Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it

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Historical Views of Education
Rosalie M Romano

The philosopher George Santayana (1905) warned, “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” For you as future educators, this is a significant motivation to read about how education has developed in the United States. The path to our 21st Century public school education system is a confounded, complicated, and contested one. Since the start of education even from the beginning of our nation has always had a purpose and an aim. But whose purpose? And what aim? Depending on your gender, on your ethnic background and socio-economic class, the purpose, aim and outcome could be different.

Contrary to popular myth, education has never been delivered the same to everyone. The social, economic and political context determined, and still does, the level of education you are given. In learning about the history of education, you will appreciate how many issues that are controversial today, e.g. religion, curriculum, funding, and more have been wrestled with in the past. If you try to understand the past, you have an insight into today, for you to think more clearly and realistically about as a teacher.
The need for a society to educate its young is universal to all cultures everywhere. How we educate is what is in question. For it is in the how those ideologies are revealed. Who should be educated and at what level has been decided by those in authority. Questions about who should be taught what are accepted by the society as it seeks to maintain itself as a culture. For example, in Colonial times the sons of the privileged were given access to formal education of reading and writing. This assured a level of knowledge and understanding for those who were destined for leadership in courts, politics and state government, and the church.
Education’s beginnings in the Colonies

Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire and Connecticut created schools that taught children to read and write so they could worship and read the scriptures. Hence, school interconnected church and the curriculum. In 1642, as you read on page 143 of your text, Massachusetts Bay Colony passed a law that children should learn to read the Bible, lest they be ignorant of the laws of God. Religion was the reason for many Colonists to leave England and travel to America in search of freedom to worship. For people to worship and continue in their beliefs, they had to be able to read the Bible.

The first schools were to assure that the new generation would sustain their religious beliefs and acquire necessary basic skills. Literacy was important to these new Americans in order to assure religious salvation. Reading and religion formed the basis of the curriculum. Sometimes the curriculum included Latin and Greek, as well. Latin Grammar Schools were available for the wealthy sons of community leaders. But for everyone child, free school was available. This was in 1635!
The middle colonies, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware, took a different path than New England. People in the middle colonies came from groups such as the Irish, Scots, Danes, Germans, and other White European groups. Less homogeneous in terms of religion and politics than their northern counterparts, schools reflected this diversity. Parochial schools based on the myriad religious beliefs, e.g. Quakers, Jews, Catholics, and different Christian sects were created so religious groups might teach their particular catechism to children.
Even at the start of this country we find that schools themselves were common but what was taught, the reason for schools in the first place, and how teaching occurred, and who had access to schools was reflected in the local area. For example, African slaves in the south received no schooling except as necessary to labor for the owners.

For boys, and in some cases, girls, there was the Dame School, a precursor to the primary school. Here older women, such as widows and housewives, would teach the children their letters, frequently in the kitchen area of their homes. If girls were given any education, it was at a Dame School, and likely it was in sewing and homemaking skills. Rudimentary mathematics and numbers were not viewed as having importance in the early years, at least not as important as reading and some writing and it was predominantly boys who were taught this. School could last for a week, several months, or a year, depending on the need of the community.

In all colonies, some boys were offered an education beyond what the Dame school and their parents could teach them. Schools for reading and writing were supported by parents, who paid some fees as they had in the Dame School. These schools had materials called a Primer, which is like a textbook. The Primer was steeped in moral and religious teachings for boys to read, copy, memorize, and recite.
For those privileged to do well in school and come from parents who could afford to continue their child’s education, Latin Grammar Schools were founded. The boys who attended Latin Grammar Schools continued into the first college, Harvard (1636) and onto leadership roles in the community, the state and often in government.

The Puritans placed importance in reading. If people could read, then they would abide by the laws of the commonwealth. Here is a good example of how religion, education, and leadership coincided to be sure children were educated. In 1647, the Deluder Satan Act proclaimed children should be taught formal reading and writing, and in larger towns, a Latin Grammar schoolmaster be hired to prepare youngsters for Harvard College which had been established in 1636. Education in some formal program was important to those who settled in the New World, and this legacy of educating for a good life has influenced many thinkers and educators throughout our nation’s history. To read more about the Massachusetts’s laws of 1642 and 1647 see:

Mandated Education

But unregulated and voluntary schools were insufficient to meet the needs of a growing new society, one which relied on common understandings of its people. By the mid 1700s, academies developed to meet the needs of children in the American colonies. These academies were not free, however, charging tuition but also teaching broader curriculum that included mathematics and science, as well as practical subject matter like agriculture or mapping and geography. These academies became increasingly popular, and pushed out the Latin Grammar Schools because their mission was larger in scope than to teach letters and religion. Academies filled a necessary niche in the new America, which was developing rapidly in formal institutions such as government, trade and economics, and required an active, participatory, and literate populace. Education was viewed as the best defense against sin and as a way to preserve religious beliefs. Moreover, education was established as the measure of a citizen of a community. There were some colonies that imposed fines or more severe penalties on parents and schoolmasters if a child were found to be illiterate.

