Personal Reflections of the History and Social Foundations of American Education


Events that support the view that schools have supported eductional equality

Quakers' Friends Schools

Approx. 1650 - 2014

"Education was duly appreciated in Pennsylvania as an essential element of public prosperity and happiness," posited Janney. "Within a year from the landing of Penn, the governor and council engaged the services of Enoch Flower to open a school in Philadelphia; and in the year 1689, the Proprietary wrote to Thomas Lloyd, President of the council, instructing him to set up a Grammar school, which he promised to incorporate. This gave rise to the 'Friends' Public School,' which was incorporated in 1697, confirmed by a fresh patent in 1701, and by another charter in 1708. Quakers strongly believed in equality in education. "Between 1774 and 1787 Quakers had built several schools for African American children," explained Geoffrey Haward Martin (1928-2007), a respected British historian and Keeper of the Public Records for the United Kingdom. "1787 also marked the first year of active support in the 'Underground Railroad.' The Quakers also utilized the Haitian revolution of 1794 to lobby against the importation of slaves to the southern plantations.",_the_early_quakers/924490

Benjamin Franklin

1706 - 1790

Believed in self-eduction for practical utility and championed educational opportunity for all who wanted to learn (Pulliam, 2013).

Thomas Jefferson academic excellence with equality of opportunity for all

1743 - 1826

Argued that no democracy can safely exist without an educated population. Called for free elementary schools and secondary schools with scholarships available to boys who were gifted, but poor.

Events that support the view that schools serve interests of middle-class whites

Maryland passes a law making lifelong servitude for black slaves mandatory


Maryland passes a law making lifelong servitude for black slaves mandatory to prevent them from taking advantage of legal precedents established in England which grant freedom under certain conditions, such as conversion to Christianity. Similar laws are later passed in New York, New Jersey, the Carolinas and Virginia.

Thomas Jefferson academic excellence with equality and opportunity for all

1743 - 1826

Except females and persons of color.

I am aware of vestiges of Jefferson's protectionism still in existence in our public school systems, in our politics, in business operations, and in the social consciousness of our mainstream culture and in our marginalized segments of the American landscape. We have come a long way since the days when we could not own property or vote, but it remains an obvious variable in today's classrooms and board meetings, as I can see it whenever I have my mixed gender students form groups and whenever I observe mixed gender community organizational events and round table business discussions. Not only is it promoted, probably unconsciously by males; it is promoted by females, as well.

Failed nationalism on the education front after Revolutionary War

1787 - 2014

Founding fathers made no provision for education in the constitution and assumed responsibility and under the Tenth Amendment, responsibility fell to the states by default.

John Dewey: Democracy and education

1859 - 2014

"John Dewey believed that the promise of humanity was limitless, and that the purpose of education was to provide people with the skills and knowledge to use this potential to be the best that they could be as individuals. By being
the best possible individuals, the best possible (global) society could be built. However, he also believed that humanity had limitless potential in a less positive direction: the limitless potential to demoralize and promote violence. He saw this potential for harm in the problems of racism, ethnocentrism, in the class system that capitalism promoted, and also in the manner in which schools taught their students. According to Dewey, the solution to these problems was an education that promoted democracy and peace. The focus on democracy came from the belief that democracy was the best model for the positive growth of individuals and society."

I sometimes think that Dewey's writings were misconstrued, for while he championed civic duty, I don't think he championed it in the form of an indoctrination to nationalism as is found in the daily tradition of the "Pledge of Allegiance," which students must recite on a daily basis beginning in kindergarten. Many see this as the installment of pride for our country and respectful obedience to authority, but I cannot help but compare it to the allegiance North Korean must pledge to their country and the same type of allegiance that Nazi school children pledged to the "Fatherland." It's a tradition my conscience nor my spiritual nature is comfortable with, as it is a tradition that seems to go hand in hand with manifest destiny and empire building, without a national conscience to guide it.

Involuntary segregation

1865 - 2014

The freeing of the slaves established separate schools for blacks with low public support and funding; hence, an inferior education. Even with the ruling in Brown v. Board of Education (1955), segregation de facto remains a serious reality for non-white populations in this country.

I credit much of this with Terman's and Galton's eugenics theory of superior intelligence among certain races and ethic groups, and, as with other blueprints that have formed our national psyche, I can clearly see that its tendrils still reach out and suck many of us into personal biases that are very difficult to break free from. It saddens me whenever I walk into the university center and see clusters of black students, clusters of white students, and clusters of Middle Eastern students separating themselves with as many feet and tables as they possibly can. That is neither an image of a melting pot or of a beautifully, intricately laid mosaic. I find that sad, as it resembles nothing at all similar to the richly woven fabric of diversity I related when I described Wilmington, Delaware's diverse landscape.

