A Brief And Eclectic History of American Education

“Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to, convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty.” –Thomas Jefferson

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As we commemorate our independence and the birth of our nation at  this time of year, I thought a brief jaunt through history in terms of education in the United States would be appropriate.

1600s

imgres-1With the arrival of the Puritan pilgrims and the creation of Plymouth Colony, the stage is set for educational thought and practice in New England. Beginning in 1635, Latin grammar schools are established as institutions to train young men for leadership positions in the church and state.  In the religious tradition of the day, the Massachusetts Bay School Law is passed in 1642—it requires parents to ensure their children know basic religious principles and the laws governing the commonwealth.  Leading out with educational legislation, Massachusetts passes a law in 1647 that requires towns of a certain size to hire a schoolmaster.

1700s

The Bill of Rights essentially leaves the issue of educating the citizenry to the states by virtue of omission.

1800s

Horace Mann

Horace Mann

The invention of the modern blackboard marks the beginning of the century. In 1821, Boston English High School—the first public high school—opens.  Horace Mann, later known as the “father of American public education” becomes the secretary of the Massachusetts State Board of Education.  Massachusetts, ever the leader in educational matters, institutes the first compulsory attendance laws in 1852.  Wisconsin (my home state—yeah!) initiates the first kindergarten in the U.S. in 1856.

1900s

The first junior high school opens in 1909 in Columbus, Ohio.  At the onset of WWI, mental aptitude tests are developed to screen recruits—these become the basis for standardized testing later.  (So now we’re using means developed in war-time to “promote” education during peacetime, really? But, I’ll save the editorial about that for another time.)  In 1926, the first SAT was administered; the first ACT followed in 1959.  Still leading out, Massachusetts passed legislation in 1993 requiring common curriculum and statewide testing.  Whiteboards take over and replace blackboards beginning in 1994.  And in 1995, Georgia becomes the first state with a ubiquitous preschool offer for all four-year-olds whose parents elect to enroll them.

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The new millennium kicked off with President George W. Bush’s controversial No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2002.  A few years ago in Seattle, a group of high school teachers were reported to have refused to give district-mandated tests, thus protesting the overuse of standardized testing.  Changes are still happening in education constantly—just earlier this year, President Obama announced a plan to grant two years of free community college to all American students.

Most of these tidbits and factoids are from an interesting (and quite detailed) timeline of the history of education in America—both before and after the states united.  The full timeline can be found here.

Happy Independence Day!

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Will the REAL teacher please stick around?

pioneer girlTo wrap up the last segment of my little “educational exposure” series, I’m going all Molly Mormon on y’all so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I am a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, pioneer-stock, eighth-generation Mormon girl with deep personal convictions.  But I don’t think that makes me a parochial, narrow-minded, unenlightened, uncultured burden to modern society.  Quite the contrary, in fact.

I value enlightening and expanding my mind—like pretty much every other young adult attending a university anywhere, especially a private, religious university.  I understand that the only real source of light and truth is God.  He has given us a precious gift, the gift of the Holy Ghost, to enable us to discern truth from error, to learn to distinguish light from darkness.  Does darkness need to exist in order for us to comprehend light? Naturally, there must be opposition in all things.

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What’s difficult for me, is being able to find the light in something when the darkness is so off-putting as to dismiss the Spirit.  I can’t learn without the Spirit.  And I’m not just talking about Sunday school learning.  Sans the Spirit, my intellect is about as effective as a bag of sand, and maybe not even that useful.  (Sand bags can be a world of help in flood relief and such.)  So when I read articles that repeatedly use foul language, I get so distracted and hung up on trying to constantly purge my mind that I really don’t remember anything from the article except, “Wow, that was uncomfortable.”

