What is the purpose of Public School

The document in which our country was found on starts with these words.

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Although many believe that education is something that is mentioned as a right of the American citizen, it is neither stated in the Constitution or Declaration of Independence that American citizens have a right to free and public education. Since this a common misconception, but now a common practice in this great nation, what is the purpose behind the Public School system we now are familiar. Where it is all start? Have we strayed from the original goal of Public Schooling image

Thomas Jefferson once said “Educate and Inform the whole mass of the people. They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty”. The influence and mentality of public education started with this great man. It was Thomas Jefferson who was one of the biggest supporters of public education in America, but for what purpose. It was to ensure that the citizen of America were educated and informed about their responsibilities, obligations, and rights. This ideal was very radical at the time, but with the amount of immigrants and “transplant” citizens that were flooding to America, and that would continue to come here, public education was his solution to having a body of people who had pride in this new country and who would have the same ideals that our founding fathers had established.

The state of Massachusetts was the first to established a state wide public education imagesystem in America. Lead by Horace Mann, who is now consider to be the Founder of Common School, was a great influence in the widespread education of US citizen. He had one purpose in mind, to bring education to the minds of the next generation of American Citizens, no matter the status of their family.

With this mind set, he traveled all over the state of Massachusetts carefully documenting every detail of the schools he visited. No detail was to small and many changes were made under his care as the first Secretary of Education in Massachusetts. More and more children in Massachusetts and throughout the eastern states were receiving a simple religious based education.

As more and more citizens immigrated to American and as the western frontier expanded with these citizens, so did the need for well educated citizens. Many times immigrants came from different cultures, religions, and even different areas of the European world, so the ideals of America were more important than ever to be taught to these new members of the country. The only problem was, who would teach them. This is when women became the solution and has now become the face of modern education as we know it.

Catherine Beecher, sister to Harriet Beecher Stowe, heard the call of teaching from a early age. As a way to set a foundation for the working middle class women, Beecher advertised that women were the more “natural” gender for teaching and that it was almost their birthright to teach the young citizens of American. Another argument for female teachers was how cheap and inexpensive they were. Women could be paid a much smaller salary than a male teacher, which was exactly what the American population wanted to hear. Beecher then founded the Hartford Female Seminary, a school set up to teach you women the skills they would need to teach the children of the frontier.

Through all this foundational work on public education a standard was set. To give the minds of the American people the proper knowledge to be able to be informed and make discussions about their country and to be able to do that, you needed reading, writing, and arithmetic (Where the 3 R’s of education come into play). Reading for the current events in the newspaper and new laws, writing to be able to influence and document ones thinking, and arithmetic so you could have the ability to do your own taxes.

All these and other educational topics were still along the lines of completing your civil duty, but have we now strayed from this as a country or do we still have the same line of thinking. In a study done by the National School Boards association, board members were asked to rank the 6 important goals of education.

Help students fulfill their potential – 42.6 percent

Prepare students for satisfying and productive life – 31.7 percent

Prepare students for the workforce – 8.1 percent

Prepare students for college – 8.1 percent

Help students become well rounded – 6.5 percent

Prepare students for civic life – 3.0 percent.

As you can see, civic duty was ranked the last on board members lists. Would list be the same in your school district among your parents and teachers? How have we strayed from the foundation educational goals that people fought so hard for. Would America be better if we went back to the civic duties or have we advanced far past those ideals. Either way the purpose of public education is currently unclear and may never be clear. Maybe being a responsible citizen is to live up to your potential and so they go hand in hand. Or could they we separated in some way, and if so, how?



