History of Education in America As far back as the beginning of our nation, early leaders emphasized the importance of education and provided funds to create education for children from every background in our country. Thomas Jefferson said, Above all things, I hope the education of the common people will be extended to; convinced that on this good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty. He knew the importance of education (Jennings, 1996). In early America, there was concern for the common good and well being for all citizens in the known United States. John Dewey, the well known educator and philosopher, once said, What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for the children.
Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy. John Dewey (1859-1952) was an American philosopher and educator whose writings and teachings have had profound influences on education in the United States. Deweys philosophy of education, instrumentalism (also called pragmatism), focused on learning-by-doing rather than rote learning and dogmatic instruction, the current practice of his day (Pergamon, 1994). What is public education in America? How does it fit in our history? The answers to these questions are many faceted. In 1624, Jamestown Colony founded a flax house (a place for making linen) and guaranteed the support of two poor children from each county to attend it long enough to master the skills of making linen.
Earlier, the colony had tried unsuccessfully to establish a grammar school. Later, a law required parents and guardians to ensure that all children had instruction in morality and a vocation (Smith, 1994). In 1642, the Colony of Massachusetts passed a statute requiring that children be taught to read, a skill necessary for understanding the Bible. In 1647, a statute was passed requiring that every community establish a primary school and that larger communities maintain a secondary school (Smith, 1995). This 1647 law in Massachusetts became known as the Old Deluder-Satan Law, because the settlers were convinced that, with education, people would not be deluded by Satan (Smith, 1994).
Early educational experiences were planned in the hope that school would prepare young people to become responsible citizens, improve social conditions, promote cultural diversity, help people become economically self-sufficient, enrich and enhance individual lives with happiness, make education equitable among everyone, and ensure a basic quality of education among schools. These goals were very similar to the goals of todays public education (Jennings, 1996). As far back as the American Revolution, there was an emerging hope for common schools, though they would not become widely established for another seventy-five years. Public education seemed to be a hodgepodge made up of individual institutions and special arrangements. Schools could be home schools, church schools, boarding schools, or private tutoring. According to Jennings (1996), school was an unsystematic approach to schooling resulting in inequities.
Those who did not belong to a church were excluded from schools. Native Americans and African Americans were not educated, in fact, it was against the law to teach a slave to read(Cremin, 1990). Horace Mann said , Beyond the power of diffusing old wealth, (education) has the prerogative of creating new. It is a thousand times more lucrative than fraud; and adds a thousand fold more to a nations resources than the most successful conquest. The strength and convictions of our early leaders kept this ideal in our forefront, that American people had a responsibility to educate all children in order to achieve certain basic democratic goals (Jennings, 1996).
The extensive expansion of public education through the establishment of a State Board of Education, began in Massachusetts in 1837, largely through the efforts of Horace Mann . During the 17th and 18th centuries, schools with a single teacher for students of all ages were common. It is only recent practice for schools to group students by age and give grade level specific instruction. Graded schools began to develop during the last half of the 19th Century, it did not become standard practice until well into this century. As late as 1928, sixty-three percent of this countrys 244,128 elementary schools were still one-room, one-teacher, multi-aged schools (Smith, 1994).
It has been recorded that in the early 20th century, American education greatly benefited from the reforms of the 19th century. Kindergartens were first set up in the second half of the 19th century and school curricula was changed to enable children to be educated as individuals. John Adams stated it clearly in 1758 when he said, The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expense of it. Maria Montessori (1870-1952) created the Montessori method of self-paced learning for children. The Montessori method has influenced the modern-day development of special- education programs (Seldin, 1990). Maria Montessori is as controversial a figure in education today as she was a half century ago.
Alternately heralded as the century’s leading advocate for early childhood education, or dismissed as outdated and irrelevant, her research and the studies that she inspired helped change the course of education in this country. Those who studied under her and went on to make their own contributions to education and child psychology include Anna Freud, Jean Piaget, Alfred Adler, and Erik Erikson. Many elements of modern education have been adapted from Montessori’s theories. She is credited with the development of the open classroom, individualized education, manipulative learning materials, teaching toys, and programmed instruction. In the last thirty-five years, educators in Europe and North America have begun to recognize the consistency between the Montessori approach and what we have recently learned from research in child development (Seldin,1990).
In establishing public schools, there come the reforms of previous frameworks, and the eternal hope of making education better. Every educator and parent should ask; Will this reform benefit all Americans? Will it improve the socialization of our children? Will it help our children become economically self-sufficient and make our children happier and enrich their lives? Foremost, will it help to dispel inequities in education? Reform has brought education to the never-ending quest of improving instruction. Samples of improved instructional strategies include strategic teaching, differentiated learning, integrating constructivist theories, and cooperative learning. The strategic teacher is a mediator of instruction, providing opportunities for students to become independent in all subject areas. The effort is not the teachers alone; nor is it entirely the students. They work together, like artist and apprentice, with the teacher providing the intellectual scaffolding, tools and projects, and the student applying his or her talents, acquired skills, and willingness to learn and work (Jones, 1987).
Differentiated instruction is an approach to planning so that one lesson is taught to the entire class while meeting the individual needs of each child. At the most basic level, differentiated instruction means shaking up what goes on in the classroom so that students have multiple options for taking in information, making sense of ideas and expressing what they learn (Tomlinson, 1995). Constructivism is not a teaching theory but a theory of knowledge and learning. Constructivism encourages and accepts student autonomy and initiative, uses raw data and primary sources, and uses cognitive terminology such as classify, analyze, predict, and create as a part of the learning lesson (Brooks, 1993). Cooperative learning has four basic principles: Positive Interdependence, Individual Accountability, Equal Participation, and Simultaneous Interaction (PIES). In order for students to work effectively, they need a variety of social skills including listening, conflict resolution, and tutoring skills (Kagan, 1996). From whence have we come? We are a product of our reform.
Schools will continue to face reform in hopes of making education better and the hope of educating and meeting the needs of every child.