The United States fails to teach its students at a very important time in the lives of teens and young adults across the country. The global perception data of our educational system is that we are seventh in the world. Yet, many cross-national tests concur that the U.S. educational system would not be anywhere near the top ten.
One solution that could possibly improve America’s educational system would to allow students, starting in the tenth grade, to choose their major and receive a personalized education that would best prepare them for the set curriculum their selected major requires. Not only will this improve the education of American students of which would show in the cross-national tests, but this will also help students strengthen the skills they need to succeed in college and just generally get more students interested in the aspect of college at a much younger age. The first recorded school was Chengdu Shishi in Chengdu, Sichuan, China.
China’s first recorded built public school was founded in 141 BC during the Xi Han Dynasty. But, the education and schooling of children first occurred thousands of years prior to this. In Ancient Greece, their goal of education in the Greek city-states was to prepare a child for adult activities as a citizen in any way each city-state thought was appropriate. For example, in Sparta, the goal of education was to produce soldier-citizens, so boys were obligated at the age of seven to undergo severe training under the supervision of a hierarchy of officers in order to learn many physical activities such as running, jumping, javelin and discus throwing, swimming, hunting, and then eventually the art of war around the age of 18. Girls were not forced to leave their home, but besides the domestic arts, they had the option to learn to run, jump, throw the javelin and discus, and wrestle or not. Reading, writing, literature, and the arts were not a part of a boys’ curriculum as they were considered unsuitable for the soldier-citizen. Many ancient civilizations such as Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome had already begun to read, write, and fight through memorization, using the fear of harsh physical punishment as motivation. Even in ancient China, there were “places of learning” in which children were taught rites, music, archery, charioteering, calligraphy, and mathematics.
Most of this happening prior to Chengdu Shishi being founded and recorded in 141 BC. Greek influence on Roman education had begun a century before the conquest of Greece by Rome in 146 BC. Originally, most of a Roman boy’s education took place at home where he would learn to read as well as learn Roman law, history, and customs. It was the father’s responsibility to see to his son’s physical training. When a boy got older, he would prepare himself for public life by an apprenticeship to one of the orators of the time. A boy would then learn the arts of oratory firsthand by listening to the debates in the Senate and in the public forum. The main and perhaps only element introduced into Roman education by the Greeks was the use of books to teach schoolboys. When the Roman Republic became an empire in 31 BC, the school studies lost their practical value.
The emphasis on the technical study of language and literature, and the language and literature studied, represented the culture of a foreign people. Thus, Roman education became remote from the real world and remote from the interests of many schoolboys. Intense discipline then became necessary to motivate them to study. This graded arrangement of schools established in Rome by the 1st century BC spread throughout the Roman Empire until the fall of the empire in the 5th century AD.
In the early Middle Ages, the more sophisticated Roman school system was long gone. Mankind in 5th-century Europe was in danger of regressing back to the level of primitive education had it not been for the medieval church. But the medieval church was only able to preserve the miniscule amount of Western education that had survived the collapse of the Roman Empire. Cathedral, monastic, and palace schools were operated by the clergy in parts of Western Europe.
Unlike the Greek and Roman schools, the church schools wanted to prepare men for life after they die through the contemplation of God during their life on Earth. The schools taught students to read Latin so that they could copy and preserve the writings of the Church Fathers. The church considered the human body a part of the profane world, so physical education was to be ignored and the body harshly disciplined. Plus, for thousands of years childhood as it is known today did not exist. No psychological distinction was made between child and adult. The 12th and 13th centuries, which was toward the end of the Middle Ages, saw the emergence of universities.
A university’s curricula consisted of what were then called the seven liberal arts. These liberal arts were grouped into two separate divisions; The first division taught grammar, rhetoric, and logic while the second, more advanced division taught arithmetic, geometry, music, and astronomy. Sadly, the scholars of the Middle Ages took over the content of Greek education and adapted it to their own culture, clouding traditional subjects with their religious beliefs.
Some good came out of this as, by the 12th century, the education of women was no longer ignored, though only a small percentage of girls attended schools. Nevertheless, medieval schooling ended the long era of barbarism that plagued otherwise able men and women. For younger adults of the aristocracy in the Middle Ages of the 13th century, there was chivalric education. This was a secondary education that young men received while living in the homes of nobles or at court. This secondary education included poetry, national history, heraldry, manners and customs, physical training, dancing, music, and battle skills. The Renaissance, which began in Italy in the 14th century and spread to northern European countries in the 15th and 16th centuries, was a revolt against the narrowness of the Middle Ages.
