Education Careers Background
American colonists first began establishing elementary schools for their children in the early 17th century. These schools were private, and only the wealthiest families could afford to enroll students in them. The main purpose of these early schools was to teach the students religion due to its major role in colonial life. Reading, writing, and arithmetic weren’t considered as important.
Before 1642, only 10 percent of the young children in the colonies attended school. That year, the colony that would eventually become Massachusetts passed a law stating that parents must teach their children to read. By 1647, the colony mandated that every town with 50 families or more must establish an elementary school. This paved the way for widespread education for children. However, it wasn’t until more than 200 years later, in 1852, that the state of Massachusetts passed the first law in the country making school attendance compulsory. By 1918, all states had such laws.
The earliest secondary school was located in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Boston Latin School opened in 1635 with the purpose of training children, primarily boys, to become well-read members of the clergy. Like the Boston Latin School, many of the early secondary schools focused on the language of Latin. In the 1700s, the colonists, led by Benjamin Franklin, founded another type of secondary school called the academy. Academies offered a wide variety of subjects in addition to religion, but they were all private schools that charged tuition and catered to the sons and daughters of affluent families.
Public education did not really take hold until the early 1800s, after the Revolutionary War had ended and the country was beginning to unite. Boston was the site of the first public high school, which opened in 1821. After fighting the war, many Americans wanted children to learn about patriotism and about becoming morally upstanding individuals. Many also wanted to deemphasize religion in the schools. The growing spirit of unity in the country had another important effect on public education, namely the movement toward using standard texts in all schools.
The first college in the United States was Harvard, founded in 1636. By 1833, Ohio boasted the country’s first coeducational college, Oberlin.
The concept of kindergarten (meaning children’s garden in German) came to the United States from Germany in 1856, when Margaretha Schurz opened a private kindergarten in Watertown, Wisconsin. The first public kindergarten was established in St. Louis in 1873. In 1901, the first public two-year college in the United States, Joliet Junior College, was founded in Illinois. Today, there are nearly 1,200 community colleges in the United States.
Education went through many changes in the 1900s. One such change was a declining emphasis on strictness and rote learning (memorization) and a greater emphasis on developing the whole person. Educators added elementary school courses in science and geography, as well as fun classroom activities and field trips.
Although World War II caused many people to leave school, the public school system continued to expand and take on more significance, even in the political and social arenas. One of the most important educational reforms of the 20th century was the 1954 Supreme Court decision forbidding racial segregation in public schools.
School systems have suffered many crises in recent years. Reports by the National Commission on Excellence in Education stress the widespread public perception that something is seriously amiss in the existing educational system. Many feel that educational systems fall far short of the goal of cultivating a learning society and that U.S. students lag far behind their counterparts in other developed nations.
Urban schools, in particular, have suffered in the last decade from the problems of violence, drug abuse, gang activity, and high dropout rates, in addition to diminishing student performance. Experts say that as many as 20 percent of Americans are functionally illiterate. Many different reasons have been cited for these declines: too little federal funding, poor parental influence, poverty, irrelevant or uninspired curricula, the lack of national standards and a national curriculum, poorly motivated students, and poorly trained teachers.
The No Child Left Behind Act was enacted into law in 2002. The Act does the following: (1) sets achievement goals for teachers and paraprofessionals; (2) holds states to higher accountability for the educational achievement of their students in exchange for more flexibility in how they can use federal education funds; (3) stresses the importance of using scientific research to determine what educational programs and practices are most effective for students and educators; and (4) gives parents with children in schools that do not meet state standards for at least two straight years the option to transfer their children to a better-performing public school or public charter school. The full impact of the Act is as yet unknown, but supporters feel that it will greatly reduce the achievement gap between rich and poor students and white and minority students, while opponents note that these programs have not received promised funding and that the testing mandates of the Act distract from other educational goals.
Despite problems with the nation’s school systems, teaching careers have broad appeal and offer varied opportunities. Teaching attracts people with a keen interest in a particular subject area, a desire to work with people, a commitment to social service, a wish for a life of scholarship and study, and a desire for a secure professional career.