Given my high school’s liberal use of explicit/violent media, I’m used to standing up for what I will and won’t tolerate in my education.  I didn’t think I’d need to do that here at BYU.  A class I took this spring exposed me to a lot of language I’d rather be without. Due to the subject matter, some hairy topics and less-than-polite wording, content, etc. are part of the deal.  So the first handful of foul words I came across in my readings were jarring, but not altogether unexpected.  The consistent barrage of profanity and indelicate language in subsequent readings continued to bother me.  My classmates also expressed their discomfort with the things we read, and our teacher apologized for having to assign it.  But why did she have to?

As a private, Church-run university, BYU doesn’t have to conform to how things are done and taught elsewhere.  Am I advocating willful ignorance of current research and intellectual discoveries? Of course not.  But we don’t need to insist on looking through a worldly lens when we know full well that we have access to a more divine perspective.  We don’t have to adopt the methodology of other “normal” accredited universities. We have epistemological methods that most of the world hasn’t fully grasped yet.  And that’s okay.  To me, BYU’s charm and appeal comes from its uniqueness–it isn’t like other universities, so why pretend?

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Having the Spirit of God as a constant private tutor is an unparalleled benefit in education so I think our methods ought to aim at keeping the real teacher of truth at the forefront of the equation.

Molly Mormon, educational advocate, over and out.  Thanks, again.

Please Curse Appropriately

To what point is profanity a powerful “shock value” educational tool?  And at what point is it a crutch delaying the progress of society?  The impetus for this rant comes from a couple readings I had to do for a class.  Both used rather vulgar language, but it was easier to stomach in the novel than in the scholarly article.

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Shock and Awe

One definition of education I find helpful is “an enlightening experience.” Sometimes, exposure to less-than-desirable themes and modes of expression is very enlightening and therefore educational.  (In a non-example kind of way.)

I recently watched Interstellar, a space travel odyssey about a man and his daughter.  When one of the seemingly good guys turns on our hero and maroons him on a distant planet, the hero uses some very colorful and offensive language.  Given the circumstance, however, it’s tastefully done.  (If vulgarity can be tasteful.)  The novel I read for my class, Honky, by Dalton Conley, employed liberal use of words I’d rather not hear or read, but again, given the point of the book–to illustrate the harsh realities of life in the projects–it was stylistically appropriate.  I still don’t like it, but I suppose I can understand it, and maybe even appreciate it a little.

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Another character worth mentioning is Elder J. Golden Kimball, the turn-of-the-century swearing cowboy of the LDS Church.  He swore prolifically, but benignly. He claimed that his profanity made him relatable to some of the members of the Church.  When he cussed out a rowdy group of young men, they listened and shaped up.

So while cursing is certainly not my preferred modus operandi, I might concede that it can be effective sometimes.  I’m a fan of using the best word for any given situation, and in some cases, the best word might be rather colorful.

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An article I read for class followed a field researcher in her study of high school students.  I’ve been to high school, I’m familiar with the cruder side of American teenagers’ vocabulary.  I don’t see the value in publishing profanity in a scholarly article.

While the presentation of the article was “real” and “authentic” and “giving me exposure to a culture that isn’t my own,” it was also offensive and distracting and really not teaching me anything but further disdain and distance from that culture.  If my experiences interacting with art and scholarly research regarding a particular sub-group are laced with discomfort, those experiences do nothing to establish commonality or repudiate any stereotypes I had. I might develop sympathy for the impoverished, depraved, and oppressed by reading vulgar accounts of their sad lives told in a painfully coarse vernacular, but odds are, empathy will not soon follow.  Ironically, writers and artists in their efforts to bridge the gap by highlighting the gap, often turn the gap into a chasm.

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I want to be open-minded and tolerant, I really do.  But I also believe that as one who knows better—literally, I know better words, I have an obligation to stand for something.  There’s a difference between accepting people the way they are (which we should do!)  and celebrating their less-than-ideal circumstances.  As an educator, I need to understand where people are developmentally because I owe it to them to help them move beyond that point.

