Previous posts on this issue can be found here, here, here, and here. This post continues the discussion of the history of public education in America.

The fifth trend which influenced education was the faith in and reliance on science and psychology. Early in the twentieth century, the field of educational psychology was developing and out of that grew the field of educational science. As the field of education expanded and specialized into certain categories (e.g., administration, curriculum, guidance) science was seen as a necessity in the “management” of schools. Science was applied to education through the promotion of national testing.

John Dewey (1859-1952) was a psychologist and educational philosopher who had a tremendous impact on education. He was a signer of the Humanist Manifesto and the first president of the American Humanist Association. He stressed the psychological needs of students. As a result, his teaching methods downplayed the traditional studies (such as reading, writing, mathematics, etc.). He held that education was the primary means to social development. He believed that American education could produce a socialist utopia. His educational philosophy is known as “pragmatism” (he believed education should have “practical” value in solving social problems). He also introduced values education.

Building on Dewey, Behaviorists such as J.B. Watson (1878) and B.F. Skinner (1904-1990) developed the idea that education could help rid society of religious, racial, and gender bias. Everyone was put on the same level socially. This movement brought about desegregation, the expulsion of Christian activities from the school, and the stress on gender equality.

In the 1960’s and 70’s, Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow’s “self-actualization” movement stressed the need for a healthy personality. Out of this came “Values Clarification” and sex education in the schools. There have been school-based clinics which hand out contraceptives and birth-control information without parental notification. “Safe sex” is a major emphasis in many areas, as is “Just Say No” to drugs and other social problems. Schools are seen as tools for social reform.

The sixth trend was the expansion of ages which formal education was available for. High schools, which had not been in existence in the early part of America’s history, were developed in the late 1800’s. Although there had been some high schools in existence in the early 1800’s, they did not enroll a large number of students. In 1890, only 4% of the nation’s youth between fourteen and seventeen years of age enrolled in school. By 1930, this figure rose to 47%. In 1880 only 2.5% of American youth of high school age graduated from a secondary school; in 1990 about 75% did so.

During this same time, there was also a strong push for compulsory school attendance. This move was so successful that by 1918, all states had some form of compulsory school attendance.

The age for school attendance was not only being increased for the older ages but also for the younger ages. Kindergartens were added to many schools. Kindergartens were developed by the Prussian educator Friedrich Froebel and were intended to teach children between the ages of three and seven to work, to cooperate with one another, and to appreciate the spiritual unity of all things. The spread of kindergartens in the United States was dramatic and rapid. The first kindergarten which was part of the public school system opened in 1873, in St. Louis, Missouri. By 1898, more than 4,000 kindergartens were in operation.

In the last generation there has been a further push for younger ages to be involved in schooling. This is shown by the nursery school and day-care movements. In 1966 less than 30% of American children age 3-5 were enrolled in preprimary programs; by 1990 almost 60% participated in such programs. Day nurseries arose in Europe in the early 19th century in response to the increasing employment of women in industry. A large number of the nurseries were set up in the factories. The first U.S. day nursery opened in 1854 in New York City. The day nursery movement grew during World War I, when large numbers of women went to work in the factories in response to the men going to war. Following World War I federal, state, and local governments began licensing, inspecting, and regulating the privately run day nurseries. World War II also saw a dramatic increase in day nurseries. This time the U.S. government supported these nurseries. $6 million dollars were allocated in July 1942 for a program for children of working mothers. By 1945, more than 100,000 children were being cared for in centers receiving federal subsidies. Following the war there was a drop in participation. However, a comprehensive day-care program was soon being pushed by sociologists, social workers, teachers, and other groups.

In 1965, the U.S. instituted Head Start. Head Start is a federally sponsored program to provide preschool education to disadvantaged children. In 1987, Head Start centers served 446,000 children. The current thought pattern among many “educators” is that children enrolled in preschool centers develop “positive self-concepts” and advanced training for formal education. This is certainly debatable.

To be continued…