more provocative than synthetic.Footnote 9 Far from attempting to provide a comprehensive survey of the history of education in the West, we aim to identify key ways in which western cases and analyses light up alternative views and understandings of the history of education. Specifically, in Part II of the essay we draw on major new studies of racialization, (sub)urbanization, curriculum, and activism to consider the significance of education in the making of race, place, and culture in the West. What follows is an essay in four parts: “Neither Black nor White: Education and the Making of Race in the West,” “Education and (Sub)urbanization: The Making of Place in the West,” “Education and the Politics of Knowledge, Curriculum, and Culture in the West,” and “Education and Activism in the West: The Significance of Language and Culture.”

Neither Black nor White: Education and the Making of Race in the West

Existing literature in the history of education demonstrates that schools were central to the making of race in the North American West. For example, studies by K. Tsianina Lomawaima, David Wallace Adams, Matthew Sakiestewa Gilbert, and Alexandra Harmon show how federal treaties and policies used schools as institutional tools to erase Indigenous identities and construct the racial category of “Indian.” At the same time, these studies show that Indigenous students themselves often forged pan-Indian identities across considerable language and cultural differences as a strategy of both survival and resistance.Footnote 10 In a somewhat analogous sense, Guadalupe San Miguel Jr.’s Brown, Not White argues that schools became critical sites for both Texas policy-makers and Chicano activists to mark and to change racial identities under the shifting policies of a triracial segregation regime.Footnote 11 More recently, David Wallace Adams's path-breaking study of the experiences of Hispanic, Navajo, and Anglo youth in one remote county of New Mexico illuminates how school attendance had the simultaneous effect of marking racial and cultural difference and of creating spaces of cross-cultural exchange, influence, and negotiation in the post-statehood period.Footnote 12

In synthesizing this history, the field would benefit from engaging a growing body of work in western history that historicizes the process of racialization. For starters, that scholarship could lead the field to better recognize basic periodization in the history of race beyond the black/white binary. It can also help us make connections and distinctions among the experiences of different racialized groups. Finally, it can help us better conceptualize the significance of education in the process of racialization.

Crucial to understanding the dynamics of racial formation in the West is the role that race played in federal law defining naturalization and citizenship. From James Anderson's important 2007 analysis we know that, from the beginning, the US Naturalization Act was a racializing policy. The original 1790 act specified that “any Alien being a free white person … may be admitted to become a citizen thereof.” What began as a racializing policy became even more so after the Civil War, when Congress revised the terms of the law in 1870. Motivated by the dynamics of emancipation and Reconstruction to modify the existing restriction of naturalized citizenship to “white” immigrants, Congress responded to pressure from the West, specifically California, to continue excluding Chinese and Native Americans from citizenship. Rather than eliminate any reference to race from the Naturalization Act, they added a section extending naturalization law “to aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” As a result, Asians and Native Americans were excluded from naturalization precisely by being regarded as neither black nor white. Footnote 13

This relationship between race and citizenship—in which only those raced as black or white had access to naturalization—profoundly influenced the role of education in the making of race in the West. As compared especially with the South, where race was inscribed in centuries of law across multiple social, political, and economic domains, racism in much of the West was neither binary nor stable, but multiple, malleable, and shifting. This malleability and legal ambiguity made schooling more rather than less significant in the process of racialization.

Existing literature on the school experiences of ethnic Chinese in California begins to illuminate the interaction between federal law and local school politics in western racialization. We know from the legal histories of Charles Wollenberg and Joyce Kuo, for example, that despite racially exclusionary state laws, local school authorities in San Francisco had accommodated ethnic Chinese since 1859 by maintaining a “Chinese” school in the city off and on in response to parental demand. In 1870, however, in the wake of several Reconstruction provisions, including the 1870 Naturalization Act, California revised state school law regarding racialized minorities. The revised law granted localities “permission” to set up separate schools for African Americans and Indians, but omitted mentioning provisions for ethnic Chinese students. Within a year of this revision, the San Francisco School Board concluded that it need not make any provision for such students and closed the existing school, thereafter excluding ethnic Chinese from public schools entirely despite repeated petitions from Chinese families and businessmen.Footnote 14

These exclusionary conditions eventually became the object of the famous 1885 case, Tape v. Hurley. In that case, the Chinese immigrant parents of the US-born Mamie Tape sought admission for their daughter to their (white) neighborhood school. After repeated refusals by the school's principal and affirmation of that decision by the San Francisco School Board and the state school superintendent, the Tapes sued the Board on Mamie's behalf. The case was decided in their favor, first by the Superior Court and ultimately by the state Supreme Court. Like most such cases, however, the victory proved limited. Within days of the decision, the state legislature again amended the school law to specify that Chinese students could or should (only) be accommodated in segregated schools. Accordingly, San Francisco school authorities responded to the ruling not by admitting Mamie Tape to the existing school in her neighborhood, but by opening a separate “Chinese” school elsewhere.

Viewed within the framework of legal histories like those of Wollenberg and Kuo, the Tape case marked a shift from school exclusion to school segregation for ethnic Chinese. Considered as part of the history of race and racialization in the West, however, the significance of the Tape case specifically, and of school segregation cases more broadly, looks somewhat different. In this case, schools themselves defined race and that racialization preceded recognition by law. A good historical question is why racialization occurred when and how it did. A closer look at the Tape story together with analysis of other cases helps address that question.