Literacy and civil society

In 1751, Benjamin Franklin proposed a different kind of school: The Academy of Philadelphia. The curriculum was distinct from the classical tradition.

“An advertisement at the time of its opening in January of 1751 offered teaching in the following areas:

  • writing, arithmetic, and mathematics (merchants' accounts, geometry, algebra, surveying, gauging, navigation, astronomy, drawing in perspective, and other mathematical sciences)

  • natural and mechanical philosophy

  • Latin, Greek, English, French and German, history, geography, chronology, logic and rhetoric (

Franklin argued that all subjects should be taught in the English language to all students. Moreover, he advocated for a practical nature of learning to be included, skills that would assist the young person later in life in his daily life and work. For Franklin, education for this new society must include knowledge that would serve citizens in their endeavors. It made sense to have English as the medium of instruction, to emphasize mathematics and science (natural philosophy as it was called) as the core curriculum. Today we can see how this influence continues, and is debated about, just as it was when Franklin introduced his ideas. Should school curriculum be traditional, classical subjects or should it include the day to day wisdom and practical skills people use in their lives? To read more on this see: "Idea of the English School, Sketch'd out for the Consideration of the Trustees of the Philadelphia Academy,"
Latin grammar schools mainly in New England and the Middle Colonies, with some in the South evolved into English grammar schools. These schools were primarily for young men whose family had means, wealth and education to support their sons going to college. As with Latin grammar schools, English grammar schools prepared young men in classical studies of Latin and Greek languages, mathematics, philosophy, history, geography, rhetoric, and, of course, the English language arts of literacy, recitation, writing, grammar, and so forth.
For a view of one student’s experiences see the memoirs of Alexander Graydon, a student from 1760-1766 in the Academy school. This excerpt from his diary reveals an acute sense of which of his tutors were “good” teachers, and how life at this school amongst the students revolved around sports as well as the subjects they were learning. When Graydon left school by his own volition at the age of fourteen, he had “passed through Ovid, Virgil, Caesar and Sallust, and was learning Horace and Cicero.”
The colonists viewed education as important for the maintaining of their culture, including religious beliefs and traditions. After the Revolutionary War (1775), an independent people had to think about the purposes of education as it now applied in their new circumstance of being free from domination by England and King George IV. Thomas Jefferson argued amongst those who were collaborating in forming a new government that only with an educated populace could a free government and foundation of democracy is secure. For Jefferson, the integration of education and government became the theme of many of his writings. He submitted to congress an amendment to the Constitution during his State of the Union address, December 2, 1806:

Every government degenerates when trusted to the rulers of the people alone. The people themselves are its only safe depositories. And to render even them safe, their minds must be improved to a certain degree. . . . An amendment to our constitution must here come in aid of the public education. The influence over government must be shared among all people. (as cited in Padover, 1939, p. 87)

This amendment did not pass congress, but the issue of how public education is funded is still debated today, currently in the No Child Left Behind Act (2000).

Private schools

Why would the congress in 1803 not pass an amendment that funded public school education for all citizens in this new nation? One reason was that the new congress was composed of representatives from all the thirteen new states, all of which had experience with local control of education. To give over to the central government the responsibility to fund education in all the states was to also give over control of what form schools, teachers, and the curriculum would take.

By the early 1800s, citizens were used to being able to determine what type of education they wanted. And so private schools played a role in education from the earliest part of our nation’s history. We have seen that private schools were used to maintain religious beliefs and different denominations of Christianity supported their own schools and curriculum. Privileged, wealthy parents wanted a highly traditional, classical education for their children, and were willing to pay for special tutors privately or in schools that charged high tuition to provide children of the wealthy an education built on classical European traditions. Today we might be surprised to learn that the Roman Catholic church schools had the largest enrollments of all other private schools. Catholic schools were often important ways that new immigrants throughout the 1800s and into the 1900s maintained their religious and cultural identity. Immigrants from countries that were predominantly Catholic found refuge in these parochial schools. Children of Irish, Italian, German, and other immigrant groups supported parochial schools, especially in the North and in the Eastern part of the United States, where by the late 1800s thousands of Catholic schools could be found up and down the Eastern seaboard and inland.
But there was another reason for private schools beyond seeking one for high classical or religious curriculum. There were some people who did not wish either a religious curriculum or a high classical one for their children. Instead they sought alternative forms that suited what they thought their children needed in order to succeed in their lives. In fact, all of these different types of schools you have been reading about above usually did need to charge the parents in some way in order to maintain the school. Tuition might be in money or exchange of goods, but parents did need to pay something in order to keep the school and the teachers.

