Today in Lincoln, Nebraska, there was a March for Public Education.
This seems a little silly doesn’t it? Not that our community is coming together to protect the jobs of public servants…but that the march was necessary in the first place. This ranks right up there with the USPS running ads on television.
So, I thought it important to write today’s blog about some of America’s most beloved people — public educators.
The United States didn’t always have public education. In fact, education wasn’t even always required.
Let’s go all the way back to the first formalized education in the United States.
In 1635, the Boston Latin School is opened. It is both the first public school and oldest existing school in the United States. In 1639, the Mather School in Massachusetts would become the first free tax-payer funded school.
In 1647, the General Court of the Massachusetts Bay Colony decreed that every town of fifty families should have an elementary school and that every town of 100 families should have a Latin school. These schools were instituted not for the three R’s, but to insure that each child would learn how to read the Bible and learn about their Calvinist religion.
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson proposed a two-track education system. One track would be for the laboring class and one track would be for the learned.
In 1785, The Continental Congress passed a law calling for the exploration of the “Northwest Territory.” The law created ‘townships’ and reserved a portion of the land in each township for a local school. It was from these ‘land grants’ that we would eventually create a system of ‘land grant universities’ — i.e. state universities today.
In 1790, Pennsylvania’s state constitution called for free public education. But, only for poor children. The wealthy would have to pay.
In 1817, a petition presented to the Boston Town Meeting advocated for the establishment of a system of free public primary schools. The only group who opposed it were wage earners — they didn’t want to pay taxes.
In 1820, the first public high school opened in Boston.
In 1827, Massachusetts passed a law making all grades of public school open to all pupils free of charge.
In 1848, the Massachusetts Reform School opens. Children who refused to attend public schools would be sent here. This was the first known reform school and would inspire the system we have today. Reform schools are often used to combine education with the juvenile justice system.
In 1851, the State of Massachusetts passed the first compulsory education law. They wanted to insure that children of poor immigrants would become ‘civilized’ and learn obedience. Sometimes the long-term outcome is better than the beginning rationale.
Between 1865 and 1867, as the Civil War was ending, former slaves built alliances with white Republicans to craft political changes. These included, for the first time, free public education in the south. Primarily, this was to guarantee that black children would have a chance to go to school.
Not long after this, white’s would regain political control and begin the process of segregation.
By 1870, all states had tax-subsidized elementary schools. The U.S. population had the highest literacy rate in the world at the time.
In 1905, The U.S. Supreme Court required the State of California to offer public education to children of Chinese immigrants.
In 1917, the Smith-Hughes Act passes. This provided federal funding for vocational education.
In 1957, a federal court orders integration of Little Rock, Arkansas public schools. President Eisenhower ordered federal troops to enforce the court order.
But, in 1974, in the Supreme Court Case of Milliken V. Bradley, the court found that schools do not have to desegregate across districts.
This is merely a brief history of education in our nation. There is much more to talk about. But, in the interest of keeping this blog to a minimum I will keep it short.
This timeline leaves out a few things. It doesn’t include every court case dealing with segregation of African-American and immigrant students. It doesn’t deal with the plight of Native American’s. It doesn’t deal with women in the classroom.
In more modern discussions, it doesn’t deal with policy such as standardized testing, merit pay, or violence in schools. It doesn’t deal with Head Start, Special Education, or Title IV.
It doesn’t deal with a severe lack of funding in our schools and for our teachers. It doesn’t talk about the necessity of teachers unions.
It’s important to know about the history of education in our country because it hasn’t always been guaranteed to every citizen — yet, somehow, we claim it as the bulwark of our free and democratic society.
The right for a student to have a free and fair education is critical to our nation. The ability to create thinkers, doers, and workers allows our nation to move forward.
Today, Nebraskan’s had to march down Centennial Mall to the State Capitol to bring awareness to the current situation in public education. Funding is low, teacher demand is high, programs are being cut, and it is the students who are at risk.
This, all because our current Secretary of Education believes in privatized, for-profit education.
Let me put it this way, Thomas Jefferson once said: “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…they are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.”
I wrote this blog today because of a public school teacher. I went to college because of a public school teacher. I will have the ability to go on to graduate school because of a public school teacher. My love of history, my training in the English language, my interest in science…yes, even my disdain for math came from a public school teacher.
It was the public school teacher who watched over me every day, who cared for me, who taught me the core curriculum…and about life. It was the school teacher who reached into their own pockets to supply pencils, notebooks, learning materials…even tissues and lunch money so that I may continue to learn.
Today, they are fighting to affirm what every student already knows. It is this: They serve on the front lines to produce a well informed public. It is they who sacrifice everyday, who take lower-pay, longer hours, and more stress than they have to. Why? Because it is necessary, because they care, because our free and democratic nation demands it.
This one is for you public school teachers.
Thanks you for everything.