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Informationen zum Autor Diane Ravitch is one of the nation's foremost historians of education and a leading education policy anal... Lire la suite
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Diane Ravitch is one of the nation's foremost historians of education and a leading education policy analyst. Her landmark books deeply influenced the national discussion of education standards in the 1980s and 1990s. She has been a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and at New York University. She served in the U.S. Department of Education as assistant secretary in charge of education research. She currently holds the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution, edits "Brookings Papers on Education Policy, " and is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Richard Rothstein The New York Times An important new book.

Diane Ravitch is one of the nation's foremost historians of education and a leading education policy analyst. Her landmark books deeply influenced the national discussion of education standards in the 1980s and 1990s. She has been a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and at New York University. She served in the U.S. Department of Education as assistant secretary in charge of education research. She currently holds the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution, edits Brookings Papers on Education Policy, and is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

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For the past one hundred years, Americans have argued and worried about the quality of their schools. Some charged that students were not learning enough, while others complained that the schools were not furthering social progress. In Left Back, education historian Diane Ravitch describes this ongoing battle of ideas and explains why school reform has so often disappointed. She recounts grandiose efforts to use the schools for social engineering, even while those efforts diminished the schools' ability to provide a high-quality education for all children. By illuminating the history of education in the twentieth century, Left Back points the way to reviving American schools today.

Source: Simon & Schuster Last Updated: 05/07/2001
Last Sent to NetRead: 11/18/2007

Author Bio
Diane Ravitch is one of the nation's foremost historians of education and a leading education policy analyst. Her landmark books deeply influenced the national discussion of education standards in the 1980s and 1990s. She has been a professor at Teachers College, Columbia University, and at New York University. She served in the U.S. Department of Education as assistant secretary in charge of education research. She currently holds the Brown Chair in Education Studies at the Brookings Institution, edits Brookings Papers on Education Policy, and is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Échantillon de lecture
Chapter One: The Educational Ladder

In the closing years of the nineteenth century, Americans prided themselves on their free public schools. Most children attended the public schools, and Americans felt a patriotic attachment to them. Unlike Europe, which was burdened with rigid class barriers, in America it was believed that the public school could enable any youngster to rise above the most humble origins and make good on the nation's promise of equal opportunity for all. Oscar D. Robinson, the principal of the high school in Albany, New York, declared that "the famous simile of the educational ladder, with its foot in the gutter and its top in the university, is in this favored country no poetic fancy, but portrays in vivid language a fact many times verified in the knowledge of every intelligent adult."

The schools were expected to make social equality a reality by giving students an equal chance to develop their mental powers to the fullest. William A. Mowry, the school superintendent in Providence, Rhode Island, believed that the schools would abolish caste in America: "Your bootblack to-day may be your lawyer to-morrow, and the rail-splitter or the tanner or the humble schoolmaster at twenty years of age may become the chief magistrate of fifty millions of free people before he is fifty." What was most important was not learning a trade but learning intelligence and virtue. As people became more intelligent and broad-minded, he believed, the community would improve. He declared, "Let the doors of the school-house, the 'brain factory,' be open to all the children; and the child once started on the career of learning, let him not find those doors ever closed against him."

This was the American dream, the promise of the public school to open wide the doors of opportunity to all who were willing to learn and study. The schools would work their democratic magic by disseminating knowledge to all who sought it.

Americans were especially proud of their common schools, the schools that included grades one through eight. By 1890, 95 percent of children between the ages of five and thirteen were enrolled in school for at least a few months of the year. Less than 5 percent of adolescents went to high school, and even fewer entered college. Beyond the age of thirteen, there were large gaps in opportunities to attend school. Race, poverty, and location certainly narrowed access to schooling. Neither a high school diploma nor a college degree, however, was required to get a good job or to succeed in business. The growing economy had plenty of jobs, especially for those who had gained the literacy that was supplied by the common schools; only those who planned to enter the learned professions (law, medicine, the ministry) found it necessary to go to college.

