Citizenship and National Inclusion and Exclusion: Schooling for Immigrants and Minorities in 19th- and 20th-Century Europe and America

AHA Session 265
Saturday, January 7, 2017: 3:30 PM-5:00 PM
Centennial Ballroom B (Hyatt Regency Denver, Third Floor)
Hilary Nicole Green, University of Alabama

Session Abstract

By the nineteenth century, compulsory schooling had spread across Europe and and North America. In theory, all citizens needed an education in order to be productive members of society. Yet, as schooling became a basic civil right, governments across the West differentiated between children based on citizenship, race, and/or ethnicity. According to some governments, not all children had the same rights. These governments forced some children to assimilate and limited others’ classroom participation.

Mishio Yamanaka explores how African Americans across the United States demanded access to white-only public schools after the Civil War and the ways in which local community activism led to the congressional civil rights debate in the late nineteenth century. She illustrates how the extreme white resistance to racially mixed schools foreshadowed the development of the Jim Crow laws at the turn of the twentieth century. Where Yamanaka sheds light on the process of exclusion, Laura Walikainen Rouleau discusses immigrants’ assimilation through physical education and hygiene programs in public schools in the early twentieth century. Using public school locker rooms as a lens, she demonstrates how working class children, who were often from immigrant families, experienced Americanization by being taught to cleanse and care for their bodies at school.

These debates over inclusion and exclusion continued on both sides of the Atlantic through the twentieth century. Laura Brade demonstrates that story with an analysis of how, in the 1930s and 1940s, the Czech government exile in England attempted to educate its citizens to be Czech even as the Nazi occupation government taught racial superiority and removed Jewish children from schools. The end of WWII and the advent of the United Nations supposedly heralded an age of human rights in which all children were supposed to have the right to education. Yet, as Brittany Lehman discusses, the questions of classroom diversity or segregation continued. In West Berlin in the 1980s, the Education Administration, after trying out the US system of bussing, decided to implement classroom quotas for non-Germans based on citizenship.

Despite being decades and an ocean apart, the different governments discussed in each of these four papers took each other’s practices into account as they formulated their education laws. The politicians and administrations involved were aware of one another’s examples as they determined who precisely had a right to education and what shape that education should take. At the center of those debates was the question of who had more or less rights, a question that influenced where governments spend their money, frequently determining future choices based on citizenship status, skin color, ethnicity, or religion - each markers for the supposed value of the child.

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