Sunday, August 10, 2014

Skipping School

Another area in which Americans seem to be detaching themselves from experiences they share in common is the public school system.

Of course, some of my conservative friends call them government schools--a name with a pejorative connotation in this era when the public holds such a low opinion of the government and the elected (and appointed) officials that operate it.

This original name was common schools,  because states established them for everyone to attend. Before the advent of the common school, most children received a rudimentary education at home and from local tutors. Wealthier people hired private tutors to live in the home and teach the children or helped to establish quasi-public schools funded primarily through tuition. Many ministers organized schools, especially to train future ministers. And some states had charity schools to provide at least some education to those children who could not afford tuition. These schools taught learning, Protestant piety,

States created common school for everyone to attend, regardless of wealth. Financed chiefly state expenditures, the common schools developed as part of a system from grade school to state colleges. By the mid-nineteenth century, most medium sized towns and cities could boast of a "Central High School," that drew children from all areas of the city.

Over the past fifty years, however, Americans  have expressed their dissatisfaction with the schools by leaving them. Wealthier Americans acted first, created private college prep days schools to provide their children an edge. Admittedly small in numbers, they perceive that common schools with mandatory attendance inevitably leads to lowered academic standards. (The exit parallels their exclusiveness in other areas as well. Planned residential communities of our modern era separate families by income. And some segregate themselves in public entertainments--a luxury box at the football stadium with smoked salmon and champagne provides escape from mixing with the hoi polloi and their hot dogs, nachos, and beer.)

Court ordered  integration led to an exodus into so-called segregationist academies. Court ordered bans on organized prayer and the decline of school attention to teaching moral virtue has led to the formation of Christian day schools. It is more than just a matter of educational quality. Even school systems with achievement levels that far exceed those of other systems find dozens of private schools in their midst.

One of the newest trends is home schooling. Many Americans, either for financial reasons or ideological ones, have withdrawn even from private education--choosing to keep their children at home. This has given rise to a cottage industry for providing educational materials for home schooling parents and conventions where homeschooling parents meet to exchange ideas and materials and see presentations by home school curriculum developers.

Now sure about "The meaning of it all."












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