Raymond Eugene Callahan Essay

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Raymond Eugene Callahan is an education historian whose interest in the social underpinnings of education at the end of the nineteenth century culminated in the publication of Education and the Cult of Efficiency: A Study of the Social Forces That Have Shaped the Administration of Public Schools (1962).

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1921, Callahan attended the city’s public schools, worked in factories, and then enlisted in the military during World War II. This duty entitled him to the provisions of the GI Bill for completing his education.

Callahan earned a bachelor’s degree from Washington University in St. Louis in 1948; was a fifth-grade teacher for a year; then re-enrolled at Washington University, where he earned a master’s degree in history a few years later under the guidance of Dietrich Gerhard, a noted central European scholar. Callahan would always refer to Gerhard as “my great teacher.” Later, George S. Counts and John L. Childs were added to form a trinity of Callahan’s admired professors.

The mix of public school teaching experience and an intellectual interest in history led him to enroll at Teachers College, Columbia University, to study under George S. Counts, who was one of the architects of the concept of the social foundations of education. Callahan completed the course work in 1951 and took a job at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, before the awarding of his EdD in 1952. He then got a position at his alma mater, Washington University, where he spent the remainder of his professional career.

One of Callahan’s first projects was a textbook in the social foundations titled An Introduction to Education in American Society: A Text With Readings that was published in 1956. Counts wrote a foreword. The book sold well and underwent several editions through 1967. Callahan referred to the text as “the book that got me out of pre-fabricated housing.” He then turned his attention to more serious scholarship. The catalyst for this change came in part with the reorganization of Washington University’s Department of Education into the Graduate Institute of Education in 1955. Robert J. Schaefer was brought from Harvard to be its first director.

Callahan was interested in the dramatic growth in public school education at the end of the nineteenth century. The leadership of the schools, the philosophical basis of administration, the curriculum, and societal expectations for the enterprise within the context of corporate America were placed into a subset of historical questions that Callahan began to explore. Warren Button, an early student and graduate assistant of Callahan, would recall Saturdays of reading, thinking, discussion, and writing in a cloud of cigar smoke. The result was Education and the Cult of Efficiency: A Study of the Social Forces That Have Shaped the Administration of Public Schools, which was published in 1962 and underwent more than twenty-five printings. The reaction to the book, dedicated to Counts, was immediately positive.

Callahan became president of the History of Education Society for 1963–1964 and delivered the Simpson Lecture at Harvard in 1964. He continued to teach, guide future historians of education, and conduct research up to his retirement from Washington University.


  1. Callahan, R. (1962). Education and the cult of efficiency: A study of the social forces that have shaped the administration of public schools. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  2. Eaton, W. (Ed.). (1990). Shaping the superintendency: A reexamination of Callahan and the cult of efficiency. New York: Teachers College Press.

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