At century's end, there was no American educational "system." There were thousands of district schools, hundreds of colleges and universities, and scores of normal schools that trained teachers. The federal bureau of education, headed by a U.S. commissioner of education, had no control over local schools; its sole function was to collect information about the condition and progress of education. Education was very much a local matter, controlled by lay school boards made up of businessmen, civic leaders, and parents. State education agencies were weak, small, and insignificant; each state had a department of education, but its few employees had little or no power over local school districts. Even big-city school districts had few supervisors. The public schools of Baltimore, for example, had 1,200 teachers in 1890 but only two superintendents for the entire school district.

Despite local control, the American public school was remarkably similar across regions. Everywhere the goals were few and simple: Children learned not only the basics of reading, 'riting, and 'rithmetic, but also the basics of good behavior. Principals and teachers considered character and intelligence to be of equal value, and neither was possible without "disciplining the will," which required prompt, unquestioning obedience to the teacher and the school rules.

The common schools emphasized reading, writing, speaking, spelling, penmanship, grammar, arithmetic, patriotism, a clear moral code, and strict discipline, enforced when necessary by corporal punishment. The values they sought to instill were honesty, industry, patriot-ism, responsibility, respect for adults, and courtesy. The schools were vital community institutions, reflecting the mores of parents and churches; events at the local school, such as spelling bees, musical exhibitions, and speaking contests, were often important community events.

When the muckraker Dr. Joseph Mayer Rice visited public schools in thirty-six cities in 1892, he complained bitterly about the quality of education that he saw. In New York City, the school he visited was "the most dehumanizing institution that I have ever laid eyes upon, each child being treated as if he possessed a memory and the faculty of speech, but no individuality, no sensibilities, no soul." Recitation by classes "in concert" was common. In Baltimore, the children added long columns of numbers, singing "in perfect rhythm," "one and one are two; two and one are three; three and one are four," and so on. In Boston, the children sang together, "N-a-m-e, n-a-m-e, name; e at the end of the word makes the a say its own name, e at the end of the word makes the a say its own name; h-e-r-e, here; h-e-r-e; e at the end of the word makes the e say its own name, e at the end of the word makes the e say its own name." In Cincinnati, children were singing and spelling words. In Saint Louis, teachers cut students off with remarks such as "Speak when you are spoken to" and "Don't talk, listen," and continually reminded students, "Don't lean against the wall" and "Keep your toes on the line."

Teachers seldom had much pedagogical training, so they relied mainly on time-tested methods of recitation from textbooks. Regardless of locale, textbooks were similar, as competitive publishing houses copied one another's best-selling books. The publishers hoped for a national market for their textbooks and knew that their products would be judged by members of local school boards, for whom continuity and tradition counted more than innovation. The school reading books were usually published as a series of four to six graduated texts; the first one or two taught reading, and the rest were compilations of good literature, usually selected to illustrate ethical and moral precepts.

The stories, poems, speeches, allusions, aphorisms, and fables in the readers introduced American children to a common literary tradition. The celebrated McGuffey Readers contained excerpts from writers such as Shakespeare, Hawthorne, and Dickens. First published in 1836, the McGuffey series dominated the textbook market in the latter half of the nineteenth century, eventually selling more than 120 million books. They were handed down from student to student and read out loud over the family dining table. When Theodore Roosevelt lambasted critics as "Meddlesome Matties," a generation of Americans recognized the allusion to a familiar story in McGuffey's. Other popular textbooks contained many of the same poems and speeches, making cultural touchstones of such pieces as Robert Southey's "The Battle of Blenheim," Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's "The Village Blacksmith" and "Paul Revere's Ride," John Greenleaf Whittier's "The Barefoot Boy," and Marc Antony's oration in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar.

The reading textbooks of the common schools emphasized the importance of proper elocution and public speaking; they encouraged students to read out loud. Public speaking was considered excellent preparation for the duties of life in a democratic society, such as participating in local politics and community lyceums. In daily lessons, boys and girls learned to pronounce words and syllables with accuracy and care. Tongue-twisting exercises taught elocution:

The sun shines on the shop signs.

She sells sea shells. Shall he sell sea shells?

Six gray geese and eight gray ganders.

Round the rough and rugged rocks the ragged rascal ran.

