american schools pull ahead of the world -- 7/15/16

Today's selection -- from The End of American Childhood by Paula S. Fass. With a massive investment in schools in the late 1800s and early 1900s, America pulled decisively ahead of other Western nations in education:

"American schools pulled away quickly and decisively from schools in other Western nations. The American faith in education was nowhere more pointedly ad­vertised than in the creation of the high school. The White House Conference on Child Health and Protection put this faith in ringing terms in 1934: 'The school is the embodiment of the most profound faith of the American people, a faith that if the rising generation can be sufficiently educated, the ills of society will disappear. The con­stantly lengthening period of school attendance, the constantly en­larging contributions of money for the maintenance of the school, the rising standards of preparation of the teachers . . . these and many other evidences attest the faith of the people in their schools.' ...

Junior high school art class in Washington, D.C. 1921

"Unlike the equivalents of high schools elsewhere in the West such as the lycée or gymnasium -- places of exclusive higher learning at­tended by only a tiny fragment of the population -- American high schools became democratic almost as soon as they became an im­portant part of the educational system. In thirty years between 1890 and 1920, Americans built an average of one high school per day, according to education historian William Reese. The expansion was so rapid and extensive that the journal School Life boasted that 'New York has more secondary schools than all of France, Los Angeles more than all of Austria, and Detroit more than London, though its population is only one-tenth as great.' Reese notes that 'from 1890 to 1930, the high school population doubled every decade.'

"And this growth continued deep into the twentieth century. Eco­nomic historian Claudia Goldin found that the 'high school enroll­ment rate rose from 18 percent to 73 percent and the graduation rate increased from 9 to 51 percent during the three decades after 1910. The rate of increase was nothing short of spectacular and the levels attained were unequaled by any other country until much later in the century.' American education was truly revolutionary in this re­gard, since it succeeded in enticing the majority of adolescents into a longer school regime and created a uniquely American institution to contain them. Nothing better expressed America's new prominence in the world or Americans' elevated expectations regarding the fu­ture. By the middle decades of the twentieth century, the vast ma­jority of adolescents, regardless of where they or their parents were born, were drawn into the ambit of the high school. By then, most students not only attended for a year or two but were also likely to graduate. By the mid-1930s, 50 percent of high school students in non­-Southern states were graduating."


Paula S. Fass


The End of American Childhood: A History of Parenting from Life on the Frontier to the Managed Child


Princeton University Press


Copyright 2006 Paula S. Fass


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