United States’ Chronology of Education Essay

October 14, 2020 by Essay Writer

The turbulent history of the United States has left its markings on every aspect of people’s lives, so there is little wonder that education, one of the driving forces of civilization, was significantly affected as well. The changes of sociocultural climate and the establishing economy of the state also had its part in influencing the curricular developments as well as other aspects of schooling.

Starting from the early 1700s, several key factors have defined the curricular thought. One of the primary concerns with education was the strong dependency on fees. The public education at that time was still on the early stage of development. Several historical figures are credited for the promotion of this concept, with Tomas Jefferson being best known for this. In his work A Bill for the More General Diffusion of Knowledge, he has described the system of public education funded through the tax money (Holowchak, 2014).

As the economy of the state was not stable enough at that time, the system proposed by Jefferson consisted of three years of free education followed by the opportunity to continue for a fee. This essentially was the first two-track system. Besides solving the economic issue, Jefferson’s bill contained a peculiar detail: the public schools he envisioned were available for both boys and girls.

The political scene also influenced the education. In particular, Benjamin Franklin’s vision of perspectives opened by properly trained professionals has resulted in a pamphlet Proposals relating to the education of youth in Pennsylvania. The main point was the benefits emerging from educated young men that the developing country badly needed for governing and leading positions in society (National Humanities Center, n.d.).

Franklin was also influential in terms of reshaping the curriculum by shifting its focus from more traditional disciplines like Latin and astronomy to more practical ones, like agriculture, accounting, and modern languages, which, again, were demanded by the times. In this regard, it can be said that he laid the foundation of the contemporary curriculum in 1747.

The changes in education in the first half of the nineteenth century were mostly driven by social reform. By this time, public schools were already present in many states of the country, but the conditions and the quality of education they provided were unsatisfactory (Hayes, 2006). Horace Mann, a social reformer and a member of the Senate, has conducted a series of reforms based on his own experience of attending a public school starting from 1835.

His reforms expanded the ideas of Thomas Jefferson, which suggested tax funding and a mixed-gender schooling system. He emphasized the importance of teacher training and the availability of the relevant sources of professional information, so he has established the Common School Journal, a periodical for teachers. The Normal Schools, the establishment which trained future teachers and offered scholarly support to existing ones, also emerged thanks in part to his contribution. Mann’s reforms have basically established the infrastructure that would allow the school system to be appropriately funded, equipped, and staffed. Mann also contributed to the growing trend of separating education from the church.

By this time (the first half of the nineteenth century), the schools free for all were a norm, with several states passing laws that enforce their availability to every child. Women are admitted to schools, but it is not until the mid-nineteenth century that their role in the education becomes significant, thanks mostly to the contribution by Catherine Beecher. Her book, A Treatise on Domestic Economy for the Use of Young Ladies at Home and at School, emphasized the importance of women in various aspects of society, including education. In times when men were mostly occupied with business and political roles, women, according to Beecher, were the perfect candidates for teaching (Hoffman & Weiler, n.d.). She’s also contributed to founding the seminary that focused on female education.

Finally, the most recognizable contribution to the nineteenth-century curricular development, which is still an important point in education to this day, is the principle of formulating the curriculum. Until the early twentieth century, it was commonly believed that the toughest subjects were given the most attention and effort for a successful outcome. By this time, several teachers had voiced their concern regarding this ineffective policy and suggested several alternatives. However, it was John Dewey who has popularized the suggestion that students need to be interested in what they learn (Dewey, 2001).

He has noted that the children showed better results when studying what they find interesting. This has led to what is now known as the child-centered approach: the idea that the education process must be based on the interests and needs of the students. Besides, Dewey has established the concept of the interdisciplinary studies, where multiple subjects are connected as needed. Finally, by expanding the Franklin’s views of the practical nature of knowledge, Dewey has emphasized the importance of the practice in education, tying theory and practice in the educational process. Basically, the early twentieth century has roughly shaped the model of contemporary education, or progressive education, as it was known then (Tyler, 1986).

To conclude, the development of curricular thought throughout history was shaped by the economic, political, social, and cultural changes in the country, with the essential principles of public and unrestricted education forming from the 1700s until 1850, and the effective ways of delivering information from 1900s onward.


Dewey, J. (2001). Democracy and education. Web.

Hayes, W. (2006). Horace Mann’s vision of the public schools: is it still relevant? Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Education.

Hoffman, N., & Weiler, K. (n.d.). Schoolhouse pioneers: only a teacher. Web.

Holowchak, M. (2014). Thomas Jefferson’s philosophy of education: a utopian dream. New York, Routledge.

National Humanities Center. (n.d.) Benjamin Franklin: proposals relating to the education of youth in Pennsylvania. Web.

Tyler, R. W. (1986). The five most significant curriculum events in the twentieth century. Web.

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