Clay Edwards Timeline of United States Education

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Clay Edwards

Timeline of United States Education


Education may be unrivaled by any other entity in its ability to change at any given time, and also revert back to past practices when opposed by even the slightest of problems. The curriculum within education has been driven by many different opinion and viewpoints. Almost everyone that knows anything about education, or anyone who has gone through any type of formal education believes they know what is right for the youth of this country. The one item that I do appreciate amongst all of this dissension is that education is important. If it were not important, no one would feel this strongly about the topic.

Although very loose in nature, each of the three eras in question fit a certain type of curriculum that was of importance to the time period. I mention the word lose because with the many personalities and shifting societal circumstances, these categories of curriculum change quickly.

-In Colonial America, subject matter was the dominant brand of curriculum within education. This was essentially the first opportunity for Americans to decide what was important in the classroom environment.

-The 19th century saw many shifts in the landscape of America, thus the curriculum changed to fit. Society shaped the curriculum to tailor to the new ways of life and the different jobs bursting on to the scene.

-The 20th century could arguably be the most back and forth era for changing curriculum. While curriculum to fit the individual had many critics, this new form of thinking allowed different people to make choices in their learning to help pave the way for their personal dreams and aspirations.

The following timeline is a list of important events as well as some personal commentary dealing with America’s educational history. Each section will begin with a few notes about the period that do not fit with a certain date, but a summary of the period itself. The rest will list important dates and happenings. Most of the information contained in this timeline comes from Chapter Two of Curriculum: Alternate Approaches, Ongoing Issues (Marsh & Willis, 2007). Additional sources will be listed at the conclusion of the timeline.

Colonial America

-A very small percentage of America’s youth actually attended school and was made up of clergy and nobles and focused on language and the ability to read scripture as influenced by European values.

-The rest of the population was taught at home, and mostly dealing with survival on the frontier.

1647- Massachusetts was the first of the colonies to pass a law that required a teacher be present in any town reaching a certain population. Subjects included reading, writing, and Latin. I found it interesting that teachers were made up mostly of females, with males receiving the brunt of the education. With this arrangement, you would think that the population might not trust the females as the teachers of makes.

1636-Harvard was the first university founded in the colonies and still exists today as one of our nation’s finer educational institutions. William and Mary was another school founded around this time (1693) that is still currently in operation.

1690-A forward thinker for the time, John Locke advocated thinking over information hording in Some Thoughts Concerning Education. These ideas turned out to be very forward thinking connecting with the likes of Dewey and other future educational theorists.

1749-In an effort to branch out education in a population sense and a curriculum sense, Ben Franklin opened a series of academies. While these schools did not catch on due to the educational ideas of the period, this provides a good example of education being ahead of its’ time.

1779-Much like tracking systems of today’s schools, Thomas Jefferson introduced educational paths that focused on workers as well as other jobs needing a higher education. While some forms of tracking are clearly discriminatory, one could argue that this was a first form of individual choice, if a choice was given (and in many cases it was not).

The 19th Century

-The 19th century started out much like Colonial America, but eventually evolved into an educational system where many more individuals went to school than before. This was done for a variety of reasons, with one of the biggest being the need for informed citizens to participate in Democracy as supported by Mann (future secretary of the Massachusetts Board of Education). The curriculum itself also advanced to display a more practical context in efforts to support the industrialization and urbanization of America. The increased number of immigrants also helped to change curriculum in order to help cater to different kinds of people.

1852-Massachusetts was the first state to pass a compulsory attendance law.

1854-The Boston Public Library became the first library where the public could borrow material for free. The library was also the first to be paid for by the government.

1862-In showing the theme of society within the curriculum, the Morrill Act was passed to help create colleges centered around two of the biggest societal professions for the time period: agriculture and mechanics.

1857-The NEA is founded and still is a voice for education today.

1867-The United States Department of Education was founded with the goal of finding out what works within education.

1876-While the NEA has had its share of successes throughout the past few centuries, William Harris help propose a curriculum that would script out what subjects should be taught from kindergarten through college. While alignment of curriculum may be something entirely different, this lengthy curriculum was a step back in thinking to a more subject-centered approach.

1890’s- Herbart introduced an idea that looked at some students being ready for certain topics at different ages. This seems similar to today’s differentiation that I employ in my classroom on a daily basis.

1893-While Harris’s proposition may have been a step back, the Committee of Ten made a few concessions to the traditional views of education. While still subject-based, this idea actually presented student choice, a key component of 20th century thinking.

1895-Just when it looked like education was moving towards a more progressive way of thinking, the Committee of Fifteen brought forth a curriculum that was even more specific than the original Committee of Ten. The new curriculum was also much more rigid and did not allow teachers or students much leeway.