Mae Ngai's The Lucky Ones details the immigration story of Mamie Tape's parents and their coming of age within white-controlled, English-speaking households. Neither parent ever lived within the Chinese community, though Mr. Tape's highly successful business operated at the interstices of Chinatown and Anglo merchant networks. In 1884, when the Tapes sought admission for their children to the San Francisco public schools, they inhabited a substantial house in a white neighborhood. Their quest for public education for their children was thus a measure of their already successful assimilation into Anglo Christian culture, economy, and society. But California officials viewed their admittance to public school as the ultimate threat to nativist portrayals of Chinese as filthy, perverse, uneducable, and subhuman.Footnote 15

As David Brudnoy, Charlotte Brooks, and Noriko Asato argue, California's system of “Oriental” schools became a strategic site for further racialization in the early twentieth century. Most famously, in 1905, the San Francisco School Board bowed to pressure from the newly formed Asiatic Exclusion League, which drew on some of the same racial rhetoric as earlier Chinese exclusion campaigns. However, US-Japan treaty obligations as well as a growing appreciation among federal officials of Japanese military and diplomatic power, transformed this local school segregation policy into an international crisis. The San Francisco “school board incident,” and later attacks by so-called “exclusion leagues” on west coast Japanese language schools, revealed not only white fears over Japanese economic and educational advancement but also significant tension over what scale of government had authority to make and enforce racial categories and policies.Footnote 16

Timothy Stanley's Contesting White Supremacy explores a similar case of racialization in Canada and in the process addresses the question of why racialization occurred how and when it did. Stanley examines the 1922 Victoria School Board decision to move Chinese students attending seven different elementary schools to three facilities recently designated as segregated schools. Stanley highlights the contradictions of such policies. He notes, for example, that contrary to stated rationales, the majority of the students were Canadian-born British subjects, not aliens; many spoke English as their first and only language; and most were performing at above-average levels for their class. More broadly, Stanley demonstrates that it was precisely when targeted families had achieved middle-class status, purchased residences throughout the city, and come to exhibit Anglo linguistic and cultural fluency that district and city leaders sought to establish difference through segregation. Thus, the decision to segregate the schools was an effort to “refix” categories of “Chinese” and “white” when the very success of acculturation threatened to destabilize those categories.Footnote 17

Historians of education should be struck by parallels between Stanley's account of “Chinese” school segregation and community resistance in Victoria in 1922 and similar scenarios involving Mexican Americans in the Southwest around the same time.Footnote 18  Early work by David Montejano provided an influential framework for discussing segregation in broad terms. Montejano positioned the rise of racial segregation in twentieth-century Texas not as some natural outcome of increased nativism or anti-Mexican hostility but instead as tied to modernity—as the “modern” way of marking economic class.Footnote 19  Unlike black experience in Texas, segregation of Mexican children was not state-mandated. Technically illegal, it usually stopped around fifth grade, when many Mexicans entered the migrant labor stream. Gilbert Gonzalez in Chicano Education in the Era of Segregation used a similar framework to analyze schooling of Mexican children in California, demonstrating that segregated schools re-created “Mexicans” as cheap labor.Footnote 20  Once again, in the absence of formal legal provisions, schools did the work of fixing race and class for those regarded as “neither black nor white.”

Victoria- María MacDonald's 2004 survey of desegregation cases brought by Mexican Americans provides a starting point for understanding schools as sites of resistance to such racialization. Within that history, the 1931 California court decision in Alvarez v. Lemon Grove is recognized as one of the first Mexican American victories.Footnote 21  In that case, after Mexican American families boycotted schools rather than accept new assignments, the judge ruled that Mexican students could not be segregated because they were white. Scholars such as Laura Muñoz, Jeanne Powers, Rubén Donato, Gonzalo Guzman, and Jarrod Hanson have investigated earlier cases in other states with similar dynamics, if not the same results.Footnote 22

The history of education as a field has struggled to comprehend the significance of such cases as anything other than a loose parallel to racial segregation in the Jim Crow South. Natalia Molina's How Race Is Made in America, however, repositions cases like Lemon Grove, removing them from the black/white binary and resituating them as responses to changes in federal policy represented by the Immigration Acts of 1917 and 1924.Footnote 23

While most literature addresses the significance of those acts from the perspective of European immigrants in the East, Molina's study highlights consequences in the West. The Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 established quotas regulating European immigration and further institutionalized long-standing practices of Asian exclusion by barring from immigration anyone ineligible for naturalized citizenship. The same act left migration within the Western Hemisphere largely unregulated, however. Exploiting that exception, agricultural and industrial sectors increasingly turned to Mexico as a source of immigrant labor. This in turn led those who had promoted the 1924 act to focus on restricting migration from Latin America as well. Advocates of such restriction sought to repeat their earlier success by creating a new racial category for Mexicans that would fit the same logic of “neither black nor white” applied to Asians. In 1930, white supremacists seemed on the verge of succeeding when the US Census Bureau, for the first and only time, placed Mexicans in a racial category of their own, along with classifications for Whites, Negroes, American Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Hindus, and Koreans.Footnote 24

Molina's contributions to understanding the significance of this episode are both conceptual and evidentiary. A central contribution is her use of the concept of “racial scripts” to historicize the process by which officials borrowed practices of racialization from one era and applied them to new populations in another. In addition, Molina documents shifts in the rationale used to justify such decisions. Whereas officials earlier appealed primarily to legal documents to determine the status of Mexican migrants as “white,” in the 1920s and 30s they increasingly ruled that the standard for determining the “race” of individuals and groups was “common understanding.” It was in this context that segregated schools became crucial sites of racialization and resistance. As the activists who established the League of United Latin American Citizens in 1929 clearly understood, schools became important sites of contestation precisely because they embodied “common understandings” of race.

Further illustration of how such “common understanding” operated is provided by the work of David Garcia and Tara Yosso. By detailing how the phenomenon of the “Mexican school” was created in Oxnard, California, Garcia and Yosso highlight the significance of school segregation in creating whiteness as well as other racial categories. Quoting from the correspondence of one white parent in 1938, they document the complaint that the Oxnard School Board had taken a school “away from the use of American children” and “given it bodily over to the use of Mexicans.”Footnote 25 The demand, then, was for an “American” or “white” school to which “Mexicans,” by definition, did not belong.

Once we grasp the centrality of school policy in defining “common understandings” of race, the question of how far educators themselves reinforced or challenged such “racial scripts” is illuminated as a potential object of historical analysis. Thanks to important recent studies by Zoë Burkholder, Diana Selig, and Leah Gordon, we know a lot more than we used to about how educators taught about, and even against, race in the mid-to-late 20th century.Footnote 26 Without a more multiregional and multiracial analysis of the relationship between education and racialization prior to 1940, however, we stand to misconstrue or miss altogether many of the conditions to which antiracist activism at mid-century responded.

