Four Landmarks in the Evolution of Public Education in America



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FOUR PHASES IN THE EVOLUTION OF PUBLIC EDUCATION IN AMERICA Four Phases in the Evolution of Public Education in America Mark P. Lee Grand Canyon University: EDU-576 October 25, 2011 Four Phases in the Evolution of Public Education in America Introduction At the birth of our democratic republic prominent political leaders, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and others, recognized that educating the youth of our nation was critical for the future prosperity and security of America.

These men, in their writings and oratories, strongly advocated for a publicly supported, non-secularized system of education that would be available to all American children free of charge. However, the newly ratified U. S. Constitution contained no provisions for education and, consequently, the responsibility for providing public education was given unto the individual states. Indeed, of the original thirteen states, seven states included provisions for public education in their constitutions, as would each future state, only in the South was the concept of public education resisted until after the Civil War.

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Over the next two centuries, public education in America would change and evolve, responding to changes both from within our own society and, increasingly in modern times, from forces that are reshaping the world. This essay shall briefly examine four distinct phases in the development of American public education and some of the individuals who made significant contributions that helped shape our modern system of public education. Horace Mann and the “Common School”

Horace Mann (1796-1859) was a self-made individual that expended tremendous effort both as a social reformer and as champion for a system of public education that would be available to all children tuition free, regardless of race or social class, non-secularized, staffed with professionally trained teachers, and supported by the local communities. Appointed as the first secretary of the first state board of education, Horace Mann would establish a system for providing public education in Massachusetts that would be emulated nation-wide by the end of the nineteenth century.

During his twelve-year tenure as secretary, Mann, expanded the school year, established curriculum, standardized diploma requirements, created the first “normal school” for the training of teachers, and worked tirelessly to increase the funding and quality of the public schools in Massachusetts. The significance of Horace Mann’s contributions to our system of public education cannot be understated: through his vision and efforts, on behalf of public education, he laid the foundation for the funding, methods, and standards for public education in America.

John Dewey and the “Progressive Movement” John Dewey (1869-1952) was an eminent philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer that developed a model of human understanding and learning which had a tremendous impact on public education in America. Dewey, and his supporters, favored a learning environment in the public schools that would be less dependent on classroom drills and rote memorization and more sensitive to the experiences of the individual student.

As leaders of the “Progressive Movement” in education, these so-called pragmatists, called for a reform in public school pedagogy and curricula that would incorporate new scientific knowledge gained in the field of experiential learning. These men, and especially John Dewey, exerted an extraordinary amount of influence in the field of public education and, through their writings and lectures, began a movement for progressive, scientifically based public education in America that continues still, in the twenty-first century. Earl Warren and “Brown v. he Board of Education” Earl Warren (1891-1974) served as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1953 until 1969. An esteemed jurist, admired by his colleagues and peers, Earl Warren would preside over the high court when many of its’ decisions would forever alter the political and social landscape of American society. The Court’s decision, handed down on May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U. S. 483, (1954) (USSC+) would impact public education in America for the next fifty years. In a unanimous ecision, written by the Chief Justice, the court ruled that separate but equal, in every tangible way, facilities for public education based solely upon race were in violation of the fourteenth amendment to the U. S. Constitution and, based upon their decision, ordered the desegregation of all public schools in America without undue delay. The decision of the US Supreme Court in this case would eventually allow, in the ensuing decades, Hispanics, Native Americans, individuals with disabilities, and the children of illegal immigrants to claim their legal right for an equal education in the public school system of America.

The National Commission on Excellence in Education and “A Nation at Risk” The National Commission on Excellence in Education, created in 1981by T. H. Bell, U. S. Secretary of Education was tasked with investigating the state of public education in the United States and reporting their findings within eighteen months. In April of 1983 the commission released its’ report, titled A Nation at Risk, and its’ findings, conclusions, and recommendations caused alarm and concern, in both politicians and educators, for public education in America at every level.

The commission’s report revealed a disturbing lack of proficiency of American students, in math and science, relative to students in other advanced countries, a significant gap in achievement between White students and minority students attending our public schools, a poor graduation rate of college freshmen in our colleges and universities, and a relative lack of achievement by students from poverty-level households. Indeed, the commission’s findings were so shocking that a new movement for reform in the system of public education in America began that has lasted for thirty years and continues still today.

Summary This essay has briefly examined the development and evolution of the system of public education in America from its’ beginning and the “common school” period, to the “Progressive Movement” at the beginning of the twentieth century, to the integration of the public schools in the 1950’s and 1960’s, and ended with the modern reform movement that began following by the National Commission on Excellence in Education report in 1983. Also highlighted were the significant contributions to public education made by Horace Mann, John Dewey, and Chief Justice Earl Warren.

References Common School Movement – Colonial and Republican Schooling, Changes in the Antebellum Era, The Rise of the Common School. (2011). Education Encyclopedia – State University. com. Retrieved 2205, Oct. 22, 2011 from http://www. education. state-university. com/pages/1871/Common-School-Movement. html Horace Mann. (2011). Biography. com. Retrieved 1407, Oct. 20, 2011 from http://www. biography. com/people/horace-mann-9397522 John Dewey. (2011). Biography. com. Retrieved 0235, Oct. 5, 2011 from http://www. biography. com/people/john-dewey-9273497 Kans. Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. (2011). The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia. • 1994, 2000-2006, on Infoplease. • 2000-2007, Pearson Education, Publishing as Infoplease. Retrieved 0430, Oct. 25, 2011 from http://www. Infoplease. com/Ce6/history/A0809176. html A Nation At Risk – April 1983. (1983). U. S. Department of Education. Retrieved 1003, Oct. 21, 2011 from http://www2. ed. gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/risk. html

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