The old cold scold sold a school coal-scuttle.

Then there was the classic tale of Peter Piper, which amply exercised the lips and tongue:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers;

Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?

If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,

Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

The school readers and history textbooks favored patriotic selections. Children recited the stirring words of Patrick Henry, George Washington, Daniel Webster, Abraham Lincoln, and other noted Americans. Rote memorization was common, especially in learning history and geography. This method had mixed results. With the rote method, children amassed a solid store of facts that they could use to understand more complex material, but they also might memorize words, phrases, even lengthy passages without understanding their meaning.

The history books taught facts and patriotism. In the textbooks, the greatest national events were the Revolutionary War and the Civil War. Children studied the justice of the American cause in the former and the perfidy of the Southern states in the latter (unless they attended school in the South, where textbooks portrayed the Southern cause sympathetically). The textbooks described American history as a stirring story that demonstrated the importance of liberty, independence, and resistance to tyranny.

Literary readers echoed the same themes of courage and patriotism. Students often memorized and recited pieces such as Whittier's "Barbara Frietchie," "The Debate Between Hayne and Webster," Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "The Charge of the Light Brigade," and Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

Geography lessons taught pride of country and often racial pride (and racism) as well; racial stereotyping was commonplace in the geography books. The facts of geography were of great importance, including such matters as the height of important mountains and the names of continents, oceans, and rivers. Geography was often taught by chants and rhymes, which was referred to as "singing geography." One popular chant consisted of the name of the state, the name of its capital city, and the name of the river where it was located. One popular chant began

Maine, Augusta, on the Kennebec,

New Hampshire, Concord, on the Merrimac,

and went on to include each of the states. The schoolhouse would often ring with geography chants. Some teachers used music to teach the alphabet and the multiplication tables as well, with students marching up and down the aisles of the classroom singing (to the tune of "Yankee Doodle Dandy"), "Five times five is twenty-five and five times six is thirty..."

In mathematics, teachers "drilled" students in "mental arithmetic," requiring them to solve mathematical problems "in their head," without a pen or pencil. Children were expected to stand in front of the class and answer such problems as:

How many square inches in a piece of paper six inches long and four inches wide?

Reduce to their lowest terms: 12?16, 24?36, 16?28, 28?49, 32?36.

Henry paid 1?4 of all his money for a knife, 1?8 for a ball, and 1?8 for a necktie: what part of his money had he left?

A harness was sold for 3?4 of 4?5 of what it cost. What was the loss per cent?

Educators thought of these exercises as a valuable form of mental gymnastics. For many children, though, they were surely mental drudgery.

The common school was dedicated to correct spelling, and spelling lessons were conducted every day. Competition was keen, and sometimes public exhibitions were held for parents and the community. Some teachers divided their class into teams, which competed with each other. Or a teacher would line up the entire class and give spelling words to the child at the head of the line; when that child missed a word, the next in line would "go to the head of the class." Schools competed with each other, and sometimes entire communities would participate in the spelling bee, showing off the prowess of the best spellers.

The aim of the common school was clear: to promote sufficient learning and self-discipline so that people in a democratic society could be good citizens, read the newspapers, get a job, make their way in an individualistic and competitive society, and contribute to their community's well-being.

The Missing Rung of the Ladder

At the end of the nineteenth century, almost every community had an elementary school, but public high schools were sparse. By 1900, there were nearly one thousand colleges and universities (of widely varying quality, some no more advanced than high schools) scattered across the country. In between was a melange of public high schools, private academies, and preparatory departments of colleges. There could not be an educational ladder from "the gutter to the university" unless public high schools were as readily available as common schools.

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, most secondary education was supplied by thousands of small private academies. Most offered not only the classical curriculum of Latin, Greek, and mathematics, but also modern subjects such as history, science, and English, and practical subjects such as bookkeeping, surveying, and navigation.

As the economy changed from agrarian to industrial and commercial, and young people began to need more education, many cities -- including New York, Chicago, New Orleans, Detroit, Saint Louis, San Francisco, and Dubuque -- opened public high schools. These new schools existed in "every variety and quality" and usually offered both classical and modern studies. Reluctant taxpayers grumbled and occasionally sued to block public funding for public secondary schools, and critics complained that they were elitist and unnecessary. Nonetheless, enrollments in the new public high schools soon eclipsed those in the private academies.