1896-The Supreme Court’s ruling in Plessy vs. Ferguson kept blacks separated from white schools if they were deemed equal in quality. Most of these situations did not represent an equal education, however because of inferior curriculums.

The 20th Century

-The 20th century was filled with many different shifts in curriculum. While the focus is on the evolution of the individual, other events caused this type of curriculum to take a backseat to subject-centered curriculum. The 20th century started out as the 19th century left off with a more societal curriculum.

-Cremin was a proponent of looking at what the typical student was doing outside of school. These individual attributes carried over to the curriculum tailoring the experience. Subjects like specific vocational trainings, health, and family were introduced. These curriculum additions ended up being very similar to today’s 21st century skills.

-Schooling in America has come along way from an enrollment standpoint. Almost every student attended school by the 1980’s.

1918-The NEA introduced the Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education and followed suit in the curriculum shift by making individual interest areas and certain life skills an important cog.

1918-Franklin Bobbitt was a leader in the field of Activity Analysis. This concept attempted to make school more useful to a students’ life. An important piece of this plan was to bring in community members with specific jobs or skills and have the students try to replicate what they did for a living. Although this idea did not catch on, it is used today in many schools with a strong community presence. In fact, I just recently brought in some community members to talk with my finance class. While probably not as in depth, students did participate in some activities that the community member would do on a daily basis.

1920’s-As a supposed offshoot of Dewey’s thinking, Child-Centered learning became a trendy type of curriculum in the 1920's. The problem was that there really was no curriculum and students had too much freedom to handle productively. When I think to my teaching, my students have a lot of freedom, but without order and direction, students do not have any guidance. This concept can work if the teacher has clear expectation and students have a few choices instead of complete freedom.

1927-In a situation where there are too many varying personalities for anything to be accomplished, the National Society for the Study of Education (NSSE) produced a list of questions dealing with the creation of curriculum. While having a roadmap for curriculum may be effective in the right context, the collection of people working on this project could not agree on a curriculum standpoint. The mixture of subject, societal, and individual did not allow anything of value to be produced that everyone could agree on. I find that this happens a lot in education because most everyone comes from a different walk of life. In my situation, it can be hard to come to a consensus, especially being the youngest member of the staff by many years.

1930-The Progressive Education Association wanted to find out if changing the curriculum of secondary schools away from the traditional subject-based approach would cause problems for students during their college careers. We have the same problem in our district. We have been wanting to change to a standards-based system without grades but the holdup has been college entrance.

1933-1942-During this time, the groundwork was laid for the Eight Year Study. During this study, groups of students (Des Moines a part of this project) were given a more individualized curriculum with goal being to see if this change would hinder their academic success in college. Interestingly enough, the experimental students did marginally better when compared to the traditional students, and they also led better lives (I do not know how this was measured but it is interesting if true). I makes me think of all the times that people in education have been afraid to do something different because of the change in the status quo or the fear that test scores will drop.

1957-The opinion’s of most Americans on curriculum was starting to change. People were tired of the same old educational system, especially after being through the Great Depression. Just as soon as individualized curriculum started to look better in the eyes of the nation, Russia launched Sputnik and opinions changed seemingly overnight. The thinking was that we had to produce quality math and science people for the safety of our nation. The reality of the situation was that this was done by a handful of Russians, not the entire country. We were not any worse off as an educational system than Russia, but the fear still led curriculum back to a subject-centered approach focusing on math and science.

1960’s-With fear still running rampant, the curriculum reform movement was put into place. Teachers were not seen as experts in their respected subject area, so kits were made that took the thinking out of teaching. These types of curriculum can still be found today in relation to No Child Left Behind as cures for test scores. I think that sometimes people who think they know a lot about education forget that teaching is also an area where you can be proficient in. I feel that it would be hard to bring in a NASA scientist to teach my middle school students with no teaching experience. Although I think the prescribed curriculum would be awful if you had to implement completely, I would not mind having some extra resources to utilize.

1970’s-Accountability for teachers was just starting at this time. It seems like the authors concerns for the past concur with concerns of the present. Accountability is a solid idea to make sure teachers are doing their jobs, but to be critiqued off of students who may not want to take a meaningless test is absurd.

1983-In 1981, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education Terrel Bell formed the National Commission on Excellence in Education (NCEE). In 1983, the NCEE published A Nation at Risk. While Reagan’s original intention was to disband the Department of Education, the news of how poorly we were doing academically was enough for public opinion to sway his thinking. The result was a recommendation for a unified subject-centered curriculum to help turn our educational system around. This move essentially negated nearly 400 years of progress towards curriculum.

Other Resources of Interest:

-American Educational History: A Hypertext Timeline

-History of American Education Web Project

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