Funding of schools

The issue of how to fund schools, whether private or public, has not been fully resolved in our country. Should public schools be fully and completely funded by the federal government, such that all students have equal access to schools, curriculum, resources and teachers? How are schools funded today in your state? If you live in a state that relies on property taxes as a way of funding public schools, then you may discover that there is distinct and dramatic unequal funding in your state, since most states have both rural and urban areas, with urban areas drawing far more revenue than rural to support public schools. As a prospective teacher, your understanding of how your state funds its public schools is an important one. Not all states fund schools in the same way. Some states, for example, have a comprehensive salary schedule so that no matter where you teach in the state, you will be earning the same level as all other teachers of your years of experience and professional education. On the other hand, some teachers who teach in states that use property taxes to fund public education find that there can be thousands of dollars difference in salary for comparable experience and education for teachers depending on what part of the state they teach in.

Common Schools

Even as schools sprang up around the nation, still education was still a luxury. For most families, life was hard work and family members had to attend to responsibilities in order to maintain necessities. Since schools were locally controlled, regions differed in how many schools were supported and in the quality of service. By the end of the 18th Century it was becoming clear that not only was money needed to buy education, but the increasing population of immigrants, working people, such as farmers and urban workers brought to the forefront of the new nation the need for commonality. Schools were the perfect institution to bring people of different backgrounds into a common experience. In a new democracy, the participation of the people was essential for a viable nation, entering a new age of industrialization, immigration, and expansion.

Andrew Jackson was elected president in 1828 with a popular vote and cry for equality of poor and working-class people. Among the demands of the voters was access to education. The common school movement had found its time. And its proponent, Horace Mann, emerged from this struggle as an advocate for public schools for all children.

Horace Mann

You may have heard of Mann, who is often spoken of as “the father of American education.” Mann’s view was of a public education available to all children in the country. He believed passionately that education would bring about equality in this democracy, and through a public school system available to all, this new United States could realize its ideals of its Constitution. Through schools, all children, rich and poor, would be offered education to enlarge their view of themselves and others, so that the country would become a harmonious society. Through the gateway of education, equality for all would be available and poverty would cease because of new ways of discovering how to create a better life for oneself. He believed that only social good would come of public school education, and so dedicated himself to reform education as it existed, with a growing divide between who could afford school and who could not. The common school movement did not win easy approval with people, in part due to the parochial nature of what was school: schools in each area supported particular curriculum, common values of that region and community, and a level of education that was suited to that community. Here was Horace Mann arguing for a nation of common schools that all children could attend to learn together arithmetic, writing and reading. Furthermore, Mann was convinced that schools should teach values and a common set of beliefs and moral values so as to promote harmony amongst different groups. People resisted and religious groups, different protestant sects as well as Jews and Catholics, objected in every state to what they thought was an undermining of their religious values and beliefs by Mann’s ideas of common moral values. This dispute brought to national attention the debate over the role religion should play in schools. Today we have the separation of church and state in public schools, yet the debate continues in communities around the U.S. Public funding for public school is also a hotly debated topic today. Imagine how forward thinking Horace Mann and others like Henry Barnard of Connecticut, were to foresee a robust public school system, funded by the government and available to all children, rich and poor. Think back to the start of schools in the colonies and imagine what the arguments were against Mann’s plan. How would taxpayers think about this? How about businesses that used the unending pool of child labor to keep costs down and profits up? What about families working hard to keep bread on the table, needing their sons and daughters to assist in the daily workload? See the Historical Note: The Emergence of the Common School on pp. 143-145 of your text.

