Public Science of the Savage Mind: Contesting Cultural Anthropology in the Cold War Classroom

Authors

  • Erika Lorraine Milam


Abstract

“What is human about human beings? How did they get that way? How can they be made more so?” These three questions formed the basis of a fifth-grade social studies curriculum project developed in the 1960s called Man: A Course of Study, or MACOS. In the years between the curriculum's development in the 1960s and its controversial implementation in the 1970s, two separate sets of concerns served to problematize the use of anthropological materials in public school classrooms. On the one hand, MACOS designers were wary of the possibly racist interpretations of exploring so-called “primitive” cultures in the classroom. On the other, conservative textbook reformers objected to claims that all cultural solutions to biological problems were morally equivalent. Once MACOS earned a place in national news, it came to embody both hopes for the redemption of American democratic society and fears about the violent nature of humans, depending on one's political perspective. These mixed messages eventually undermined the long-term success of the program as public science.

Ancillary