Making a Mass Institution describes how Indianapolis, Indiana created a divided and unjust system of high schools over the course of the twentieth century, one that effectively sorted students geographically, economically, and racially. Like most U.S. cities, Indianapolis began its secondary system with a singular, decidedly academic high school, but ended the 1960s with multiple high schools with numerous paths to graduation. Some of the schools were academic, others vocational, and others still for what was eventually called “life adjustment.” This system mirrored the multiple forces of mass society that surrounded it, as it became more bureaucratic, more focused on identifying and organizing students based on perceived abilities, and more anxious about teaching conformity to middle-class values. By highlighting the experiences of the students themselves and the formation of a distinct, school-centered youth culture, Kyle P. Steele argues that high school, as it evolved into a mass institution, was never fully the domain of policy elites, school boards and administrators, or students, but a complicated and ever-changing contested meeting place of all three.
KYLE P. STEELE is an assistant professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh.