The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Education and National Development

Edition of 1920. See also the disclaimer.

EDUCATION AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT. Education has been an important factor in influencing our national development, our institutions, ideals, habits, efficiency, and general mental attitude. It has in turn been influenced by those permanent factors that determine, in large part, the nature and progress of any civilization — the geographical, physical and racial factors — and the institutions resulting, particularly those of a political, economic, religious, and social character. It is the interaction of all these factors that accounts for the peculiar relation of our education to our national development.

Nations that have a national system of education, directly controlled by the central government, have the power to influence conspicuously the character of education so as to produce a definite type of national life. Many of the important nations of the past have, trough state aid, established, encouraged, and controlled to a greater or less extent their educational institutions, — elementary, secondary, and especially higher. They have likewise fostered and protected libraries, art, literature, and science. Their purpose was to raise the tone of national life, to train leaders for service in church and state, and to teach men their duties to the state, to each other, and to themselves.

In the United States, however, from the founding of the colonies until the present time, education has not been in the hands of the central government. During the colonial period of our history each colony acted independently, in this matter, and when our Constitution was framed the States retained the power to regulate education. Moreover, during the colonial period and until the second quarter of the 19th century, with few exceptions, both colonies and States left the subject almost wholly in the power of the local units of government, of which the district was the most characteristic, or trusted to private or other agencies. This led to extreme variations in educational ideals, institutions, and practices, with the result that the direct influence of education on national, as distinguished from State or local life, was small. By this we mean there was little tendency to educate the individual in a way to prepare him for efficient citizenship, with an appreciation of his duties and obligations toward the nation. Indeed this was hardly possible until there was a realization that the local communities were to become parts of a great whole or until the national spirit was born. Since a political basis for national education was lacking schools were maintained largely for the moral and religious development of communities, and the preservation of learning for its own sake. After the State systems were formed there was some improvement, but educational policies and institutions were necessarily largely determined by local or sectional needs.

In spite of this diversity, it is true that gradually the spirit of American education, and to a considerable extent its forms, have tended toward uniformity, with a correspondingly greater influence on national development. This tendency is due to the action of much the same forces that led to the substitution of the principle of union and nationalism for particularism. In the case of education the process has been voluntary, without the compelling force of general laws issued by the central government. In other words the individual States have been guided by similar ideals and forms of education, because they best express the needs of their people. The more the various sections of the country became one in spirit and institutions, the more the State systems of education have tended to become similar in spirit, practice, and form.

Before the American Revolution two movements or forces prepared the way for a greater influence of education on national development. First, the tendency to recognize the responsibility of the state for education, rather than some other agency like the Church or agencies of a private character. This notion appeared first in 1647, in the legislation establishing the educational system of Massachusetts. Second, those forces tending toward the sentiment for and feeling of nationality, based on common political institutions and language, literature, habits of thought, aspirations, and especially on the influence of environment in producing democratic tendencies.

The American Revolution was the first great event which increased the influence of education on national development. It stimulated a desire for institutions which would express national rather than local needs, and placed emphasis on subjects expressing national rather than local sentiments. The Revolution hastened the decline of the Latin Grammar School, already an institution failing to meet the needs of the generation before the Revolution, and ushered in the Academy, a secondary institution, better suited to the needs of the people and more democratic in aim, type and distribution than was the Latin Grammar School. The Academy was the forerunner of the still more democratic institution of the next generation, the public High School. The Revolution also stimulated an interest in English, the mother tongue, which was the beginning of serious study of this subject. It stimulated patriotic sentiments which led to an interest in our national history and hence the study of history and civics, the foundation of political education.

With the formation of our first national government, the Congress of the Confederation passed the first act that emphasized the national aspect of education. This was the Grayson land ordinance of 1785, which provided for the reservation of lot number 16 of every township as surveyed, in the newly-acquired western territory, for the maintenance of public schools within the township. The ordinance for the government of the Northwest Territory, 13 July 1787, contained an important article, number three, which reads, — “Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.” On 23 and 27 July Congress not only provided for the sale of land to the Ohio Company and authorized the reservation of land, lot number 16, in each township, for schools, but also provided the two townships demanded by the company “for the support of a literary institution.” The precedent thus established was followed, and in all territory later included in the public domain, reservations for elementary and higher education were made in a similar manner. Thus provision was made for the endowment of the State universities, a type of educational institution that has had great influence on national development.

Later the Congress of the national government granted additional tracts of land to the western States for educational purposes, culminating in the Morrill act of 1862. This act provided for large grants of land to each State to endow “at least one college where the leading objects shall be, without excluding other scientific and classical studies, and including military tactics, to teach such branches of learning as are related to agriculture and the mechanic arts, in such manner as the legislatures of the States may respectively prescribe, in order to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in the several pursuits and professions in life.” The importance of this attitude of the Federal government toward education consists in the fact that it is an acknowledgment that the Federal government has a right and duty toward national education, notwithstanding the delegation of the power to the States. The educational institutions resulting from these acts have had great influence on our national development.

In the second quarter of the 19th century the forces engendered by the industrial revolution reacted on education. The rise of manufacturing, the factory system, the new grouping of population, and the humanitarian and democratic movements following, brought insistent demands for free elementary and secondary education at public expense. It is principally from this period, 1830 on, that education has had an increasing influence on national life. This relationship was further stimulated by improvements in intercommunication, by means of the steamboat and the railroad, and in agencies for the transfer of intelligence, the newspapers, libraries, telegraph and telephone.

The public school has been the chief instrument for influencing national life. The State systems of public instruction have as their basic idea, that it is the duty of the State to make education available and free for all, at public expense. Other principles gradually adopted include State support and administration, compulsory attendance and supervision, and fixed standards for the subject matter of the curriculum and for qualifications of teachers. The tendency toward uniformity in these matters has made it possible for public education to influence greatly national development. One important effect for example, has been the secularization of public education, and hence a marked decrease in the religious element in the curriculum, and a decline in the influence of church supported schools. After the middle of the 19th century legislation prevented public funds, with few exceptions, from being used to promote sectarian education.

Public education has also reacted in a way to give a certain mental attitude to the nation. As America has been a synonym for opportunity, and freedom for the development of the human spirit, public education has absorbed this spirit and emphasized methods of instruction which encourage individual initiative and independence of thought. This attitude tends to perpetuate the spirit of democracy and opposition to autocratic political systems.

The development and extension of the notion of public democratic education has been most important in its influence on national life. The reasons for, and justification of, the principle are as follows: First, the basis of free institutions in any nation is the intelligence and integrity of its citizens. Our government in the last analysis is based on public opinion, and it is only through an enlightened public opinion that the permanency and success of the Republic are possible. The more universally the people are educated, the less need there is of restraint, and the greater is the check against corruption or unwise legislation by representatives.

Public education directly affects national development, because through this agency national interests are best promoted. With the extension of the suffrage and the tendency to place the government more and more on the hands of the people, or their directly elected representatives, both voters and leaders needed education to act intelligently. Again, public education promotes national well-being, because it leads to greater economic efficiency, and hence greater national wealth. It promotes industry because it awakens desires for more and better goods. It promotes discoveries and inventions. It leads to greater social efficiency because it reduces crime, and turns thought in the direction of social service. As patriotism is essential for the preservation of the nation, public schools become the principal means of teaching pupils their duties and obligations to the State, as well as their rights and liberties. Public education leads to more rapid progress, as civilization can advance permanently only as the mass advances. Public schools give opportunity to teach the masses to appreciate and desire the best in literature, art, and music. In short national life as a whole could hardly be enriched to any great extent except through public education. Finally, education has as its chief aim the formation of character, and hence the national character can be best formed through the public school. It has for its aim the promotion of the educational and moral development of the masses — the ethical as well as the material aspects of life.

In spite of the many ways in which public education has influenced national development, it falls far short of what is possible. After all is said, the State systems of public instruction, in their origin, development and present conditions, tend to express very largely the local or sectional needs of the communities in which they are placed. The educational policies adopted are not primarily national in character, nor in harmony with each other. There is too much variation in types of educational institutions, emphasis or lack of emphasis on various kinds of education, and attention paid to the problems of national life. This nation, like others, was developed through conflicts, three in particular; the American Revolution, the Mexican War, and the Civil War. Each left prejudices which have been perpetuated in our educational system, the first against England, the second against Mexico and Latin America in general, and the third the antagonism between the North and the South, still persceptible in certain features of the education in the two sections. The first two prejudices interfere with our international relations and intercourse, causing a lack of sympathetic knowledge of the progress and problems of England and Latin America. These prejudices affect teaching of history in the public schools, as well as geography, and lead to provincialism from the standpoint of the relation of the United States to world conditions. The third prejudice affects particularly the teaching of history and tends to perpetuate the disintegrating force of the Civil War, because it interferes with national unity. All these difficulties are inherent in the State systems of public instruction; but could be remedied in large part through greater national control or by the placing of emphasis on problems of national life.

