ABSTRACT

I argue that Bread Givers and the broader body of Anzia Yezierska's writing gather a strong and persistent critique of how American education reinforces social stratifications, rather than engaging the lived experiences of students. Her fiction dramatizes students’ hope for acceptance and dialogue, and she reveals the currents of social containment that run against Progressive education's emphasis on democratic participation and tolerance of diversity. By depicting encounters with a variety of educators and learned people, Yezierska intimates an ideal educational environment in which students’ knowledge and experiences are essential and respected, and social and cultural hierarchies suspended. I suggest that the force of Yezierska's critique of American education, and more specifically the tensions within Progressive education, remains underappreciated because of the critical attention given to her personal relationship with John Dewey and because of the perception among some readers that she is more of an assimilationist than a social critic.

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