Danielle Peabody is a high school mathematics teacher in the Los Angeles area.

The free public school system has changed drastically from its beginnings in the 17th century. Curriculum and organization of schools have evolved over time, much as society has grown and technology has reshaped the way we access the world around us. We are society, and as we change, our educational system changes. This link between school and society is undeniable, and as society has influenced the educational process, the educational system has changed society. The platonic ideal of education as the perfect pursuit of and communication of knowledge does not escape the fundamental, earthy humanness that is society.

Teachers, administrators, staff, educational app like sodapdf and students have adjusted their ways in reflection of changing mores in society. This is almost intuitively understood – when people want to change society or pursue an idealistic past, they say, "let us teach our children." In doing so, not only are we changing our future by influencing other generations, we are teaching ourselves.  It is undeniable that children learn a lot of their socialization and moral boundaries within the school system.

I cannot help but think of the civil rights movement. Although adults had sadly settled into the concept of segregation as an acceptable way of life throughout much of the 20th century, when people decided that it was time for a change, they chose to act first upon schools because in doing so, they could change society as a whole. Desegregation between racial groups may not seem to be an issue at all today, but this is largely because in 1954, the United States Supreme Court ruled against the system of segregation in Brown v. Board of Education. They took the battle to the schools, rather than factories, because they knew that lasting change could begin in the schools.  They could teach young children to understand integration instead of teaching adults to change.  As this law made its way across the country "with all deliberate speed," students became used to the idea that racial segregation was unnecessary and in fact held back the progress of society. They informed their parents who began to see this reality, and by the 1970s and 1980s, segregation was nothing but a distant memory.

However, let us step back further. During the 1600's the idea of free education was revolutionary.  In earlier centuries, education had been the province of kings and church leaders who discouraged literacy among their subjects because in keeping the population superstitious and unable to explore the world beyond the village walls, they could consolidate their power. Nevertheless, things began to change.  It soon became the duty of churches to educate children and schools taught reading, writing, history, agriculture and focused on teaching students biblical traditions.  As priorities began to expand beyond the local area, the mercantile exchanges brought about education in business and trade.  Classical education no longer just meant learning additional ideas now it meant making money. You no longer had to be a king to be rich.

With the ubiquity of the printing press and the spread of literacy, education was seen as a way to improve the human condition. However, the fears of the aristocracy were not unfounded as a group of colonial rebels used the written word to affect the Revolutionary War.   Before literacy brought about this type of power, there was no "we the people." 

Although education remained within the general province of the church, religious pluralism and its accompanying theological differentiation caused people to rethink the idea that a unified form of education could incorporate a religious viewpoint. The concept of separation of church and state was tacitly adopted into the public school system. There were forms of religious expression, but in general, it was done with an eye toward things that students could generally agree upon.

On the frontiers, education was condensed into a shorter amount of time as children were expected to work as well as gain an education. For them, twelve years of education took them away from home for far too long, and the majority of students around the turn of the century learned more in a shorter amount of time.  Schoolteachers on the frontier were an integral part of the community, and in a sense, the information they shared with students connected small towns to the rest of the world. After all, learning to read meant learning about politics, science, and every other aspect that could improve life.

Between the Civil War and World War I, schools began to move away from the one-room schoolhouses.  The school system began to look more like the modern American school system with a more systematic approach.  Their have been many educational changes since the 1900's including the number of school days, integration and the disability act.  Larger schools gave students more options for their curriculum.

When problems emerged in society, people looked first to see where the schools were failing.  "Johnny" could not read because of the schools. Schools became the scapegoat and rather than cooperate with teachers and administrators, passive members of society and the press pointed fingers and blamed the educational system. There had to be a general cause and effect relationship between gangs, drugs, teen pregnancy, and other assorted ills of society, not to mention the international competitive disadvantages in areas such as math and science.  Since the young people who had these problems generally went to school, the schools must be to blame for the problem, or at least could be called upon to fix the problem. In other words, schools were tasked with fixing society, and if they could not perform, angry politicians and upset parents would make them. Thus, we had the emergence of No Child Left Behind, which ultimately has the aim of making America competitive with the rest of the world, but have given teachers the responsibility of meeting a "one size fits all" set of requirements that has as many drawbacks as benefits.

If society expects to reap the benefits of educational improvements, society needs to be willing to step in and contribute its time, talent, and support to making education work. It is not something that schools alone can be expected to achieve – parents, neighbors, taxpayers, and future employers have the opportunity to take an active involvement at the local level through their volunteer efforts and supportive work. This is not so much an issue of money as it is a dedication to make sure that society will benefit from education and that education will benefit from society.  In today's increasingly complex world, where time and energy are stretched, this mutually beneficial symbiosis will not occur naturally.  It will take well-planned, sustained effort, but the results will speak well of the flexibility of the educational system and the dedication of the community.  Educational success and achievement must be painted against the canvass of society, and when society in turn values, nurtures, and applauds education, all will share in its riches.  

 
 

4 Comments

  1. Brandon Westenberger says:

    I completely agree. Public education is for the foundation of a prosperous society – one where intellectual pursuits are awarded in a free-market system. If people are kept uneducated, it will allow tyranny to flourish, and the progress of technology will slow. I believe that public education has gone a long way toward the quantum leap in technology in our global society, creating a world that is more efficient, and happier for all. Knowledge is power, and to keep that power for a select few is simply wrong.

  2. Brandon Westenberger says:

    I completely agree. Public education is for the foundation of a prosperous society – one where intellectual pursuits are awarded in a free-market system. If people are kept uneducated, it will allow tyranny to flourish, and the progress of technology will slow. I believe that public education has gone a long way toward the quantum leap in technology in our global society, creating a world that is more efficient, and happier for all. Knowledge is power, and to keep that power for a select few is simply wrong.

  3. LandonM says:

    The sad thing is, in a country as wealthy as the United States, we still are woefully neglectful of cultivating our most precious resource; our people. Education is the cornerstone of any society that wishes to succeed. While we've succeeded in the past, based on our labor and ingenuity of a few, if we are to compete in the modern world, we cannot leave large educational gaps in our citizenry, like we have now.

  4. LandonM says:

    The sad thing is, in a country as wealthy as the United States, we still are woefully neglectful of cultivating our most precious resource; our people. Education is the cornerstone of any society that wishes to succeed. While we've succeeded in the past, based on our labor and ingenuity of a few, if we are to compete in the modern world, we cannot leave large educational gaps in our citizenry, like we have now.

 
 
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