6th Floor, Woodrow Wilson Center

Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America

Will we have public schools in the future? What do we want from them? At a time when Americans seem to be deeply divided over education, Professor Johann Neem asks us to focus on purposes, not just policies. Drawing on his new book, Democracy's Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America, Neem reminds us why Americans developed public schools in the first place, and the important role they played in educating citizens and forging a nation. Should these purposes continue to guide our public schools? Why do we seem to be losing faith in them?

Johann N. Neem is a Senior Fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and Professor of History at Western Washington University. He writes about the history of American democracy and education policy. He is author of two books: Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America (2017) and Creating a Nation of Joiners: Democracy and Civil Society in Early National Massachusetts (2008). He is completing a new book, Education or Degrees? On the Virtues of College in an Age of Reform.

The Washington History Seminar is co-chaired by Eric Arnesen (George Washington University) and Philippa Strum (Woodrow Wilson Center) and is sponsored jointly by the National History Center of the American Historical Association and the Wilson Center's History and Public Policy Program. It meets weekly during the academic year. The seminar thanks the Society for Historians of American Foreign Relations and the George Washington University History Department for their support.