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Nov. 29, 1996
The American Education System;
Cause for Rebellion
If America"s Schools are to meet the needs of the twenty first century, they must be reinvented. It is not enough to try to fix the schools; they must be reconstructed in both fundamental and radical ways. The school system must be restructured. The future of the American public school system is significant because the maintenance of an informed and productive citizenry is vital to the future of this country. Historically Americans have strongly asserted the importance of public schools in a democracy and despite growing disdain for the perceived value of the school system, public schools remain central to democracy in the United States.
For more than a century, America"s public schools have been an indispensable source of the country"s strength. Public education has allowed citizens to become productive members of society by providing them with the skills and knowledge necessary for the labor force. Schools prepare students to be literate, informed and reasoning citizens. According to Philip Schlechty, author of Schools for the twenty-first century, "Public schools are the ties that bind this pluralistic society into a nation. Our Nation"s thirty-sixth president, Lyndon B. Johnson, also believed that there is no institution more fundamental to American society and democracy than its public schools."(36)
Public schools are the cornerstone of America"s future. The development of youth"s knowledge, skills and social dispositions has always been critical to the country"s success. In the next century, America"s youth will play an increasingly important role in the country"s survival and well-being. By the year 2025, one out of five Americans will be 65 or older, and by the year 2040, one out of four Americans will be 65. In less than 15 years, the first baby boomers will reach the age of 65 (Peterson 64). It is clear that the economic success of America will be in the hands of youth to unprecedented extent. It is time to invest in education in order to maintain the American way of life.
In the competitive knowledge-based world of the twenty-first century, the education of America"s youth will be more important than ever. More responsibility will be placed on schools because of greater diversity in classrooms, languages, preparedness, motivation, and the dynamics of the future workplace. Schools also must assume more responsibility because of increasing enrollment. Entering the 1996-1997 school year, there is an all time high enrollment of 51.7 million students in public schools throughout the country (Good 6). Because of enhanced enrollment and technological advances, there is more material that needs to be taught if students are to be competitive and productive in the future job market. Since there are more students and more that needs to be taught, public schools are more important and have more responsibility now than at any previous time.
Despite the need to develop youth as fully as possible, society treats youth in careless and irresponsible ways. American schools are currently failing to provide students with an adequate education. Many public school facilities are out of date, underfunded, and not prepared to handle growing student populations and the advent of modern technology in the classroom. The United States General Accounting Office estimates that about one third of American students, about fourteen million children nationwide, attend "inadequate" schools (Schlechty 91). Along with crumbling facilities, Schools face a variety of academic and disciplinary hardships. According to a recent USA Today poll, seventy-two percent of Americans cite drugs and violence as serious problems in their local schools. Sixty-one percent believe that academic standards are too low. Lack of discipline and low graduation rates also ranked as one of the biggest problems facing public schools (Edmunds A2).
Nowhere in this country are the problems facing schools more evident than in the nations largest school system. The New York City Public School system handles approximately 1.1 million students in the city"s 1,085 schools. Many of those schools are old and in serious disrepair. In 1994 the graduation rate After four years of high school was a dismal 44.3%. That same year, more than half of New York"s children scored below their grade level in reading, and almost half scored below their grade level in math. The overall dropout rate for all students was 18.7% (Mandel 52).
With the education system in serious trouble, education is becoming a more and more important political issue in this country. It seems that in every election no matter how big or small, education is always an important issue. Both President Clinton and President Bush before him said before their election to office that they would be "The education president" (Good 4). Politicians often promise more educational programs and more funding for schools, but in unfortunate contrast to their promises, policymakers seem to view spending money on schools as an irritating cost rather than an important investment. In the 1995 federal budget, Healthy Start funds for young children were slashed from $104.2 million to $93 million; in the same budget, military spending increased by $1.9 billion to $264.3 billion. (Pear A3).
Support for public schools is in serious decline. According to a 1996 Newsweek survey, education is the most serious concern of Americans, above crime, the environment, and the economy (Smith 41). Because of the public school system"s failure to provide children with an adequate and effective education, citizens are beginning to question the value of the schools. Americans are becoming fed up with their public schools. Businesses complain that too many job applicants can"t read, write, or do simple arithmetic. Parents fear that schools have become violent cesspools where gangs run amok and that teachers are more concerned with their pensions than their classrooms. Economists fret that a weak school system is hurting the ability of the U.S. to compete in the global economy. And despite modest improvements in test scores, U.S. students rank far behind most of their international peers in science and math (Mandel 66).
