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Celebrations and Civic Consciousness: The Role of Special Observances in Alabama’s Educational Modernization, 1900–1915 IN THE EARLY YEARS OF THE TWENTIETH CENTURY, the period generally designated as the Progressive Era, when educational officeholders, teacher representatives, civic activists, concerned legislators, philanthropists , and others—collectively “educational modernizers”—considered Alabama’s mostly rural public schools, they were dismayed. They believed these schools, which were largely controlled by parents and local communities, did not meet contemporary standards for educational efficiency and were inadequate to the task of preparing students for a diversifying economy of industrial and commercial enterprise and an agricultural sector revolutionized by scientific farming and technology—in other words, an economy encapsulated in the term “New South.”1 At the same time, these Progressive reformers sought to inculcate in students a broad sense of southern identity, believing that it would provide them with the fundamental civic values needed to address the challenges of the new century. The election of John William Abercrombie in 1898 as State Superintendent of Education marked the beginning of a new sense EDITH M. ZIEGLER Dr. Edith M. Ziegler is an Honorary Associate of the University of New England in Armidale NSW (Australia). Her book, Schools in the Landscape: Localism, Cultural Tradition and the Development of Alabama’s Public Schooling System, 1865–1915, is being published by the University of Alabama Press in October 2010. She thanks warmly the staff of the Alabama Department of Archives and History for the tireless assistance they afforded her when she was conducting the research on which this article is based. She also thanks the editors and reviewers of the Alabama Review for their patient and constructive suggestions for ways of improving the content and for seeking out the illustrations. 1 The term “New South” was popularized by Henry W. Grady in a speech in December 1886. It soon became a slogan connoting a belief in progress, a hopeful nationalism, and the abandonment of the ideals of a traditional rural society. J U L Y 2 0 1 0 193 of urgency regarding educational reform. Abercrombie and his successors were educational professionals, and some had been legislators themselves. All were directly involved with the Alabama Educational Association (AEA) which, since 1897, had been lobbying for reform. Abercrombie’s initiatives and achievements led to greater centralization and standardization of educational policy-making by the state (embodied in the office of state superintendent). Many of the publications that explained or supported state policy were issued by the Department of Education, though this was not yet a large regulatory bureaucracy and as late as 1914 comprised just seven people.2 Among the reforms achieved by Abercrombie and his supporters and successors were a state teacher’s examination, summer institutes for teacher training, extended sessions, school redistricting, consolidation , uniform textbooks, a standard curriculum, quality schoolhouses , compulsory attendance, and local educational taxation. The cumulative effect and centralizing trend of many of these changes meant an overall lessening of community and parental control of schooling.3 All accounts of Alabama’s educational development list these legislatively achieved reforms. Invariably overlooked is the extent to which, in approximately the same period, the modernizers helped to dilute the localism that hindered reform by deliberately heightening and broadening the civic consciousness of students. This was accomplished in part by means of school celebrations such as holidays and special days, revived festivals, invented ceremonies, and newly devised rituals. For each occasion there was a specially prepared observance program in which students took an active part and were encouraged variously to take pride in their state and their southern identity, to develop a national patriotism, and to learn how they could make their schools into vehicles for Progressive improvement. The involve2 Austin Ruel Meadows, History of the State Department of Education of Alabama, 1854–1966 (Montgomery, 1968), 7, 34. 3 The modernizing ethos of professional educators and their campaigns to wrest control of schools from parents and rural communities in other places in the South has been examined by William A. Link, A Hard Country and a Lonely Place: Schooling, Society, and Reform in Rural Virginia, 1870–1920 (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986), and James L. Leloudis...


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