Swarthmore College

In The Education Trap: Schools and the Remaking of Inequality in Boston (Harvard, 2021), Cristina Groeger investigates the political and economic history of education at the turn of the twentieth century. With Boston as her focus, her study argues that the movement for public schooling reveals not a clear path to social mobility, but instead new modes for consolidating elite power. Public schools trained students for white- and pink-collar jobs, presaging a shift away from craftworkers (and their unions) and towards a managerial workplace. Liberal arts education stands as an important crux in this argument. It forms the crossroads of newly emergent notions of meritocracy and credentialism, at the same time as its vocational character is masked against more industrial modes of education. Groeger writes:

This book challenges the dichotomy between vocational and liberal (or academic) education by showing how forms of liberal education served as key paths to specific future employment opportunities. Liberal arts education, imagined in opposition to vocational concerns, was held up as an ideal across the political spectrum toward a variety of ends. In practice, however, this idealization became an important tool used by leading educational institutions to secure their status and prestige, as well as a means of legitimizing the economic benefits attained by those with a supposedly nonvocational degree.

About the Author

Andy Hines is the Associate Director of the Aydelotte Foundation. He is the author of Outside Literary Studies: Black Criticism and the University .

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October 28, 2021
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