Many gaps still exist in the historiography of racialization and schooling in the American West. We have few studies of African American school experience prior to the 1940s, for example. Another omission is direct comparison of school experience across populations. One recent exception is David Wallace Adams's study of the experiences of Hispanic, Navajo, and Anglo youth in New Mexico.Footnote 27 Another is Kim Cary Warren's work on black and Native American education in Kansas, which shows how southern and western systems of racialization operated alongside one another in the same state.Footnote 28  Opportunities for analysis of similarly complex dynamics exist for Oklahoma and other western contexts.

Education and (Sub)urbanization: The Making of Place in the West

More than four decades after the publication of David Tyack's One Best System, with its notable but nonetheless sparse examples from Oregon and California, histories of urban education focused on western cities remain few and far between. Chief exceptions include a few studies of the politics of school reform during the Progressive Era such as Bryce Nelson's Good Schools, on Seattle; Judith Raftery's, Land of Fair Promise on Los Angeles; Harvey Kantor's Learning to Earn on vocational education in California, and sub-sections of comparative works by Paul E. Peterson, Ira Katznelson, and Margaret Weir on San Francisco.Footnote 29

With the partial exception of Raftery's study of LA, however, these studies pay little attention to the distinctive population and settlement patterns of western cities. Moreover, they focus on the period before World War II, ending their accounts before what is arguably the most important and distinctive period of urban development in the West. Lillian Rubin's 1972 study of desegregation in the Bay Area city of Richmond and Judith Kafka's 2011 study of school discipline in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 70s, bring the tradition of urban educational history that focuses on school politics forward into the desegregation era, but remain exceptions.Footnote 30

Studies of specific urban populations which engage educational issues in the desegregation era, such as those by Guadalupe San Miguel Jr., Quintard Taylor, and Wei Li, provide partial correctives to these gaps.Footnote 31  They are not designed to consider how the experiences of those populations fit into larger patterns of urban and suburban development, however. To address this larger problem, the history of education as a field would benefit from more direct connections with bourgeoning literature in western history that explores the class, race, and gender dimensions of urban and suburban development in the West. Admittedly, most existing literature focuses on California and the West Coast. A huge opportunity remains for good (sub)urban histories of western cities outside of California and especially for cities in the western interior. Nonetheless, the existing literature yields significant insights that the history of education has yet to take into account, leaving key questions unidentified and unexplored.

Among those questions is the significance of education in western city-building itself. Studies by Kevin Starr, Marc Weiss, Greg Hise, and Robert Self show how West Coast (especially California) cities served as planning laboratories for new ideas of urbanism from the early twentieth century.Footnote 32  California real estate developers tried experiments in the West that were too uneconomical or utopian for eastern metropolitan contexts. Integral to this experimentation were community “packages” in which developers offered “full service” communities that included parks, churches, and schools in a garden city that (ideally) blended the best features of suburban development and urban living. Although we glimpse the place of schools in these experiments, scholars have yet to examine that role in a sustained and deliberate way.

A key insight from this literature is that suburbs did not develop in the same secondary relationship to urban centers in the West as in the East, but concurrently and to some extent in competition with central cities and with each other. According to Hise, “suburbanization” was “urbanization” in the West.Footnote 33  This insight has led some scholars to resist the very language of “suburb,” and refer instead to “regional satellite cities,” each with their own urban amenities. A corollary observation is that satellite cities did not necessarily develop as elite havens. Many developed as what Becky Nicolaides called “working-class suburbs,” and some, as Emily Strauss described with respect to Compton, have since declined into poverty.Footnote 34

One distinctive aspect of early urban development in some locations was the simultaneous assault on the physical environment—such as port-building, and power, water, and street-car system development—and aggressive displacement of resident racialized populations, including Native Americans, Mexican Americans, and ethnic Chinese. These interrelated dynamics are powerfully illuminated in Coll Thrush's Native Seattle, which documents how the aggressive reengineering of Seattle's waterways in the 1910s effectively eradicated much of the human, marine, and riparian habitat that had supported Puget Sound's Native Salish settlement and life.Footnote 35  In effect, the Indian agent and the real estate developer were one. If, as Bernard Bailyn and Lawrence Cremin suggested, education is defined as the transfer of culture across generations, the educational implications of such city-building are profound.

In addition to cases of cultural transformation and loss, western urban history offers some alternatives to the starkly racialized structures of residential and school segregation that defined (sub)urban development in many places after World War II. Even as prewar Anglo white migrants to the West separated themselves racially in exclusive suburban neighborhoods and satellite cities, other neighborhoods were characterized by uncommon multiracial and multiethnic mixing.Footnote 36  A 2015 article by Isabela Seong Leong Quintana, for example, describes rich overlap and interaction between Chinatown and Sonoratown in 1920s Los Angeles.Footnote 37  Scholars such as Mark Wild (Los Angeles) and Shelley Sang-Hee Lee (Seattle), similarly devote chapters to analyzing schools as important sites of mixing in such neighborhoods before 1940.Footnote 38

What happened to this multiracial settlement pattern and educational tradition during the war? According to historian Marilynn Johnson, whose work focuses on Oakland/Richmond, World War II was “a critical watershed” in the history of western cities that historians have given “short shrift.”Footnote 39  For starters, large populations of Japanese Americans were removed from many West Coast cities by federal authority, with their often substantial commercial networks and business establishments either destroyed or appropriated, and neighborhood schools emptied. That was not the only reconfiguration of urban settlement federal policy affected. Unlike most West Coast cities, for example, Portland had refused to create a public housing authority in the 1930s and relied on private solutions for the influx of defense workers into the early 1940s. One result was the parallel city of Vanport, housing forty-two thousand residents. Although Vanport became one of two Portland-area war housing locations that allowed African American residents, it did so with strict racial quotas. Meanwhile, all public housing within the city remained white; at the close of the war, city officials were quoted as hoping that most blacks would leave and thereby rid the city of any “racial problems.”Footnote 40

With one major exception, however, the educational consequences of such federal interventions in the West have yet to be appreciated. In American Education, Democracy, and the Second World War, Charles Dorn painstakingly uncovered the impact of defense-related social spending on multiple levels of education in California, from support for nursery schools in Richmond and curricular interventions in Palo Alto high schools, to research funding at Stanford University. As part of his analysis, he considered the significance of wartime economic and education policy for women and the value of widespread public support for early childhood education. He further explored both the extent to which such policies fostered class and racial mixing in education and the limits of educators’ efforts to confront realities of race and class injustice.Footnote 41

