George Sylvester Counts
Ph.D., University of Chicago, 1916
Professor of Education, Teachers College, Columbia University
Author of The Principles of Education (1924); American Road to Culture (1930); The New Russian Primer (1931); The Soviet Challenge to America (1931); Dare the School Build a New Social Order (1932); The Social Foundations of Education (1934); The Prospects of American Democracy (1938); The Country of the Blind (1949); Education and American Civilization (1952); and Education and the Foundations of Human Freedom (1963).
|At the 1932 Progressive
Education Association’s (PEA) annual conference during the height
of the Great Depression, George Sylvester Counts’s speech stunned
his audience into a silence that spoke louder than applause (Cremin
1964). His speech Dare Progressive Education Be Progressive? (1932)
prompted convention organizers to “suspend the remainder of the business
of the convention in order instead to ponder and react to Counts’s
ideas” (Urban 1972, vi). Though this speech impacted how many educators
thought about their work, Counts’s overall contributions surpass
his significant PEA address.
Important Intellectual Contributions to Education
Dare Progressive Education Be Progressive (1932) emerged from Counts’s research in the 1920s on social-class assumptions underlying the American educational system and his perceptions of the nation’s economic crisis. He argued (Counts 1932, 258) that the PEA’s focus on child-centered education betrayed an upper-middle class orientation and, to become genuinely progressive:
Counts’s most anthologized work Dare the School Build a New Social Order? (1932) elaborated on his PEA address. This book served to document several of Counts’s most important contributions to educational thinking, including:
Educational and Career Backgrounds
Counts’s research focused on the socio-cultural foundations of education. He explored topics such as the role of social class in high school education and the formation of school boards in the American educational system. Counts also visited many countries and helped develop the field of comparative education. He was a member of the Educational Survey Commission to the Philippines and Associate Director of Teachers College’s International Institute. As a result of his work in comparative education, Counts visited more than 17 countries, including three extensive trips to the ex-Soviet Union. In 1946, he worked with General Douglas MacArthur’s team of advisors concerning the reconstruction of education in Japan. As a result of his research and practical experience in comparative education, Counts became nationally prominent for his international perspectives on education, especially regarding the social, cultural, and historical background of the Soviet Union.
Counts also became politically active. As National President of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) from 1939–1942, Counts led a newly elected anti-communist administration to reconcile the split between the AFT and Teachers Guild Local #5 that had seceded the union in 1935 because of the AFT’s leftist orientation. Counts also became New York State Chairman of the American Liberal Party during the mid-1950s. Counts was an active member of the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Academy of Education. Though many people considered Counts to be an industrial socialist, his political work spoke mainly to his liberal orientation.
Contributed by James C. Jupp, Martin Middle School, Austin, TX Independent School District
Counts, G. S. 1932. Dare progressive education be progressive? Progressive Education 4(9): 257–63.
Counts, G. S. 1932. Dare the school build a new social order? New York: John Day.
Cremin, L. A. 1964. The transformation of the American school: Progressivism in American education 1876–1957. New York: Vintage
Urban, W. J. 1972. Preface. Dare the school build a new social order? Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press.