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Common schools

Here you will find articles about public education pedagogy and politics, school buildings and school teachers from elementary school to higher education, as published mainly in Illinois Issues and Illinois Times. 


The first serious writing I ever did (and boy, was I serious) was about schools. While still a student, I wrote about public schools, meaning the public schools in Springfield, meaning the Springfield public schools I attended—mostly polemics about relevance and group-think and kids as second-class citizens, half-digested from reading Goodman and Holt and Hentoff and other rabble-rousers. Out of school as a rookie author, I helped research and write a state agency report about school district organization in Illinois. Schools and kids also were the subject of the only article of mine ever to appear in a sort-of professional journal. (See below for "School Is Something You Put Up With . . . .") Higher education governance also occasioned the lengthiest article I ever got published. 

School teachers were arguably the most important (which is not to say always the best) people I knew growing up. They were enormously influential, less for what they taught me—I was a classic self-teacher—but in how they shaped my notions of self. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that nearly all my friends have been teachers of one kind or other—indeed, I suppose I've always fancied myself a teacher of a sort too.


An adult life spent with a Montessori teacher/trainer/administrator meant that kids and schools and parents and governments and school organizations were staples of conversation and debate at our house. Thus it was that, while childless myself, I stayed focused on kids and schools as public issues. 

Interested readers also should know that I devoted a chapter in my history of mid-Illinois—"The urge to improve"—to education as it affected that part of the state; see Corn Kings & One-Horse Thieves.

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“A Fraud and a Hoax”

Defining incompetence in incompetent schools

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 2, 1979

Not Just for Field Trips

Museums as surrogate schools

Illinois Issues  July 1995

School Is Something You Put Up With

Illinois teens speak their minds in the 1970s

Illinois Journal of Education  September/October 1972 

Higher education

Reviewing these pieces, I  see that all of them deal with public higher education. This reflects the bias of my experience and not any bias of opinion against Illinois's many fine private colleges and universities. 

Who's Afraid of Paula Wolff?
The University of Illinois Chicago plays find the leader

Reader  May 17, 1991

Buyer Ed

Illinois universities: Private ends and public means

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 5, 1992

Basic Questions

Money casts a shadow over a campus spring

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  May 13, 1982

Saving for a Brainy Day

College families learn it takes money to make money

“Prejudices” Illinois Times September 12, 1991

Reflections on a Howling Mob

U of I football fans flag the Big Ten

Illinois Times  May 15, 1981

Reuniting Learning and Labor
Redirecting Illinois spending on higher education
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 15, 2010

Pay as You Leave

A legislator wants refunds from itinerant scholars

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  March 5, 2015

Real Innovation

Rethinking, not just reforming, public higher ed

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  June 29, 2017

Foreign Exchange

Bursting the Asian enrollment boom at the U of I 

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 21, 2017

Making Illinois Safe for the Bs

Two legislators want to reform higher ed

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  October 12, 2017

Stellar! Stellar!

Springfield’s U of I passes the hat

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  November 2, 2017 

Positive Spillovers

What are public universities for?

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times January 17, 2013

The College Game

Is higher education the best way to prepare for a career?

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times September 29, 2011

College Credit

Buying a future with borrowed money

"Dyspepsiana" Illinois Times February 2, 2012

The Midlife Scholarship

College is wasted on the young

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 24, 1987

Ten Years After, or Whither SSU?

Grading Illinois’s new university on the curve

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  May 20, 1982

Finding a Niche 

Sangamon State and a higher purpose for Illinois higher ed

"Prejudices"  Illinois Times  February 20, 1992

Lincoln School

Lessons unlearned by public educators

"Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 8, 1988

The Moon Sets in Sorrento

Driver ed and pompons and bond issues 

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  April 17, 1981

A Nest of Singing Birds

Two Springfield English teachers raise a flock

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 8, 1978

The Encouragement of Competent Teachers
Would Elizabeth Graham be allowed to teach today?
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  April 30, 2015 

New Ways of Learning

Educators learn new ways to make old mistakes

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  June 20, 1991

The San Andreas Fault

Public school pay policies are on shaky ground

“Prejudices” Illinois Times  August 31, 1979

Simple Issues

Illinois math teaching doesn't add up

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  August 1, 1991

Moment of Frivolity?

Illinois public schools get religion

Illinois Issues  February 2008

Valuable Things

I look back at public school and see myself

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  March 5, 1987

It’s Only Fair

Rauner’s principled opposition to SB 1

“Dyspepsiana” Illinois Times August 2, 2017

How to Say ‘What Do We Owe?’ in Mandarin
Springfield schools think about teaching China’s official language
"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  March 18, 2010

College Bound

The risks of asking strangers for directions

“Prejudices”  Illinois Times  September 7, 1989

Unscientific Methods

Why aren’t kids learning science?

"Dyspepsiana"  Illinois Times  September 1. 2011

Beware of Your Schools
The best education equips a child to resist schooling.

Reader April 24, 1987


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John Hallwas

Essential for anyone interested in Illinois history and literature. Hallwas deservedly won the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Illinois State Historical Society.

Lee Sandlin Author

One of Illinois’s best, and least-known, writers of his generation. Take note in particular of The Distancers and Road to Nowhere.

