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Educational Wastelands: The Retreat from Learning in our Public Schools
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Educational Wastelands: The Retreat from Learning in our Public Schools

By Arthur E. Bestor

Urbana: The University of Illinois Press, 1953. First Edition. Cloth. Very good/very good. A very good first edition in its original, very good dust jacket. Blue cloth boards with silver title stamping. Front cover shows a very light, nearly imperceptible dampstain. Binding is sturdy and square. Toning to page edges, with toning and spotting on endpapers. Previous owner's named stamped on first free endpaper. Dust jacket has a moderate amount of creases and chips at top and bottom edges, and heavy spotting on rear flap. 226 pp. including index. Royal octavo, 7 x 10 1/4 inches tall. After establishing himself as an academic historian, Arthur Eugene Bestor Jr. achieved national renown during the 1950s as a critic of Progressive education. Bestor won notoriety, however, not for his serious scholarship, but for his popular criticism of Progressive education. The teacher shortage that followed World War II resulted in an increase of enrollments in education courses and a corresponding decrease of enrollments in liberal arts courses. Tensions between the two faculties emerged at many institutions, including University of Illinois, where Bestor was teaching. Bestor aimed his initial attack on Progressive education for a lack of academic standards, and specifically, at advocates of "life adjustment" education on the faculty at the University of Illinois. Bestor eventually broadened his critique from life adjustment education in particular to Progressive education writ large. In Educational Wastelands (1953), Bestor charged that professional educationists had "lowered the aims of the American public schools," particularly by "setting forth purposes for education so trivial as to forfeit the respect of thoughtful men, and by deliberately divorcing the schools from the disciplines of science and scholarship" (pp. 8, 10). For Bestor, the traditional liberal arts curriculum represented the only acceptable form of secondary education.He claimed that Progressive educators, "by misrepresenting and undervaluing liberal education, have contributed … to the growth of anti-intellectualist hysteria that threatens not merely the schools but freedom itself." (p. 11)