William Link's account of the transformation of Virginia's country
schools between 1870 and 1920 fills important gaps in the history
of education and the social history of the South. His theme is the
impact of localism and community on the processes of public
education -- first as a motive force in the spread of schooling,
then as a powerful factor that collided with the goals of urban
After the Civil War, localism dominated every dimension of
education in rural Virginia and in the rural South. School
expansion depended upon local enthusiasm and support, and rural
education was increasingly integrated into this environment. These
schools mirrored the values of the society. Drawing expertly from
varied sources, Link recreates this local world: the ways in which
schools were organized and governed, the experiences of teachers
and students, and the impact of local control. In so doing, he
reveals the harmony of the nineteenth-century, one-room school with
its surrounding community.
After 1900, the schools entered a long period of change. They
became a prime target of urban social reformers who regarded
localism as a corrosive force responsible for the South's weak
political structure, racial tensions, and economic
underdevelopment. School reformers began a process that ultimately
reshaped every dimension of rural public education in Virginia.
During the decades surrounding World War I they initiated sweeping
changes in governance, curriculum, and teacher training that would
have an impact for the next several generations. They also
attempted -- for the most part successfully -- to impose a
Link carefully develops the role of the Virginia reformers, never
assuming that reform and modernization were unmixed blessings. The
reformers succeeded, he argues, only by recognizing the power and
significance of local control and by respecting the strength of
community influence over schools.
Originally published in 1986.
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