Chicago Architecture Center

See Home Page/Learn/

Resources for a marvelous building database, architecture dictionary, even a city planning graphic novel. Handsome, useful—every Illinois culture website should be so good.

The Encyclopedia of Chicago


The online version of The Encyclopedia of Chicago. Crammed with thousands of topic entries, biographical sketches, maps and images, it is a reference work unmatched in Illinois.

Illinois Great Places

The Illinois chapter of the American Institute of Architects in 2018 selected 200 Great Places in Illinois that illustrate our  shared architectural culture across the entire period of human settlement in Illinois.

McLean County Museum

of History

A nationally accredited, award-winning project of the McLean County Historical Society whose holdings include more than 20,000 objects, more than 15,000 books on local history and genealogy, and boxes and boxes of historical papers and images.

Mr. Lincoln, Route 66, and Other Highlights of Lincoln, Illinois


Every Illinois town ought to have a chronicler like D. Leigh Henson, Ph.D. Not only Lincoln and the Mother road—the author’s curiosity ranges from cattle baron John Dean Gillett to novelist William Maxwell. An Illinois State Historical Society "Best Web Site of the Year."

Illinois Digital Archives


Created in 2000, the IDA is a repository for the digital collections of the Illinois State Library and other Illinois libraries and cultural institutions. The holdings include photographs, slides, and glass negatives, oral histories, newspapers, maps, and documents from manuscripts and letters to postcards,  posters, and videos.

The Illinois State Museum


The people's museum is a treasure house of science and the arts. A research institution of national reputation, the museum maintains four facilities across the state. Their collections in anthropology, fine and decorative arts, botany, zoology, geology, and  history are described here. A few museum publications can be obtained here.

Chronicling Illinois

“Chronicling Illinois” showcases some of the collections—mostly some 6,000 photographs—from the Illinois history holdings of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library.


I will leave it to the authors of this interesting site to describe it. "Chicagology is a study of Chicago history with a focus on the period prior to the Second World War. The purpose of the site is to document common and not so common stories about the City of Chicago as they are discovered." 

Illinois Labor History Society

The Illinois Labor History Society seeks to encourage the preservation and study of labor history materials of the Illinois region, and to arouse public interest in the profound significance of the past to the present. Offers books reviews, podcasts, research guides, and the like. 

Illinois Migration History 1850-2017

The University of Washington’s America’s Great Migrations Project has compiled migration histories  (mostly from the published and unpublished work by UW Professor of History James Gregory) for several states, including Illinois. The site also includes maps and charts and essays about the Great Migration of African Americans to the north, in which Illinois figured importantly. 

History on the Fox

An interesting resource about the history of one of Illinois’s more interesting places, the Fox Valley of Kendall County. History on the Fox is the work of Roger Matile, an amateur historian of the best sort. Matile’s site is a couple of cuts above the typical buff’s blog. (An entry on the French attempt to cash in on the trade in bison pelts runs more than

2,000 words.)




Southern Illinois University Press 2017

A work of solid history, entertainingly told.

Michael Burlingame,

author of Abraham 

Lincoln: A Life 

One of the ten best books on Illinois history I have read in a decade.

Superior Achievement Award citation, ISHS Awards, 2018

A lively and engaging study . . .  an enthralling narrative.

James Edstrom

The Annals of Iowa

A book that merits the attention of all Illinois historians

as well as local historians generally.

John Hoffman

Journal of Illinois HIstory

A model for the kind of detailed and honest history other states and regions could use.

Harold Henderson 

Midwestern Microhistory

A fine example of a resurgence of Midwest historical scholarship.

Greg Hall

Journal of the Illinois

State Historical Society

Click  here 

to read about

the book 

Click  here 

to buy the book 


Southern Illinois University Press

SIU Press is one of the four major university publishing houses in Illinois. Its catalog offers much of local interest, including biographies of Illinois political figures, the history (human and natural) and folklore of southern Illinois, the Civil War and Lincoln, and quality reprints in the Shawnee Classics series.

University of

Illinois Press

The U of I Press was founded in 1918. A search of the online catalog  (Books/Browse by subject/Illinois) will reveal more than 150 Illinois titles, books on history mostly but also butteflies, nature , painting, poetry and fiction, and more.  Of particular note are its Prairie State Books,  quality new paperback editions of worthy titles about all parts of Illinois, augmented with scholarly introductions.

University of

Chicago Press

The U of C publishing operation is the oldest (1891) and largest university press in Illinois. Its reach is international, but it has not neglected its own neighborhood. Any good Illinois library will include dozens of titles about Chicago and Illinois from Fort Dearborn to

Vivian Maier.

Northern Illinois University Press

The newest (1965) and the smallest of the university presses with an interest in Illinois, Northern Illinois University Press gave us important titles such as the standard one-volume history of the state (Biles' Illinois:
A History of the Land and Its People) and contributions to the history of Chicago, Illinois transportation, and the Civil War. Now an imprint of Cornell University Press.


Reviews and significant mentions by James Krohe Jr. of more than 50 Illinois books, arranged in alphabetical order

by book title. 


Illinois Center for the Book

Run by the Illinois State Library, The Center promotes reading, writing and author programs meant to honor the state's rich literary heritage. An affiliate of the Library of Congress’s Center for the Book, the site offers award competitions, a directory of Illinois authors, literary landmarks, and reading programs.

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