I believe that the golden rule starts with our paradigms—how can I treat others how I’d like to be treated if I don’t believe that they are like me?  I really don’t love the us vs. them mental construct that so often appears in life, especially in classes which supposedly aim to eradicate that delineation.  I want to see others as I see myself.  I know it isn’t fair to expect the same literacy from those who haven’t had the opportunity to develop it like I have. But, if we simply celebrate where people are—in their uncomfortable ghettos, in their crude language—then we aren’t doing anything to help them out.  If we continue to accept and expect little from these people, we will also (consciously or otherwise) give them very little to work with.  We will keep doing our studies, writing our books, making our documentaries, throwing around paltry funds that buy only time, not social change—all while we tolerate, celebrate, and ultimately condone the self-hindering lifestyles that keep people exactly where we keep saying we don’t want them to be.

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The argument I’m making here is reminiscent of Henry Higgins’ claim to raise Eliza Doolittle into high society simply by teaching her to speak well.  If we believe that story, then rather than highlighting the sad examples of the verbally poor and chiding each other for judging them, we ought to stop condoning gutter-talk, and start teaching people to speak.

In a recent conversation with some friends, we discussed the multiple correct ways of speaking that are accepted in our modern society.  I’m still mostly old-school, but sure, we can validate other (*cough* less correct) speech habits.  We have to recognize, though, that to get places in society, to succeed in school, to land decent jobs, to negotiate transactions in your own favor–to do all that, one needs to know how to speak a certain way.  When we showcase how people talk to try to make them feel complacent about however they speak, we’re doing them a great disservice.  Helping people is a far cry from condemning or judging them.

 

Thanks for reading! Please feel free to join the discussion and share your thoughts.

The Importance of Developmentally Appropriate Practice

By: Kristie Hinckley

One major topic of ELED 202: Foundations of Child Development is something called Developmentally Appropriate Practice. It means that we, as teachers, need to consider Screen Shot 2015-05-27 at 12.49.51 PMdevelopmental milestones of children in order to effectively teach them. For example, if you were teaching a class full of preschoolers you would not use tall tables and large chairs.

Likewise it would not be wise to expect those same preschoolers to sit in chairs for a long lecture. The following twelve principles are important things to consider as we create lesson plans and teach children.

 

  1. All domains (cognitive, physical, social, and emotional) are important and closely interrelated. Development and learning in one domain influences what takes place in other domains.
  2. Development follows well documented sequences with later abilities, skills, and knowledge building on those already acquired.
  3. Development and learning proceed at varying rates from child to child, as well as at uneven rates across different areas of a child’s individual functioning. Therefore, accommodations need to be made for each student in the class.
  4. Development and learning result from a dynamic and continuous interaction of biological maturation and experience. We know that nature and nurture both play a big role in child development.
  5. Early experiences have profound effects, both cumulative and delayed, on a child’s development and learning; an optimal period exists for certain types of development and learning to occur.
  6. Development proceeds toward greater complexity, self-regulation, and symbolic or representational capacities. For example, children can eventually use words written on a paper to represent things and ideas.
  7. Children develop best when they have secure and consistent relationships with responsive adults and positive relationships with peers. Even if a child does not have secure relationships at home, a teacher can make a difference by providing him or her with a secure relationship in the classroom.
  8. Development and learning occur in and are influenced by multiple social and cultural contexts. For example, a child might frequently interact with people at church, in school and at home. Children are influenced by the learning that goes on in those different places.
  9. Always seeking to understand the world around them, children learn in a variety of ways; a wide range of teaching strategies and interactions are effective in supporting different types of learning.
  10. Play is an important vehicle for developing self-regulation as well as for promoting language, cognition, and social competence.
  11. Development and learning increase when children are challenged to achieve at a level just beyond their current capability, and also when they have many opportunities to practice newly acquired skills. For example, when learning how to play the piano, teachers often introduce pieces that are slightly more advanced than the level the student is currently at. As the student practices, these pieces become easier and the student’s development and skill increase.
  12. Children’s experiences shape their motivation and approaches to learning. These dispositions and behaviors affect their learning and development.

Which of these principles have you seen manifest in children around you?

Image Courtesy of: motherlove.me