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Paul Robert Hanna: A Life of Expanding Communities

Paul Robert Hanna: A Life of Expanding Communities

by Jared R. Stallones


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Analyzing and ultimately placing in context Paul Hanna's vast contributions, this book provides a richly textured narrative of his life and his major role in twentieth-century American education and the development of modern American education.

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ISBN-13: 9780817928322
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Publication date: 05/01/2002
Series: Hoover inst press Publication
Pages: 338
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.90(d)

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Paul Robert Hanna

A Life of Expanding Communities

By Jared R. Stallones

Hoover Institution Press

Copyright © 2002 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8179-2832-2



Social studies education plays a crucial role in preparing American children to take on the duties of citizenship. In a liberal democracy, however, tensions exist between the needs of individuals and those of the greater society. These tensions are evident in public education every time a teacher encounters difficulty interesting students in the prescribed curriculum. Paul Robert Hanna struggled throughout his career with these often conflicting needs as he sought an appropriate balance for the foundation of social education in the schools. The models he developed went far beyond the traditional approaches to the social studies.

Hanna's solution, first reached in the 1930s and refined in many applications throughout the remainder of his career, replaced the traditional approach to American schools' social studies programs in the elementary grades with a new curriculum design. Instead of deferring until the upper elementary grades a thoughtful introduction to several social sciences, or offering only history and geography as discrete subjects, Hanna incorporated Harold Rugg's integrated secondary social studies approach in his design for the elementary social studies curriculum. Hanna believed that the social sciences could be employed to help students understand the development of the social, political, and economic systems in which they lived. Deeper understanding would empower them to effect change through democratic means that would benefit them as individuals and society as a whole.

Hanna's work took many forms, from educational research and consultations with schools and governments here and abroad to helping establish professional organizations as forums for discussion of the role of education in society. His consistent focus throughout his career, however, was development and refinement of the "expanding communities" design for elementary school social studies instruction. Promulgated in several major textbook series published by Scott, Foresman and Company for almost forty years, the expanding communities design profoundly changed how social studies was taught in schools both in the United States and abroad.

Surprisingly, given his long career and major contributions to education, no comprehensive biography of Hanna exists, although three dissertations have focused on aspects of his work. Robert E. Newman Jr. (1961) studied Building America, a monthly magazine series designed to help secondary students investigate social problems facing the United States. Hanna proposed this series to the Society for Curriculum Study and chaired its editorial board from the magazine's inception in 1935 to its demise in 1948. At its peak, Building America enjoyed a monthly circulation of more than a million copies. Norman Miller (1967) focused on the way in which Hanna's expanding communities curriculum design treated one international community, the Atlantic nations. Martin Gill (1974) focused on Hanna's long and successful partnership with the textbook publishing house of Scott, Foresman and Company. Through Hanna's social studies textbook series, published in multiple editions by Scott, Foresman, his expanding communities design achieved its widest dissemination and revolutionized the way social studies was taught at the elementary level. Daniel Tanner estimated that Hanna's textbooks were among the most widely used in U.S. schools (1991, 43).

Despite Hanna's impressive impact on American educators, professional historians of education have ignored him. David Tyack (1974), for example, did not mention Hanna in his landmark work on American schooling, even though he surely was aware of Hanna's work because they were colleagues for a time at Stanford University. Herbert Kliebard (1986) also failed to include Hanna in his discussion of the Depression-era shift in progressive education from a child-centered to a social reconstructionist approach to the school curriculum. Kliebard ignored Hanna in his discussion of the Virginia Curriculum Study's role in this shift, even though Hanna was directly involved in that landmark work. Lawrence Cremin overlooked Hanna's contributions in both his history of Teachers College (1954), where Hanna studied and taught for eleven years, and his study of American schooling in this century (1961). More recently, Tanner and Tanner (1990) continued this pattern of neglect. Even books on the elementary curriculum, wherein Hanna reasonably might be emphasized, routinely ignore his role. For example, one recent work described the rationale for an integrated approach to the social studies this way:

The integration of information gives students and teachers an opportunity to plan a program in which the barriers between areas of study begin to dissolve and the possibilities for experiencing real-life situations are greatly increased ... societal conditions are explained not only in greater depth but in a context that is meaningful in relation to contemporary living (Reinhartz and Beach 1997, 275).

This statement succinctly describes the approach that Hanna pioneered more than sixty years ago, but Hanna is not mentioned or referenced in the text.

Possible reasons for this neglect of Paul Hanna's contributions are discussed in Chapter Eight, but the ultimate effect of excluding Hanna from historical memory is that an important part of education history remains unknown. Hanna's role in the debates about progressive education and social reconstruction in the 1930s, his role in the creation of several important organizations for professional educators, his formulation of a new curriculum design by which social studies is taught, his part in the development of school systems abroad, and his many other activities combine to support serious investigation of his life and work.


