March 12, 2021

Cristina Groeger

Harvard Book Store's virtual event series welcomes CRISTINA GROEGER—assistant professor of History at Lake Forest College—for a discussion of her book The Education Trap: Schools and the Remaking of Inequality in Boston. She will be joined in conversation by NICK JURAVICH, assistant professor of History and Labor Studies and the Associate Director of the Labor Resource Center at UMass Boston.


For generations, Americans have looked to education as the solution to economic disadvantage. Yet, although more people are earning degrees, the gap between rich and poor is widening. Cristina Groeger delves into the history of this seeming contradiction, explaining how education came to be seen as a panacea even as it paved the way for deepening inequality.

The Education Trap returns to the first decades of the twentieth century, when Americans were grappling with the unprecedented inequities of the Gilded Age. Groeger’s test case is the city of Boston, which spent heavily on public schools. She examines how workplaces came to depend on an army of white-collar staff, largely women and second-generation immigrants, trained in secondary schools. But Groeger finds that the shift to more educated labor had negative consequences—both intended and unintended—for many workers. Employers supported training in schools in order to undermine the influence of craft unions, and so shift workplace power toward management. And advanced educational credentials became a means of controlling access to high-paying professional and business jobs, concentrating power and wealth. Formal education thus became a central force in maintaining inequality.

The idea that more education should be the primary means of reducing inequality may be appealing to politicians and voters, but Groeger warns that it may be a dangerous policy trap. If we want a more equitable society, we should not just prescribe more time in the classroom, but fight for justice in the workplace.

About Author(s)

Cristina Groeger is an Assistant Professor of History at Lake Forest College. Her research on education, work, and inequality in the modern United States has been funded by the National Academy of Education and Spencer Foundation. She grew up in Cambridge, MA and graduated from Cambridge Rindge and Latin before attending Harvard for her AB (2008) and PhD (2017). She now lives in Chicago, IL.

Nick Juravich is Assistant Professor of History and Labor Studies and the Associate Director of the Labor Resource Center at UMass Boston. His research is focused on the history of public education, community organizing, and public-sector unions in U.S. cities in the 20th century. His first book, The Work of Education: Community-Based Educators in Schools, Freedom Struggles, and the Labor Movement (forthcoming from Illinois Press) is a study of paraprofessional educators and their struggles for jobs and freedom in urban public schools.