History of Public Educationby Rit Nosotro
Change Over Time essay
Describe the encroachment of public education from the time of the “Concordat of Lycees” to the “No Child Left Behind” act.
Children in public schools are not as well educated as children in private schools or homeschoolers.
Public education has been on a decline essentially since it started. This essay dicusses public education beginning with the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle and concluding with education in the United States.
History of Public Education
Prior to the middle of the 19th century, the vast majority of people were educated in a tutorial context, meaning they were taught knowledge or a trade one-on-one or in a small group. In some learning centers, such as Paris, larger groups of students would gather to hear learned men read out of relatively scarce books, and the content would be discussed.1 In other places, such as Connecticut, there were schools run by the government in place long before this practice became widespread. However, this was an exception, not the rule. Most people were either educated by a tutor, or uneducated. How did this change over the course of the last century and a half? Were there prior scholars in history who influenced public education?
Plato and Aristotle
The idea for public schools, overseen by the government, as the primary source of education has been around since the time of Plato and Aristotle, and these two scholars have had an influence on public education today. Plato believed the primary role of education was to teach good character, citizenship, and strong leadership. He believed the goal of education was to produce "sociable and happy citizens." This meant that the education of children would be begun at a very young age and their interest and aptitude as well as the societies' demand would determine the nature of their education. Plato also believed that the lower class, which Plato did not really consider as true citizens, had no need of any formal education, except, perhaps, a little mathematical study. He thought that, since this lower class was made up of artists and craftsmen, that learning their school was best done through a father-son relationship.
The class of people Plato actually considered citizens, the professionals, people such as medical doctors, professors, and military officers, had a different system of education. Everyone should study under a master of reputable status, and their education should be based on experience, observation, and experimenting with themselves and others. All of what they did would be generalized with the application of philosophy.
However, Plato also had a system for "weeding out" the lower students. At the age of six, the sexes were separated and more intense education began. Students would study music, gymnastics, and field sports in addition to general academic studies. Those that excelled would be sent to a leadership school, based on their strong character, courage, and self-control. Those sent to this school would study pure mathematics, astronomy, and harmonics for ten years. At age twenty-five or so, two years of military or civil service were performed. At age thirty, a five-year study of dialectical reasoning would be given to them. By the age of fifty, most of these people would be assigned to the three highest offices of the state.2
Plato's system was mostly based on learning by experience wherever possible. Instead of teaching a student how to do something, and expecting him or her to be able to perform it adequately just on that education, Plato taught that the student should experience whatever he or she is learning as much as possible. This is typically a better way for most people to learn. Practice makes perfect. A squad of soldiers cannot turn as a unit just by studying how to accomplish the feat from a military manual. They must be drilled until they accomplish it.
On the other hand, Aristotle believed that it is the responsibility of the government to create a public school system for all its citizens. Good virtues should still be key, strong leadership encouraged wherever possible, and excellent citizenship taught, but it should be the roll of the government to see that all of this is being done for all its citizens. In his book Aristotle on the Necessity of Public Education, Randall Curren makes the following summary of Aristotle’s views:
“...that children should be educated, and that this should take place through common instruction by state-appointed teachers in publicly provided places.... In addition, first, that this [education] may well in its content include an element of instruction in, and practice in conformity to, the laws of the state; second, that quite apart from this public schooling, Aristotle is arguing for a comprehensive code of juvenile law, aimed at the development of virtue; third, that a component of juvenile law would specify what is and is not acceptable by way of cultural diversions and adult supervision; and fourth, that this juvenile law might possibly include a role for youths in common meals in which their fathers participate.”Aristotle, while also believing that experience was good (the fourth point), taught stricter education of children and youth than Plato did. He also, more importantly, felt that it was the government’s role to carry out education, whereas Plato mentions nothing of governmental role in the education of children, at least until the point of military of civil service. From these two views, it can be seen that the role public schools, and the role government should play in public education, should hold in the education of children, was a point on which scholars differed even in ancient times. Despite the teachings of Plato and Aristotle, widespread public education across the world did not occur until the 19th and 20th centuries. However, some of the notions of both Aristotle and Plato influenced public education when it was first widely implemented and still influence it today.
Change in America
In America, it is easy to trace the beginnings of full public schools to the Industrial Revolution. With the outbreak of factories, owners needed cheap workers. Children provided a large supply of those workers. However, these schools were not made to educate the children to their fullest ability. The factories funded the schools, and intentionally set them up so that children learned to work in the large groups that factories needed. In addition, the whole purpose of the curriculum was to influence children into taking factory jobs. Even the very first fully public schools in America were extremely flawed.
It is important to note that in America schools had existed before the advent of full public schools. Harvard University had been built years ago. High schools such as the Boston Latin School and the American Academy, established in 1635 and 1751, respectively, provided secondary education with larger, though not extremely large, student bodies. However, these curriculums were specialized, hard, and expensive. Only the wealthiest attended them.
In 1862, the first step toward a large governmental role in education was made. The First Morrill Act, also known as the Land College Grant Act was passed, which stated:
"the benefit of this act, to the endowment, support, and maintenance of at least one college where the leading object shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life."3Basically, the Morrill Act of 1862 provided for each State to support their universities, by selling thousands of acres of lands and using the funds as grants for the colleges. However, the catch was that state and that university would then have to follow federal guidelines. This is still the problem with most government support for colleges today. To get the money, the university must agree to certain federal rules that they may or may not agree with.