The organization of the following pages is somewhat unconventional and bears explanation. Chapters Two, Three, and Four of this book are organized chronologically. They describe Paul Hanna's personal growth and career, from its beginning in the small towns of the rural Midwest to its peak as he became the leading figure in elementary social studies education. These chapters unfold the personal expanding communities of influence Paul Hanna achieved throughout his life.

Chapter Two portrays the significant formative influences of Hanna's early years. Paul Hanna was born on June 21, 1902, in Sioux City, Iowa, the first of three children born to George Archibald Hanna and Regula Figi Hanna. His father was a Methodist minister much influenced by the theology and practices of the Social Gospel movement, whereas his mother held to a more traditional form of religion. The interplay of these two belief systems powerfully affected the young Paul Hanna. While attending public schools in several Midwestern communities, Hanna decided to pursue a career in higher education. Toward this end, he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Hamline University in 1924.

Chapter Three details Hanna's eleven years of association with Teachers College at Columbia University. Following his graduation from Hamline, Hanna went to Columbia in order to continue his studies in philosophy. He intended to study under John Dewey, but Dewey was detained in China that year. Consequently, he turned for mentorship to William Heard Kilpatrick of Teachers College (Hanna 1973a). This change in advisers influenced Hanna to shift his attention from philosophy to education.

Hanna was a student at Teachers College from 1924–1929, earning both his M.A. and his Ph.D. degrees. From 1930–1935, he served as an assistant professor on the Teachers College faculty. During these years, Hanna worked with many individuals who were then or later became leaders in American educational thought and practice. He worked with Jesse Newlon and Harold Rugg at the Lincoln School from 1928–1935. William Kilpatrick invited him to attend the legendary bimonthly dinner discussions that Kilpatrick hosted. Hanna benefited from participation in the ongoing debates of John Dewey, George S. Counts, John L. Childs, Rexford Tugwell, and their colleagues. Other far-ranging discussions of education and social conditions occurred later as Hanna helped plan and teach the College's Education 200F course in foundations of education with Harold Rugg and William Heard Kilpatrick. Hanna was profoundly influenced by the educational and social thought of these leaders in American education. During this time, too, he was invited by his former Teachers College classmate, Hollis L. Caswell, to consult on the landmark Virginia Curriculum Study. This project prompted Hanna to develop a scope and sequence for the social studies curriculum that came to fruition in the Hanna textbook series.

In 1935, Paul Hanna moved his family across the country to begin a new phase of his career at Stanford University. Chapter Four describes his long career at Stanford and the opportunities that opened to him there. Among these opportunities was his involvement in building a first-class education school. During World War II, he and his students developed a program for democratic education that became a model for schooling in Japanese-American relocation centers (Hanna 1942g), and from Stanford, Hanna began his consulting work abroad in 1940. His work overseas accelerated throughout the 1950s and 1960s under the sponsorship of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United States Office of Education, and it influenced nations in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Latin America. In 1954, he established the Stanford International Development Education Center and served as its director until 1968. Paul Hanna was named the Lee L. Jacks Professor of Child Education in 1954 and held that chair until he retired in 1967 (Nelson 1988, 413).

Beyond his work in education, Hanna was instrumental in building the reputation of Stanford University by forging partnerships between the university and governments (Lowen 1997; International Cooperation Agency 1957). After his retirement, he endowed and devoted the final years of his life to establishing the Paul and Jean Hanna Archival Collection on the Role of Education in Twentieth-Century Society at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University. He sought to create a unique archival collection and research program on the relationship between education and society. It has become the largest collection of its kind in the world.

Other facets of Hanna's life and interests blossomed in California. He and his wife, Jean, raised their three children and collaborated on textbook projects. In addition, Hanna and his wife, Jean, wrote articles and textbooks on spelling instruction. Together they oversaw the construction of a Frank Lloyd Wright -designed house overlooking the Stanford campus. With Stanford colleagues, Hanna launched a forestry business that involved him in serious conservation efforts both locally and nationwide.

Chapters Five, Six, and Seven deal topically with specific major aspects of Hanna's career. Chapter Five traces the development of Hanna's thought on matters of social and educational concern, from his doctoral dissertation in 1929 to his final publication in 1986. Most of Hanna's writing focused in one way or another on his analysis of modern social, political, and economic institutions and ways in which schools could be used to help children learn to mold these institutions to their own needs. Although life experiences altered Hanna's view of just what those needs might be, his main thrust remained remarkably consistent. He felt that the key to constructive democratic change was providing children with sound information from the social sciences and experiences in democratic practices. His major works in these areas, as well as those of his critics, are cited and discussed in the chapter.

