Early in the 19th century Horace Mann, often called the father of public schools, argued that ‘common’ or public schools would strengthen democracy by uniting children of all social classes. On more than one occasion public schools have risen to that challenge.
At the turn of the century, we asked public schools to ‘Americanize’ the wave of 13,000,000 immigrants landing on our shores. Local school districts put into place curricula emphasizing English, civics and hygine.
Public schools were also at the front lines of President Lyndon Johnson’s ‘War on Poverty.’ Johnson trusted that schools could end the curse of poverty. In 1965, he persuaded Congress to pass the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, providing impoverished schools systems with federal funding, and Head Start, a health, education and nutrition program for preschoolers living in poverty.
This documentary provides other examples of America’s faith in schooling and a useful context for understanding today’s arguments. One clear lesson emerges: there exists no quick fix, nor a ’silver bullet.’ Throughout history, the fervent debate over the direction of our public schools has been healthy. Let’s hope it continues.
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