Handbook of Schooling in Urban America

By Stanley William Rothstein | Go to book overview

I
A Short History of Urban Education

Stanley William Rothstein

Those who have studied such matters are in agreement that urban education-- the long and arduous training of youth in cultural and political decorum--is an outgrowth of the state's need to condition the minds of its citizens. Urban education has a history and reason for being. It is common in many societies but especially noticeable in modern industrialist systems, where it must prepare students for an impersonal and uncertain future in the labor market. Scholars are not certain whether urban schooling is a unique cultural phenomenon or whether its characteristics can also be found in suburban and rural schools. But they do ask questions that reveal the essential nature of schooling's social functions. Would any government support expensive educational systems if it did not believe in the need to inculcate and train youth to accept the cultural and economic demands of civil society? Did urban schooling perform a significant function for an emerging industrial America in the nineteenth century, or were its failures an embarrassment?

Some things can be said with reasonable certainty. Urban education can be traced to the desire of religious and political leaders to propagate ideas and beliefs that would benefit the prevailing social order.1 On the other hand, there is a gulf separating religious education from the urban schooling that teaches secular communities the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic. Second, historical evidence for urban schooling before the Protestant revolution is largely confined to the clergy and nobility in most European nations. As an approved state program, urban schooling began with certain German duchies and Frederick the Great in Central Europe and was made popular by its success in binding youth to the nationalistic and religious aims of monarchical governments. In these preindustrial instances the state dictated that such schooling should occur as regularly as possible, but less often during the planting and harvesting seasons, and that it should be paid for by townspeople.

By the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, there is evidence that urban

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