Part 1 of 3 Parts. Lawrence Arthur Cremin (1925-1990), U.S. Educational Historian, Career, Publications, Reviews of Major Works, Criticism, Obituaries.

· Uncategorized

Part 1 of 3 Parts. Lawrence Arthur Cremin (1925-1990), U.S. Educational Historian, Career, Publications, Reviews of Major Works, Criticism, Obituaries.

By Franklin Parker and Betty J. Parker,

Lawrence A. Cremin’s parents (Arthur T. Cremin and Theresa [Borowick] Cremin) owned the private New York Schools of Music. Lawrence worked there part-time while attending the Model School (elementary) of Hunter College and Townsend Harris High School, a public high school for the gifted. He entered City College of New York, 1940 (age 15 1/2), served in the U.S. Army Air Corps, and received the City College B.S. degree, 1946. At Columbia University’s Teachers College (hereafter TC), he earned the M.A. (1947) and Ph.D. degrees (1949) under distinguished professors Lyman Bryson, George S. Counts, Harold O. Rugg, Bruce Raup (whose daughter Charlotte, a mathematics teacher, he married on September 19, 1956), John L. Childs, Kenneth Benne, and R. Freeman Butts.

At TC he was instructor, 1949-51; assistant professor, 1951-54; associate professor, 1954-57; and professor, 1957-61; then held a joint appointment as TC’s Frederick A.P. Barnard Professor of Education and professor in Columbia University’s history department, 1961-90. He directed TC’s Division of Philosophy, Social Sciences, and Education, 1958-74; directed its Institute of Philosophy and Politics of Education, 1965-74; was TC president, 1974-84; and also Spencer Foundation president, 1985-90.

Cremin wrote The American Common School: An Historic Conception, New York: Teachers College Press, 1951, his revised TC doctoral dissertation; (with major professor R. Freeman Butts) A History of Education in American Culture, New York: Holt, 1953; (with D.A. Shannon and M.E. Townsend) History of Teachers College, Columbia University, New York: Columbia University Press, 1954; Public Education and the Future of America, Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1955; (with Merle L. Borrowman) Public Schools in Our Democracy, New York: Macmillan, 1956; and edited The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men, New York: Teachers College Press, 1957, with excerpts from Horace Mann’s writings, first of 52 volumes in the “Classics in Education” series, which Cremin edited.

His seventh book won the 1962 Bancroft Prize in American History: The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education, 1876-1957, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961. Cremin saw progressive education as part of a larger movement of Progressivism, “a vast humanitarian effort to apply the promise of American life” to a “puzzling new urban-industrial civilization,” a many faceted movement that sought “to use the school as a fundamental lever of social and political regeneration.”

Evaluating the book 30 years later, educational historian John Rury thought Transformation “an indispensable piece of any educational historian’s library.” Reading it as an undergraduate, he was thrilled at how Cremin had made educational history exciting and meaningful; it was the “starting point toward [his] becoming an historian of education,” a sentiment repeated by educational historian Michael B. Katz.

Reviewing Transformation in 1964, educational philosopher Paul Nash faulted Cremin for not defining progressive education; and for not relating it to Rousseau, Comenius, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Peirce, and James. Cremin, Nash felt, was not sympathetic to progressive education, which was not dead but still waiting to be tried.

Cremin’s well written, prize winning Transformation helped advance a new interpretation of U.S. educational history. A Fund for the Republic conference in 1958 found U.S. educational history “shamefully neglected by American historians.” A Fund-sponsored Committee on the Role of Education in American History (founded May 1956) offered grants to history department faculty or students for research on the role of education in American history.

The new interpretation first came in historian Bernard Bailyn’s Committee-funded Education in the Forming of American Society: Needs and Opportunities for Study, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1960. He criticized as “educational missionaries” Paul Monroe (1869-1947) and Monroe’s student at TC, Ellwood P. Cubberley (1868-1941). Their dominant textbooks were evangelistic in using school history to inspire teachers with professional zeal. In contrast, Bailyn saw education as including the influence of family, community, church, race relations, apprenticeship training, the economy, and formal schools. He saw education “as the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across the generation.” Emphasizing the complex socioeconomic and political structure which education served, Bailyn led educational historians to rethink assumptions about education and its history.

Educational historian Sol Cohen blamed excessive criticism of the Monroe-Cubberley flawed historiography on liberal arts and science faculty antipathy toward educationists. Public school weaknesses from the 1930s were blamed on John Dewey and his disciples. This disdain increased as educational history was often used to support social reconstructionism, an ineffectual, short lived urging of educators to use schools to solve socioeconomic problems. Younger educational historians like Cremin turned from progressive educators and identified with Bailyn, the Committee, and liberal arts historians. The History of Education Society and its History of Education Quarterly withdrew from patronage by progressive education organizations. Cremin’s Transformation, published a year after Bailyn’s book, became a prestigious and admired standard of a new U.S. educational historiography.