Unfortunately, Dorn's important and provocative analysis remains to be synthesized with other major work in either history of education or urban history. History of education scholars such as Jack Dougherty, Ansley Erickson, and Karen Benjamin have charted the significance of schools in the spatial development of cities and the race and class politics of place for metropolitan areas of the Northeast and Sunbelt South.Footnote 42  With the exception of Michael Bowman's recent study of interactions between planning, housing policy, and schooling in the Pacific Northwest, however, their work has yet to be matched by comparable studies focused on the West.Footnote 43  While the significance of education in the “suburbanization of American politics” after World War II was a national phenomenon, it remains to be seen whether it developed everywhere in the same way, with the same spatial demography, and on the same time line. Becky Nicolaides describes, for example, how the role that schools played in promoting local political autonomy or metropolitan annexation shifted more than once between the 1920s and the 1960s in the southern California suburb of South Gate.Footnote 44

Existing literature suggests the potential for interregional comparison and intraregional synthesis of such cases. Margaret O'Mara's Cities of Knowledge, for example, makes postwar expansion of institutions of higher education on both the West and East Coasts part of a larger analysis of postwar political economy and politics. In the process, she shows how distinctive versions of suburbanization and racial isolation in the West came together with federal policy to create an essentially new knowledge-based political economy and intellectual culture in Silicon Valley. The effects of this new regime, as Robert Self showed, were highly uneven, with some satellite cities gaining most benefits and others bearing most costs. Self focuses on the bifurcated politics that emerged from this economic geography, including the radicalism of Oakland's Black Panthers alongside the conservatism of neighboring suburbs like Richmond. So far, however, his analysis remains disconnected from scholarship on educational institutions and issues often at the center of those politics, such as the support for child care and vocational education described by Charles Dorn, the antibusing movement in Richmond described by Lillian Rubin, the role of Merritt College in the Black Panther movement described by Donna Murch, or the intervention (and eventual assassination) of Marcus Foster, the first African American superintendent of schools in Oakland, described by John Spencer.Footnote 45

Other scholars, meanwhile, have taken up the challenge of describing the emergence of West Coast conservatism, with school-based politics often a crucial piece of the puzzle.Footnote 46  However, western educational historiography is still missing a metanarrative that explores the formation of the West's geographically miniscule school districts (compared to the Southeast and Midwest), the role of western politics in normalizing federal funding for schools (as counterpart to Adam Nelson's look at Boston), the integral role of school issues in the conservative resurgence of the 1970s (as counterpart to Matthew Lassiter's analysis of the South), and the devastating consequences of western antitax initiatives for schools in many poor and working-class districts.Footnote 47

In addition, one impression that emerges from this literature on late twentieth-century (sub)urban history is how far the old black/white binary of the East has overtaken the historiography of the urban West for this period. Certainly, African American urban migration during World War II was a major phenomenon in the West, as elsewhere. But did existing Asian, Latino, and other racialized communities simply disappear, as it sometimes seems? And how did major increases in Asian and Latino populations in western cities in the 1970s interact with black activism around issues of segregated housing, employment discrimination, school desegregation, black power, and urban disinvestment that are so familiar in urban history and historiography?

In a provocative 2014 article in the Journal of American History, Andrew Sandoval-Strausz argues that a clear-eyed analysis of Latino urban settlement in the United States post-1970 supports a narrative of urban growth, revival, and renaissance rather than one of urban decline. Combining broad statistical analysis with a focused case study of Dallas's Oak Cliff neighborhood, Sandoval-Strausz documents distinct patterns of urbanism in certain census tracts, including greater pedestrian orientation and activity, lower crime rates, increased property values, greater definition and use of private-public space, and higher rates of founding and survival of small independent (Spanish-speaking) businesses and social institutions, implying that Latino urban migration effectively “saved” certain cities or portions of cities from “urban crisis.”Footnote 48

In addition, Sandoval-Strausz identifies transnational dimensions of Latino urban migration, including formal partnerships between northern migrants and municipalities in Mexico that directed investment of social and economic capital into institutions such as churches and health clinics. Sandoval-Strausz does not mention schools specifically in this context, but social geographers such as Katharyne Mitchell and historians such as Madeline Hsu provide parallel accounts of transnational capital formation and investment among Asian migrants to western North American cities like Vancouver, San Francisco, and Seattle that put education at the center of their analysis.Footnote 49  Together, this scholarship challenges historians to resist the assumed narrative of late twentieth-century urban crisis that may describe some cities, but is also born of the apparently perpetual renewability and dominance of the black/white binary in both American history and its historiography.

Education and the Politics of Knowledge, Curriculum, and Culture in the West

Distinct political economies of labor, migration, imperial power and transnational influence in the West have shaped distinctive politics of knowledge, curriculum and culture. An example is Lewis Terman's Measurement of Intelligence, published during a moment of tightened restriction on Japanese migration, increased Mexican migration, and heightened California state policy concern with the school placement of “Mexican” children otherwise defined as “white.”Footnote 50  For the most part, however, such place-based influences on educational thought and culture remain invisible in the history of education.

Major intellectual histories by Ellen Lagemann, Bruce Kimball, Mary Ann Dzuback, and Julie Reuben have provided ambitious conceptual maps of education's place in the larger world of the social sciences and of the social sciences’ place in the larger history of the university.Footnote 51 Recent cultural and intellectual histories by Zoë Burkholder and Leah Gordon bring powerful new light to social science ideas about education and race. They also admirably transcend a city-by-city approach to understanding the history of education in the twentieth century and extend the intellectual history of education beyond progressivism to World War II and the Civil Rights Era.Footnote 52 With these impressive studies at hand we might distrust any call for a regionally grounded approach to intellectual history as fundamentally retrograde. Fighting against these inclinations, we argue that without some attention to place-based influences on the politics of knowledge, we cannot recognize what is left out of accounts that—however apparently broad in scope—are actually the product of certain convergences of political, economic, and cultural power specific to places like Chicago, Boston, and New York.

One recent study that challenges the field to reimagine the significance of western contexts in the politics of knowledge, curriculum, and culture is Clif Stratton's Education for Empire. While not framed as a work of western history per se—three of the five cases at the core of his analysis focus on Atlanta, New York City, and Puerto Rico—it explores the interconnectedness of American public schooling and colonialism.Footnote 53  Many of the specific examples Stratton discusses will not be new to historians of education--he draws heavily from scholarship by Eileen Tamura, Charles Wollenberg, James Anderson, Ronald Cohen, Raymond Mohl, and Carlos Blanton.Footnote 54  Nonetheless, by rooting his analysis in the cases of California and Hawaii, situating those cases within a broader history of curriculum, and linking them to other, nonwestern cases, Stratton provokes new inquiry into the origins and chronology of certain educational ideas, the direction of their influence, and their geopolitical scope and implications.

Perhaps the most profoundly influential of those ideas was the racialized model of industrial education developed in Hawaii and subsequently transplanted to the North American South. Scholars in the history of education have long known that the particular brand of industrial education institutionalized at Hampton and Tuskegee had roots in the missionary colonialism of Samuel Chapman Armstrong's family. So far, however, literature in the field has not delved deeply into those western roots. Considered in relation to existing literature in Native American history, the idea of industrial education developed in 1830s Hawaii was not without precedent. We know from other scholarly work that early Anglo missionary-led efforts among North America's Indigenous populations similarly promoted acculturation into Anglo agricultural techniques and gender relations as compensation for land appropriation.Footnote 55  By juxtaposing Stratton's account with existing literature in the history of higher education, however, we can see how in Hawaii this precedent came together with a distinctive political economy and the trendy idea of the “manual labor institute” to forge a new model of industrial education.

“Manual labor” schools, which relied on student labor for support, were ubiquitous in the northeastern United States in the 1830s.Footnote 56  In Hawaii, however, this idea germinated in a different political economy. The model of agricultural production white missionaries promulgated there was not that of the independent yeoman farmer of New England. Rather, it was a colonial plantation economy of large-scale commercial sugar production common to the Caribbean and Central and South America. By 1840, Hilo Boarding School of Hawaii exported substantial amounts of sugar to international markets. The senior Richard Armstrong was responsible for the system of village schools that served as feeders of “student” laborers to Hilo and other missionary-owned plantations, including his own, when he became Commissioner of Public Instruction of the Kingdom of Hawai'i in 1848. It was this marriage of plantation agriculture with an articulated system of feeder schools, higher schools, and normal school training that Richard Armstrong's son, Samuel Armstrong, eventually transferred to Hampton-Tuskegee and the American South—based, as Stratton points out, on his experience inspecting village schools with his father in the early 1850s.Footnote 57

By situating Stratton's account in relation to recent work in labor history, we get a clearer understanding of that moment of intellectual transfer. As Moon-Ho Jung described in Coolies and Cane, Caribbean plantation owners first became concerned about labor supply after the British abolished slavery in 1834. It was in this context that Hawaii first became significant in the sugar industry, a trend that accelerated with emancipation of US slaves after the Civil War. It was also in this context that the idea of substituting Chinese for African labor developed, leading to mass migration of Chinese to Cuba and Hawaii in the 1840s, and eventually to Louisiana and Mississippi in the late 1860s. The simultaneous transplantation of the Hawaiian industrial education idea to the US South in 1868 makes sense in this light.Footnote 58

Stratton writes as a historian discovering the significance of American schools as agencies of political economy and culture on an imperial scale. His analysis does not get very far inside the black box of schools and classrooms, however. The potential for the history of education lies in challenging the tendency to treat schools as mere epiphenomena of larger structural and cultural forces—to recognize and explore the extent to which classrooms, schools and other educational sites operated as genuine educational spaces that pushed against dominant narratives and political forces and kept open alternative cultural norms, ideas, and possibilities. This could occur through deliberate curricular efforts such as intercultural or “internationalist” education, or simply by providing a “space” for students and communities to create alternatives for themselves.Footnote 59  What is needed is a more robust literature on the politics of knowledge that recognizes the often frankly racist and imperialist structures of schooling and seeks to restore a sense of education as contested space in which multiple agents attempted to intervene.

How, for example, would the “politics of pluralism” Jeffrey Mirel describes with respect to Americanization of European immigrants look from the perspective of multiracial immigration in the West? In his 2002 study, Americanizing the West, Frank Van Nuys delved into this question, examining programs across multiple western states.Footnote 60 More recently, Rosina Lozano's comparative analysis shows how Spanish-speaking constituents rejected English-only approaches to citizenship education and promoted two different models of bilingual-bicultural education in New Mexico and Puerto Rico in the 1930s and 40s.Footnote 61 In his article about Los Angeles, “Immigrant Education and Race,” published in this issue, Zevi Gutfreund highlights the significance of independent language schools, foreign consulates, and international travel and exchange as loci of resistance to racial constraints on immigration and citizenship education institutionalized against Japanese in the US after 1900 and Mexicans after 1924. These efforts included alternative models of “citizenship education,” such as “World Friendship Clubs.”Footnote 62

Recent studies by Ruben Flores and Carlos Blanton complement this account of educators as agents in a contested politics of knowledge.Footnote 63  As their studies describe, the challenges and opportunities of educating highly racialized multilingual and multicultural school populations in California and the Southwest led educators who were grounded in classroom experience, infused with the ideas of John Dewey and Franz Boas, imbued with the authority of state office and/or university positions during the New Deal, and often funded by private money, to launch new educational experiments. As Blanton recounts in his important new biography, George I. Sánchez's role in this history was rooted in his experiences teaching in the segregated rural schools of New Mexico. We also glimpse from Blanton's account the largely untold story of the General Education Board (GEB) in the West, which not only funded Sánchez as a master's and doctoral student at University of Texas and UC Berkeley, but also, and perhaps most importantly, as director of information and statistics of the New Mexico State Department of Education, a position that shaped his notions about the potential for government to improve opportunities for rural and Hispanic youth.

At the same time, Blanton shows how these experiences effectively politicized Sánchez, turning him into an activist who thenceforth operated on the edge of what would be politically tolerated for someone who primarily lived as a public employee. His doctoral work at UC Berkeley enlarged his sense of mission to encompass Mexican American education throughout the US Southwest. It further led him to imagine, as early as 1935, bilingual education as a national project that could operate as a division of the US Office of Education, with possible GEB support. This New Deal context also led him to substantially reimagine the curriculum and role of colleges of education to encompass an unapologetically reconstructionist vision rooted in rural sociology and a critique of the sharecropping economy. We also learn from Blanton how, for a time in the early to mid-1930s, Sánchez worked for the Rosenwald Fund in Chicago, a position that directly engaged him in southern education reform for African Americans and broadened his vision for rural education to encompass activist pedagogy in Mexico, Venezuela, and elsewhere in Latin America.

It was at this point in the mid-1930s that Sánchez's career, life, and thought interacted with the broader intellectual and political exchange between leading progressives in the United States and leaders of the Mexican revolutionary government, as described by Ruben Flores in Backroad Pragmatists. A linchpin in this relationship was Moisés Sáenz, who was a student of Dewey's at Columbia University from 1919 to 1921, during the crux of the Mexican Revolution, and who went on to become supervisor of the rural school campaign in Mexico in 1924 under its newly established federal department of education. Sáenz was not the only such link between Mexican and US intellectuals. Flores highlights the transnational intellectual influence of other Mexican and US scholar-educators, including a number of women whose stories dovetail with those told by Kathleen Weiler and Laura Muñoz about leading female educators in California, Arizona, and Texas.Footnote 64  In Flores's account, the transfer of Deweyan ideas of activist pedagogy and Boasian interculturalism to Mexico in the 1920s directly informed the revolutionary government's effort to transform rural and Indigenous education in Mexico. In turn, Mexico became a site of study for scholar-educators from the US seeking to learn firsthand what a government committed to social advancement could accomplish. Among the visitors to Mexico was Dewey himself in 1926 and Sánchez on multiple occasions in the 1930s.

This Southwest version of social reconstruction and New Deal politics constituted a node of creative thinking about issues of social justice in American society that was equivalent in many respects to those concurrently developing at Fisk University, the University of Chicago, and Columbia, so powerfully described by Leah Gordon in From Power to Prejudice. This western node of social science thinking and research also played a similar functional role in linking the work of political activists and social reformers with ideas of social scientists to shape strategies of activism, including significant legal cases of the World War II and Civil Rights Eras. Indeed, as Mark Brilliant has documented, early efforts at cross-race coalition-building in California in the 1940s were funded by the same Rockefeller money that supported comparable projects in the East otherwise focused on issues of black-white and/or Jewish-Christian relations and conflict.Footnote 65

To a large extent, this functional equivalency among projects was deliberate on the part of funders who sought to develop an infrastructure of intellectual capital, state capacity, and human resources among minority populations that would prevent open racial and class conflict in North America, including Canada and Mexico. As Flores and others describe, however, foundations were not the only source of influence on such nodes of thought. Cross-border exchanges among educators, government officials, researchers, artists, and thinkers shaped the politics of knowledge in ways not wholly reducible to structural dynamics.

Significant opportunities for future research lie in more comprehensive analysis of such intellectual work funded in the West by various philanthropies, both in the interwar period and in the 1960s and 70s, as exemplified by Victoria-María MacDonald and Benjamin Polk Hoffman's study of the role of the Ford Foundation in the Chicano studies movement.Footnote 66  Indeed, it is time for a full intellectual and institutional history of the field of ethnic studies, with its decidedly western roots and distinctive multiethnic, multiracial commission. Much of the groundbreaking early scholarship on Mexican American, Native American, and Asian American history cited in this essay was, in fact, rooted in the ethnic studies movement. In developing this account, scholars should attend to comparisons with Canadian bilingual and multicultural educational traditions, outlined by Reva Joshee and Lauri Johnson,Footnote 67 as well as to trans-border intellectual leadership such as that of Vine Deloria Jr., whose critiques of western knowledge from an Indigenous perspective span the social sciences and humanities, including metaphysics, education, theology, history, political science, and the politics of knowledge itself. Indeed, Deloria's writings provide a good place for historians seeking a philosophically rich understanding of what a more place-based approach to the history of education and knowledge construction might mean.Footnote 68

Education and Activism in the West: The Significance of Language and Culture

The history of education as a field would be greatly enriched by more deliberate efforts to integrate western nodes of intellectual leadership into the broader history of social and political activism in the post-World War II period, and to do so in a way that engages activism across a range of issues and activist groups. Civil rights historians have produced the most substantial body of cross-group comparative work on racial construction, political activism, and education in the West: Mark Brilliant's The Color of America Has Changed, Brian Behnken's Fighting Their Own Battles, and Shana Bernstein's Bridges of Reform are recent examples.Footnote 69  These studies emphasize that the civil rights movement itself looks different from a western perspective. As Brilliant puts it, the movement was “not only ‘long’ but also ‘wide.’”Footnote 70

Although focused on the single state of California, Brilliant's study provides a sturdy scaffold for structuring an account of education and activism in the post-World War II period, as well as a useful departure point for comparative analysis with other contexts. With the aim of showing “how America's ‘racial frontier’ became America's civil rights frontier,” Brilliant's book and larger argument is primarily organized around specific California legal cases.Footnote 71  In his analysis, a close look at the history of multiracial activism in California and the West leads to significant differences of periodization and substance in civil rights history.

Like many other civil rights historians, Brilliant begins his account in the wartime economic expansion of the 1940s. Other scholars of the West could contest this starting point given that legal challenges to racially exclusionary school policies date back to the mid-nineteenth century.Footnote 72  Still, Brilliant makes an important point about the particular significance of the expanding wartime economy in California, with its consequent large in-migration and associated expansion of both market and public housing. Some leaders expressed concern even before the war was over about the potential for significant racial conflict in any postwar contraction of the economy, anticipating both the loss of wartime jobs and the loss of worker housing, often intentionally constructed as temporary to ensure that wartime worker populations would not become permanent. Issues such as employment discrimination and fair housing thus were particularly salient in postwar California.