With so many complaints about the current state of public schools accompanied by widespread disapproval of the national education system, it is not difficult to predict a rebellion concerning this aspect of society. If the situation does not drastically improve in the near future, there will be an education revolution in this country. Parents will no longer allow their children to be deprived of a quality education. They will demand better schools and or seek alternative ways to alternative ways to educate their children. Private schools will become more important in education, but private schools are not a practical solution because not all families can afford sending their children to private schools. Since the government guarantees the right of a quality education to all people, whatever their financial situation may be, the government will be forced to take some form of action and either improve the existing system or attempt to revolutionize public education in this country completely. At the 1996 National Education Summit the view that American schools were failing was widely endorsed and call for action was proclaimed: "Swift action must be taken to address the current issues facing public schools. While we commend those states and school districts that have provided leadership to improve student performance, we urge greater progress, and for others, increased effort. We believe that standards can be effective only if they represent what parents, employers, educators, and community members believe children should learn and be able to do. However the current rate of change needs to be accelerated, and no process or time line should deter us from the results" (Good 5).
The problems facing the education system in this country are not going to just go away. In order to fix the broken parts of the system and improve education, there must be drastic change in the system itself and throughout society. A social rebellion will have to take place in order to persuade the government to act on restructuring the education system. To achieve the quality of education that society will demand, the government will have to reinvent the system of public schools. This will revolutionize the way in which Americans are formally educated.
Edmunds, Patricia. "Children Get Poorer Nation Gets Richer" USA Today
17 August 1996: A2.
Good, Thomas. "Educational Researchers Comment on the Education Summit" Educational Researcher September 1996: 4-6.
Mandel, Michael. "Education in New York City" Phi Delta Kappan December 1995: 52-56.
Pear, Robert. "With New Budget, Domestic Spending is Cut" New York Times 27 April 1996: A3.
Peterson, Paul. "Will America Grow Up Before it Grows Old" Education Monthly March 1996: 62-69.
Schlechty, Philip C. Schools for the Twenty-first Century San Francisco : Josey-Bass, 1995.
Smith, Carolyn. "How Americans View Public Schools" Newsweek 17 April 1996: 41-43.
The American Education System; Cause For Rebellion
December 2, 1996
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Public education in America in large part was the product of historical movements that swept the nation, including national incorporation, widespread urbanization, and modern industrialization. Public education began during the 17th century when the Massachusetts Bay Colony instituted compulsory education laws. The 19th century saw the establishment of specialized schools for the mentally and physically handicapped, the expansion of compulsory education laws, and the establishment of freemen's schools. As the country became increasingly industrialized, child labor laws were coupled with further compulsory education laws, and new educational theories were developed. During the 20th century, a number of court cases and legislative initiatives brought about the end of segregation, prohibited prayer in public schools, and improved educational opportunities for disabled and disadvantaged students.
Keywords Apprenticeship; Compulsory Education; Dame School; History of Education; Hornbooks; Public Education; Public Schools; Segregation
Public education in America has a history dating back nearly to the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in 1620. Although the first public school appeared well before both the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, the small, independent public schools of centuries past bear little if any resemblance to the system of universal public education now in place in the United States. The factors which led to the inception, growth, and development of public education in America are numerous, and they include not only the pursuit of learning, but also, perhaps more importantly, the development of the nation's philosophy of who should teach and who should be taught.
Public education in America in large part was the product of historical movements that swept the nation, including national incorporation, widespread urbanization, and modern industrialization. In order to glean an accurate understanding of the history of America's educational system, each of these eras in our country's history must be studied in turn.
While these factors constitute a timeline in American educational history, they cannot be fully understood apart from a concurrent examination of the development of educational philosophy, the changing understanding of the purpose and aim of public education, and both the impetus for and impact of legislative decisions and judicial rulings affecting public education.
Therefore, a comprehensive portrayal of the myriad factors that constitute the development of American education requires an examination of 1) the philosophical roots of early-American education, 2) the growth and development of 19th Century public schooling within the newly-formed nation, 3) the impact of urbanization and the industrial revolution on the evolution of public school attendance in the latter half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century, and 4) the increased involvement of government in public education.
Education in Puritan New England
The first public school in America was established in 1635 in Boston, Massachusetts, in the home of Philemon Pormont. Attendance at the school was free and open to all children. Founded by New England Puritans, the school, called the Boston Latin School utilized religious instruction in the Bible as a launching pad for the study of Latin and Greek classics. It is important to note that, during the colonial era, religion formed the basis for American life, and the local church or meetinghouse was the focal point of each community. To many people, the primary purpose of learning to read was to gain the ability to obtain religious instruction from the Bible.
The year following the opening of the Boston Latin School witnessed the establishment of America's first college, Harvard College, whose founding purpose was to train preachers. Hence, for those fortunate to attend, the college would be an extension of the religious instruction received in local schools.
In addition to local schools, during this period Dame Schools were popular. These schools were for young children ranging in age from 6-8, although often younger. Taught by women, often widows, Dame Schools usually met in the instructors' homes and focused on teaching reading skills rather than on mathematics and writing. Although titled a "school," it was not uncommon for Dame Schools also to function as early day care facilities for colonial children.
Apprenticeship programs were also primary sources of specialized education in colonial America, particularly among the poor. Through apprenticeships, young boys, and by the mid-17th Century girls as well, were paired with a skilled tradesman. The apprentice would spend several years working at his mentor's side, and upon completion of the apprenticeship, it was expected that the student would possess the requisite knowledge and ability to begin working on his own. Beyond teaching only the trade, however, mentors, or "Masters" were also expected to train their apprentices in matters of good moral behavior (Barger, 2004).
In these early American schools, a very common method of instruction was the hornbook. Dating as far back as fifteenth-century Europe, the hornbook was a small wooden paddle on which was mounted a sheet containing lessons. A piece of horn from oxen or sheep and later from materials such as leather or metal, covered the sheet to protect the lesson. Oftentimes, a hole would be placed in the horn handle, and this enabled pupils to fasten these early textbooks to their clothing or carry them around their necks. Standard studies contained on hornbooks included the alphabet, formations of vowels and consonants, and the Lord's Prayer.
In colonial America, education was deemed the responsibility of the family. Parents were ultimately responsible for the rearing and training of their children, and there was an absence of reliance upon government institutions or entities to provide quality education for the young. Nevertheless, in this early colonial world, one can identify the roots of today's compulsory education laws.
As early as 1642, Massachusetts passed a law that required that children be instructed in religious education as well as in the laws of the colony. Yet, the expressed onus for doing so fell not to the state or local communities, but rather to parents and apprenticeship masters. Negligence in either of these areas was punishable by fine. Furthermore, the law stated that parents and masters must "catechize" their children in the principles of religion, or if they were unable to do so themselves, that they must provide for it. The 1642 legislation also stipulated that if parents or masters failed to perform the duties outlined in the law, local authorities could remove the children and place them with masters who would properly instruct them. Although the Massachusetts Law of 1642 stopped well short of establishing a formal school system, its importance as the first piece of legislation to require schooling cannot be underestimated.
Soon after, the Massachusetts Law of 1647 required that every town comprised of 50 families or more hire a teacher for the purpose of instructing the town's children in reading and writing. Moreover, towns of 100 families or more were also required to have a Latin instructor in order to prepare students for entry into Harvard College. Although schooling was still considered a local family responsibility, at times the colonial government would fund payment for these teachers.
Education in the Middle
Education in the Middle Colonies differed slightly from that in New England. While schools in New England were primarily Puritan, schools in the Middle colonies were often developed by Mennonites or Quakers. It was German immigrant, teacher, and Mennonite Christopher Dock who, in 1710, penned the first book on pedagogy printed in America. Dock's work, Schul-Ordnung, or School Management, outlined a series of rewards and punishments aimed not at teacher dominance but at gaining student trust and affection (Sass & Ruth).
In the middle colonies, although the primary focus remained religious instruction for the formation of moral character, schools also incorporated a level of practical instruction as well. Among those involved in the development of middle-colony schools was Benjamin Franklin who helped to establish the Academy of Philadelphia in 1751. This Academy later grew into the University of Pennsylvania (Penn in the eighteenth century).
In the southern colonies, too, public education was taking root. Even before the establishment of Roxbury and Harvard, Virginian Benjamin Syms passed away and bequeathed in his will a plot of 200 acres with clear instructions that it was to be used for the establishment of a free school. Another Virginia school soon followed, and by the close of the seventeenth century, public schools could be found in northern, middle, and southern colonies (Tyler, 1897).
Early National Legislation
As government took an increased interest in requiring and providing for the...