For inspiration, the early Renaissance humanists turned to the ideals expressed in the literature of ancient Greece, wanting education to develop a man’s intellectual, spiritual, and physical prowess for the enhancement of life. Yet, the actual content of the humanists’ “liberal education” was not much different from that of medieval education. The humanists only added history and physical games that would double as exercises to the seven liberal arts. Humanist education was primarily inspired by the addition of Greek to the curriculum and an emphasis on the content of Greek and Roman literature. In keeping with their renewed interest in and respect for nature, humanists also separated astronomy from astrology.
Along with the changing attitudes toward the goals and content of education, a few schools started to display the first signs of changes in attitude toward educational methods. Through new methods, education was to be exciting, pleasant, and fun instead of being forced onto a student. In these more exciting schools, the pupils studied history, philosophy, arithmetic, geometry, music, astronomy, and physical development but the basis of the curriculum was the study of Greek and Roman literature. Yet, there were not many of these fun schools. The humanist ideal did not get through to the lower classes, who remained as ignorant as they had been in the Middle Ages. Other Latin grammar schools that introduced Greek and Roman literature into the curriculum soon began to shift the emphasis from the study of the content of the literature to the form of the language, just as the Romans had done. The dismantling of the humanist idea of education was bound to happen as humanist ideals as whole were slowly being done away with: In these other Latin grammar schools, the physical education and development so important to the early humanist ideal of the well-rounded man found no place in their curricula.
Instead of the joy of learning, there was only coercive, governing discipline. The decay in practice of the early humanists’ educational goals and methods continued during the 16th-century Reformation. The religious conflict that overshadowed men’s thoughts also dominated the “humanistic” curriculum of the Protestant secondary schools.
The Protestants’ need to defend their new religion resulted in an emphasis on drilling in the mechanics of the Greek and Latin languages. In actual practice, the humanistic ideal deteriorated into the bigotry that the original humanists had opposed. Still, the Protestants did emphasize the need for universal education and established elementary schools in Germany where the children of the poor could learn reading, writing, and religion.
(Guisepi, “The History of Education”) In the 17th century, the 13 colonies opened the first schools. Boston Latin School was the first of these schools to be opened in the United States, in 1635. These early public schools in the United States did not focus on academics like math or reading, but instead taught the virtues of family, religion, and community. Yet in early America, girls were taught how to read but not how to write. In the South, public schools were not common during the 1600’s and the early 1700’s. Even after the Reconstruction Era and after the Civil War it was still scarce to see an abundance of public schools.
Only families that were fairly wealthy could afford to pay private tutors to educate their children. Many Common Schools emerged in the 18th century due to the Common School Movement that made education available to all children in the United States. These schools would educate students of all ages in one room with one teacher.
Students did not attend these schools for free, however, and parents had to pay tuition, provide housing for the school teacher, or contribute other commodities in exchange for their children being allowed to attend the school. By 1900, 31 states had mandatory school attendance for students from ages 8-14 and by 1918, every state required students to complete elementary school. The idea of a progressive education, educating the child to reach his or her full potential and actively promoting and participating in a democratic society, began in the late 1800’s and became widespread throughout the United States by the 1930’s. Through the 1960’s, the United States had racially segregated schools despite the 1954 Brown vs. Board Supreme Court ruling, but by the late 1970’s, segregated schooling in the United States was abolished.
In 2001, the United States entered an era of education accountability and reform with the institution of the No Child Left Behind law by George W. Bush in 2002. The most recent Act that was passed to reform education in America was the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015 by President Barack Obama. This act replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, basically modifying provisions that related to the periodic standardized testing of students. In 2015, several hundreds of thousands of 15-year old students across the world took the PISA assessment that essentially measures student achievement in each individual country. The Programme for International Student Assessment, created in 1997, represents a commitment by governments of countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. PISA 2015 is the sixth iteration of the triennial assessment.
The assessment tested the minds of students on several different subjects including science, reading, mathematics, and financial literacy. Collaborative problem-solving via computer was also a subject, but a paper-based assessment was made in case any countries decided not to test their students on the computer. While having all of these subjects was great, the only subjects’ results to make the headlines were science, math, and reading, and the results should have been more of a wake-up call to America.
Out of 72 countries, the United States placed 35th in math, down seven spots from PISA 2012 and below the OECD average, 24th in reading and 25th in science, both down one spot from last triennial’s assessment. Asian countries again led all OECD countries in the rankings across all subjects, and Singapore was the top performing country across in all three subjects. What is so alarming about these statistics is that while the global perception of America’s education is so high, our students’ overall knowledge on various school subjects only seem to keep dropping. The solution to allow students to choose their major or specific program of study is nothing new for several countries including Finland, Canada, and several countries in Asia besides just Singapore. There are even schools that allow students to choose their “major” in the United States. They are called Specialized STEM Secondary Schools and there are perhaps more than 250 of these schools, but that is still only a miniscule percentage out of the total number of schools countrywide