Monday, December 17, 2012

History of Public Schools and the Battle to Dismantle it

Authors note: I first published this four years ago and since then the war on public education is still heating up, so it's timely to republish it.

by Brian T. Lynch, MSW

Publicly funded  schools are a universally accepted social norm.  Abandoning them would be almost unthinkable.  When we stop to consider what we value in our communities, local public schools almost always top the list.  In most localities they are a source of civic pride.  

This isn't just true in the United States.  Publicly funded education has become a global norm in all advanced societies for nearly century.  But a hundred years isn't very long in the sweeping arch of history, is it?  Public schooling has fundamentally altered American society, yet few of us can recount how this radical change came about.  How did public schools come to be? 

The fight to establish public schools is almost lost history.  There is very little content or comment about it on the Web or in our public media.  What we do hear lately are a great many lively debates about burdensome public school taxes, failing schools, voucher programs, charter schools, and making public funds more available for private schools and colleges.  Lost to our comprehension in these debates is how these arguments follow the exact fault lines in what was an incredibly contentious battle, waged over the course of a generation, to establish public schooling. The political struggle for public education has been compared as second only to the fight for the abolition of slavery in its intensity and divisiveness, but who remembers any of that today?

The battle to undo public education is already underway.  If we fail to grasp the fact it is because we have no historical context to recognize the attacks for what they are.  If we hope to retain and strengthen our system of public education in America, we need to place the current arguments against it in historical context.  We need to reclaim our history. 

To this purpose I recommend a book copyrighted in 1919 by Ellwood P. Chubberly entitled, “Public Education in the United States, A Study and Interpretation of American Educational History.”  It is a text book, long out of print, but the entire book can be downloaded or read on line.  Much of the book is obviously dated, but the early chapters on the history of public education provide the valuable context we need to understand the political arguments today. 

Of particular interest to our purpose here is Chapter V., “TheThe Battle for Free State Schools”, beginning on page 118.  Read this chapter first for some quick insights.  Below is the full URL addresses and links to the book and its Table of Contents. 


Full URL Addresses: 

Book

Table of Content

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