Tax supported common schools, inclusive aim

The Common school movement in the early part of the 1800’s was a milestone in the United States. In Europe children were educated at differing levels dependent upon their social class and status. In this democratic experiment of the U.S., education came to be viewed as a significant way of ensuring an informed citizenry, people who would participate in local and national politics with understanding of broad issues. Such a citizenry would have to read and write. Literacy, then, was an important factor in being a democratic citizen. The early schools also fostered loyalty and values, together forging an identity of a democratic person. It would be the purpose of schools to teach children to be all this. Here we have made explicit the political purpose of schools. When Thomas Jefferson stated that an informed populace safeguarded democracy, his notion rested on people having access to school, to being able to learn to read, write, and through reading, thinking. If you learn to read to understand another’s thoughts, you engage in a high form of thinking. This is the thinking that requires powerful literacy. In the proclamation of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, education was seen as of utmost importance for the settling the new territories which included what is now Ohio and the Great Lakes regions. Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. Schools were seen as so important that they were subsidized by the government and supported by local taxes in order to ensure a literate public and public leadership. The federal government created the public schools.

Curriculum was now more than religious studies. Science was taught, and there was an emphasis on spelling and reading. Even if people did not have access to a school, people taught their children and one another what they already knew. Imagine a land without electricity or running water or any of the take-for-granted ‘necessities’ that we in the industrialized world of the 21st Century use without thinking. What do you suppose people did when they were not working to make a living? They read. And what they read was by today’s standard exceedingly complex ideas. One of the best known and widely read authors of that time period was James Fenimore Cooper who published The Last of the Mohicans in 1826. By today’s standards, this novel was a best seller.
At the end of the 18th Century and early 19Th Century, people learned to read, often with little schooling beyond elementary. People read sophisticated, philosophical, complex ideas. Reading led to thinking about new ideas and ways of being. In this new nation, such thinking fueled innovations, imagination and a desire to learn.

As the new nation moved toward the 19th Century, changes were felt in each state. Rural communities became more closely tied with their urban communities, as more trade, increased demand for goods and services, and in a society that was experiencing great social change. As the country expanded under the Northwest Ordinance, as new lands became territories, as more people came to the new America full of hopes and dreams, so the need for an informed citizenry and to self-government. Both of these required literate and participatory citizens. The rural areas became part of a roadway to get agricultural goods and materials to the bustling towns. These rural communities were exposed to new ideas and new opportunities that shifted their once closed circle. In the early 1800s, most communities, rural or urban had some sort of schools for their young.

Industrialization and Immigration

In the early 1800s industrialization called for more and more labor. Jobs for those who were willing to leave their home and venture into factories brought new schedules and demands upon communities. What was once a closed community, where work was done in the home, and home was the place where one worked, now separated the two. Work and home became distinct from one another. The new industrialization opened up opportunities in the United States, and drew people from around the world to immigrate and make a better life for themselves and their families. From 1830-1850 immigrants flooded into the eastern part of the US, and a large portion of these new immigrants were Catholic.

The Catholic Issue

These new immigrants landed in a country that was predominantly Protestant, and where schools taught religion to its pupils. Moreover, wherever they settled, Catholics were in the minority, and so did suffer from injustice and unfair treatment. Schools were teaching the King James translation of the Bible, which Catholics did not believe in. Catholics began asking for their children to be taught using their Catholic Bible, but their requests were denied. For example, in Baltimore, the Council banned Catholics from attending public schools, or even singing hymns. Eventually, Catholics began to see that they had to create Catholic schools for their children if they were to keep their faith and culture. As Catholics tried to find ways of creating parochial schools, they were met with greater barriers than just funding. Tensions flared over issues such as using public funds to pay for parochial schools, the use of public lands for the building of a parochial school, and in cities like Philadelphia violence erupted. The “Catholic Issue” led to what today is the Catholic school system.

The Business Influence

Today we see the infiltration of business in schools. Name brands advertise their products within the walls of many schools. In return, schools get some percentage of support from the business. It was not always like this. The early schools were at first locally supported, as we have seen, and eventually had government funding. But it was the local communities that had strong influence over their schools, the curriculum, and even the teachers. With the growth of industry, cities grew and so did the population.

New immigration in the mid to late 1800s fueled industrialization and businesses grew. The efficiency movement emerged out of the influence of Frederick Taylor, who determined ways to make factories more profitable was by making them more efficient.

This efficiency movement influenced public schools, especially schools that had large populations of poor, working-class students, many of whom were immigrants. Taylor’s efficiency movement was transferred to schools by Elwood Cubberley, who would become Stanford University’s president. Schools were factories. Students were raw materials that needed to be molded into the new workers for the new industries, and teachers themselves were like factory workers who would stand and mold, without thinking or questioning. The express purpose was to enculturate new immigrants, to teach them to speak and understand English, to help them learn how to adapt to the customs of their new country. This claim of Cubberley’s of the purpose of school is in sharp contrast of school as Jefferson envisioned it. Today the tension between Jefferson’s education for democracy (critical thinking, powerful literacy, purposeful engagement in learning) continues to be played out in schools where Cubberley’s vision of schools as factories, where students learn to obey, are taught through drills, are measured, i.e. standardized tests. Understanding the purpose of schools in the U.S. is best understood if one looks at the historical roots of a current debate.

