The history of education in the United States has certain peculiarities which are closely connected with the specific conditions of life in the New World and the history of the American society.
The early Colonies and different politics of education for the first white settler who came to the North America from Europe in the 17th century brought with them he educational ideas of the time most typical of the countries they represented. In Virginia and South Carolina, for example, education was entirely private. The children of the rich either had tutors or were sent to Europe for schooling. Many of the children of poor parents had no education at all. In Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York many of the schools were set up and controlled by the church.
In Massachusetts, which was much more developed at that time, three educational principles were laid down: 1) the right of the State or Colony to require that its citizens be educated; 2) the right of the State to compel the local government decision such as towns and cities, to establish schools; and 3) the right of the local government to support these schools by taxation.
At the very beginning, school buildings were often rough shacks. They were poorly equipped with a few benches, a stove, and rarely enough textbooks. Discipline was harsh, and a corporal punishment was frequent.
The program of studies consisted largely of reading, writing, basic arithmetic, and Bible lessons. Since each community was responsible for solving its own educational problems, there was no attempt to find a common standard of excellence. Even the Constitution of the United States, ratified in 1789, contained no direct mention of education.
The schools of the early 1800s were not very different from those of the pre-revolutionary period. Some historians consider hat they actually deteriorated in the three or four decades following the American Revolution, for the new country turned its attention to the development of its land, cities, and political institutions.
And yet, in attempt to generate interests in education, a number of communities continued founding schools. Some classes were opened to children for secular instruction and a number of schools for poor children which were a forerunner of the public schools in several major cities. Some States tax-supported schools and urged their spread.
The purpose of the public or “common” schools was to teach the pupils the skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic. No particular religion was to be taught.
By the mid-19th century, the desire for free public education was widespread. But the States couldn’t find enough means for its financial support. It was during those years that communities began to support the schools within their boundaries. The States finally required local school districts to tax themselves for that purpose through the “real property” tax. This tax originated as financial support for public schools, and remain today the major financial resource for the public school system in the United States though it can no longer carry the entire burden.
Towards the second part of the 19th century compulsory attendance laws came into effect, starting with Massachusetts in 1852 Now in most States the minimum age at which a pupil may leave school is sixteen; in five States seventeen; and in four States eighteen.
As has already been mentioned, education remains primarily a function of the States. Each State has a board of education, usually 3 to 9 members, serving mostly without pay. They are either elected by the public or appointed by the Governor. The board has an executive officer, usually called a State school superintendent or commissioner. In some cases he is elected; in others he is appointed by the board.
In theory, responsibility for operating the public educational system is local. Schools are under the jurisdiction of local school board, composed of citizens elected by residents of the school district. In fact, however, much local control has been superseded. State laws determine the length of the school year, the way in which teachers will be certified, and many of the courses which must be taught.
Though the Federal Government has no powers at all in the field of education, from time to time Congress passes different Acts which help to “assist in the expansion and improvement of educational programs to meet critical national needs”. Such Acts provide money for science, mathematics, and language instruction; for the purchase of laboratory equipment.
Make up a list of words which can be joined under the headline “Education”. Give reasons for your choice.