Although Brilliant follows a range of civil rights issues, his chapters on the 1947 Mendez school desegregation case and the 1974 Lau decision play crucial roles in his overarching argument. In his account, relatively early victories in state-level civil rights cases such as Mendez—which declared that racial segregation of Mexican Americans violated the state constitution, but in terms that did not necessarily apply to other segregated populations—led to early recognition of the different priorities and strategies required to address each group's distinctive legal liabilities. More broadly, Brilliant claims that because of the distinctive contributions of different populations to civil rights activism in California, the movement maintained a focus on economic issues well beyond the point that scholars generally mark a shift in strategy to focus on social domains such as schooling. To the contrary, Brilliant argues, civil rights activism on the part of Mexican Americans and other racialized minority populations in the West (such as Filipinos) continued to focus squarely on economic issues through the 1960s and early 1970s, including representation in public sector jobs, rights to unionize, and a guaranteed wage for agricultural work. At the same time, Brilliant shows how diversity among different racialized populations in California led to divergent, and eventually competing, civil rights priorities. A salient example of this was the direct conflict between bilingual education policy and court-ordered desegregation in San Francisco that resulted in the Lau decision.

Natalia Petrzela's recent study, Classroom Wars, takes up where Brilliant left off—examining how education issues such as bilingual education and sex education became central to California politics. Part policy history, part curriculum history, part political history, Petrzela's study chronicles the rise of bilingual education as a political issue in California in the 1960s, its transformation into federal policy through the Bilingual Education Act of 1968 and the 1974 Lau v. Nichols decision, and its implementation at the district level in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and San Jose. Finally, Petrzela documents how the separate, but ultimately intersecting, issue of sex education became a focus of conservative politics.Footnote 73

One important point that emerges from Petrzela's comparison of bilingual education in different cities is an appreciation of the factors that made San Francisco's policy distinctive and ultimately so consequential at both state and federal levels. Compared with Los Angeles, where Spanish speakers constituted a large proportion of the school population and were overwhelmingly Mexican and Mexican American, San Francisco's Spanish speakers constituted a much smaller proportion of the total school population. Moreover, Petrzela emphasizes the diversity of San Francisco's Spanish-speaking population, which included Bolivians, Salvadorans, Nicaraguans, Guatemalans, and Cubans as well as Chicanos and Mexican nationals. This paradoxical situation of diversity both within and among minority populations in a no-majority district fostered the voluntary adoption of a pan-Latino identity among Spanish speakers and a truly cosmopolitan approach to curriculum policy which in turn had a profound effect on the implementation of bilingual education. The problematic dualism of a “bilingual, bicultural” policy in a multilingual, cosmopolitan district led to what Petrzela calls “positive multiculturalism.” It was from this context, moreover, that the Lau case emerged.

The implications of Petrzela's analysis for larger narratives in the history of education are several, especially when combined with Brilliant's more explicitly political analysis. First, as a matter of curriculum history, Petrzela's account suggests that the historical origins and precedents of multicultural education and curriculum policy—often more implied than documented in the history of education—merit more careful examination, with much greater attention to their western dimensions. Second, as a matter of political and policy history, Petrzela and Brilliant lay important groundwork for constructing a new metanarrative about the significance of education in late twentieth-century politics and of the peculiar contribution of the West to those dynamics.

Student activism is central to this story. In the late 1960s, college and university students across the country became more aggressive in questioning the role of higher education in perpetuating social ills. They critiqued their own campuses, demanding diversified faculties and student bodies, ethnic studies, relaxed behavioral regulation, more representation on decision-making bodies, and an end to institutional participation in the Vietnam War. San Francisco State College and UC Berkeley figure heavily in the national narrative on student protest. In particular, the 1964 Free Speech Movement at Berkeley has been fertile ground for scholars. The movement's unofficial spokesperson, Mario Savio, was inspired by his involvement in the Mississippi freedom struggle. However, historians Robert Cohen and Reginald Zelnik also point to Savio's involvement in the Bay Area black freedom struggle as foundational to his thinking and actions.Footnote 74 Donna Murch and Robert Self, who both explore the Bay Area black freedom struggle in depth, highlight the importance of Oakland's Merritt College, a community college, in fermenting local activism.Footnote 75

The breadth of student activism in the mid-twentieth century is lost when the West is left out of the picture or, more precisely, when nonwhite activism in the West is left out. For instance, the first black studies department in the nation opened at San Francisco State College in 1968, though students had planted the seeds as early as 1965. California was also the birthplace for academic programs focused on Mexican Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans, and women. Black studies has received the heaviest scholarly attention, most recently in Martha Biondi's The Black Revolution on Campus. In it, she chronicles the rise of black studies and black student activism more generally in different regions of the county.Footnote 76

However, the continuing scholarly focus on racial binaries has meant little focus on cross-race coalitions. Angela Ryan reminds us that the birth of black studies cannot be told without attention to the cross-race coalitions that made it viable.Footnote 77  Even the Third World Liberation Front (TWLF), the most commonly invoked coalition, has not received a thorough scholarly treatment.Footnote 78 Organized at San Francisco State in 1968, the TWLF was a coalition of African American, Mexican American, Latin American, Native American, Filipino American, Chinese American and Japanese American student organizations. Shortly after the Black Student Union initiated a strike and issued demands for black studies and increased black enrollment, the TWLF joined the strike and added ethnic studies and increased enrollment for students of color to the list. Though her primary focus is discussing African American, Mexican American, and Japanese American activism separately, Laura Pulido's Black, Brown, Yellow, and Left comes closest to examining cross-racial organizing and even how the TWLF might have worked. In particular, she examines the position of different groups within the racial hierarchy as a way to make sense of the organization's internal dynamics.Footnote 79 Murch, meanwhile, offers clues as to why California was a locus of this activity: “the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles had the highest rate of college attendance among youth of color in the United States’ metropolitan areas” in 1969.Footnote 80

