March 21, 2022

US Education, Publicly & Historically Speaking

US Education, Publicly & Historically Speaking

The past couple of weeks we’ve been discussing the history and recent events of public education. I honestly hadn’t thought about how Public Ed became “A Thing” or why we needed it until I caught an episode of Vlogbrothers a zillion years ago. Or maybe it was Crash Course? I can’t remember, it’s been a zillion years since I’ve watched it, but the message stuck with me. 

In any event, said video was John Green, author and internet persona who does not forget to be awesome, said “So let me explain for why I like to pay taxes for schools, even though I don’t personally have a kid in school: It’s because I don’t like living in a country with a bunch of stupid people.”

It turns out that John Green and Thomas Jefferson (along with other early proponents for instating public education in the US) had a bit of a similar viewpoint. Historically, folks wanted to push for public education so people could learn the basics of reading, writing, and reasoning. The thought behind this is that people would be more qualified to vote in a knowledgeable way. 

Here’s to good citizenry! There’s a fairly succinct breakdown of what defines being a good citizen, along with the challenges of education here.

A lot of people may not want their tax dollars to educate other people’s children and others would point out that public education doesn’t necessarily keep you from living with stupid people. That said, we’ve come a long way and empowered a lot of people by ensuring we have a populace with access to gaining literacy and certain competencies. 

Originally the US was looking at about 3 years of public education, assuming that would be enough to ensure they had the basics required to read ballots, write to legislators, and talk sensibly about current events. Over time we’ve moved to 12 years of public ed, with children learning social interaction and how to handle routine alongside the classic “reading, writing, and arithmetic.” 

Two Columns with images of schools. First Column is Functionalist: Education helps the lives of citizens improve in order to function in the society. Second column is Conflict: Education increases the divide between classes due to difference in quality, amount of funding, and learning conditions

Kevin and Jaime discuss disparities in education and you can listen here!

Obviously as time has gone on, expectations for youth in the US have changed and we’ve adapted accordingly. In fact, we’re still adjusting, even now. There are some who are pushing for including 2 more years of community college as well, to help Americans gain a little more specialization before heading off into adulthood.

Before hitting the crazy world of adults, for millions of students schools provide a safe place with regular meals and the comfort of routine. For others, it feels stifling and unfulfilling. It is, however, generally a shared experience. If you live somewhere with public education, you understand the annoyance of school lunch you don’t like or a teacher who bores you to tears or fighting to get passing marks on a subject you loathe. 

That shared experience in itself has some value, especially in a country that finds itself increasingly divided. While Americans may not agree overall on the details of public education, folks do agree they want to ensure our children have safe, healthy childhoods and can grow up still able to invest in Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.