Elementary grows into secondary (late 19c)

Horace Mann’s vision of public schooling grew to include more and more children. By the end of the 1800’s over nine million children were enrolled in public schools. The start of elementary schools fostered the need for secondary schools and more universities, though few could afford higher education. When students left elementary school, some chose to go to secondary school. In 1827, Massachusetts led the way for the rest of the states by initiating the first free secondary school but for boys only. Slow to attract students and gain public support, secondary schools spread, but in other states tuition was charged because the public did not initially see the need for post elementary.

As cities developed, industry grew, demands for more specialized labor increased, secondary schools introduced a more practical curriculum for boys. As in the past, schools sought to fill the particular need of society, reflecting the move away from the Classical curriculum of philosophy, economics, and so forth, to one that addressed reading, writing, mathematics, and other skills. Naturally, there were some secondary schools that continued to focus on a more Classical, formal curriculum, but these secondary schools were attended by those who planned on attending university. Here are the roots of the high school curricula that tracks students today’s high schools in the form of college prep classes, e.g. Advanced Placement or Honors, and the regular track. Eventually, secondary schools were part of the elementary school movement, free and open to all. By mid 1800s, there were over five thousand secondary schools across the states, offering both college prep and vocational education courses of study. For an example of what was being read and argued about school, both aims and curricula, see Ira Mayhew, The Means and Ends of Universal Education ([1867?]).

African American Education

As schools began in the colonies, we learned that they were not open to all people, such as girls and African Americans. As the Common School emerged and offered free education, we also learned that Catholics wanted their own school system and fought for it despite resistance and debate. So it was, too, for African Americans, who wanted for their children the same literacy that others wished for. But generally African American children were barred from attending common schools, both in the north as well as the south. So where did African American children receive schooling? In the late 1700s and early 1800s, schools for African Americans were supported by private families or by donations and goodwill offerings by Whites. Bias against African Americans was prevalent in all states, creating a division of society, including its schools and its teachers. In the earliest days of our country’s history and into the 19th Century, access to education was difficult for African American children and their parents. Wherever they could afford to, then, African Americans started or supported all Black schools, where their children could be taught by African American teachers. But schools cost money, and African Americans wanted free public schooling, like their White counterparts.

Charity schools had been set up for poor, working class children. African American children were sent to Charity schools, as well, and eventually the cost of these schools was absorbed by the state. However, segregation by race and socio-economic class continued, with poor, working class children who were White attending some form of Charity school; and African American children, frequently poor and working-class attending separate Charity schools.

After the Civil War, segregated common schools were in all states, but now voices amongst the African American leaders began to argue for more equal distribution of resources to make education for African American children. Two major arguments were debated. The first argument was between those who thought schools should be segregated, with schools for Whites and schools for African Americans. The opposing views, mainly held by African Americans and Whites who believed deeply in the common humanity of all was for integration. The second debate was over the fact that as a rule African American schools received far less funding and resources than their White counterparts. Both of these issues continued to be challenged by the public, a predominantly Protestant and White population, which desired to keep the races separate, but also by African Americans who saw separate schools as a way of keeping their children safe from taunts and racial stereotypes, and from White teachers’ attitudes of low expectations. The idea of a public school, separated by race, reflected the majority of people’s racist view of African Americans being somehow less capable than Whites, even though strong, eloquent voices of both African American and White leaders challenged the inequality of segregation. See Karl Kaestle’s Pillars of the Republic (1983) chapter 7, “Ins and Outs: Acquiescence, Ambivalence, and Resistance to Common-School Reform” for his analysis of the historical roots of racism and school in the Common school era.

Nevertheless, African American’s persevered in educating their children, but also in establishing higher education. In 1837, the Institute for Colored Youth was founded, later becoming Cheyney University. In 1854, Ashmun Institute, the first school of higher learning for African American men was established, followed in 1856 by Wilberforce University, the first African American university owned and governed by African Americans. Wilberforce University was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and its president, Daniel Payne, became the first African American university president in the country. In 1867, Howard University was founded as a coeducational university for newly emancipated slaves, with the law school added in 1869, the first all African American law school in the country. In 1881, Spelman College was founded for African American women. That same year, Booker T. Washington founded the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute, which eventually became one of the leading schools of higher education for African Americans. By the enrollments in these colleges and universities we see reflected a deep commitment to education and learning, despite often overwhelming resistance and racism. African Americans continued to fight for a good education for their children so they could go to college or university. It is not until 1954 that the U.S. Supreme Court rules unanimously in the case Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS, that segregation in public schools became unconstitutional.