Most towns viewed their new public high school as a source of community pride. In Nineveh, Indiana, the township high school was credited with raising "the standard of intelligence, of morality, of taste, and therefore, of life among the people. While a few in the township are opposed to higher education, the vast majority favor the school and would not do without it." Of the high school's twenty-two pupils, half commuted from outlying farms. The curriculum consisted of Latin (including two books of Caesar and three of Virgil), mathematics, English literature, history, geology, physics, rhetoric, geography, and civil government. This was not an atypical high school. Every high school worthy of its name offered Latin and mathematics, the mainstays of the classical curriculum.

The people of Nineveh, Indiana, may have been happy with their high school, but the leaders of American education regularly debated what high schools should teach and to whom. As secondary enrollments steadily grew, ardent advocates of different persuasions contended over the future direction of the high schools, over whether they should educate students for college or for work, what they should teach, and whether they should have a required program for all.

It was an era of wrenching social and economic change, of rapid industrialization, high immigration, and increasing urbanization. It was a period in which social reformers sought strategies to combat the ill effects of these changes, especially in the cities, where living conditions for the poor were abysmal. Among intellectual leaders, Charles Darwin's theories of evolution challenged established truths in virtually every field of thought. Political and social reformers were convinced that the old order was dying and a new, dynamic, progressive order was being born.

Utility or Knowledge?

As Americans debated the future direction of education, discussion veered between two poles of thought, as represented by the ideas of Herbert Spencer and Lester Frank Ward. Each of them articulated an influential worldview. To one side was education for utility, to the other was knowledge for general intelligence.

In the 1850s, the English philosopher Herbert Spencer asked, "What knowledge is of most worth?" and concluded that the purpose of education was "to prepare us for complete living." Every study must be judged by whether it had "practical value" and would be "useful in later life." Classical education had no intrinsic value, he wrote, and survived only as "the badge marking a certain social position." The knowledge that was of most worth, he believed, was knowledge for self-preservation: gaining a livelihood, being a parent, carrying out one's civic duties, and producing and enjoying art. Spencer believed that the best way to attain useful knowledge was by studying science, which in the mid-nineteenth century was not taught by most schools and colleges. In education, he asserted, utility was the measure of all things.

In the United States, Spencer's prestige was immense. Historian Henry Steele Commager observed that "It requires an effort of the imagination, now, to appreciate the dominion that Spencer exercised over American thought in the quarter century or so after the Civil War and, in some quarters, down to the eve of the First World War." Much of Spencer's popularity was due to his exposition of social Darwinism. The doctrine of "survival of the fittest," he claimed, justified laissez-faire government. In an age of individualism, Spencer's justifications for social Darwinism struck a resonant chord, but so too did his emphasis on utility in education among a practical people who were already inclined to doubt the value of book learning. Historian Lawrence A. Cremin described Spencer's book on education as "probably the most widely read in America." His utilitarian ideas were later embraced by the progressive education movement, which ignored Spencer's opposition to state-supported public education.

Spencer's laissez-faire philosophy was opposed by the remarkable polymath Lester Frank Ward. Ward has been called "the philosopher, the protagonist, even the architect, of the modern welfare state." Born in the Midwest in 1842, he attended public schools for a few years, then taught himself Latin, Greek, German, mathematics, French, botany, geology, and paleontology, served in the Civil War, and worked for the federal Bureau of Standards, the U.S. Geological Survey, and other government agencies. In his spare time, he earned degrees in law and medicine. By dint of his own reading and experience, he became an accomplished scientist, a founder of the field of sociology, and the first president of the American Sociological Society.

Ward believed that the government should take an active role in improving social welfare. He challenged those like Spencer (and his American disciple, William Graham Sumner of Yale University) who believed that the laws of nature required laissez-faire policies. Writing in 1884, Ward maintained that "the laissez faire doctrine is a gospel of inaction, the scientific creed is struck with sterility, the policy of resigning all into the hands of Nature is a surrender."

