Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Dr. Chara Bohan

Second Advisor

Dr. David Stinson

Third Advisor

Dr. Yali Zhao

Fourth Advisor

Dr. Christine Woyshner

Fifth Advisor

Dr. Allen Fromherz


From 1835 to 1935, a report card was more than just a means through which a school documented each student’s deportment, academic standing, and attendance. The essence of the report card was control. It was a microcosm for the power dynamics between teachers, administrators, parents, and students.

In the one hundred-year evolution of the report card from 1835 to 1935, this relic of academic bookkeeping also reflected broader trends in the United States: the republican zealotry and religious fervor of the antebellum period, the failed promises of post-war Reconstruction for the formerly enslaved, the changing gender roles in newly urbanized cities, the overreach of the Progressive child-saving movement in the early twentieth century, and––by the 1920s and 1930s––the increasing faith in an academic meritocracy. As the role of education evolved, so too did the responses of teachers, administrators, parents, and students to the report card––and by extension to each other.

Analytical tools of Michel Foucault (1926–1984) and methods of microhistory provided the theoretical and methodological foundation for this dissertation. Foucault’s analytical tools provided this study its theoretical lens, an understanding of how the report card became a new form of disciplinary control in nineteenth century. Meanwhile, the methods of microhistory provided this study with a methodological approach that focuses on individual responses to the larger system of control. Each chapter of this dissertation progresses chronologically and attempts to capture the perspectives of various constituencies within a school. Each chapter is also grounded in the narrative of an individual whose life embodied broader themes: a classroom teacher in western New York, struggling to win over the support of parents; a student, born enslaved in Georgia, who believed in the power of schooling to more fully emancipate his people; an elite Indianapolis mother, burdened by the demands of parenting and willing to assert herself in the political process to reform schools; a juvenile delinquent in Colorado, attempting to escape the labels imposed on him by the courts and reform school; and finally, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants in the Bronx, who recognized the shortcomings of America’s meritocratic promises while also using education to reach the pinnacle of success.

Ultimately, agency, or freedom of choice in the face of disciplinary power, is a theme throughout in the analysis of how teachers, students, and parents navigated systems of control imposed on them by report cards.


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