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. Dewey?s 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 today?s 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 nation?s 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 country?s 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