Ward mocked advocates of laissez-faire by pointing out:

When a well-clothed philosopher on a bitter winter's night sits in a warm room well lighted for his purpose and writes on paper with pen and ink in the arbitrary characters of a highly developed language the statement that civilization is the result of natural laws, and that man's duty is to let nature alone so that untrammeled it may work out a higher civilization, he simply ignores every circumstance of his existence and deliberately closes his eyes to every fact within the range of his faculties.

If such a theory were correct, said Ward, "There would have been no civilization, and our philosopher would have remained a troglodyte."

Ward insisted that the fundamental difference between man and other animals is that "the environment transforms the animal, while man transforms the environment." All inventions, all art, all practical advances, all civilization are the fruits of intelligence, not nature; by the application of intelligence, human institutions are capable of changing the physical and social world. Government, Ward argued, is a human invention, and government should be consciously used to improve intelligence and social conditions.

A passionate egalitarian, Ward believed that the most important source of inequality was the unequal distribution of knowledge. "I know of no other problem of applied sociology that society can solve until this one is solved," he wrote. Unlike Spencer, Ward insisted that "state education is far better for the pupil" than private education. He wrote in Dynamic Sociology(1883), "The lowest gamin of the streets here meets the most pampered son of opulence on a footing of strict equality. Nothing counts but merit itself. Pupils take their places according to what they are, not what they are called."

The main purpose of education, Ward argued, was to equalize society by diffusing knowledge and what he called "directive intelligence" to all. He literally believed that knowledge was power. He considered education "the great panacea" and insisted that access to knowledge was the key to all social progress. He wrote, "There is no need to search for talent. It exists already, and everywhere. The thing that is rare is opportunity, not ability." The greatest advances in civilization had been created, he held, by men who had had opportunities for education and the leisure to think. With unyielding optimism, Ward maintained that "the potential giants of the intellectual world may now be the hewers of wood and drawers of water. On the theory of equality, which I would defend, the number of individuals of exceptional usefulness will be proportionate to the number possessing the opportunity to develop their powers." Those who stood to benefit from education were not a fixed percentage of the population, as many believed. Ward felt that the entire population would gain if there were more and better educational opportunity.

Throughout his career, Ward defended "intellectual egalitarianism." He insisted that not only all classes but all races were equally capable of learning and employing the social achievements of mankind. Against both popular and scholarly opinion, he argued that "the lower classes of society are the intellectual equals of the upper classes." The difference in intelligence between those at the bottom and those at the top, he held, was due not to any difference in intellect but to differences in knowledge and education. The main job of formal education, he held, was to ensure that "the heritage of the past shall be transmitted to all its members alike," not just to those who are deemed to be part of the most intelligent class. All children, he contended, should have the right to the accumulated knowledge of the past: the information, intelligence, and power that come from studying humankind's inheritance of arts and sciences.

Apostles of Liberal Education

The two most influential educators in the 1890s were Charles W. Eliot, president of Harvard University, and William Torrey Harris, U.S. commissioner of education. As vigorous proponents of liberal education, they believed that the primary purpose of education was to improve society by improving the intelligence of individuals. They insisted that schools in a democratic society should aim to develop the intelligence of all children fully, regardless of their parents' social status or their probable occupation. Both asserted that the same quality of education should be available to all children. Together they represented the mainstream consensus about American education at the approach of a new century.

Eliot, though prominent in higher education, took a keen interest in the schools. After graduating from Harvard in 1853, he taught mathematics and chemistry at Harvard, served on the Boston Primary School Committee, and studied European school systems. In the spring of 1869, he attracted wide attention with articles in The Atlantic Monthly advocating "the new education." Criticizing the narrow classical curriculum of ancient languages and mathematics in American colleges, he called for the addition of modern studies such as science, modern foreign languages, and English literature. That same year, he was appointed president of Harvard University. A strong advocate of both higher standards and electives, he raised the university's admission requirements and eliminated required subjects.

