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
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 system 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?