Cremin’s Wonderful World of Ellwood Patterson Cubberley: An Essay in the Historiography of American Education, New York: Teachers College Press, 1965, traced the origin of the Monroe-Cubberley laudatory approach to educational histories of European countries Henry Barnard published in his American Journal of Education (1855-82) and in his federal Bureau of Education publications (Barnard was Commissioner, 1867-70). This view was reflected in state centennial histories of education (1776-1876) and influenced Monroe and Cubberley.

Cremin’s Wonderful World of…Cubberley was originally a paper he read at a 1964 Committee on the Role of Education in American History symposium. There he was invited by American Historical Association and U.S. Office of Education officials to write a comprehensive history of U.S. education for the Office of Education’s 1967 centennial. He accepted, thinking that he could complete a 3-volume history in 7 years. But the American Education trilogy took 23 years and covered 1,775 pages of text, plus 240 pages of bibliographic essays.

Before the trilogy, Cremin gave the Horace Mann Lectures, University of Pittsburgh, published as The Genius of American Education, Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1965. Cremin saw the essence of U.S. education as its commitment to popularization, a main theme of the trilogy.

Volume one, American Education, The Colonial Experience, 1607-1783, New York: Harper and Row, 1970, showed how inherited European educational agencies were transformed to serve U.S. civic and economic needs. His Public Education, New York: Basic Books, 1976, from his February 1975 John Dewey Society lectures, and Traditions of American Education, New York: Basic Books, 1977, from his March 1976 University of Wisconsin Merle Curti lectures, explored the trilogy’s ideas and themes.

Volume two, American Education, The National Experience, 1783-1876, New York: Harper and Row, 1980, analyzed the trilogy’s theme of popularization, or increasing accessibility to schools and other learning agencies for students of diverse abilities, backgrounds, and ages; and the theme of proliferation of schools and colleges, plus such numerous non-school educative agencies as newspapers, libraries, clubs, bookstores, and so on.

Volume three, American Education, The Metropolitan Experience, 1876-1980, New York: Harper and Row, 1988, explored the theme of politicization, or using schools rather than political action alone to solve social problems. These three themes affected schools greatly as the U.S. became a nation of cities, exporting its culture to the world. After World War II, U.S. schools were increasingly criticized, their mediocrity bemoaned, and their weaknesses blamed for America’s relative world economic decline. Despite alleged quality debasement, Cremin pointed to the phenomenal growth of U.S. schools and how much they attempted, even while they fell short. The genius of U.S. education, he wrote, its popularization and proliferation, allowed almost everyone to learn and to rise through learning, especially in cities, which he saw as learning and teaching cornucopias.

In a published forum evaluating Metropolitan Experience, Cremin replied to three educational historians’ critical comments. He conceived of the trilogy as a synthesis, a selective reinterpretation of U.S. educational history, showing how popularization, proliferation, and politicization became U.S. education’s chief characteristics, leading to both achievement and problems.

Cremin liked the complexity of education in big cities because they offer an extraordinary range of curricular and educational opportunities. The eight New Yorker case studies in Metropolitan Experience took from the city’s educational milieu what they wanted and needed, often in non-school educative agencies. Examples: Alfred E. Smith, Jr.’s most important educational experience came, not from public schools, but from lower Manhattan political clubhouses; Elizabeth D.H. Clarke’s most important educational experience came from her family and the YWCA; Chinese immigrant Hop Kun Leo Chiang’s most important educational experience came from the laundry business; and so on.

An admirer wrote: “Metropolitan Experience by itself is a seminal work in American educational historiography…a rich and learned text…. Cremin’s breadth of knowledge is staggering.”

An extreme critic wrote: “His trilogy, many in the field argue, was ponderous as well as scholarly, a chore to write and to read. The prose was choppy and the themes much open to question. The field had passed Cremin by. While a voracious reader, he never seemed to learn anything from those who criticized him. He read the radicals and referenced them in his massive bibliographies, but had he really learned a thing? Quite simply, schools matter more than Cremin thought. His work will remain more irrelevant as reform movements from the right and left continue to define our age.”

Cremin died of a heart attack, September 4, 1990, aged nearly 65. His students and colleagues remembered him as a voracious reader who seemed to recall all that he had ever read. His classes were packed, he was well organized, and he lectured with intellectual vigor.

Among many honors were his 15 honorary degrees. He gave eight distinguished lecture series, most of them published; was advisory editor for the Arno Press’s “American Education: People, Ideas, Institutions” series, which reprinted 161 important out-of-print education books, 1970-72; and he helped found the National Academy of Education and was its second president.

He was a university lecturer and administrator of note. Yet Cremin’s renown as educational historian rests on his Transformation, the American Education trilogy, and his influence on his students.