Education for girls and women

Protestant ideology held that not only were African Americans stereotyped, but so were females. The belief that girls and women should have different roles in society, and that they should be subordinate to males hindered educational progress. We learned that in the early colonies, girls’ education was not seen as necessary as for boys, and that when girls were educated, it was with an emphasis on domestic skills. When we hear the term Common schools, we assume this meant for everyone. Yet for girls and women, education meant learning their place in the home, in other words, to stay in the domestic realm. It was unseemly for women to be leaders or activists, yet there were those who fought social stigma to speak out for the rights of women, both legally and educationally. Women like Mrs Lincoln Phelps in the late 1800s was strongly committed to education for girls that she founded an academy which taught girls more than the domestic skills but classically based curriculum. Emma Willard established a school for women. Vassar and Mount Holyoke, all women’s colleges, sprang up in the mid 1800s. For women who wished more than to be a housewife, there were few options, save becoming a teacher. In 1860, Ella Gilbert wrote The Evolution of a Teacher in which she quotes Frances Willard, “not to be at all, or else to be a teacher…” Women who wanted to use their minds looked to schools as a career, but in elementary or primary schools, not in secondary and above. The strong stereotypes of women’s intellectual capacities and their “suitability” for raising children presented barriers for those who wished to teach older students. By the end of the 1800’s the vast majority of teachers in the nation’s public schools were women, whose salary was significantly lower than male teachers, who tended to teach the higher grades and to move into administrative positions. As common schools expanded, so did the need for teachers, since most teachers in the early part of the 1800s had little or not preparation save knowing how to read and do mathematics. With the public school movement spreading throughout the country, schools specifically for the preparation of teachers emerged, called Normal Schools, which were designed to teach pedagogy and prepare teachers for the classroom.

Into the 20th Century

In this overview of history of education in the United States, tensions on who can be educated were frequently based on ideological beliefs that were prevalent across the country. These beliefs included the status and rights of women as inferior to males, minorities as inferior to Whites. Women and African Americans fought for justice, but did not form a strong, national coalition. Rather, they each worked in their own sphere, one group working for women’s rights, the other for racial equality. Both women and African Americans struggled with the education and their aims for reaching higher education amidst prejudice and bias. As public schools increased, as immigrants came in waves into the country, as ghettos grew alongside bustling factories and industry, administration of education became more formalized. With such major events putting pressure onto schools, the administration of schools became more formal and standardized. One room schoolhouses no longer accommodated the needs of the area; consolidation of schools into districts developed as one way of meeting educational demands. Teachers were regulated, policies created so that schools became more consistent. The ideas of the one room schoolhouse with a single teacher instructing all the children changed into a grade level determined by age of the child, and a teacher appointed for teaching that grade level. Mandates were set for what the curriculum was to be at each grade level. Elementary schools became distinct from secondary schools, and in 1909, junior high schools were added. Our current 12 grade system is almost identical to this division of grades from the late 1800s. This way of thinking how schools are organized is deeply engrained; when schools try to reform and use different organizers, such as looping (where one teacher stays with the students for 3 or more years) or multi age classrooms (where more than one grade level are integrated into a single classroom), there is resistance from parents, community, and even teachers. But one thing that public schools still hold that was believed in the past and today is their promise of educating citizens for a democratic society. How this promise is accomplished is subject to the prevalent ideologies that drive politics and culture. This does not mean that those who are committed to education for everyone remain at the whims of society. Rather, understanding that any change that would create a more just world will meet with resistance that must be fought. Margaret Mead, the eminent anthropologist, once stated “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, that is the only thing that ever has.” At the turn of the twentieth century, the United States was experiencing rapid growth, both urban and industrial. Enormous wealth and control were held by a small percentage of privileged people who through their economic status influenced government and policymakers to their economic advantage. The gap between the wealthy and the poor widened, and working-class people were becoming vocal and active in their dissatisfaction of working conditions, wages, and no rights. A small group of people began to form coalitions, which further inspired others. Soon unions of laborers began to speak out against conditions that would have children, men and women stand for 12 hours, doing repetitive tasks, for pennies a day. The history of labor in the United States has some common ground with Teachers’ unions like the National Educational Association (1857) and the American Federation of Teachers (1916). Teachers like Margaret Haley and Catherine Goggin led their colleagues in forming unions. Women gained key positions of influence as the suffrage movement identified parallel threads with shaping educational policies. This is a dynamic period in education, where labor unions, teachers’ unions, and women began speaking and acting out in their self-interest. What began as a small group of thoughtful, committed people did influence and ultimately change how labor and politics operated. Laws were passed to protect the rights of workers, to declare the work day of 8 hours, to make education mandatory for children, and child labor laws to protect children from working in unspeakable conditions for low wages and long hours. What we take for granted today as reasonable hours, days, and wages in the workplace was fought for by thoughtful, committed people.

