What is the Purpose of Public Schools?

Public school is never something I was a part of until college. I was fortunate enough to attend private school from kindergarten through high school. My parents thought religion was very important and I should have a strong foundation of my faith before I ventured out in this great wide open space, the world. I can honestly say I received a stellar education. I had great teachers that went above and beyond for me, beyond the role of their definition of being a teacher. I never had a bad teacher (who I would consider bad) until I went to college. It was a public college called University of California, Riverside. It was honestly kind of a culture shock. Suddenly instead of my whole school worshipping in the gymnasium with a huge band it became an acoustic guitar on the first floor of some chemistry building tucked away in the back of the school. My teachers that made themselves available for you at 10pm at night suddenly became professors who put haphazard lectures together last minute, scheduled office hours at 6am, and never returned emails. Having attended both, I wonder, what is the purpose of public school education? It has changed over time to what it is today, but the general ideas of equality and education standards are prevalent in the school system today.

Public education’s original purpose was to provide education for children in cities.  It was only available in big cities and only more rural cities had access to teachers by pitching in funds to hire one. These became the original dame schools (Mondale, 2001). At this time, most of the schools had a foundation of religious belief and were focused around the teachings of the bible. The inability to access education basically made it only available to the wealthy, widening the income gap, and educating children to be the replacements of their parents in the workforce, but nothing greater. When Thomas Jefferson saw that all these people were being educated just to the point of being able to read the bible, newspaper, and do their own taxes, he saw the future of a democratic America in peril. He wrote into law thjeffersonat everyone was to attend three years of public school to be able to learn the history of America and its freedom, to promote democracy, and educate people because we now elect our own leaders (Mondale, 2001). This makes sense. The founding fathers worked so hard to attain liberty from Britain and they wanted every generation to know this history. He wrote this into law in order to protect it and elect leaders who could push America to be better and to push its people to do better.

After Jefferson, Horace Mann saw the purpose of public schools as a means of improving society but also as a way to create equality among everyone, rural and urban. When he first became the Secretary of Education, he saw that the first schools varied in quality and teachers had no training. Citizens no longer wanted to pay the taxes that supported these dilapidated one room shacks (Mondale, 2001). Mann came up with the Common School movement, which would have a common body of knowledge and create equality among all schools. Slowly a state by state effort started to improve the public schools to create equality among the classes (Goldstein 24). This public effort to improve schools helped promote the “American Dream” idea by encouraging children of all wealth class to study and be the best they could be.

The purpose of public schools today is slightly more complicated than to just provide an education to everyone and educate children to be knowledgeable citizens of democracy. These original points brought about by the forefathers of education still stand today, but questions remain about whether they can do more. Today, educators debate how far the public school education system should go in educating children. How much should public education be involved? As John Green asks, “Do you only prepare students for the work force or should they get a wider education in the arts and the sciences?” As more social issues arose in the 1960’s and the government offered funding in exchange for a hand in education in the form of Common Core, public education’s purpose evolved and continues to evolve today (Green, 2013). As educators discuss how much and what will be implemented in their schools, the purpose of public school education and its limits is continually being talked about. Public school was originally created to educate everyone with equality and a common body of language, but today, growing government pressures and social changes in society are changing the landscape of public schools. As the landscape of America changes with the growing needs of children today, the purpose and function of public school education will continue to change as well.

Goldstein, D. (2014). The teacher wars: A history of America’s most embattled profession. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Green, J. (2013). What is the Purpose of Public Education Today? Retrieved September 07, 2016, from http://fauquierfreecitizen.com/what-is-the-purpose-of-public-education-today/

Patton, S. & Mondale, S. (Producers), & Mondale, S. (Director). (2001). School: The story of American public education [Documentary] . United States: Stone Lantern Films. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL00795BC38B4368D4

Tilus, G. (n.d.). Rasmussen College. Retrieved September 06, 2016, from http://www.rasmussen.edu/student-life/blogs/main/educational-quotes-from-our-founding-fathers/ (Image provided)