“Those that fail to learn fromhistory are doomed to repeat it.” Using Mark Twain’s advice as a reference,future generations still have a chance to thrive and excel in public education.History is still relevant today because it inhabits the minds of people living herein the present: therefore, as Allison (1995) suggests, “the past lives in thepresent” (p. x). By truly understanding and accepting this knowledge, it molds how we remember and consecutively whatwe expect out of the present as well as the future.
The experiences that haveshaped public education in the past can be applied today to defend, conserve, andenhance those policies for future students. In the eighteenth century, ThomasJefferson and Benjamin Rush saw a problem with the sporadic form of educationand agreed that schooling should reach more people and become systematic. Still,Virginia rejected Jefferson’s pleas for an educational system throughout thestate, similar to Rush’s attempts in Pennsylvania.
Soon, Horace Mann, a verywell-educated man, was offered the position of secretary of education inMassachusetts. After witnessing the terrible conditions of schools that werealready in place, he made a proposition to the Workingman’s Party – and thus,common schools were born. Jefferson, as Virginia’s secondgovernor, still couldn’t unveil his educational reform vision as the moneyneeded to do so was diminished. In 1816, after his presidency, he wrote “I am agreat friend to the improvements of…schools…If a nation expects to be ignorantand free, in a state of civilization,it expects what never was…” (Fife p. 3).
This supports Jefferson’s belief thatsociety triumphs over individual needs. His vision for common schools appearedto favor “the good of many.” Today, schools often take away from individualtalents and purpose. Schools now measure success by test scores – limiting therange students are given. Creativity cannot be measured, and many studentsrealize this, often abandoning their true interests to do what needs to be doneto graduate.
It would make a huge difference if we’d put value in the artisticside of education as well as the academic. As Einstein observed, “Everyone’s agenius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spendits whole life believing it is stupid.” Since Mann was around, civic aspectsof education have been crucial.
Mann believed schools should provide childrenwith the knowledge and skills it takes to become a true citizen. How couldthese people participate in government decisions if they weren’t educated? Manyschools now have goal statements that relate to citizenship, but the assumptionof what this means is usually argued about – will this favor the Conservatives?Liberals? Schools try to mold all of this into one course, which takes awayfrom any real knowledge being gained. Fife (2013) points out, “if we embracethe vision articulated by Mann…perhaps it would be wise to focus on espousingcommunitarian goals so that the needs of the citizenry as a whole areaddressed…” (p. 236).
In the past, schools were used totrain children into submissive candidates for the work force: stressing theimportance of attendance and respect rather than scholarly growth. Publicschools were intended to serve the economic needs of industries and businesses.Dennis Orthner holds current education responsible for reducing poverty inAmerica, saying, “a person with a stronger educational foundation has more roomfor other…career options” (p. 241). Similar claims were mentioned in colonialAmerica when clergies, who supported schools for religious purposes, charmedtheir way with the prosperous society members who also had power in school legislationby promising schools would “make the restless…underlings more temperate” (Sklarp. 514). Now, an efficient K-12 schooling system is imperative in reducingpoverty within the United States.
It’s crucial that we begin to see exemplarypublic schools forming across the country, both within upscale neighborhoodsand outside – reaching to rural/urban America as well. Multiculturalism and what it standsfor today, wasn’t a priority in the past. Understanding different cultures andbackgrounds, as well as including minorities in school placement, wasn’timportant.
Americanization played a major role, instead. A well-knownhistorian, Cubberley, was proud when he announced in 1909 that “each year thechild is coming to belong more and more to the state, and less and less to theparent” (Tyack, Hansot 1992). Over time, schools became more accepting and opento other social cultures, i.e. offering classes on American Indian or Blackstudies. Today, classes like these are still offered and have expanded greatly.
Education is power and as future educators we have to shape schools into areality where that rings true. This includes possibly changing curriculum tomatch multicultural beliefs, making sure every student finally has a place. Publicschools have played a major role in shaping us as Americans. It has been acrucial aspect in American culture and provided many children withopportunities they may not have otherwise had. The aim of public education,according to Reaves (2001), should be “serving them all, and serving them well”(p.
212). Thomas Jefferson alluded to the fact that democracy in a societydepends on the education of the people in it. Still today, public education is demandingour assistance and loyalty. Students need opportunities and challenges in orderto truly succeed.
These outcomes are what determine the future of not only ourstudents, but our nation.