Since the early 1950s, educational historians have increasingly turned their attention to the role of social conflict in the creation of public schools. Consensus historians claim that most Americans were in agreement on the issue of free public education, while recent conflict historians posit that the social elite imposed public schooling on the working class. Author Carl Kaestle suggests that each view contains elements of the truth but that both are reductionist. In this article, he briefly examines these interpretations and then suggests improved models of historical research to define more precisely and elegantly the relationship between conflict and consensus in American educational history.

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