What is the purpose of Public Schools?
School has in the past and will always affect the shape of the lives of children. Born after centuries of conflict and experiments, public schools have become a staple of American society. The availability of universal public schooling was not included in the Constitution of the United States. During the years when the idea of having public schools available to all children there was great uproar. From the fear of the government raising taxes to unequal rights of women and the life threatening idea of becoming educated for blacks, It was obvious that convict with idea would soon be inevitable. From the revolutionaries of the time to the periods of centuries affected, and the enforcement of teaching of religion; the process of establishing and compulsion of public schooling was a long suffering undertaking to those who so desired to see this, at that time, the dream of universal education come to past.
During early American Independence there were early republic debates about whether there should be a formal school system. This era is better known as the colonial era is defined by the history of European settlers conquest to America from the time of colonization to their incorporation into the United States. As society became more complex during the Protestant reformation, there was a rise in literacy. From the 1600s to the 1700s, large religious latin schools, grammar schools, Dame schools, colonial schools and universities came to formation in the 13 colonies.
One of the things that protestants believed in was that christians should read and comprehend the Bible. Schools origin most often had a religious undertone nature, another purpose of schooling children was for teaching discipline and obedience. Girls were taught domestic skills like cooking, homemaking and sewing. Only the most wealthy had the opportunity to experience higher education. The idea of common schools was then a radical idea. In the 13 colonies of the United States, during the pre-Revolutionary times only the larger towns in New England was required by law to build schools. However, many other places, schools were neither free nor public.
Some parents pulled together fees to send their children to Dame schools where children were given ABCs and short prayers as a curriculum. Many of the Dame school instructors where women who themselves didn’t have much of an education compared to the men at that time. The most common text book was called The Primer which had a strong Protestant religious presence. Some older boys went to grammar schools to learn Mathematics. By the time of the revolutionary war most people were only educated enough to read the local paper and figure their taxes. In 1776 through 1787 America was founded without education systems thus incorporating public schooling was a state issue and the Land Ordinance of 1785, outlined by Thomas Jefferson, enforced townships to set aside land for schools.
Thomas Jefferson’s views also influenced the idea of the need for public school movement. Jefferson obtained only the type of education that the most privileged Americans could obtain at the time. Jefferson strongly believed that regardless of the social class of men, they all deserved equal opportunity to achieve education. He truly believed that the family that yo were born into should not dictated the success of those who tend to their education and excelled in learning. Although, at the time the thought of women and black having those equal rights was not considered, Virginia assembly men scoffed at the idea of the poor having access to the what was then only known as the elites education. Jefferson continued to push for public education stating that it was essential to democracy.
In 1815, School attendance was not compulsory. According to The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein, schools were organized by town councils, in the rural areas groups of parents/ neighbors, local churches, urban charities. Schools were supported by a mix of tuition and local tax dollars. Two thirds of American children attended one room school house where there was as many as seventy children to one teacher who was usually male. (Goldstein, 2014) The discipline the children faced was very strict. These conditions led to American educator Catherine Beecher and Politician and education reformer Horace Mann to investigate the school systems.
In 1830s Jeffersons dream of public schools began to take root with the help of the newly elected Secretary of Education, Horace Mann. Horace Mann (also known as the father of common schools movement) pushed for common schools and there was a rise of common and the normalization of schools. Mann visited thousands of schools and made reports. Most of the rural district schools were in poor condition and they were often funded by the parents of the children. The learning material was extremely inadequate. Mann concluded what is now known as common schools with learning material that equalized the public schools education. Horace Mann like Jefferson believed that if even the poorest man tend to learning he could achieve the best education. Mann ideas of school reform reflected Jefferson’s vision of making public schools available to the rich and the poor giving them equal opportunity to reach the highest level of education.
By 1840 most of the New York residents were immigrants. Irish catholic children were expected to attend a school in which at the time were very anti catholic. Bishop John led a protest that created a demand where public funding was wanted to be obtained for Catholic School funds. Due to fear of taxes being raised and to avoid all of other sects of religion and christianity wanting the same treatment, more controversy raised over Public school funds. The Bishops concern over the content of the textbooks led to the public schools text books being revised to fit the interests of not only protestant children but also the catholic children. There was also a growing consternation about the growth of immigrants, urbanization and industrialization of America. This added to more need for public school to Americanize immigrants.
Noah Webster was a teacher in Connecticut and author. Webster believe in education being vital to the American Culture so he created Blue Back Speller in the late 1700s that taught children about the founding fathers. Webster’s Speller establish the American lingo for Americans and immigrants to learn in order to differentiate between the English and American English.
In 1830, the Common School Era was birthed due to the diligence and dedication of the pioneers during these times in history. The idea of bringing diverse students into the classroom, unifying them while instilling morals and discipline was the primary goal of public education in the Northern states. In 1852, Massachusetts made school compulsory and in 1855 Massachusetts was also the first to desegregate schools which occurred before the Civil War. Around the turn of the century, after the civil war there was a rise in industry where more immigrants flooded into the United States. In 1907 alone over one million newcomers arrived to American soil. This in which increased the movement and urgency to assimilate and Americanize the foreigners. Public Schools became the bridge to freedom that the children’s descendants came to have and are continuously evolving and will continue to be a staple in American culture.
Brackemyre, T. (n.d.). Education to the Masses: The Rise of Public Education in Early America. U.S. History Scene [blog post]. Retrieved from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/rise-of-public-education/
Goldstein, D. (2014). The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. New York: Doubleday.
Patton, S. & Mondale, S. (Producers), & Mondale, S. (Director). (2001). School: The Story of American Public Education [Documentary] . United States: Stone Lantern Films. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL00795BC38B4368D4