In an ongoing effort to apprise our readers of where American Public Education has been, is now, and what could happen under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her belief in school choice, this first installment of Education Watch: Safeguarding its Sanctity, will bring attention to American education’s roots, struggles, and triumphs. It is our belief that a well-informed readership will better understand the need for stakeholders of all educational issues to do their part in recognizing and preserving the time-honored mainstays of any public education system we hold dear.
Imagine our communities, cities, states, and country without public education as we know it. Or, because of a student’s race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, wealth, or immigrant status, being turned away from an educational institution. Hard to think about? In 1982, in Plyler v. Doe, the Supreme Court made a landmark decision holding that states cannot constitutionally deny students a free public education on account of their immigration status. The decision, in part, states that “The deprivation of public education is like the deprivation of some other governmental benefits. Public education has a pivotal role in maintaining the fabric of our society and in sustaining our political cultural heritage; the deprivation of education takes an inestimable toll on social, economic, social, intellectual, and psychological well being of the individual, and poses an obstacle to individual achievement.”
With this stunning victory in mind, what follows is a brief look into the history of American public education. These “firsts” each had a lasting impact on individual public schools, students, parents, and eventually school districts’ educators.
1440 – Johannes Gutenberg invented the mechanized printing press, allowing,for the first time, mass production of printed books.
1617 – The Protestant Reformation resulted in increased iiteracy.
1620 – Puritans settled in New England, (i.e. Massachusetts) and sustained vigorous emphasis on education. As time passed, in the absence of wealthy landowners, the state was required to take over more educational costs. Their contribution was overwhelmingly to further the value of further educational development.
1642 – The Massachusetts Education Law was the first step down the road to compulsory education in the United States. It required parents and/or “masters” of children ensure knowledge of principles of community religion and civil rights. To meet this requirement, children had to demonstrate a basic level of writing and reading competency. (Does this notion sound vaguely familiar to today’s testing requirements?) No formal schools existed at this time, as education was the responsibility of families and workplaces.
1647 – The Old Deluder Satan Law required towns of fifty families to hire schoolmasters to teach reading and writing. Towns of 100 families had to establish a grammar school to prepare children to attend Harvard College. This was the first point in American history when formal schooling became a common priority.
This series on American Public Education History will continue in the weeks to come on this fascinating and important topic. Public Education has been the bedrock of social mobility in the United States for centuries, not the private school system that Secretary DeVos wants to enrich with a system of vouchers.
References: “Race Forward”, The Center for Racial Justice and Innovation, and “Historical Timeline of Public Education in the U.S.” and “Education History Timeline”, both from Timetoast.
Sandy Hill, Chairperson