This is not to say that cross-race coalitions did not exist elsewhere. Ryan's own article examines activism at both San Francisco State and City College of New York where black and Puerto Rican students banded together to demand Third World Studies and increased black and Puerto Rican enrollment. Stephanie Hinnershitz's Race, Religion and Civil Rights also adds to the scant literature in novel ways. First, she broadens analysis beyond California. Second, her work challenges the assumption that black student activists became leaders in West Coast cross-race coalitions because they were the only ones who could build on decades of local activism. Hinnershitz does what Brilliant and other scholars of the West have done: she challenges the periodization of civil rights activism. She also identifies the start of organized Asian American campus activism in the early twentieth century, when anti-Asian sentiment on the West Coast peaked. International and second-generation students created their own subsidiaries of the Young Men's Christian Association, the largest of which included Chinese, Japanese, and Filipino students. Hinnerschitz is careful to document how international conflicts like the Sino-Japanese War and Japanese American interment during World War II strained Pan-Asian coalitions. Still, her evidence that Asian organizations on some campuses, including the University of Washington, worked with each other and with local branches of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Congress of Racial Equality demonstrates that cross-race campus coalitions existed earlier than most scholars think. Third, Hinnershitz's study complicates the definition of activism. Deeply influenced by religious faith and a desire to protect themselves from the virulent rhetoric and physical violence directed at Asians and Asian Americans in the early twentieth century, students focused on increasing racial harmony and changing the status of Asians by working through acceptable channels.Footnote 81

In addition to including the long history of activism by diverse groups, scholarship on student activism needs to encompass high school as well collegiate contexts. In her account of bilingual education in postwar California, Petrzela emphasizes the significance of the 1968 Chicano student blowouts in East LA and other California cities as both building upon and driving bilingual education policy and political conflict in California. More precisely, she highlights the significance of student activism in politicizing bilingual-bicultural education, making visible the demand for such policies and at the same time transforming it from an issue that once had conservative political sponsorship to one that helped mobilize a strong conservative backlash.

It was not only in dramatic walkouts, however, that high school and college students exercised political agency. As Eileen Tamura argues in her article in this issue, students also played key roles in the social service and community action agencies funded under the antipoverty programs of the Johnson administration. Focusing on Seattle's Neighborhood House, Tamura reveals how college students who served as tutors and high school students who took advantage of tutoring services, field trips, or neighborhood improvement projects sometimes also participated in organized political action and went on to become community organizers, leaders, and public officials.Footnote 82

Tamura's account of the interaction of federal policy with activism at the local level illuminates another dimension of the larger political story that Brilliant and Petrzela outline: the rise of late twentieth-century conservative politics along with the survival, persistence, and expansion of political multiculturalism. In Brilliant's account we see how Ronald Reagan's temporary support of bilingual education in 1966 intersected with a specifically Californian backlash to “forced housing” to elect him governor, a formulation Richard Nixon built upon in the backlash against “forced busing” that aided his presidential election in 1968. Meanwhile, as Petrzela details, the once-conservative issue of bilingual-bicultural education became conjoined with multiculturalism and sex education as examples of state-sponsored attacks on American culture and family life. In California, the historically strong centralized role of state government in curriculum may have helped elevate such issues to a political level.Footnote 83  Ultimately this politics of opposition to assertions of state power was expressed in the 1978 anti-tax revolt known as Proposition 13, which, Petrzela says, had educational “causes” as well as “casualties.”Footnote 84  Education, in other words, was central to a “Southwestern strategy” of conservative politics.

The rise of conservative politics is not the only side of this story, however. As Petrzela emphasizes, the origins and endurance of a multicultural politics in the face of such backlash also deserves study and explanation. Some evidence suggests that by the late 1970s, multiculturalism had become a useful rhetoric for forging convergences of interest around school policies like desegregation in ways that highlighted issues of recognition over those of redistribution.Footnote 85  Other evidence supports the contention that an emphasis on multiculturalism has at times reflected an intellectually sloppy recasting of race as culture.Footnote 86  Petrzela's investigations suggest, however, that these narratives are not the whole story. In California and the West, as we have seen, language and culture in many ways were race, and had been structured as such since at least the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, in the West, as Brilliant persistently points out, no one civil rights agenda could address the multiple institutionalized forms of racialized dispossession that were not, and had never been, binary. A worthy question for the field is what difference it would make to take seriously this long history of contested issues of race, language, and culture in the West.


Part II of this historiographical essay has surveyed provocative recent scholarship on the history of racialization, suburbanization, activism, and cultural politics to highlight the significance of education in the shaping of race, place, and culture in the West, and to suggest ways in which education in the West has shaped and been shaped by national and international politics and culture. We have argued that in the West, where race was “neither black nor white,” education was particularly important in defining and resisting racial boundaries. We have also shown how the peculiar history of urbanization and suburbanization in the West created the potential for multiethnic, multiracial educational spaces and fostered the development of bilingual and multicultural education, even as it made the institutionalization of these and other civil rights agendas in education complex and contested. More broadly, we have tried to show how distinct political economies, migration histories, and settlement patterns in the West shaped distinctive politics of knowledge, curriculum, and culture.

On their own, the several pieces of the story presented here are not enough to rewrite the history of education from a western perspective. The synthesis provided is partial and flawed in many ways. For starters, the literature itself is skewed heavily to the West Coast, and California in particular. In addition, our synthesis is limited by our own selective knowledge of that literature. Nonetheless, this incomplete picture is enough to highlight conditions, factors, and dynamics that deserve to be investigated more fully, and to suggest ways that a western perspective expands, challenges, or qualifies existing narratives in the history of education. We hope it proves a useful stepping stone for scholars continuing that work.


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83 For a discussion of the historical origins of this centralized role of state government in California, see Kelly, Matthew Gardner, “Schoolmaster's Empire: Race, Conquest, and the Centralization of Common Schooling in California, 1848–1879,” History of Education Quarterly 56, no. 3 (Aug. 2016), 445–72CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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85 For analysis of this issue using Nancy Fraser's distinction between “the politics of recognition” and “the politics of redistribution,” see Dumas, Michael, “Theorizing Redistribution and Recognition in Urban Education Research: How Do We Get Dictionaries at Cleveland?” in Theory and Educational Research: Toward Critical Social Explanation ed. Anyon, Jean (New York: Routledge, 2009), 81108 Google Scholar. Dumas focuses on Seattle as a case. For further evidence of how the idea of multiculturalism helped forge a convergence of interest around Seattle's 1977 desegregation plan, see Siqueland, Ann LaGrelius, Without a Court Order: The Desegregation of Seattle's Schools (Seattle: Madrona Publishers, 1981)Google Scholar; and Dumas, A Cultural Political Economy of School Desegregation in Seattle,” Teachers College Record 113, no. 4 (April 2011), 703–34Google Scholar.

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