“Those that fail to learn from
history are doomed to repeat it.” Using Mark Twain’s advice as a reference,
future generations still have a chance to thrive and excel in public education.
History is still relevant today because it inhabits the minds of people living here
in the present: therefore, as Allison (1995) suggests, “the past lives in the
present” (p. x). By truly understanding and accepting this knowledge, it molds how we remember and consecutively what
we expect out of the present as well as the future. The experiences that have
shaped public education in the past can be applied today to defend, conserve, and
enhance those policies for future students.
In the eighteenth century, Thomas
Jefferson and Benjamin Rush saw a problem with the sporadic form of education
and agreed that schooling should reach more people and become systematic. Still,
Virginia rejected Jefferson’s pleas for an educational system throughout the
state, similar to Rush’s attempts in Pennsylvania. Soon, Horace Mann, a very
well-educated man, was offered the position of secretary of education in
Massachusetts. After witnessing the terrible conditions of schools that were
already in place, he made a proposition to the Workingman’s Party – and thus,
common schools were born.
Jefferson, as Virginia’s second
governor, still couldn’t unveil his educational reform vision as the money
needed to do so was diminished. In 1816, after his presidency, he wrote “I am a
great friend to the improvements of…schools…If a nation expects to be ignorant
and free, in a state of civilization,
it expects what never was…” (Fife p. 3). This supports Jefferson’s belief that
society triumphs over individual needs. His vision for common schools appeared
to favor “the good of many.” Today, schools often take away from individual
talents and purpose. Schools now measure success by test scores – limiting the
range students are given. Creativity cannot be measured, and many students
realize this, often abandoning their true interests to do what needs to be done
to graduate. It would make a huge difference if we’d put value in the artistic
side of education as well as the academic. As Einstein observed, “Everyone’s a
genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend
its whole life believing it is stupid.”
Since Mann was around, civic aspects
of education have been crucial. Mann believed schools should provide children
with the knowledge and skills it takes to become a true citizen. How could
these people participate in government decisions if they weren’t educated? Many
schools now have goal statements that relate to citizenship, but the assumption
of what this means is usually argued about – will this favor the Conservatives?
Liberals? Schools try to mold all of this into one course, which takes away
from any real knowledge being gained. Fife (2013) points out, “if we embrace
the vision articulated by Mann…perhaps it would be wise to focus on espousing
communitarian goals so that the needs of the citizenry as a whole are
addressed…” (p. 236).
In the past, schools were used to
train children into submissive candidates for the work force: stressing the
importance of attendance and respect rather than scholarly growth. Public
schools were intended to serve the economic needs of industries and businesses.
Dennis Orthner holds current education responsible for reducing poverty in
America, saying, “a person with a stronger educational foundation has more room
for other…career options” (p. 241). Similar claims were mentioned in colonial
America when clergies, who supported schools for religious purposes, charmed
their way with the prosperous society members who also had power in school legislation
by promising schools would “make the restless…underlings more temperate” (Sklar
p. 514). Now, an efficient K-12 schooling system is imperative in reducing
poverty within the United States. It’s crucial that we begin to see exemplary
public schools forming across the country, both within upscale neighborhoods
and outside – reaching to rural/urban America as well.
Multiculturalism and what it stands
for today, wasn’t a priority in the past. Understanding different cultures and
backgrounds, as well as including minorities in school placement, wasn’t
important. Americanization played a major role, instead. A well-known
historian, Cubberley, was proud when he announced in 1909 that “each year the
child is coming to belong more and more to the state, and less and less to the
parent” (Tyack, Hansot 1992). Over time, schools became more accepting and open
to other social cultures, i.e. offering classes on American Indian or Black
studies. Today, classes like these are still offered and have expanded greatly.
Education is power and as future educators we have to shape schools into a
reality where that rings true. This includes possibly changing curriculum to
match multicultural beliefs, making sure every student finally has a place.
schools have played a major role in shaping us as Americans. It has been a
crucial aspect in American culture and provided many children with
opportunities they may not have otherwise had. The aim of public education,
according to Reaves (2001), should be “serving them all, and serving them well”
(p. 212). Thomas Jefferson alluded to the fact that democracy in a society
depends on the education of the people in it. Still today, public education is demanding
our assistance and loyalty. Students need opportunities and challenges in order
to truly succeed. These outcomes are what determine the future of not only our
students, but our nation.