Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Assessing the Cornerstone of U.S. Education Reform

Academic journal article Educational Foundations

Assessing the Cornerstone of U.S. Education Reform

Article excerpt


Without knowledge of the history of American education, the country is at risk of repeating past failures and not recognizing or comprehending the political forces chipping away at its educational foundation. Worse yet, the country risks the loss of guiding principles upon which it once stood. Historical knowledge is essential to assessing and assuring that American values remain the cornerstone of future education reforms.

Movements that Shaped the Foundation of Educational Philosophy in America

The first movement in America to influence education was migration of people. Early settlers brought teaching techniques from their countries of origin. As populations grew, education expanded from "family-taught units" to schools within communities (Vinovskis, 2010, p. 2). A community-directed philosophy determined instruction.

With the movement and mixing of cultures came ever-changing curriculum and instruction. And as America moved towards independence and revolution, education was viewed as "a means of preserving liberty, securing unity, promoting good citizenship and developing the resources of the land and people" (Good, 1956, pp. 81-82). The nation was built upon common educational goals.

Educational leadership by people like Benjamin Franklin made our sovereignty and growth as a nation possible. He recognized the necessity for adult literacy and established the Junto, a mutual improvement club. It spawned our adult education movement and aided in establishing our library and university systems.

Over a century later, Josiah Holbrook established the traveling lectures of the American Lyceum Movement. And the adult education movement was accelerated further, during the Civil War, through federal law establishing the Land-Grant System of colleges. Although the war ended the travels of the Lyceum Movement, the lyceum concept reemerged later as the Chautaugua Movement (Florida Atlantic University).

The commonality of these early movements was their philosophy that given both knowledge and the opportunity to exchange and debate an idea leads to practical solutions. In those times, pragmatism was viewed as characteristic of Americans. Progress in establishing public education was steady, but rarely, if ever, without critics.

While John Dewey was disseminating the idea of "learning by doing," others looked at applying industrial principles to the schools.

The thrust of the movement in education was criticism.... Critics cried
for results that could be seen and measured, and proposed the cutting
of funds where institutions either didn't measure their products or the
products didn't measure up. (Allen, 1979, p. 5)

Frederick Winslow Taylor generated the industrial efficiency principles including management of time, assignments based on skills, standardization, and strong administration (p. 5). This model gave rise to the Efficiency Movement sometimes called the "Cult of Efficiency." The movement focused public attention on outcomes.

Schools adopted standardization "without the initial study of what methods, reinforcers and theories were most effective in teaching children." Without these things in place, Taylor felt "there was no hope that the 'Cult of Efficiency' could have a long-range positive effect on education" (p. 5). Yet, the experiment ran from 1913 until the early 1930's. And as that movement waned, a man little known to most Americans came to be dubbed "the Father of the Modern Community Education Movement."

Our Movement into the Modern Era of Education Reform

In 1927, physical education teacher Frank Manley settled in Flint, Michigan and went to work. Wanting to help "troubled" youth, he involved the community by providing information and engaging people in working towards solutions of their own design. He caught the attention of auto-industrialist Charles Stewart (C.S.) Mott who partnered with Manley "to keep five school playgrounds open after school hours. …

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