Manifest Destiny

Approx. 1870 - Approx. 2014

Click link to view video:
A clip from the film "Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden" showing the dark history of the use of "education" to dominate and destroy traditional cultures.

This is not the manifest destiny we teach in our textbooks. The manifest destiny we teach in our textbooks herald Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders are our greatest heroes. Not once do our textbooks mention the fact that 500,000 innocent Filipinos were slaughtered; we are presented only with the romanticism of brave heroes on horseback spreading democracy into the most primitive islands and poorest economies.

Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden

Approx. 1900 - 2014
If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it?

You would change the way it educates its children.

The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a "better" life for indigenous children.

But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture's way of learning and understanding the world with our own? Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world's last sustainable indigenous cultures.

"Generations from now, we'll look back and say, 'How could we have done this kind of thing to people?'"


1926 - 1984

Exerted a major influence on Postmodernism; argued that notions of truth originate in historical contexts and create relationships of power in cultures, institutions, and social systems.

Who has ever heard of Foucault, prior to this class, or in classes similar to it? Another deliberate delineation in our public school systems? This affects me today, as I feel that to introduce him to my own students can be inferred as something ridiculously akin to communism in their minds, if I do. This frustrates me.

Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden

Approx. 1970 - Approx. 2014

To see video, click link:
If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it?

You would change the way it educates its children.

The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th century when it forced Native American children into government boarding schools. Today, volunteers build schools in traditional societies around the world, convinced that school is the only way to a "better" life for indigenous children.

But is this true? What really happens when we replace a traditional culture's way of learning and understanding the world with our own? Schooling the World: The White Man's Last Burden takes a challenging, sometimes funny, ultimately deeply disturbing look at the effects of modern education on the world's last sustainable indigenous cultures.

"Generations from now, we'll look back and say, 'How could we have done this kind of thing to people?'"

Influences of capitalism

Middle Colonies

1630 - 1776

NY,PA, NJ, DE believed that commerce and trade worked better in an open society, so the middle colonies became a safe haven for all persons escaping religious persecution.
(Pulliam, 2013)

I hail from Pennsylvania, so I experienced a bit of a culture shock when I moved to Tennessee in 1994. The South still clings to the tattered remnant s of the antebellum; however, I suspect that the North's treatment and attempts of total annihilation of Southern traditions during the post-bell um era have much to do with this.


1820 - 1903

Educational theorist who was a strong supporter of capitalism; believed hat a free market woul.d result in greater efficiency and productivity

Education and the Industrial Revolution

1830 - Approx. 1980

Secondary education became critical to prepare students for factory work and the "industrial working class became a political factor" (Pulliam, 2013, p. 143). Working man organizations and unions formed and gave support to public education (Pulliam, 2013).

Influences of religious sectarianism

Anne Hutchinson is banished from Massachusetts for nonconformist religious views that advocate personal revelation over the role of the clergy.


The Puritan ethics and the "Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647"


Old Deluder Satan Act of 1647 - The Old Deluder Satan Act was passed in Massachusetts of 1647. It was one of America's first education acts, and it required that all towns of 50 or more families to
provide an elementary school, where teachers were required to teach, not only reading and writing, but the bible as well. Towns that held 100 or more families were required to have grammer schools. This was a school where students focused mostly on latin and greek. The puritans believed that if their children read and studied the bible enough, then
they would be able to resist evil temptations, and avoid sinners.
This act was a way for the local community to ensure that education was passed from one generation to the next. Puritans, also, wanted to avoid having a generation of poor and unintelligent people, and in order to keep that from happening, they made sure that every citizen got enough education to read so that they could understand the laws and read the bible. Life in the 1600's was based on religion and their laws came from the bible.

Maryland Toleration Act


We carry on this tradition of religious diversity as it applies to Christianity, but we carry the lack of tolerance for other religious beliefs into our modern classrooms and school yards, as the debate of teaching creationism to our students does not extend to creationism as found in eastern or middle eastern religious belief systems.

Influences of secularism

Massachusettes Constitution grants Harvard College university status


The Massachusetts Constitution went into effect and officially recognized Harvard as a university. The first medical instruction given to Harvard students in 1781 and the founding of the Medical School in 1782 made it a university in fact as well as name.

Influences of nationalism

Puritan values

Approx. 1600 - Approx. 2014

Respect for authority, postponing immediate gratification, neatness, punctuality, responsibility for one's own work, honesty, patriotism and loyalty, striving for personal achievement, competition, repression of aggression and overt sexual expression, respect for the rights and property others, obeying rules and regulations (Pulliam, 2013, pp. 108-109)

We profess these ideologies, but they are not present in our own or in our students' demeanor. This is a hypocrisy that I am ashamed of witnessing on a daily basis, as it has set us up to feel superior to others due to traits that we don't even possess ourselves, for the most part.

Noah Webster's conservative federalism

1758 - 2014

"Later works stressed religious morality, respect for government, and a patriotism that sometimes bordered upon the fanatic" (Pulliam, 2013, p. 125)

I can still observe the effects of Webster's form of conservative federalism in today's history textbooks that have delineated some of our ancestors' most important roles in creating change in education and in social reforms. An example that immediately comes to mind is that every child knows that Helen Keller was mute and deaf, but it is a rare student who has been exposed to the fact that she led the suffrage movement in the early 1900's and was imprisoned more than once. She also was active in the workers' organizations and spoke on their behalf at national conventions. Yet, our textbooks ignore this great lady's contributions to society and her greatest achievements, and instead give Woodward Wilson credit for women's right to vote. He was against it; he passed it only because he advisers warned him that he would not be re-elected if he didn't. This is the gravest ill I see in our education system today: a population that does not truly know its roots or of the struggles its ancestors went through to win for us the rights we take for granted.

Large influx of immigrants demanded a concept of "Americanization"

1820 - 2014

One-third of population in some cities was foreign born by 1845 and nationalism grew into an adopted principle that schools should instill patriotism - a love and respect for America (Pulliam, 2013).



"On Palm Sunday (April 9), 1865, Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, Virginia signaled the end of the Southern States attempt to create a separate nation. It set the stage for the emergence of an expanded and more powerful Federal government. In a sense the struggle over how much power the central government would hold had finally been settled."

Pearl Harbor


"Much of the social warfare between the United States and Japan involved instilling within their people both a strong nationalistic pride for their own country as well as an incendiary hatred for the other. This was done with the help of the media—newspapers, books, radio, and film—that were consequently used as propaganda against the enemy. Much of the material was racist and catered to such ideas as racial inferiority and ethnic supremacy. One’s own nation was always the civilized one while the enemy was depicted as barbaric, sub-human, and in some cases, demonic.

he United States was not fighting Japan simply because of their surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor. There are even those who might say that the attack really should not have come as much of a surprise at all, that the United States methodically provoked the Japanese to attack in order to give the United States a reason to jump into the war. Up until that point, the United States had only moderately contributed on the European front, and was looking for a way to join in the fight. The reasons for the United States entering the war vary, and it would be difficult to argue that they entered the war for any one sole reason. One explanation is for economic reasons. The war created jobs and boosted domestic industry. In Asian, Japan was building a stronghold of Asian nations that included China, Korea, and also the Philippines, which the United States had vested interest in and to whom they were still a major influence. The United States still had valuable assets that they needed to protect in Asia, as did European nations, such as Great Britain and France who still held colonies in Singapore, Hong Kong, and French Indochina. "

Influences of intellectual and cultural diversity

John Locke

1632 - 1704

Emphasized experience, good study habits, a utilitarian curriculum, and a commonsense reality in American education. (Pulliam, 2013)

Public funds for Harvard College


First College in American colonies founded. The “Great and General Court of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England” approves £400 for the establishment of “a schoale or colledge” later to be called “Harvard.”

Roger Williams founds Providence and Rhode Island


Williams had been banished from Massachusetts for "new and dangerous opinions" calling for religious and political freedoms, including separation of church and state, not granted under the Puritan rules. Providence then becomes a haven for many other colonists fleeing religious intolerance.

Rhode Island enacts the first law in the colonies declaring slavery illegal.


The American Philosophical Society is founded in Philadelphia by Ben Franklin and his associates

1743 - 2014

The American Philosophical Society, the oldest learned society in the United States, was founded in 1743 by Benjamin Franklin for the purpose of “promoting useful knowledge.” In the 21st century the Society sustains this mission in three principal ways. It honors and engages distinguished scientists, humanists, social scientists, and leaders in civic and cultural affairs through elected membership and opportunities for interdisciplinary, intellectual fellowship, particularly in the semi-annual Meetings in Philadelphia. It supports research and discovery through grants and fellowships, lectures, publications, prizes, exhibitions, and public education. It serves scholars through a research library of manuscripts and other collections internationally recognized for their enduring historic value. The American Philosophical Society’s current activities reflect the founder’s spirit of inquiry, provide a forum for the free exchange of ideas, and convey the conviction of its members that intellectual inquiry and critical thought are inherently in the public interest. Revised May 2008