At the end of the 20th Century, schools were studied, argued about, and reformed. In 1892 the National Education Association constituted what is called the Committee of Ten. This Committee’s charge was to review and recommend a national policy for secondary schools, high schools. Who composed this committee? Professors from universities were chosen and Charles Eliot, president of Harvard University, was selected as chair. Their perspective was to make recommendations for curriculum, such that those who graduated for high school would be prepared for college or university. The next year, 1893, the recommendations were made including that courses be sequential, that high schools offered fewer electives, that a course would last for a year meeting four or five times a week, that units called Carnegie units be used to evaluate progress, and that any student who was excelling could begin college early. The influence of the Committee of Ten’s recommendations can be seen today in high schools that offer most or all of the above.

In 1918, the National Education Association created another committee to evaluate the recommendations of the Committee of Ten, and to assess the progress in high schools. This time the committee was composed of professors of education, high school principals, the U.S. commissioner of education and other educators. In the time between 1892 and 1918, enormous changes had occurred in schools. With the 1918 Compulsory Education Act requiring all children to attend school, the high school could no longer be seen as serving only those who were destined to enter university. The high school that compulsory education would create needed to serve a larger constituency beyond the intellectually and/or wealthy college bound students. The concern was broadly based and sought to develop high schools to improve the life of citizens in an industrial democracy. Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education was the title of the report issued by the committee and recommended the following goals. A high school was responsible for teaching about heath; worthy home membership; command of fundamental skills, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure time, and ethical character. The institution of high school moved from being a transition between lower grades and college to an institution that included emphasis on the social order.

The history of reforms in the United States really begins with the Committee of Ten. We live today in an era of school reform, a legacy from our educational past. Once schools became public and compulsory, local control diminished but did not disappear. Even in large school districts today, one can hear local control issues at a school board meeting or a faculty room discussion. Who owns public schools? Who or what should determine the aim of public schools? Should public schools serve as first: socializing agencies or to prepare intellectually rigorous citizens or to educate for freedom and democratic living? Are these mutually exclusive or are these aims compatible?

Many educators at this time period of 1880-1930 were involved in debating the primary aim of schools. Recall Cubberley who viewed schools as factories to churn out workers for the new industries. He was not alone in seeing schools as an ideal place to “train” young minds and attitudes. A new psychology was emerging through the work of B.F. Skinner and others who were known as behaviorists. Behaviorism as this theory was called hypothesized that learning is a function of change in the way one behaves. Individuals respond to events (or stimuli) that occur in the environment and a response produces a behavior. Stimulus-Response pattern can be reinforced through rewards or punishments. G. Stanley Hall, an American psychologist and educator became interested in and developed tests to measure the aptitude and achievement in children. Other psychologists began to develop ways of testing and measuring children, including their mental abilities, intellectual capacities, and so forth. Research about how humans developed, both physically and mentally began to be codified and led to new questions about human growth.

Not all educators saw children in terms of test scores, measurement or stimulus-response. One of the best known educationists who influenced schools and education was John Dewey (1859-1952). Often associated with Progressivism and the progressive education, he was his entire life dedicated and passionately committed to democratic ideals. Dewey envisioned an ethical ideal whereby men and women forged communities where all would realize fully his or her power and capacities by engaging in associated living in political, social, and cultural life. For Dewey, democracy was a way of living together responsibly in the public realm through decision-making and negotiation. For Dewey (and not unlike Jefferson) the public was responsible and capable to direct public life, in other words, politics. It was through schools that democracy should be fostered and practiced. Dewey saw schools as laboratories of democratic associated living where children’s experiences would be cultivated to learn about the world through reading and writing, hypothesizing and testing (the scientific method), tackling real issues that impact their lives. A laboratory school was established at the University of Chicago in 1896, where teachers and students engaged in democratic education, new research on pedagogy and psychology, and a comprehensive school curriculum that included family and community life issues. Communication and educational relations were dialogic, that is, two ways, with the teacher guiding instruction and learning through questions, problems designed to engage pupils in thinking and researching, and through discussions, where students shared their theories and ideas that others could challenge or build on. The teacher’s pedagogical decisions for organizing learning were built upon the experiences and interests of the pupils. The teacher sets the conditions for learning so that pupils are intellectually and socially engaged in problem solving.

