Public education has evolved so much over the last few hundred years. In the early days during the 1700s to early 1800s, public school was not for everyone. Only the elite and few could go. And in the beginning, students who had the privilege of going to school learned about religion. According to Breckenmyre (n.d), the Puritans of New England wanted all of their students to read the Bible, and it was so important to them that they enforced this through the Massachusetts Bay School Law of 1642. Not all children could go to school because often they were required to know how to read and write, but many parents did not have the education themselves or the means to teach their children. A few years later, the Old Deluder Act of 1647 made it mandatory that towns had to establish their own school for the locals (Breceknmyre, (n.d). However, it was still not accessible for all children, and those that could go did not have the best of classroom conditions. They often had one classroom crammed with kids ranging from ages 5 to 20 with only one teacher and very little resources. Children of less wealthy families were to be educated by churches or other family members.
Two prominent people that had certain opinions about the American public school system was Thomas Jefferson and Catharine Beecher. Breckenmyre (n.d), stated that Thomas Jefferson wanted American children to be educated so as to create a democracy that generation of citizens that were informed well enough to be able to vote. He also created educational reform in the way of Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, which would allow for a happier and freer group of citizens. His whole premise of education was that he did not really care how children were educated, whether it be at home by a family member, or at a public school, just as long as it would create a nation of educated people in support of a democracy.
Catharine Beecher was a very interesting woman. She is known for the female teacher movement. Early in the days, teachers was a male dominant profession, but thanks to her and her beliefs that women are better educators and should be teaching instead of only doing domestic duties, there are more women in the profession. She led a movement of new female teahcers by doing lectures and educating them so they could travel west to open new schools. In Goldstein’s book (2014), The Teacher Wars, Catharine said some things that got me thinking. The first is this, “A lady should study, not to shine, but to act… She is to read books, not to talk of them, but to bring the improvement they furnish . . . . The great uses of study are to enable her to regulate her own mind and to be useful to others,” (Goldstein, p. 19, 2014). Although what she said about women as teachers makes sense, I do not see why this would be a female only thing. Men also can be teachers. Although, they do not have that same nurturing quality as women do. According to Goldstein, Catharine Beecher believed that the home and the school are two intertwined things in where a woman can nurture and teach, (Goldstein, p.18, 2014). As a mom and a teacher myself, I realize that I am always being nurturing, but at the same time, I am teaching. I may not be teaching academics necessarily, but I would be teaching him morals and values and how to be a good citizen in this world.
Nowadays, a public school is a place where a child can get a free education. What they are teaching in public schools now varies from state to state, even district to district. They all have curriculum that they follow and they teach a wide range of subjects, but there is one thing that is different from hundreds of years ago, and that is that they try to keep religion out of it, so it has come a long way from the old days where religion was the primary and sole focus. However, there are still some similarities between now and then. Even though public education is accessible to all, money does come into play and those schools that have more money tend to have better resources and often higher assessment scores compared to those schools that have a poorer demographics or a more diverse socioeconomic status.
Education to the Masses – US History Scene. (n.d.). Retrieved January 29, 2016, from http://ushistoryscene.com/article/rise-of-public-education/
Goldstein, D. (2014). The Teacher Wars: A history of America’s most embattled profession. New York: Doubleday.