One of the most fascinating and useful connections I have made as I engaged in EDU 6120 – American Education: Past and Present is the strong link that can be found between historical developments in education and current educational issues. As a professional in the field of education I have found that it is not only necessary but it is my duty to research and be informed on current issues pertaining to educational policy and practice. Conversations amongst practitioners in the field, policy makers, and the public in general are critical in order to move education and those it serves forward. As Nancy Flanagan writes, “Unlike other nations… we have never had a structured, purposeful national conversation about gutting and reorganizing the system around the kind of education we want for all children.” (Flanagan, 2013) I am better equipped now to engage in these conversations as an informed educator and an advocate for children.
Investigating the original purposes set forth for common schooling provides a standard against which we can measure the educational reforms of today. Thomas Jefferson’s bill of 1779 titled “A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge” was one of the first forums in which the concept of common schooling was articulated. The system recommended in this bill was designed to systematically ensure that the population was adequately equipped and informed in order to defend the rights and liberties of its members (Fraser, 2010, pp. 20-23). He also writes, “The general objects to this law are to provide an education adapted to the years, to the capacity and the condition of every one…” (Fraser, 2010, p. 24). Benjamin Franklin believed that a major purpose of schools was to prepare all citizens for a vocation while they are young and that schools should be more useful than ornamental (Urban & Wagner, 2009, p. 62). Horace Mann advocated for schools that promoted national unity as well as reached citizens that were young and could be “molded.” (Fraser, 2010, pp. 45)
Common schooling was also intended to benefit members of society regardless of, gender, race or socioeconomic status. There are many historical leaders and programs that spoke to this issue throughout history. Benjamin Rush supported this notion when he advocated for the education of women in his 1787 speech to the Board of Visitors of the young Ladies’ Academy at Pennsylvania (Fraser, 2010, pp. 26-29). Racial equality in education was reinforced through Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. These gentlemen served as leaders in empowering blacks to become educated, participate fully in society, and become leaders themselves (Urban & Wagoner, 2009, pp. 173-177). The effects of poverty on the notion of common schooling were addressed under the administration of Lyndon Johnson in 1965 through his “War on Poverty”. It was at this time that Head Start was founded. Head Start provided educational, medical, and nutritional services to low income children and their families.
Two current educational issues that can find roots in educational history are the newly unveiled Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the quest for equal educational opportunities for those in poverty. Both of these issues relate to the original notion of common schooling for all. The CCSS pertains to the common aspect of this philosophy in that it provides a consistent set of learning standards across the country. Reforms pertaining to the education of those in poverty pertains to the for all aspect of common schooling. There is no doubt that there are fears and concerns that fuel controversy related to these reforms. To name just two, CCSS can be viewed as a “top down” organization in which there is a centralized system of standards with a “one size fits all” methodology that does not fit all students (Brown, 2013). Also, not everyone believes that directing public funds towards the education of students from low income families is wise or that the distributions are fair during this time of economic uncertainty (Casey, 2012). However, I believe that if we view these endeavors against the backdrop of our nation’s historical quest for equal education for everyone, these and other reforms will be put in proper perspective.
To elaborate on these two educational issues and how they relate to our country’s educational history I have included the following links to two inquiry papers written by me:
It is my hope that those who practice the humble art of teaching or are otherwise dedicated to the advancement of education for all are able to look through the lens of our past and gain insights into what is good for children now as well as forge an informed path to future educational reforms.
Brown, M. (Producer). (2013, May 28). Concern over new ‘common core’ standards in education. [News series episode]. In America live with Megyn Kelly. Retrieved June 6, 2013, from http://www.foxnews.com/on-air/america-live
Casey, D. (2012, August 20). Report: Nevada rural districts receiving too much money. In Education Week. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek
Flanagan, N. (2013, July 23). Is public education on its death bed? Should it be?. In Education Week. Retrieved August 22, 2013, from http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers
Fraser, J. W. (2010). The School in the United States: A Documentary History. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor & Francis Group.
Urban, W.J. & Wagoner, J. L. (2009). American education: A History. New York, NY: Routledge.