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October 1, 2000
Vol. 58
No. 2

Books of the Century

    Raymond E. Callahan's Education and the Cult of Efficiency makes the list.

      Raymond Callahan (1921– ) will always be identified with the phrase the cult of efficiency. In Education and the Cult of Efficiency (1962), Callahan, professor of education at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, examined the field of school administration from the 1900s to the 1930s and documented the infusion of business and industry management philosophies into schools. Economy had become the ideal; efficiency had become the goal.
      The offsprings of the marriage of business and education practices include classroom management, standardized qualifications, individualized curriculum, the minimization of waste, and the maximization of efficiency. These practices have not been fads; rather, they form the bedrock of our modern educational system. Callahan's book causes us to reconsider the importance of efficiency and the pressures of corporate expectations. In his research, Callahan found that the power of business ideology and the vulnerability of school administrators led to the collapse of any sense of professional autonomy among educators. He concludes that educational administration is caught in a vicious circle where, owing to their quest for efficiency and economy, inadequately trained administrators are sent out to lead the education system.
      Callahan's criticisms caused educators in the 1960s to reconsider their practices. To what degree has the field of educational administration changed? Upon reflection, Callahan (2000) states: I had hoped that the book would stop, or at least slow down, our tendency to insist that the schools be operated as a business enterprise. I think I have presented convincing evidence that such actions, in the past, have resulted in very unfortunate consequences for our public schools. There is no reason why we should go through that again—the record is clear. But if we do attempt to adapt the business-industrial model to the schools, it will not be the first time human beings have failed to learn from history. . . . (p. 86)
      Today's administrators draw as many management ideas, if not more, from the business field as they do from education. A rereading of Callahan's work causes us to stop, perhaps wince, and reconsider the ways we have embedded management and efficiency in our educational system.

      In Their Own Words

      What was unexpected was the extent, not only of the power of the business-industrial groups, but of the strength of the business ideology in the American culture on the one hand and the extreme weakness and vulnerability of schoolmen, especially school administrators, on the other. I had expected more professional autonomy and I was completely unprepared for the extent and degree of capitulation by administrators to whatever demands were made upon them. . . . I am now convinced that very much of what has happened in American education since 1900 can be explained on the basis of the extreme vulnerability of our schoolmen to public criticism and pressure and that this vulnerability is built into our pattern of local support and control.

      —Raymond E. Callahan, Education and the Cult of Efficiency


      Callahan, R. E. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of the public schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

      Callahan, R. E. (2000). Some reflections on the publication of Education and the cult of efficiency. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Books of the century catalog. Columbia: University of South Carolina, Museum of Education.

      Craig Kridel has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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