In the late 1880s, Eliot became a national leader in discussions about schooling, which was an unconventional role for the president of Harvard University. Aware of the poor quality of many high schools, he referred to them as "the gap between the elementary schools and the colleges." He knew that the rural population -- three quarters of the American people -- had little access to secondary schools; that only one state (Massachusetts) required districts to establish high schools; and that more than 80 percent of colleges and universities reluctantly maintained their own preparatory schools to compensate for inadequate high schools. Eliot insisted that more and better schools and common standards were needed.

Eliot urged educators to shorten the grammar school course by eliminating redundant work in arithmetic and grammar while introducing natural sciences such as botany, zoology, and geology, as well as physics, algebra, geometry, and foreign languages. Eliot opposed lockstep recitations and memory drills, especially the customary practice of memorizing geographic facts and grammatical rules. He wanted students actively involved in laboratory demonstrations, where they would be expected to observe, weigh, measure, and do fieldwork.

Many educators thought that these advanced studies were beyond the reach of many children, but Eliot insisted that "We shall not know till we have tried what proportion of children are incapable of pursuing algebra, geometry, physics, and some foreign language by the time they are fourteen years of age." He noted disapprovingly that "we Americans habitually underestimate the capacity of pupils at almost every stage of education" in comparison to Europeans, and consequently many capable students never got the chance to study advanced subjects.

Eliot opposed uniformity in education. Recognizing that children differ in many ways, he suggested that the public schools should "promote pupils not by battalions, but in the most irregular and individual way possible." A good model, he thought, was the country district school "in which among forty or fifty pupils there are always ten or a dozen distinct classes at different stages and advancing at different rates of progress." The uniformly low expectations of the current program, he said, actually denied children of the poor equal access with children of the rich to the best education of which they were capable.

Eliot believed that a convention of experts should be able to agree on the best way of teaching every subject and which topics should be studied. Once these determinations were made, he expected, there would be clear teaching standards for every subject, even though not all children would study the same subjects or move at the same pace while studying them.

It was not subject matter, however, that was important to Eliot; rather, it was mental power, the power to think, reason, observe, and describe. The object of education, he frequently said, was to gain mental discipline, what educators in the late twentieth century would call "critical thinking skills." To develop the power of observation, he held, "it does not matter what subject the child studies, so that he study something thoroughly in an observational method." It was unimportant to Eliot "whether the student write an historical narrative, or a translation from Xenophon, or a laboratory note-book, or an account of a case of hypnotism or typhoid fever, or a law-brief, or a thesis on comparative religion; the subject-matter is comparatively indifferent." No matter what was taught, what mattered most to Eliot was the development of clear thinking.

In the 1890s, Eliot was a spokesman for liberal education. He believed that the essential purpose of education was to improve the power to think and reason well, and that all youngsters should develop these capacities. As the mass of people gained these powers, he thought, society as a whole would benefit.

W. T. Harris: Egalitarian Traditionalist

The other great advocate of liberal education during this era was William Torrey Harris. Unlike Eliot, who endorsed mental discipline (the training of the mind) as an end in itself, Harris believed that certain academic subjects were the indispensable foundation of a liberal education. Born in Connecticut in 1835, Harris left Yale without graduating because of his dissatisfaction with the classical curriculum (Latin, Greek, and mathematics) and his eagerness to study "the three 'moderns' -- modern science, modern literature, and modern history."

When he was twenty-two, Harris moved to Saint Louis, where he became an elementary school teacher. Eleven years later, he was named superintendent of schools. At the...



  1. The Educational Ladder
  2. A Fork in the Road
  3. The Age of the Experts
  4. IQ Testing: "This Brutal Pessimism"
  5. Instead of the Academic Curriculum
  6. On the Social Frontier
  7. The Public Schools Respond
  8. Dissidents and Critics
  9. The Great Meltdown
  10. The Sixties
  11. In Search of Standards



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Informations sur le produit

Titre: Left Back
Sous-titre: A Century of Battles over School Reform
Code EAN: 9780743203265
ISBN: 978-0-7432-0326-5
Format: Couverture cartonnée
Editeur: Simon & Schuster N.Y.
Genre: Pédagogie
nombre de pages: 560
Poids: 582g
Taille: H214mm x B140mm x T36mm
Année: 2001