More traditional classrooms determined the authority was the teacher, and the pupils as receiving information and skills as directed. The curriculum is determined regardless of pupils’ interests or experiences. In traditional settings, teachers tend to be the most active; pupils are less active and follow instructions as provided by the teacher.

By the 1920s progressive education spread into schools where different interpretations of it caused Dewey to lament. He wrote a small book Experience and Education to explain exactly the connections of democratic education, experience and progressive pedagogy.

Given all the reform studies that were emerging about education during this period, it is not surprising that in 1930 a comparison between 3000 graduates of progressive and of traditional schools was undertaken. The Eight-Year Study attempted to ascertain the effectiveness of progressive education. What it reported was that those who had attended and graduated from schools that were using progressive education demonstrated more intellectual curiosity and drive; revealed higher critical thinking and judgment; tended to receive more academic honors and higher grade averages; and studied the same field as those taught in traditional schools. With a large sample size such as 3000, the findings of the Eight-Year Study might have put to rest critics that argued progressive education approaches were not rigorous or did not have academic standards and purpose. Yet, the argument between traditional approaches and progressive ones continued, and are still debated today. Perhaps, as we have learned, this issue cuts to the aims of education rather than on whether or not progressive education taught pupils to think and be literate. Debate over how to teach pupils frequently overlooks the hidden curriculum that teaches pupils expectations rather than subject matter. (see hidden curriculum in your text, pp135-142)

Federal Categorical Funding for Public Schools

Federal government funding of schools grew during the 20th Century with such bills as the Smith-Hughes Act of 1917, providing funding for teacher education programs and vocational programs at the high school level.

The G.I. Bill of Right as it is commonly referred to (Servicemen’s Readjustment Act, 1944) allowed tuition and stipends for those who served in the military. After WWII, colleges and universities took in hundreds of thousands of veterans seeking both undergraduate and graduate degrees, raising the standard of living and creating a flourishing middle class well into the 1960s.

In 1958, the National Defense Act (NDEA) funded research and funding for educational programs that focused on math, science and foreign languages, but also student loans for those who wanted to become teachers or school counselors.

During the 1960s, federal attention mirrored concerns in society about poverty, inner city ghettos, and minority civil rights. Project Head Start (1964-1965) targeted young children 3-5 years of age and provided medical, social, educational services for any child whose family qualified as low income. In 1965, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) was passed and aimed specifically at addressing the inequities within education. Funding to improve schools that served poor, working-class schools was earmarked to balance the unequal distribution of school funding within schools districts of states. There was funding for instructional materials, innovations and educational research. Federal funds were designated to improve state departments of education. In 1970, ESEA expanded funding to include school lunch and breakfast programs, bilingual education, drug education, and education for Native Americans.

The Bilingual Education Act of 1968 addressed the growing number of English Language learners attending public schools. Spanish speaking students from Central American countries had high drop-out rates, and the Bilingual Education Act gave funds to schools to hire teachers who could teach in both Spanish and English languages. Even though there were also second language learners from Southeast Asian countries, there were not enough funds to serve all non-English speaking students.

While schools were attempting to address the needs of low income and non-English speaking students, equity in education also became a prominent issue. Title IX of the Educational Amendments (Title IX) was a regulation passed in 1972 to address discrimination based on gender. Any school receiving federal monies had to comply with this regulation which protected the rights of both males and females from discrimination at any level and in any area of education.

Three years later in 1975, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) assisted school districts in providing appropriate education for children between 3 and 21 years who had disabilities.

In 2001, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was reauthorized under a new title of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). The implementation of NCLB has drawn harsh criticism from educators and politicians, as well as supporters. (See pp 304-305 of your text).
The role of the federal government in overseeing and influencing public schools has increased since the common school movement. This overview of the history of education, in particular the evolution of schools to become what they are today, provides us with important vision of how our public schools were born and how they are developing. With pressure on public schools to be more “accountable” and the introduction of school vouchers and choice, schools continue to adapt and evolve to the demands of society. Santayana’s words echo here about remembering the past. Becoming familiar with the how schools grew into the public school system we have today can broaden our understanding of the influences and demands we will meet in our classrooms. One thing is certain. We are in the public sphere as teachers, and our profession requires us to understand and be active in the framing of a democratic society through our work in our public school classrooms.

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