Saturday, December 10, 2011

Christopher P. Loss's "Between Citizens and the State"

Christopher P. Loss is assistant professor of public policy and higher education at Vanderbilt University.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century, and reported the following:
Is a picture really worth a thousand words? If it is, then I’m in trouble, because there’s a picture on page 99 of my book and these are supposed to be short posts. I’ll do my best to keep it brief.

The picture shows eight American G.I.s—their identities hidden—participating in reading therapy at a Red Cross reading room at the Eighty-second Field Hospital in Okinawa, Japan, May 1945. Reading therapy? Really? Yes: during World War II the U.S. Army Neuropsychiatric Consultants Division—headed by William Menninger, who, along with his brother, Karl, ran the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kansas—deployed educational therapeutics as part of the army’s neuropsychiatric rehabilitation regimen, which was to commence at the moment convalescence began, while psychologically damaged soldiers were still in bed.

Reading therapy was just one example of the wartime overhaul of democratic citizenship that merged education to psychological health and synthesized them in the person of the veteran. During the war the army deployed a bevy of education programs—from orientation and literacy training to correspondence study to the creation of four Army University Centers—aimed at improving the intellectual, informational, material, and, not least of all, psychological health of American soldiers. The belief that education embodied therapeutic power and could be used to help soldiers “adjust” and “readjust” to changing wartime experiences informed the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944—better known as the G.I. Bill of Rights. Nearly half of the nation’s 16 million veterans went back to school with the G.I. Bill, 2.2 million of whom did so at a college or university. As I explain in the rest of the book, veterans’ celebrated, if overblown, success under the G.I. Bill became a critical policy touchstone for the rest of the century—fueling the public’s demand for higher learning and shaping the creation of subsequent federal education legislation, from the 1958 National Defense Education Act to the 1965 Higher Education Act. At every turn policymakers and the general public intoned the legacy of the G.I. Bill to advance access for more and more students, not just veterans.

National policymakers willingly obliged these demands, justifying increased support for college going on the belief that educated citizens were better-adjusted citizens—civically engaged, economically productive, and psychologically healthy. This vision of democratic citizenship endured until the late 1960s when the unruly behavior of some student protesters suggested to government leaders that educated citizens were anything but well adjusted—they were maladjusted! The crack in the consensus around democratic citizenship was the first of many to chisel away at the postwar state-academic partnership—a partnership that had created the atomic bomb, put a man on the moon, discovered countless new medical breakthroughs, and helped millions upon millions of Americans get an education. None of this mattered anymore: by the mid-1970s the government had lost faith in higher education’s capacity to create democratic citizens and higher education leaders, in turn, had become increasingly suspicious of federal meddling even as they continued to demand evermore federal funding for research and student aid. Today’s chilly relationship between the government and higher education dates back to the impasse of the 1960s. What is college for? All these decades on we are still searching for an answer.

If you are intrigued by what you’ve read, and would like to read more, please check out Between Citizens and the State: The Politics of American Higher Education in the 20th Century. And, in case you’re wondering, there are twenty-eight additional pictures in the book, each worth a thousand words—or, as in this case, at least six hundred.
Learn more about Between Citizens and the State at the Princeton University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue