Where Did Traditional Public Education Come From?

I am of the opinion that education (while widely discussed if you find yourself in the right arenas), really isn’t talked about like one might expect. Sure, we may discuss specific notions of standards, school safety, or budgets, but no one ever seems to ask the seemingly innocuous question that is Why do we do it this way at all? That is, why is school, as we know it, the way that it is?

To answer this question, one may seek out books (often inline with her/his personal beliefs) and in doing so one will find pockets of general notions here and there. With enough research and enough reading, one will eventually piecemeal together a broad outline of the history of education. The problem with that is all of it. There aren’t many people who desire to become experts in this field, nor do they find it necessary. Instead, people latch on to the handful of education books or speeches they relate with (i.e., information that causes very little uproar in one’s current beliefs or dogma) and use that to understand how they will carry on offering their personal education philosophies. I don’t want that to be the case.


I believe it would be nice to have an extremely succinct, matter-of-fact timeline that can be used to determine and understand why we have the traditional system we have today. In the very same way those debating the second amendment often reach backward to explain the archaic nature of guns (as opposed to modern rifles and gluttonous magazines) during the time of the amendment’s inception, I wanted a tool that any individual might pick up and see how (also reaching backward) one can look at the methods of public school inception.

Why continuously debate a system that wasn’t intended to function in the society we currently exist in? It makes no sense. It is akin to debating the effectiveness of a lawnmower without first asking or understanding why on Earth one needs to have maintained lawn to begin with. It is doing for the sake of doing without first asking, why?

Why continuously debate a system that wasn’t intended to function in the society we currently exist in?

I have your answer! As I’m sure do many others. However, as previously mentioned, my answer comes in the form of an illustrated “children’s” book. (Children’s is emphasised with quotations marks as I truly don’t believe there will be much fun in reading this to a child, but it will certainly plant a seed of understanding when the time comes!) This illustrated timeline is intended to get straight to the major points that lead us to where we are specifically today. Many decisions were made regarding what would stay and what would go, as is the plight of any piece of writing. I believe what remains is a simple look at the reasons we are here. It answers the why? Before we continue dialoguing about best practice or how to spice up boring lessons or whether or not State Standards are fun, let’s look at why we are even in this current educational model to begin with.

It is my intention, with this novel, to bring about a sense of traditional public education reform. Yes, change is difficult and tends to happen one person at a time over the course of years or decades, but it is precisely this change that we need. It is less important that we attempt to figure out how to implement more methods of standardization in public schools and instead ask why we do it that way to begin with? Why are students placed in grades via age? Why are standardized tests given in multiple choice format? Why is test data considered a valuable means of assessing a child’s learning capacity as well as a teacher’s effectiveness? Why are students encouraged to remain quiet, attentive, obedient? Why is there a focus on only four major curricula (science, social studies, English, math)? Instead of trying to debate how we do these things, let’s ask why they’re even there to begin with. I doubt many will have an accurate, researched, or succinct answer to the question of why; and that’s okay! It’s to be expected. After all, it would be quite the endeavor to attempt to figure the whole thing out.

Instead, I offer my illustrated timeline: Where did School Come From? A (very) Brief and Illustrated Timeline of Public Education in American.

Please feel free to download this resource as it will do well to give anyone who reads it a better understanding of what is going on. Maybe then, with more inquisitive parents and children becoming attuned to this history of school, we might change the dialogue to Why on Earth are we still teaching this way — let’s reform it immediately to better suit the 21st century and our children. Many are aware of the issues. Many are aware of what doesn’t work. Let’s stop that and do something that does work. Maybe your answer is homeschooling. Maybe your answer is self-directed learning centers. Or maybe your answer is keeping public education around and making it worthwhile to create a more passionate, empathetic, civically minded, and creative future for those who can’t afford the previous suggestions.yo

Again, it’s not about what doesn’t work. We know what doesn’t work. It’s not about how can we make what exists better? What exists isn’t good, and there are a myriad of ways to reform. It’s not about when, it’s not about who. It is about why.