When formalized mandatory education in this country began, students were not required to attend school during the summer months. At that time, our country was still primarily agrarian in nature, and many children were necessary to assist in the chores of the family farm. Therefore, “summer vacation” really wasn’t a vacation. It mean laboring in the fields for most of the children, and a time of unemployment for teachers. The goal of this educational experience wasn’t to get “a better job” or be able to develop “specialized skills” one would need for the workplace. It was to ensure the existence of an erudite electorate, able to read and write so that they could properly vote for representation in government. Higher education prepared those able to master the basics to speak eloquently, using the skills of debate and rhetoric, and learning in matters of law and the sciences, to represent constituencies, draft, argue and pass legislation, and provide leadership to a nation struggling to gain attention as a viable government of the world.
Has any of that changed today? You betcha!
We still have summer vacation. Is it because school prepares students for the workplace? If so, that means that upon entering the workplace, students may expect to be able to take time off during June, July or August whenever they can. As a society, do we still have it because all students have to help their families take care of the chores on their farm? And, of course, students are proficient at reading and writing so that as today’s adults, they can nominate and evaluate candidates running for public office, with everyone exercising their civic duty to vote for those who they feel will provide the best leadership for their community, their state, and their federal government.
If we’re preparing students for the workplace they will enter, rife with technology with an emphasis on STEM education and the need to communicate on a globally connected and influenced stage, then why are we still emphasizing “choose the correct answer” rather than “examine all possible outcomes” in the assessment of their learning?
In the public school, educational standards were “locally” driven, so that those being educated could provide the best possible impact on their local community. After all, our culture at the time was not mobile, and kids grew up and, for the most part, stayed near, or even with, their families. Then, as transportation began to impact society, “local” standards became “state” standards. More students became aware and qualified for higher education opportunities, and the specializations of industry required advanced learning as well as experience in their fields. Consequently, structural engineers needed for projects in California relocated from New York. As job demands continued to escalate the need for additional expertise, a focus on “national” standards began to take shape, especially since, with the growth of transportation, if talent couldn’t be found within our nation to provide what companies were looking for, they began to look beyond our national borders.
While we’re not at the point of the “government school” just yet, initiatives like “No Child Left Behind” and “Common Core Curriculum” are proffered by national leaders with the hope that states will adopt them, and provide monetary incentives to do so. Where do those incentives come from? If they’re from taxes, that means they come from “the public.” It will do us good to remember, as we prepare to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War on June 2, 2015, that our national government is still “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”