Brackemyre, T. (2015, April 11). Education to the Masses. Retrieved January 27, 2016, 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 City, NY: Anchor Books.
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
Peifer, A. (2014, August 19). The Purpose of Education and the Role of the School Board. Retrieved January 27, 2016, from http://www.nsba.org/sites/default/files/The Purpose of Public Education and the Role of the School Board_National Connection.pdf




10 thoughts on “What is the purpose of Public School

  1. I love that you brought in a current poll to your post, Whitney! I think a lot of people don’t see schools as having any purpose besides college and career, but as a former social studies teacher, I think schools should be a place for citizenship education. 🙂


  2. Hello Whitney!
    By reading your blog I almost felt that I shouldn’t read the chapter. Nice and easy, I could read your blog and get the point of that reading. It was informative and well organized. But I wasn’t able to see your point of view toward The Purpose of Public Schools. At the end of your writing you mentioned that, the purpose of today’s public schools is unclear. I really like to hear your supporting reasons for such a strong opinion toward our educational system, maybe because I have the same idea, but with different back support.
    To me the purpose of public schools today, is unclear because, what we see now is far away from the three points of having equal education at the beginning. Even most of our today’s citizens know how to read and write, but their taxes are done by tax agencies and CPRs. We know how to read, but barely anyone buys newspapers and magazines. Instead we watch news from T, and listen to news from radio. We know how to write, but no more note taking, instead, taking pictures of notes.
    So, needs are different now than Horace Man who found public education for American citizens.


  3. Hi Whitney,

    Answering these questions seems like a mountain of a task to me, and your citing from all of the reading in week two was a lot of work. I come from immigrants: Germans escaping religious and political persecution. A lot of the Irish-bashing and issues with religion in public schools is familiar history. Do you find it strange that Beecher could only take herself so far as a woman? By that I mean that she was against women having equality, but fought for a woman’s right to be educated and worked for education. I wonder if she lived with internal struggle or if it was easy to acquiesce to at least a partial role society asked of her.
    Working as a substitute I often wonder if that “Help students become well-rounded” should be higher at the top of priorities and would like “citizenship” grades brought back.

    Thank you for your post,



  4. This blog has a lot of great information found from our sources that we watched and read.

    My mind was blown when our book “The Teacher Wars” mentioned that Catherine Beecher thought women were the more “natural teachers.” So many teacher today are male and it’s so “normal” to me. I know that back in the 1800s this was their “normal;” women almost being born to teach. I think it shows great strength in our society how women have grown in education. Thank you so much for sharing! 🙂


  5. I agree that public schools were founded for reasons different from the purpose they serve today. Seeing the research you quoted shows the direction public schools have taken. Horace Mann and Catharine Beecher, two effective leaders instrumental in organizing public schools, were great visionaries who believed there was more to school than what was being offered at the time. Their belief that morality was the end product of education started a movement that changed the direction of this country. Like you mentioned, Horace Mann’s travels allowed him to see what needed improvement. His travels extended outside of the United States and was greatly influenced by Prussian models of education. He brought home the idea of placing students by age and ability level, or age grading, as well as setting up Normal Schools to train teachers. It is fascinating that two of nineteenth century’s most influential leaders came together at the right time and right place to impact the world of education.

    Goldstein, D. (2014). The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. New York City, NY: Anchor Books.
    Brackemyre, T. (2015, April 11). Education to the Masses. Retrieved January 31, 2016, from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/rise-of-public-education/


  6. Starting out with the fact our constitution states nothing of educational rights is something that is bothersome. I think because America is so vastly different among people that even answering the questions then to education were unimaginable. In Texas it is not even required for a child to go to kindergarten. In first grade to senior year it is illegal to not have your child go to school in some sense.

    You mention with the influx of immigrants, Thomas Jefferson wanted the public schools so that everyone could learn to have pride in the country and learn. I really like this idea because it gives immigrants opportunities to be successful just like students already in America. With Thomas Jefferson being a founding father and it is always said on the media that our founding fathers wanted us to have these certain rights like freedom of religion, free speech, right to bear arms, etc. , but then people want to kick out all the immigrants and not let anyone of a way to citizenship. I think it shows that Thomas Jefferson wasn’t against immigrants, but wanting to find ways to allow them to fit into this country and have a chance for success.

