Friday, October 1, 2010

The Story of Schools, Episode 1: 1770-1890

This segment was particular interesting because prior to it, I had a hard time imagining what school must have been like back then. It’s awesome that so many people were interested in changing schools for the better of the students and teachers. This section focused on the evolution of the American Public School System, as well as the major inequities and how/if they were solved.

In the late 1700s, only the larger towns were required to build schools. Children in smaller towns were left to learn on their own. Some towns had Dame Schools, which mostly doubled as a daycare and was run by women. In school, students had a horn book (a pallet with the alphabet and one prayer) and the New England Primmer (used to teach reading and Protestant religion). By 1773, students were only spending less than 82 days in school. Slaves weren’t allowed to receive any sort of education and women only received enough education to get married and have children. Poor families couldn’t afford to stay in school. At this time, the state was probably taking better care of the livestock than the children. Thankfully, there were a number of people who were ready to make a change in the education system.

Noah Webster wanted to Americanize the students by removing anything that had to do with Britain. This meant all British textbooks, and even words, were removed from the classroom. He published the Blueback Speller which had new, American spellings and put a lot of focus on American history. Noah Webster was known as the schoolmaster of America. Thomas Jefferson believed that a successful democracy required a successful education for all citizens. He drafted a bill that stated everyone got three years of public education and a few advanced students would go on to college. Horace Mann, a politician from Massachusetts, believed that all students should have an equal chance to succeed. He became the Secretary of the Board of Education and rode a horse from district to district to checkup on the schools. He wrote detailed reports on each school’s condition. Eventually, he created what was known as Common Schools, which taught common knowledge that would give students an equal chance in life. It was free, high quality and didn’t know the difference between rich and poor students. It was funded by tax dollars. He standardized a lot of what we use now – chairs with backs, blackboards, etc. Bishop Hughes did a lot for Catholic schools. When the community started to get fed up with the Catholic schools using the public school funds, he tried his best to create a system of Catholic schools that wasn’t based on public funding.

I think the thing that surprised me the most about this portion was how early on desegregation had begun. In 1855, a law was passed to abolish segregation in Boston schools. And only ten years after that, slaves could finally learn how to read. Why the heck did it take another 100 years to finally get it right? Honestly, schools shouldn’t have to be scared into desegregation. Would that principal in Boston ever let in Roberts if her father hadn’t pushed for it? Probably not. It’s really too bad that it took so long for people to become accepting of each other. The same applies to women. Women weren’t respected as educators until they had no one left to teach the students. Katherine Beecher strongly believed that women were put on this earth to teach. She believed it was in their nature to be caregivers.

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