Have American Schools Changed Society, or does Society Change Schools?
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Looking back at the history of American education, which is inseparable from the political, economic, and cultural history of the country, it becomes evident that the influence of the society and schools has always been reciprocal, yet, not always balanced. In order to see which party dominated during this or that historical period, particular examples must be analyzed.
The first one, which seems the most demonstrative of the early period of education development in the United States, is the establishment of Boston Latin School in 1635. This first American public school continues to operate nowadays, being the oldest in the country. Its foundation marked the beginning of the period during which the influence of the school system was comprehensive and enormous. Schools were aimed to promote pivotal values of the society: capitalism, Protestantism, and republicanism, thereby serving as a vehicle for the Americanization of newcomers (Spring, 2017). Without schools, it would have been impossible to assimilate immigrants into the dominant way of life and culture.
Boston School was the first to outline proper attitudes, beliefs, morals, and values of the society to be strictly adhered to. Socialization, especially for those who were not among the first settlers, was guided by school teachers, which allows stating that schools shaped the society at that time (Spring, 2017). Furthermore, while in the past the basic literacy had been taught at home (by those parents who possessed a certain knowledge of some disciplines), with the establishment of the first school this task was taken over by teachers, as well as a number of other tasks that had been traditionally attributed to parents.
However, if we compare this situation with the present-day role of schools, it can be stated that the direction of influence has changed dramatically. Ethnical, racial, and social equality alongside with diversity has become the core elements of the American lifestyle. Now, the Constitution of the United States protects the rights of all citizens regardless of their gender, age, race, or ethnicity. In the past, the Protestant code of behavior suggested subordination and supremacy of certain population groups over the others. Thus, education was the way to secure a higher position in the social hierarchy.
At present, every American knows that he/she can wage campaigns to protect his/her constitutional rights, even if the educational system will have to change for that. This principle is clearly demonstrated by the famous Brown vs. Board of Education case, which served as a landmark, separating the old segregation system from the new one, based on racial integration. The Warren Court admitted that separating black school children from the white violated their rights granted by the Constitution (López & Burciaga, 2014). This was the first unconditional victory of the Civil Rights Movement, which paved the way for national integration and racial non-discrimination.
This case proves that American society has managed to step away from its initial views on justice, freedom of choice, and equality. Although there are a lot of racial issues that remain unresolved, the change of attitude is considerable (“Education in the 20th century,” 2017). The society, which is now even more diverse than during the colonization period, can no longer rely on the guidance provided exclusively by schools (Spring, 2017). On the contrary, schools have to adapt and transform their practices and curriculum to be able to answer new political and social requirements. With the increasing number of immigrants, it has become impossible to make everyone fit into the dominant culture. That is why schools of today are much more flexible than ever before and the impact they produce upon the society is considerably limited.
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Education in the 20th century [PowerPoint slides]. (2017).
López, G. R., & Burciaga, R. (2014). The troublesome legacy of Brown v. Board of Education. Educational Administration Quarterly, 50(5), 796-811.
Spring, J. (2017). American education. London, UK: Routledge.