Monday, September 15, 2014

Schools in America

September has arrived and along with it, a new school year. Here’s a bit of history on schools in America.

As the New World formed, the act of educating children was the responsibility of the family. From the time children were four or five, girls were to be trained by their mothers to read and perform household tasks, cooking, cleaning, sewing, weaving, animal care, etc. The boys were instructed by their fathers to read and write as well as learning the necessities of hunting, fishing, farming, trapping, woodworking, etc. If the family could afford it, they might have hired a tutor who often lived in their home to educate the children other subjects. It was believed boys needed to learn to read and write, but girls only needed to read and were restricted to religious material only. 

After families began to flourish, in 1647 The Massachusetts Bay Colony General Court decreed any town of fifty or more families should establish a school for children to read and write. This was at the expense of the families and meant mainly for the male children only. 

This model, of those whose family could afford to pay tuition continued for over a hundred years. In 1779 Thomas Jefferson proposed a ‘two track’ system, in which he referred to for the ‘the laboring and the learned’.  This meant scholarships could be provided to a select few in hopes of ‘raking a few geniuses out of the rubbish’. 

In 1790 Pennsylvania called for free public education for the poor, rich people where still expected to pay for their children’s education. By 1805 New York had established a public school system that included a model where one teacher oversaw classrooms of hundreds of students. The teacher would provide rote lessons to the older children who then passed them down to the younger children. It was believed this system would prepare children for their future roles of factory and manufacturing workers. 

In 1817 Boston called for a tax system that would provide education for all. Many opposed it because they didn’t want to pay taxes to aid poorer families, however it eventually passed. By 1827 this law spread through the larger cities—fast growing industries were looking at schools to provide them with a disciplined workforce. Major industrialists offered up their own money to create state boards of education to assure they received the workers needed for their growing business. In 1847 the first ‘reform’ school opens in Massachusetts—for children who had refused to attend public schools, and in 1851 Massachusetts passed an educational law that insisted all children of immigrants attend school to assure they become civilized and learn obedience so they could become good workers. 

New Orleans was ahead of many others, especially pertaining to girls. They opened their first girl only school in 1727 and accepted girls of all races, included freed slaves and Native Americans. Educating women didn’t become more popular in the New England states until the 1840’s. 

The school ‘systems’ of the New England spread west with the pioneers—the south was more prone to private tutors and a hodgepodge of publically funded schools in the larger towns and remained so until after the Civil War. While opening the west with land grants, the government withheld small parcels dedicated to schools with the mandate that upon formation, local communities would financially support the school.  

Schools in the west also brought another issue that the government chose to address. In 1864 Congress made it illegal for Native American children to be taught their native language. Children as young as four were gathered up and sent to BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs) boarding schools. 

By 1880 all states were required to have free public schools—paid for by local taxes and for elementary ages—usually up to age 12. This was extended to 14 by 1900, and by 1918 every state had a law that required all children (6-14) to attend school. By then most schools, even one room schools, had adopted an age/grade system that separated children and their lessons based on their age or ability. 

Before 1920 most secondary education was private and only for those bound for college. In 1910 only 9% of Americans had a high school diploma. Women were far more likely to attend high school where available. Educators across the nation insisted schooling at higher levels would improve citizenship (child labor laws had changed since the first school laws had been enacted). As more high schools began being built, educators discovered by adding vocational classes needed for industry jobs and sports, such as baseball and basket ball, high schools attracted more males. Within thirty years, the number of American’s with a high school diploma grew to 50%.   


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