Cremin as Editorial Advisory Board Member:

American Journal of Education

American Scholar

Education Research and Perspectives (Australia)

History of Education (England)

History of Education Journal

International Review of Education

Journal of Family History

Sociology of Education

Teachers College Record (Cremin was associate editor, 1952-59)

Institutions Where Cremin Was a Guest Professor:

Bank Street College of Education

Harvard University, 1957, 1961

Seminar in American Studies at Salzburg, Austria, 1956

Stanford University, 1973

University of California, Los Angeles, 1956

University of Wisconsin

Cremin as Board of Trustees Member:

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching

Center for Advanced Studies in the Behavioral Sciences

Charles F. Kettering Foundation

Children’s Television Workshop

John and Mary Markle Foundation

John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation

Rockefeller Archive Center

Spencer Foundation

World Book Yearbook

Year Book of Education (jointly published by Teachers College, Columbia University and University of London)

Cremin as Distinguished Lecturer:

Horace Mann Lecturer, University of Pittsburgh, 1965

Sir John Adams Memorial Lecturer, University of London, 1966

Cecil H. Green Visiting Professor, University of British Columbia, 1972

Merle Curti Lecturer, University of Wisconsin, 1976

Sir John Adams Memorial Lecturer, University of California, Los Angeles, 1976

Vera Brown Memorial Lecturer, National Institute of Education, 1978

Distinguished Visiting Lecturer, Simon Fraser University, 1982

Irving R. Melbo Visiting Professor, University of Southern California, 1982

Cremin as Professional Organization Member (and Offices Held)

President, History of Education, 1959

President, National Society of College Teachers of Education, 1961

President, National Academy of Education, 1969-73 (founding member in 1965)

American Philosophical Society

American Academy of Arts and Sciences

American Antiquarian Society

Society of American Historians

Council on Foreign Relations

Other Offices Cremin Held:

Chair, Curriculum Improvement Panel, U.S. Office of Education, 1963-65

Chair, Regional Laboratories Panel, U.S. Office of Education, 1965-66

Chair , Carnegie Commission on the Education of Educators, 1966-70

Vice Chair, White House Conference on Education, 1965

Cremin’s International Travel:

Head of delegation of American educators to People’s Republic of China, summer 1978

Lectured extensively in England, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Austria, Israel, and Sweden

Cremin’s Fellowships and Awards:

Phi Beta Kappa

Guggenheim Fellowship, 1957-58, for research in history of American education

Pulitzer Prize in History, 1981

Bancroft Prize in History, 1962

Fellow, Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, 1964-65; Visiting Scholar, 1971-72

American Educational Research Association’s Award for Distinguished Contributions to Educational Research, 1969

New York University’s Award for Creative Educational Leadership, 1971

Columbia University’s Butler Medal in Silver, 1972

College of the City of New York’s Townsend Harris Medal, 1974

New York Academy of Public Education’s Medal for Distinguished Service to Public Education, 1982

Hunter College’s President’s Medal, 1984

Carnegie Corporation of New York Medal, 1988

Cremin’s Honorary Degrees:

L.H.D., City University of New York, 1984

Litt.D., Columbia University, 1975

L.H.D., Ohio State University, 1975

LL.D., University of Bridgeport, 1975

LL.D., University of Rochester, 1980

L.H.D., Kalamazoo College, 1976

Litt.D., Rider College, 1979

LL.D., Miami University, 1983

L.H.D., Suffolk University, 1983

L.H.D., Widener University, 1983

L.H.D., College of William and Mary, 1984

L.H.D., Indiana University of Pennsylvania, 1984

L.H.D., Northern Illinois University, 1984

L.H.D., State University of New York, 1984

L.H.D., George Washington University, 1985

Cremin’s Administrative Positions:

Director, Division of Philosophy, Social Sciences, and Education, Teachers College, 1958-74

Director, Institute of Philosophy and Politics of Education, Teachers College, 1965-74

President, Teachers College, 1974-84

President, Spencer Foundation, Chicago, 1985-90

Cremin’s Books and Reviews of His Major Books:

1951: The American Common School: An Historic Conception. New York: Teachers College Press.

1953: (With R. Freeman Butts). A History of Education in American Culture. New York: Holt.

1954: (With D. A. Shannon and M.E. Townsend). A History of Teachers College, Columbia University. New York: Columbia University Press.

1955: Public Education and the Future of America. Washington, DC: National Education Association.

1956: (With Merle L. Borrowman). Public Schools in Our Democracy. New York: Macmillan.

1957: (Editor). The Republic and the School: Horace Mann on the Education of Free Men. Classics in Education No. l. New York: Teachers College Press.

196l: The Transformation of the School: Progressivism in American Education,1876-1957. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Barnard, Harry V. Current History, Vol. 41, No. 239 (July 1961), p. 51.

Beck, John M. School Review, Vol. 69, No. 4 (Winter 1961), pp. 488-490.

Brickman, William W. School and Society, Vol. 89, No. 2201 (December 16, 1961), p. 442.

Chambliss, J. J. “The View of Progress in Lawrence Cremin’s The Transformation of the School,'” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 3, No. 1 (March 1963), pp. 43-52.

Cunningham, L. L. American Journal of Sociology, Vol. 67 (March 1962), p. 602.

Hechinger, Fred M. New York Times Book Review (July 9, 1961), p. 3.

Hogan, David John. Class and Reform: School and Society in Chicago,1880-1930. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1985, pp. xiii, 228-229, 316-317.

Continued in Part 2 of 3 Parts. Corrections and comments to

1 Comment

Comments RSS
  1. tinseltown rochester ny linked to this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: