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The History of American Education

What was the nature and purpose of colonial education?

  • In early colonial days, most education took place in the home through dame schools, in the church, and through apprentice programs, with instruction dominated by religious teachings.
  • In 1647, Massachusetts passed the"Old Deluder Satan Law," requiring that every town of 50 households appoint and pay a teacher of reading and writing, and every town of 100 households provide a Latin grammar school. This law offered a model for other communities and made the establishment of schools a practical reality.
  • Colonial Latin grammar schools prepared white boys for a university education. In the 1700s, academies were established; they were more secular and practical in their curriculum and were open to girls.
  • Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin viewed the new nation's schools as a continuation of democratic principles and as a break from classist European traditions. They advocated for schools that would serve all the people, and identify a natural aristocracy, the talented and gifted from all classes. Racial mores continued to prevent African Americans from entering school.
  • Slowly, an American curriculum developed, and schools progressed from the rudimentary hornbook to the McGuffey Reader.
  • While today's public school systems hardly resemble their colonial origins, many of our current controversies are rooted in the past. We continue to dispute the role of religion in schools, local control and state standards, and inequities in educational opportunities for women, people of color, and the poor.
  • The Constitution has helped determine the shape of modern education in several ways. By omitting any mention of education as a federal responsibility, the Constitution left schooling to the states. Each state government set up its own policy, practice, and means of funding schools.

    How did the Common School Movement influence the idea of universal education?

  • During the nineteenth century, public support grew for the concept of universal education, and the belief that schools should serve the poor as well as the wealthy.
  • As leader of the common school movement, Horace Mann is sometimes called the father of the public school. Mann fought for the establishment not only of the common school, today's elementary school, but for quality teacher education through normal schools.
  • By the Civil War, the concept of the elementary public school had become widely accepted.

    How did teaching become a

  • Teaching was initially"gendered" male well into the nineteenth century. The advent of the common school created a demand for a large number of inexpensive teachers, and women were recruited to teaching. From the late nineteenth century until today, teaching positions were dominated by women, and teaching was gendered a"female" career.
  • At first women entering teaching were considered masculine, abandoning marriage for careers. Soon"spinsters" were considered quite desirable as teachers because of their dedication. Later, their single status was considered"unnatural" and charges of lesbianism emerged.
  • Men who stayed in teaching were under suspicion of being effeminate or gay.
  • Men and women carved out their own educational enclaves. Women dominated elementary teaching, and men dominated leadership positions, an informal segregation that continues today.

    How did secondary schools evolve?

  • Public high schools caught on much more slowly than elementary schools. The first publicly supported secondary school was the English Classical School in Boston. As the country moved from agrarian to industrial and from rural to urban, support of public funding of high schools slowly grew.
  • The Kalamazoo case (1874) created the legal basis for high school funding. Eventually, high schools came to represent democratic ideals of equal opportunity; later, many believed that education could be a panacea for societal problems.
  • Early in the twentieth century junior high schools developed, and later middle schools. Both were designed to meet the special needs of preadolescents.

    How have twentieth century school reform efforts influenced schools?

  • From the Committee of Ten in 1892 to the 1989 National Education Summit, waves of educational reform have become part of the American landscape. While reform movements have not reached a consensus as to the best educational system for the nation, one idea remains key: Schools should have a central role in maintaining a vibrant democracy.

    What were the main tenets of the Progressive Education movement?

  • Progressivism, with John Dewey as its most notable advocate, had a significant impact on education in the twentieth century. Its emphasis on learning by doing and shaping curricula around children's interests has influenced many educators to this day.
  • Dewey and progressivism have come under frequent attack, however, first by extremists of the 1950s, who saw progressivism as communistic and contrary to American values. Later, in the wake of the Soviet Sputnik launching, progressivism was blamed for causing U.S. students to lag behind in important subjects.
  • While progressivism has ceased to be the organized educational movement it once was, many of its ideas continue to be debated and re-examined.

    What role has the federal government played in American education?

  • While the Constitution leaves the responsibility for schooling to the states, the federal government has played an increasing role in education over the past century. National programs have included targeted funds for federal priorities, such as enhanced teacher training and science and math instruction through the National Defense Education Act
  • Legislation and court action have also been used to promote federal priorities. Such strategies have been used to fight segregation and other forms of discrimination in the schools. From the 1980s into 2000, more conservative forces decreased federal funding, but increased federal support for school standards and student testing.

    Who are some of the key individuals who have helped fashion today's schools?

  • Each of the chapters in this text highlights a significant educator through the Profile in Education feature. In this chapter, seventeen noted educators from sixteenth century Comenius to twentieth century Paulo Freire are profiled.

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