Learning to Forget

Learning to Forget: Schooling and Family Life in New Haven’s Working Class, 1870-1940

Stephen Lassonde
Copyright Date: 2005
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 320
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt1nppnw
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  • Book Info
    Learning to Forget
    Book Description:

    This book offers an insightful view of the complex relations between home and school in the working-class immigrant Italian community of New Haven, Connecticut. Through the lenses of history, sociology, and education,Learning to Forgetpresents a highly readable account of cross-generational experiences during the period from 1870 to 1940, chronicling one generation's suspicions toward public education and another's need to assimilate.

    Through careful research Lassonde finds that not all working class parents were enthusiastic supporters of education. Not only did the time and energy spent in school restrict children's potential financial contributions to the family, but attitudes that children encountered in school often ran counter to the family's traditional values. Legally mandated education and child labor laws eventually resolved these conflicts, but not without considerable reluctance and resistance.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12890-1
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. PREFACE
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. INTRODUCTION
    (pp. 1-12)

    In 1932, Vittorio Racca, researcher and interpreter for a child health study sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation, was dispatched to investigate the role of family life in the welfare of Italian immigrant schoolchildren in New Haven. “John [Barone], now 55,” reported Racca that March, “is a barber, but does not have his own shop. . . . He has seven children, some of them home, but what they earn they mostly keep to themselves. ‘It is the American way; you cannot do a thing with your children in America. All you can do is have them arrested.’ Here he stops,”...

  5. 1 IMMIGRANTS AND IMMIGRANT NEIGHBORHOODS: ECONOMIC AND RESIDENTIAL CHANGE IN NEW HAVEN, 1850–1930
    (pp. 13-23)

    After the 1840s the composition of New Haven’s neighborhoods changed almost continuously and kaleidoscopically. As the city’s economy shifted from maritime and mercantile pursuits early in the nineteenth century to an industrial manufacturing base and the economic fortunes of its parts prospered, declined, and revived, property changed hands cyclically and routinely. The same pattern was repeated throughout the city in areas wherever manufacturing grew up under the stimulus of industrial capitalism: residential districts developed by the merchant class fell out of favor or were sold off piecemeal for industrial or commercial uses and, often, eventually working-class occupancy. The new economy...

  6. 2 LEARNING AND EARNING: SCHOOLING, JUVENILE EMPLOYMENT, AND THE EARLY LIFE COURSE IN LATE-NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW HAVEN
    (pp. 24-52)

    From the middle to the end of the nineteenth century in New Haven, the use of children’s time came under increased scrutiny. The passage and enforcement of compulsory education laws during this period, which greatly expanded the proportion of children under the schools’ supervision, reformulated children’s utility and imposed a roughly uniform course of socialization upon all children.¹ Thus, children’s time in two senses had become an object of intense social concern: the inculcation in children of an appreciation for the value of time itself, and the creation of an institutional basis for childhood—a time of life—as a...

  7. 3 THE PAINFUL CONTRAST: ITALIAN IMMIGRANT CHILDREN AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL
    (pp. 53-80)

    As schooling defined the border between childhood and youth, it also assumed a share in many of the chores once performed primarily by families, such as socializing children, instilling moral principles, teaching vocational skills, and furnishing the rudiments of citizenship. The school’s influence over the shape of children’s lives appeared to come directly at parents’ expense; and because so many parents were immigrants whose exposure to schooling in Europe had been minimal and whose folkways clashed so with what their children were learning in school, the perceived power of the schools to put their stamp upon children was exaggerated beyond...

  8. 4 HANDS TO MOUTHS: THE CHANGING ECONOMY OF GIVING AND TAKING IN ITALIAN IMMIGRANT FAMILIES
    (pp. 81-102)

    “When the Italians were saying, ‘America took from us our children,’” Leonard Covello mused, “they may have [been alluding to] . . . the economic role of the children. But it is more likely that they expressed a cultural conflict.”¹ Italian immigrants commonly complained about the loss of their children’s earnings in the United States. Their vexation was keen and straightforward in one sense, for the bulk of southern Italians in the United States worked in the most menial of industrial occupations, accepting low wages and hard physical labor in exchange for steady employment.² Yet deep dissatisfaction lingered long after...

  9. 5 FROM COURTSHIP TO DATING: THE MARRIAGE MARKET, SCHOOLING, AND THE FAMILY ECONOMY
    (pp. 103-121)

    Marriage strategies were among the handful of devices that parents could use to promote the economic interests of the family group.¹ Yet families are not simply economic entities. Rather, they embody “moral” or ideological principles as well.² They represent to themselves an idea of the collective good of the group, which ordinarily goes unchallenged and is seen by all members as natural and “just so.” For families whose margin of subsistence was narrow, what was “good for the family” never strayed very far from its immediate economic needs. Parents defined these and dictated how they would be addressed.³ The idea...

  10. 6 THE LANDSCAPE OF AMBITION: GEOGRAPHY, ETHNICITY, AND CLASS IN CHILDREN’S SCHOOL EXPERIENCES
    (pp. 122-154)

    Just as individual neighborhoods experienced cycles of affluence and poverty that shaped their socioeconomic character, so, too, the ethnic composition of New Haven’s neighborhoods and its schools changed with them. In the first decade of the twentieth century, when the city’s immigration neared its peak, in neighborhoods around New Haven where the population was dense, housing cheap, and work close to hand, semi-skilled and unskilled workers and their families tended to cluster within the orbit of their own ethnic groups. Thus many neighborhoods were the creations of self-segregating groups, like Wooster Square’s Italians, Fair Haven’s Irish, or Oak Street’s Italians,...

  11. 7 “TOO GOOD FOR THAT”: EFFORT AND OPPORTUNITY IN THE “NEW” HIGH SCHOOL
    (pp. 155-188)

    If its turn-of-the-century iteration was comparatively exclusive, the “new” high school—high school after 1920—was socioeconomically democratic. Its population more nearly approximated that of the community it inhabited than did high school in 1900, and its broad curriculum reflected the needs and interests of a growing and diverse student body.¹ In few places, perhaps, were these changes more evident than at Hillhouse High School, where the appearance of working-class and immigrant youths, at the margins of the student body in 1900, were represented in rough proportion to their share of the city’s population by the end of the 1930s....

  12. CONCLUSION: ELM CITY’S YOUTH
    (pp. 189-196)

    “The school as it was envisaged by educators and often imagined by historians,” Paula S. Fass has cautioned, “was never as powerful an integrator, equalizer, or socializer as it has been portrayed.” Rather, she says, “it was one of many institutions operating consecutively and concurrently in students’ lives.”¹ It is because our expectations of what schools might do to redress the inequities of American society that reformers and historians have focused so narrowly on schooling, obscuring the significance of other institutions in forming young people’s social, intellectual, and economic capacities. Other institutions that played, and continue to play, a role...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 197-258)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 259-290)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 291-301)