Pass or Fail: Goals of the U.S. Education System- Then & Now
In this multi-part series, I provide a dissection of the phenomenon of retention and social promotion. Also, I describe the many different methods that would improve student instruction in classrooms and eliminate the need for retention and social promotion if combined effectively.
While reading this series, periodically ask yourself this question: Why are educators, parents and the American public complicit in a practice that does demonstrable harm to children and the competitive future of the country?
In all our perceived infinite knowledge and resources, is it possible the Founding Fathers had it right, in terms of education objectives?
Thomas Jefferson, like James Wilson, also proposed that education should teach individuals to be citizens. Jefferson and Wilson argued that individuals should learn to understand and appreciate those rights they enjoyed as free citizens of the United States. The modern educational system does not aspire to this, though. Nor does the modern system aspire to what Jefferson envisaged regarding helping individuals understand their role and place in the Republic, their rights and responsibilities as citizens and, even more basically, their morals and faculties.
Early Education Outcomes
Broken down by stages, there are major differences between what is practiced today and what the Founding Fathers had intended for public education. Jefferson, for instance, proposed six outcomes for elementary education. Those outcomes concentrated on developing citizens who would be capable of going on to support the government of the new republic, with all of its romantic ideals. At the time, of course, the future of the country was a prime consideration.
Of those outcomes, several focused specifically on education as a means for creating highly literate individuals. The objectives also outlined a focus on applying literacy in various ways, including as a means of improving moral character, enhancing knowledge of individual rights and responsibilities, and enhancing communication skills.
Developing the Education Model
To this, Franklin added that there was a need to develop a model for the country’s education. The education of the population would concentrate on skills considered important to the productive, well-grounded citizen. Such skills included the basics of reading and writing, but also the more analytical skills of being able to follow politics and participate in debates, and in the government process.
With such skills as a focal point for learning, Franklin argued, individuals would not only be able to meet the demands of the workforce but also be ready to serve the nation. The goal was to meet the demands of a young and untried government, and serving an enormous need and taking on an enormous responsibility to serve as citizens for the future.
Franklin and the other Founding Fathers believed in fostering reasoning skills to support an understanding of politics, morality, and the ability to argue logically. The ultimate objective of this concentration was probably motivated by the desire to preserve the republic and to emphasize citizenship and character education as a means of ensuring that American citizens grew to be adequate models in both regards. The educational model itself, though, was a principal force in developing what was to be a national policy for education lasting for the first century and a half of the republic.
Focusing on Academic Skills
The beginning of the 20th century saw a shift away from this emphasis, although the likes of John Dewey, at the turn of the century, continued to believe that citizenship and character education were important to the national educational policy. Along with compulsory school attendance, there came the shift in emphasis, moving from the higher level of thinking and character development strategies to a stronger focus on math and science skills. Reading and writing skills were emphasized as well, but the concentration was on the basic skills rather than any higher-level analytical element or appreciation-based approach.
They say everything comes back in style, perhaps a shift in our current education system is warranted? Do you think the education model used in Franklin’s time makes more sense than our modern approach?