Addams: Seek a Pluralistic Society

Gutek (2013) explains that Jane Addams was ‘not a revolutionary who wanted a radical transformation of the fundamental political, social, and educational institutions of the United States’. Instead, she was a progressive who sought social collaboration. She recognized that our ‘once-agrarian’ nation was undergoing industrialization, urbanization, and becoming a global technological society. Addam’s developed a strategy to ‘guide teachers who seek to work for a larger, more pluralistic and peaceful world community.’ (Gutek, 2013)

In my first education job, I worked for a rural community that faced many social, economic, and cultural issues. Racial inequity was at the forefront of our conversations in faculty meetings, student forums, and professional development discussions. Without much in the way of local industry or employment opportunities, most students relied on public assistance (including that which the school provides, such as free and subsidized meals and transportation) to survive. Technology was lacking, and the learning curve was steep when it was available; home internet access was not available for much of the population.

Jane Addams began to address some of these issues with sensitivity and inclusion. She encouraged public schools to appreciate the ‘history, culture, traditions, and arts and crafts of immigrants’ native countries’ (Gutek, 2013, p 339). As a school, we strive to build a climate of cultural competency, ensuring that all students feel safe and welcome in the building, and understand that they are a vital part of the school’s success and bring unique perspectives and experiences to the learning environment. In my classroom, not only do I encourage progressive discussion, but I attempt to ensure that all cultures are represented in the works that we read – both historical and in more relevant non-fiction. I build real-world examples into the curriculum to ensure students explore the interconnectedness of our nation, and seek consistency and equity in their personal relationships as they grow into pre-adulthood.

Mary Wollstonecraft similarly teaches us about the importance of equity, with a focus on gender equity (Gutek, 2013). As educators, we must not give credence to a false sense of academic inequity between the sexes. We must also encourage equal exploration of subjects regardless of gender. Female students have the same right to participate in math, science, and vocational studies as male students do to enroll in home economics courses, choral showcases, and ‘female’ sports such as color guard or cheerleading.

Continuing this philosophical trend, W. E. B. Du Bois championed equal educational opportunities for African Americans. Even today, minority students often come from disadvantaged and disenfranchised communities. Not only should they receive equal opportunities within a classroom that celebrates their heritage, educators should encourage students to pursue advanced educational opportunities. I strive to learn about the personal goals of each of my students, and discuss with them a method for achieving those goals, or formulating a path to success. Too often, students come from homes where college or particular job options are not seen as viable, and it might be that a question from an educator is what it takes to allow a student to succeed. W. E. B. Du Bois challenged Booker T. Washington’s notion that agricultural education was ‘better suited’ to African Americans in the South (Gutek, 2013). We, too, should question stereotypes and teach our students how to break through glass ceilings and other barriers that they encounter.

As for Froebel, his emphasis may have been on early childhood education, particularly kindergarten, but his idea that all children should be allowed to ‘develop according to their needs’ (Gutek, 2013, p 281) relates to all levels of the curriculum. This speaks to both individualized learning and differentiation, particularly content differentiation by readiness. Educators can also relate this to the importance of developmental or emotional relevancy in the classroom, just as Addams might consider cultural relevancy.

All of these philosophers championed the individual, regardless of social perceptions associated with their situation: race, gender, nationality, developmental age. As educators, we too should focus on ‘Every child, every day’ and ensure that no one falls through the proverbial crack.


Gutek, G. L. (2013). Historical and philosophical foundations of education: A biographical introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson.

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