Another serious fault of our public system of education is its failure to give equal opportunity to all sections and classes. The more backward sections, or those less fortunate in their economic life, cannot give the same opportunities for education as the more advanced and wealthy sections. From the standpoint of the influence of education on national life this is unfortunate. To nationalize education in this respect, it is proposed that the national government should equalize these variations so that part of the wealth of the whole people will be available for those portions of the country not able to develop public education to the highest standard.

It is proposed that the national government should consider not only the matter of support but also that of control, at least so far as to establish minimum standards of education and teaching, and to develop the principles on which public education should be based. For to promote national in place of local, provincial, and sectional development and interests, the principles must be determined at one centre, and not at 48 centres. It is recognized that this will be even more necessary in the future, because of the revolution in the industrial and social systems of the country, and the great importance of national development and life in connection with the world interests and responsibilities of the nation. As the old notions of State rights have been overthrown in the economic and political world, and as the nation has taken over many of the early powers of the States in these respects in order to gain greater efficiency in national development, so it is proposed that the same policy should be pursued in the matter of education. For it is only through the resources of the whole nation that the expense of nationalizing education can be met, and only through national control can those principles and minimum standards be established which will best promote national interests.

A third weakness of the public school system under individual State control is the failure to hold a good proportion of the pupils for the full course in both elementary and secondary schools, and to train them efficiently. About two-thirds of the pupils, boys and girls, leave the public school before they reach the age of 14, and enter industrial, commercial, and agricultural pursuits poorly trained. Hardly 1 per cent of the 12 or more millions of persons engaged in agriculture have received adequate training for this pursuit. Much the same can be said of the 14 millions engaged in manufacturing and mechanical pursuits. Similarly the State systems make for great inequality in the teaching force. Of the 212,000 teachers for rural schools nearly one-third have an education in quality below the ninth grade, and another one-third not above the 10th grade. That is, 150,000 out of 212,000 rural teachers have inadequate preparation for teaching and the remaining one-third have only an average high school course with one or two years of normal school training. Here again it is only through greater national aid and control that we can secure the greatest influence of public education on national development.

Recent tendencies in American public education have tended to emphasize still further the close relationship of education and national life. There is more and more effort to make education richer and broader; to provide more opportunities for the masses for a complete education from the kindergarten through the university; to increase the number and variety of agencies and institutions for education and development, such as playgrounds, lectures, continuation schools, correspondence, evening, and summer schools; to use school plants as community centres; to extend the benefits of free education not only to all children but to all the people; to pass beyond the older conceptions of moral and book education, to new types; to emphasize physical education, involving not only physical training but free medical examination and care of health — in short, to develop the physical as completely and with as much care as the mental being; to give opportunity not only for general education but also for types that will fit for specific vocations, and to provide special teachers for vocational guidance in order to help pupils select the vocation for which they are best adapted. A demand for a special type of education, military education, is due to the emergency brought on by the world war; but it is advocated by many as a necessary and permanent kind, in order to provide for national safety. It is evident that these tendencies are certain to have important effects on our national life. The effort to extend the control of the national government over education, through the proposal to create a department of education with a cabinet officer, is another plan to relate education still more closely to national life.

Bibliography. — Blackmar, Frank W., ‘History of Federal and State Aid to Higher Education in the United States’ (Washington 1890); Carlton, Frank T., ‘Economic Influences upon Educational Progress in the United States, 1820-1850’ (Madison, Wis., 1908}; Jenks, Jeremiah W., ‘Citizenship and the Schools’ (New York 1906); Judd, Charles H., ‘Evolution of a Democratic System of Education’ (Boston 1918); ‘New Possibilities in Education’ (Annals of American Academy of Political and Social Science, Vol. LXVII, Philadelphia, September 1916); articles by various authors.

Associate Professor of History, University of Chicago.