Colonial America



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Timeline of Education in the United States
Colonial America
1635: Boston Latin School is founded with the curriculum of the school centered in the humanities and Latin writings.
1635: Virginia opens the “first free” school.
1636: Harvard College was the first institution of higher education in what was to become the United States. Curriculum focused on a humanistic and rational side.
1647: The colony of Massachusetts passed a law that stated every township of fifty or more households to appoint a teacher of reading and writing and all towns of at least 100 families should have a Latin grammar master.
1690: John Locke publishes his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which conveys his belief that the human mind is a blank slate and knowledge is derived through experience.
1693: John Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education is published, describing his views on the importance of developing a work ethic.
1734: Christian von Wolff developed ‘Faculty Psychology’ which consists of a “mental discipline’ or tedious drill and repetition of basic skills and the eventual study of abstract subjects such as classical philosophy, literature, and languages. This viewpoint greatly influences American education throughout the 19th Century and beyond.
1743: Benjamin Franklin forms the American Philosophical Society, which helps bring ideas of the European Enlightenment.
1751: Benjamin Franklin helps to establish the first “English Academy” which becomes the University of Pennsylvania. The curriculum focuses on both classical and modern, including such courses as history, geography, navigation, surveying, and languages.
1762: Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s book, Emile, ou l’education, described the importance of early childhood education.
1779: Thomas Jefferson proposes a two-track educational system focused on the laboring and the learned.
1783 to 1785: Noah Webster writes A Grammatical Institute of the English Language, consisting of three volues: a spelling book, a grammar book, and a reader.
1791: The Bill of Rights is passed by the United States Congress. The 10th Amendment to the Constitution states that powers not delegated to the federal government ‘are reserved to the States, respectively, or to the people’ with one point clarifying that education becomes a function of the state rather than the federal government.


19th Century
1821: Boston English High School opens as the first public high school.
1827: A Massachusetts law required towns to have a public high school if more than 500 families were present in the community.
1837: Horace Mann, a visionary educator and proponent of public schools, worked tirelessly for increased funding of public schools and better training for teachers.
1852: The first mandatory attendance law is established in Massachusetts.
1857: The National Teachers Association (now the National Education Association) is founded.
1867: The Department of Education is created in order to help states establish effective school systems.
1876: The NEA curriculum was recommended by William Torrey Harris that attempted to create a synthesis of knowledge as the basis for a universal curriculum. The liberal arts curriculum was divided accordingly to a district or common school, a high school preparatory school, and a college or university. The topics in question focused on Inorganic and organic studies and humanities.
1893: The Committee of Ten on Secondary Schools focused on the creation of four parallel programs (classical, Latin scientific, modern languages, and Greek). The four curricula were subject-centered as were most of the principles of selection that the committee used.
1895: The Committee of Fifteen reported on elementary curriculum of several subjects that could be justified in terms of their social usefulness and others that were not immediately academic, but only in limited amounts. The entire eight-year curriculum was devoted primarily to grammar, literature, arithmetic, geography, and history.

20th Century
1905: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching is founded.
1913: Edward Lee Thorndike’s Educational Psychology: The Psychology of Learning is published which describes his theory that human learning involves habit formation, or connections between stimuli and responses. He believes that such connections are strengthened by repetition. His work greatly influences American educational practice.
1916: John Dewey’s Democracy and Education. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education is published. Dewey advances the ideas of the “progressive education movement” to make schools more effective agents of democracy.
1918: J. Franklin Bobbitt’s The Curriculum focuses on curriculum matters exclusively and to attempt the comprehensive task of providing both a full explanation of curriculum principles and a complete set of specific procedures for creating curricula.
1919: The Progressive Education Association is founded with the goal of reforming American education.
1927: Harold Rugg edited The Foundations of Curriculum Making in which a committee identified eighteen central questions as the principal foundations on which curriculum decisions are based.
1929: Jean Piaget’s The Child’s Conception of the World is published. His theory of cognitive development becomes an important influence in American developmental psychology and education.
1942: The Eight-Year study was published which demonstrated that individual-centered curricula were at least as good a preparation for college as was the traditional subject-centered curriculum and an even better preparation for life in general.
1949: Ralph W. Tyler published Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction which became a highly influential approach to curriculum planning and development.
1953: B.F. Skinner’s Science and Human Behavior is published which emphasizes changes in behavior due to reinforcement.
1957: The Soviet Union launches Sputnik, the first satellite to orbit the Earth. This represents a potential threat to American national security as well as a blow to national pride.
1958: The passage of the National Defense Education Act (NDEA) authorizes increased funding for scientific research and science education.
1960: The 1960s witnessed a curriculum reform movement that witnessed the entry of the federal government into the public school systems with a focus on adopting rigorous academic curricula.
1965: The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is passed which provides federal funding to low-income students which results in the initiation of educational programs such as Title I and bilingual education.
1966: Toward a Theory of Instruction is written by Jerome Bruner. His views are based on cognitive learning as compared to behaviorism.
1982: Madeline Hunter’s book, Mastery Teaching, is published. Her direct instruction teaching model becomes widely used.
1983: The report of the National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk, calls for sweeping reforms in public education and teacher training.
1993: In Search of Understanding; The Case for Constructivist Classrooms is written by Jacqueline and Martin Brooks which describes constructivism, a view that learning best occurs through active construction of knowledge rather than its passive reception.
2000: Diane Ravitch’s book, Left Back: A Century of Failed School Reforms, criticizes progressive educational policies and argues for a more traditional, academically-oriented education.
2001: The controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is approved by Congress. The law holds schools accountable for student achievement levels and provides penalties for schools that do not make adequate yearly progress toward meeting the goals of NCLB.




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