Hanna wielded considerable influence on American education through his work within a number professional organizations for educators. Chapter Six discusses his role in founding and leading several of these organizations. The crisis of the Great Depression mobilized many progressive educators to address the schools' responsibility to the larger society. Some in the Progressive Education Association (PEA) opposed this emphasis and held to individual child interest as the sole basis for curriculum decisions. Hanna and others were appalled at this position and, after attempts to modify the PEA's position, broke with the organization to found new groups. The John Dewey Society and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development were two that Paul Hanna had a leading role in establishing.

Chapter Seven details the development and extent of Paul Hanna's consulting work overseas. Hanna found a ready audience for his ideas on community schools and democratic education overseas in the years following World War II, under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development, UNESCO, and other agencies. His efforts brought him international prominence. Perhaps more important, Hanna's work in East Asia, Africa, Europe, and Central and South America deepened his understanding of other cultures and the impact of social, political, and economic institutions on the lives of people. It also gave him a stronger sense of the interdependence of nations. Both of these understandings profoundly affected his work in the United States.

The final chapter of this book analyzes and places in context Hanna's various contributions to American education. It also elaborates on the reasons for his neglect by educational historians and argues for more attention to educational biography. Taken together, these seven chapters provide a richly textured analytical narrative of Hanna's life and of his role in the development of twentieth-century American education.


Thousands of pages of writings by and about Hanna were analyzed for this work, and dozens of his former colleagues, students, and family members were interviewed. Yet even with so rich a variety of sources from which to craft Hanna's story, it can only be a construction of reality. What perspectives of Hanna's life are missed because friends, family members, former students, and colleagues were unavailable or declined to contribute to this volume? As Edward Carr wrote,

The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use — these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation (Carr 1967, 26).

Inevitably, some sources slip by the hook of even the most diligent biographer. A life as long and fruitful as that of Paul Hanna presents the biographer with a daunting mass of information that leads in dozens of intriguing directions. From this jumble of events, experiences, and personalities, he must craft an orderly narrative that makes sense of a complex life. Obviously, in this process, some information receives more attention and some less. A special difficulty lies in describing the subject's life with sufficient richness to offer a true portrayal without devolving into irrelevant minutiae, or in attaching more importance to events than the subject did, thus distorting their influence on the subject's life. Portraying the life of Paul Robert Hanna presents just this dilemma. For instance, in recent years historians of curriculum have given much attention to the Virginia Curriculum Study. Consequently, this biography devotes more space in the story of Hanna's life to that study than he himself might have.

The biographer's task becomes even more delicate, because sometimes his subject distorts events, personalities, and even his own importance. Sometimes his recollections are faulty. Sometimes he lies. Nevertheless, the biographer must allow his subject to tell his story in his own way. Novelist Arthur Golden observed that using autobiographical material "is like asking a rabbit to tell us what he looks like hopping through the grasses of the field. How would he know? If we want to hear about the field, on the other hand, no one is in a better circumstance to tell us — so long as we keep in mind that we are missing all those things the rabbit was in no position to observe" (Golden 1997, 1–2).

The biographer's subject has a voice, and that voice must be allowed a hearing so that the reader may see the "field" from the subject's point of view. On the other hand, the biographer is obligated to add some analysis or include the voices of observers with conflicting viewpoints to help portray how the "rabbit" appears from afar. It is the intention of this biographer to let Paul Hanna tell about his "field" in his own words as much as possible. To do otherwise is to use Hanna's life as a foil for expressing only the biographer's point of view. At the same time, the biographer intends to share his own view of Hanna, knowing full well that it is filtered through his own experiences. Hopefully, the result is a reasonably faithful portrayal of Paul Hanna's life and contributions within the context of his time.


Paul Robert Hanna had an immense impact on education in the United States and abroad. His analysis of modern culture and his indictments of its schools still ring true. Throughout a career of more than fifty years, his diverse interests and contributions included significant roles in major professional organizations for educators, a curriculum design that became the standard for elementary school social studies instruction, the construction of a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, new formulations of the community school concept for international development education, the production of dozens of textbooks in social studies and spelling, and the creation of an important resource for research in the instrumental uses of education.


Excerpted from Paul Robert Hanna by Jared R. Stallones. Copyright © 2002 Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. Excerpted by permission of Hoover Institution Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


1 Introduction,
2 Paul Hanna's Childhood, Youth, and Young Adulthood,
3 Paul Hanna at Teachers College, Columbia University,
4 Paul Hanna at Stanford University,
5 Paul Hanna's Writing Career,
6 Paul Hanna's Involvement in Professional Education Organizations,
7 Paul Hanna and International Development Education,
8 Conclusions,
Works Cited,

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