Public Education in America – Lots of Baggage, time to Clean House

With so much going wrong with today’s K-12 Education in America we thought it would be helpful to provide a history of Education in American.  By understanding the major factors that have brought us to today, hopefully… we will be better able to ask the right questions and find the courage to change.

Education in Colonial and Federal America
Colonial America
Life in America:
Farms and Plantations, especially in
North – citizens active in local politics
Education in North: mostly self-taught,
some one-room school houses
Education in South: self-taught or use tutor
General Education included Reading (including the Bible), Writing, Math
Literacy Rate high among Anglo population including women
1731 Benjamin Franklin and friends operated a subscription library in Philadelphia
1776 Declaration of Independence adopted by the Continental Congress
1783 End of Revolutionary War
1785 Northwest Ordinance – included guidelines for public education
1791 United States first Congress passes the Bill of Rights
Influence of “The Enlightenment” –
ideas about how to reform society based on reason
Socialists: Robert Owens “parents are deficient at raising their children” – 1825
Harvard Unitarians: believed man perfectible (supported idea of public education)
Concern due to large number of Catholic immigrants

Second Half of 19th Century
Immigration to AmericaLife in America:
Everyday life changed dramatically due to Industrial Revolution:
steam-powered boats, ships and railways plus large scale manufacture.
Immigration to America.
End of slavery.  America expands west.
Many states move to establish public schools modeled on ideas developed by Horace Mann in Massachusetts (influenced by schools in Prussia)
School curriculum included teaching Reading, Writing and Mathematics
Role of “elite” vs. “lower classes” (example: Carnegie, Rockefeller, Ford)
Civil War 1861 – 1865
1869 first transcontinental railroad
1880 to 1900 13% of population, foreign born
1865 13th Amendment – abolished slavery
need to train workers for new industrial economy
1848 Karl Marx publishes Communist Manifesto
(#10 – free education in public schools, abolition of children factory labor)
1859 Darwin publishes Origin of the Species
1867 U. S. Department of Education created to collect information
Utopian: Edward Bellamy’s book “Looking Backward” published 1887

Early 20th Century (1900 – 1925)
John DeweyLife in America:
Lots of new technology: electricity, telephone, Model T Ford
Optimism regarding human progress, more immigration
Public Schools established, continue to use Prussian Model
By 1918, all American children were required to attend at least elementary school. Schools organized using industrial management principles.  Children grouped by age.  Teachers were required to have specialized training and a college degree.
Carnegie Foundation funds over 1000 public libraries
World War I (1917-1918)
Continued high rate of immigration
1920 19th Amendment – Women’s Right to Vote
1905 Albert Einstein – Theory of Relativity
1903 Ivan Pavlov – concept of the conditioned reflex (classical conditioning)
1916 John Dewey – his views advanced the ideas of the progressive education movement
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) – human sexuality, psychology

Second Quarter 20th Century (1926-1950’s)
World War IILife in America
Great Depression then America mobilizes for War, motion pictures
Teachers must be “licensed” by state
1925 Scopes Trial – issues about evolution
1944 GI Bill provides opportunity for veterans to attend college, many become teachers.
1953 B. F. Skinner – publishes Science and Human Behavior – influenced many aspects of American education; Children should be reared by the state
1956 Benjamin Bloom publishes “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives”
Stock Market Crash 1929 and Great Depression
World War II (1941-1945)
1939 – Child labor laws passed to establish minimum wage and hours of work
1945 United Nations formed
1948 & 1953 Kinsey Reports on human sexual behavior
1956 U. S. Interstate highway system authorized
1957 Civil Rights Act – schools integrated
1957 Soviet Union launches Sputnik
Traditional values, focus on economy and material well being
Forecast “dark” future:
Brave New Worlds by Aldous Huxley published 1931
“1984″ by George Orwell published 1949

Mid 20th Century (1960’s – 1970’s)
Woodstock - the 60'sLife in America:
Less optimism regarding human progress after two world wars.
Communism (USSR, China) and interest in socialism
More new technology:
Television, birth control pill, computers, antibiotics, airplanes
Introduction of “progressive” methods of education
experimentation in behavior modification
1962 – 1963 Bible, prayer and learning about God removed from the classroom
1969 NAEP first assessment held (National Assessment of Educational Progress)
1960’s use of computers for business applications
1962-3 U. S. Supreme Court ruling re school prayer and reading Bible removed from public schools
1963 Martin Luther King, Jr.  – “I have a dream” speech
1969 Neil Armstrong walks on the moon
1973& 1974 OPEC Oil Embargo
Change in social customs and traditions: Civil Right Movement, Women’s Liberation Movement, Environmental Movement, Vietnam War Protests, increase in use of drugs

late 20th Century, early 21st Century  (1980’s to today)
Calvin taking a testLife in America
terrorist activity (PanAm Flight 103, Sept.11, 2001 etc)
Middle East Issues: oil, Radical Islam, Arab “Spring”
Employment: Jobs going to China, etc.
Internet developed, cell phones, digital photography
Nation at Risk Report (1983)
progressive ideas – outcome based education, etc.
emphasis on standards and testing
“culture wars” – questions about what history should be taught, sex education
School choice movement: vouchers, charter schools and homeschooling
Use of computers in classroom and for tracking performance
1980 IBM Introduces PC
1983 Nation at Risk Report – beginning of standards and testing activity
1985 Microsoft releases Windows
1990 Berlin Wall Falls  – USSR dissolved – end of Cold War
2001 America attacked – 9/11

2007 concern about global warming, sustainability
Increasing number of single parent families, gay rights
Rights vs. entitlements
Multiculturalism, globalization
Ends justify the means mentality, question “truth”, not my fault

Reference (various ideas about what to do and a timeline):

American Educational History: A Hypertext Timeline   posted by Edmund Sass, Ed. D., Professor of Education at College of Saint Benedict/Saint John’s University, Minnesota

Here is a brief summary of the many problems with K-12 schooling by John Taylor Gatto
Do we have the courage to face reality and change?

The deliberate dumbing down of america by Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt (738 pages, on line)
published 1999

Is Real Educational Reform Possible? If So, How? Posted 8/19/11 by Peter Gray at Psychology Today

The Roots of the Education Wars by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
Compares Progressive (Romantic) ideas regarding education vs. Traditional (Classic) methods like specific content/knowledge and memorization.



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