How Education has Changed over the Past 100 Years

A few years ago I was sitting in a back to school workshop and the featured speaker was our district superintendent. This particular year, during the superintendent’s remarks he talked about the history of public education in the United States. I want to take a moment to share notes from that speech. His remarks made a big impact on me over ten years ago. Unfortunately, the job of an educator has only gotten more demanding.

America’s public schools can be traced to the year 1640. Massachusetts Puritans established schools to teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills, and cultivate values serving a democratic society. The implication was that some history and civics was taught.

During the 20th Century is when dramatic changes started occurring.

  • From 1900 to 1910, nutrition, immunizations, and health were added to the list of school responsibilities.
  • From 1910 to 1930, the following were added: physical education, including organized activities. Practical arts such as woodworking, needlework. Vocational education, including home economics and agricultural education. Additionally school transportations began to be mandated.
  • In the 1940s, business education, art, music, speech and drama were added. Also, half day kindergarten and school lunch programs appeared. This was a significant shift to the schools doing the job of feeding American’s children 1/3 of their daily meals.
  • In the 1950s, expanded science and math education, safety education, driver’s education, expanded music and art education, foreign language requirements were strengthened. Sex education was introduced.
  • In the 1960s, advanced placement programs started. As well as, Head Start, Title I, adult education, consumer education, career education, peace, leisure and recreation education.
  • In the 1970s: Special Education mandated by the Federal Government. Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls). Drug and alcohol abuse education, parent education, behavior adjustment classes, character education, environmental education, women’s students, African-American heritage education and school breakfast programs appeared.

Now the flood gates opened:

  • In the 1980s: Keyboarding and computer education, global education, ethnic education, multicultural/non-sexist education, English as a second language, and bilingual education, teen pregnancy awareness, Hispanic heritage education, early childhood education, Jump-Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start, full day kindergarten, pre-school programs for children at risk, after school programs for children of working parents, alternative education in all its forms, stranger/danger education, anti-smoking education, sexual abuse prevention education, health and psychological services were expanded and child abuse monitoring became a legal requirement for all teachers.
  • In the 1990s: Conflict resolution and peer mediation, HIV?AIDS education, CPR training, death education, expanded computer and Internet education, tech prep and school to work programs, gang education (in urban centers), bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety and water safety education.

The 21st Century, a layer of high-stakes, standardized tests has been superimposed upon everything else. As well as defunding of a federal mandate that all children be at grade level by 2014.

In most states, not ONE single minute has been added to the calendar day in five decades! It’s no wonder that teachers are stressed out and feel like they can never get ahead. The demands on their time are too high. They are stretched too thin. There are not enough minutes in the day to effectively cover all the content or material that needs to be addressed.

I hope sharing this information has been an eye opener for you like it was for me. There has been a tremendous shift of responsibility to the public schools to not only educate children but take on the responsibility of caring for the whole child: mentally, physically, emotionally as well as trying to ensure intellectual growth occurs.

Now the question becomes, how can this outdated model be overhauled and changed? Those of you that know me personally, know that I always try and find the silver lining in difficult situations. I can usually find something good, a little golden nugget hidden in the muck and mire. Could distance learning be that golden nugget, that impetus for change?

The demands placed on teachers is extraordinary. In my opinion teachers are a very rare breed. Most of us see teaching as a calling. We do it for the LOVE of the job. We are passionate about our chosen field. We take seriously the call to inspire and ignite a passion in the youth of America.

We need to capitalize on the changes that are occurring right now and find practical ways to keep students learning and growing. How do we overcome the limitations of online learning? How do we ignite a passion to do the hard work right now in all of us: students, teachers, parents? I am confident through the power of conversation we can be creative and meet the diverse needs of all students! Please join me in this effort.

“Once you learn to read, you will be forever free.”

Frederick Douglass

The joy is in the journey!



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Learning for Life