The Second Morrill Act, 28 years later in 1890, stated: "That there shall be, and hereby is, annually appropriated, out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise provided, to each State and Territory for the more complete endowment and maintenance of colleges for the benefit of agriculture and the mechanic arts now established, or which may be hereafter established, in accordance with an act of Congress approved July second, eighteen hundred and sixty-two." In essence, this furthered government support of universities, with a focus on agricultural and mechanical arts. Once again, however, rules came with the money.
This has been a problem with government support of schools ever since these two acts. People fail to recognize that by supporting schools and universities, the government is not just helping out. They are also bringing another facet of American life under their control. Too many educational facilities now rely on government support to operate. Sadly, government support has not upped the quality of education in schools. Perhaps the money would be better spent equipping better teachers, rather than paying the ones who fail to educate the children adequately.
The "Progressive Education Movement," starting in the 1880s and lasting for sixty years, helped boost American public schools from a budding idea to the regular norm. John Dewey, a principal figure in this movement from the 1880s to 1904, set the tone for educational philosophy as well as concrete school reforms. His reactions to the prevailing theories and practices in education, corrections made to these philosophies, and recommendations to teachers and administrators to embrace “the new education,” provide a vital account of the history of the development of educational thinking in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.4 Dewey placed so called pragmatism above moral absolutes and helped give rise to situational ethics.
The Scopes "Monkey" Trial of 1925 ruled in favor of teaching Creation but the consequence was ridicule toward Christianity. With the outcome of the Scopes Trial, the road away from Biblical teaching and toward atheist thought had been cleared. Over time, court rulings advanced evolution theory in public schools and effectually eliminated Creation as having scientific validity.
That road reached its destination with the Supreme Court Case Abington School District vs. Schempp (1963). Essentially, this case "kicked God and prayer out of the schools."6 It was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States that opening the day in prayer at public schools was unconstitutional. They rejected their Biblical background, and opened the door for ungodliness to devour America. Jesus said in Luke, chapter 10 "He who hears you hears me, and he who rejects you rejects me, and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me." With Abington vs. Schempp, America did exactly as Jesus had warned, and the school system went on a spiraling decline that forced one more major governmental act.
In 2001, Congress passed the last major development in public education, the
No Child Left Behind Act. The goal of this act is fourfold:
• Increase Accountability for Student Performance: States, districts and schools that improve achievement will be rewarded. Failure will be sanctioned. Parents will know how well their child is learning, and that schools are held accountable for their effectiveness with annual state reading and math assessments in grades 3-8.
• Focus on What Works: Federal dollars will be spent on effective, research based programs and practices. Funds will be targeted to improve schools and enhance teacher quality.
• Reduce Bureaucracy and Increase Flexibility: Additional flexibility will be provided to states and school districts, and flexible funding will be increased at the local level.
• Empower Parents: Parents will have more information about the quality of their child's school. Students in persistently low-performing schools will be given choice.6
The hope of the NCLB Act is to better the education of schools. Unfortunately, the chief way it hopes to accomplish this is by increasing federal funding, thus increasing federal guidelines that schools have to follow. This has not worked in the past. Whether it will work in the future, only God knows.
Today, every state in America has developed a department of education and enacted laws regulating finance, the hiring of school personnel, student attendance, and curriculum.5 In general, however, local districts oversee the administration. States rely heavily on taxes and federal funding to fund the expensive school's programs. However, this money fails continually to educate America’s children to as high a degree as can reasonably be expected.
Strangely enough, the U.S. Constitution does not mention education, apparently leaving it to each State to decide on its own. However, many important guidelines for education now come from the federal level, encompassing all the states and creating a standard all across America. Whether this is what the founding fathers wanted or anticipated for education, no ones knows, however, it remains that the present school system appears to be ineffective and has no Constitutional backbone.
In conclusion, public education has been on a decline essentially since it started. Children in public schools are not as well educated as children in private schools or homeschoolers. The number of strong American leaders has diminished, and the godly principles on which America was founded have vanished amongst the whirlwind of cases such as Scopes and Abington vs. Schempp. The quality of teachers has dropped, which is partially related to the quality of students being taught. As students are less effectively educated, those who become teachers will be less effectively educated, and will less effectively educate the people they teach, which starts the cycle again.
Several new systems have been suggested, including a voucher system, where parents would be given money by the government in order to educate their children as they see fit, and a charter school system. Chartering allows schools to run independently of the traditional public school system and to tailor their programs to community needs. While not every new school is extraordinarily innovative and some school operations may mirror that of traditional public schools, policymakers, parents, and educators are looking at chartering as a way to increase educational choice and innovation within the public school system. However, there are problems with both these systems. Irresponsible parents could put the money to other uses, even if that were made illegal. Charter schools are not necessarily an upgrade from public schools, and can have just as many problems as public schools do. Yet both systems could, in fact, be better than the current public school system. Three thousand charter schools are already in place in America, and there is a large movement for more. God has a plan for the education system of America, and it seems likely that that plan will continue to develop in large ways over the course of the next few years.
1. http://www.wciu.edu/george_mueller_academy/brief_history_of_education.html [source not found May, 2008]
2. All information on Plato from: http://personal.ecu.edu/mccartyr/ancient/athens/Plato.htm
4. http://www.thoemmes.com/american/dewey_intro.htm [source not found May, 2008]
5 . Peter McWilliams, Ain't Nobody's Business, pg. 170
6 . http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/reports/no-child-left-behind.html
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