    You bring in the perceptions of teachers and I am so glad you did. If public schools are to give young people knowledge and the abilities to because successful in society then why would people look at the teachers so poorly? It shows the sexism so bad and when I was reading all the notes I was just sick at how teachers were viewed. Even though children will spend the majority of there developmental years in school, lets treat, pay, and look down upon the ones teaching them. Was the real purpose of public schools to function like a big daycare for people at home to send their children to?

    In history, Native and Mexican Americans went to missionaries to school taught by the early settlers and learned about the settlers language and mostly their religion. Schools were for teaching religious contexts and public schools are supposed to be a school focused on academics and not religious. This is what it seems on the outside public schools are for, but like what you said there is still no clear cut answer for the purpose of public schools.


    1. Although my comment about it not being stated in the constitution was blunt, I think that it implies something more. Providing for the common welfare could include education it just depends on the translation. I am a firm believer that the founding fathers were advocates of public education and establishing a common mentality among the immigrants of this nation. Even though much of what I have read is for the purpose of producing responsible citizens, it makes me wonder what a responsible citizen looks like now with the driving force of technology and social media. I feel that these elements should be more addressed in our schools because from what I’ve seen, they are being eliminated.

      Education is something I believe is a right of all citizens of America. I can’t say that I agree with the way we are handling education and standardized testing right now, but I hope that in the future we can find a solution to helping educated all children.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree with you when you speak on the topic of Horace Mann and the major impact he made on the education system. “Mann fought to secure tax funding for public schools and to keep religious education separate from public instruction” (Brackemyre, (n.d.). I find myself wondering if his fight for the separation of religious education from public instruction was influenced by a particular event in his childhood. According to Goldstein (2014), “Horace Mann never forgot the preacher’s act of cruelty toward his grieving family, and, like Catharine Beecher, struggled to accept Puritan notions of predestination and original sin, with their implication that people could not improve themselves” (p. 23). That day Mann witnessed his preacher use his brother’s death in a way to warn other children that if they chose to live a sinful life, then they too would die and earn themselves an eternal stay in hell. Therefore, I understand why Mann took up such an interest in phrenology and pressed the fact that religion should not be at the forefront of the education system. Also, I agree with you when you bring forth Beecher’s views on how women naturally possess the necessary qualities needed to teach effectively. “Women have a native tact in the management of very young minds which is rarely possessed by men. . . they have a peculiar power of awakening the sympathies of children, and inspiring them with a desire to excel” (Goldstein, 2014).

    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.


  8. Thank you for the great quote from Thomas Jefferson, regarding the preservation of liberty attained through education.

    I often wonder what liberty means to those who immigrated to the United States of America.
    According to Merriam Webster’s dictionary, liberty is the state of being free within society from oppressive restriction imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behavior, or political view. http://www.merriam-webster.com (31 January 2016).
    Thomas Jefferson’s vision to see the citizens of the United States free within society through public education, was ambitious. This certainly helped mankind feel equal and free which allowed them to make educated decisions in America, regardless of birthplace. Their education, along with their skills and talents helped in the expansion of the United States. This country was also made great through the education and collaboration of great minds from various nationalities. Education has benefited man and has made them free from oppression and has been a gift to the masses, including myself. I am able to pursue an education and am grateful to all who helped with the establishment of public schools and their continual growth.


    1. I agree that education can free many people who come from situations that are not of privilege. Education has been my security blanket even as a natural born citizen. I was a teenage mother and I knew that the only way I wouldn’t be a statistic that we read about was to finish my education and look towards a brighter future for me and my daughter. I feel, like Horace Mann, education is the great equalizer and one of the greatest gifts this country and nation has to offer, not only for its citizens but for immigrants as well. The original goal of education though was to establish respectable and informed citizens and I think, as a whole, we have strayed from that viewpoint very much. I can’t say it’s a good or a bad thing, just an interesting mentality that I think should be incorporated into our classrooms a little bit more.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s