Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ever Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools

B Y   J A  M  I  E   R O B E R  T   V O L  L  M  E R

America’s public schools can be traced back to the year 1640. The Massachusetts Puritans
established schools to:
1) Teach basic reading, some writing and arithmetic skills, and
2) Cultivate values that serve a democratic society (some history and civics implied).

The founders of these schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child.  Gradually, science and geography were added, but the curriculum was limited and remained focused for 260 years. At the beginning of the twentieth century, however, politicians, academics, members of the clergy, and business leaders saw public schools as a logical site for the assimilation of immigrants and the social engineering of the citizens—and workers—of the new industrial age. They began to expand the curriculum and assign additional duties.

That trend has accelerated ever since.

From 1900 to 1910, we shifted to our public schools responsibilities related to
Health (Activities in the health arena multiply every year.)

From 1910 to 1930, we added
Physical education (including organized athletics)
The Practical Arts/Domestic Science/Home economics (including sewing and cooking)
Vocational education (including industrial and agricultural education)
Mandated school transportation
In the 1940s, we added
Business education (including typing, shorthand, and bookkeeping)
Art and music
Speech and drama
Half-day kindergarten
School lunch programs (We take this for granted today, but it was a huge step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America’s children one third of their daily meals.)
In the 1950s, we added
Expanded science and math education
Safety education
Driver’s education
Expanded music and art education
Stronger foreign language requirements
Sex education (Topics continue to escalate.)
In the 1960s, we added
Advanced Placement programs
Head Start
Title I
Adult education
Consumer education (purchasing resources, rights and responsibilities)
Career education (occupational options, entry level skill requirements)
Peace, leisure, and recreation education [Loved those sixties.]

In the 1970s, the breakup of the American family accelerated, and we added
Drug and alcohol abuse education
Parenting education (techniques and tools for healthy parenting)
Behavior adjustment classes (including classroom and communication skills)
Character education
Special education (mandated by federal government)
Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls)
Environmental education
Women’s studies
African-American heritage education
School breakfast programs (Now some schools feed America’s children two-thirds of their daily meals throughout the school year and all summer. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)

In the 1980s, the floodgates opened, and we added
Keyboarding and computer education
Global education
Multicultural/Ethnic education
Nonsexist education
English-as-a-second-language and bilingual education
Teen pregnancy awareness
Hispanic heritage education
Early childhood education
Jump Start, Early Start, Even Start, and Prime Start
Full-day kindergarten
Preschool programs for children at risk
After-school programs for children of working parents
Alternative education in all its forms
Stranger/danger education
Antismoking education
Sexual abuse prevention education
Expanded health and psychological services
Child abuse monitoring (a legal requirement for all teachers)

In the 1990s, we added
Conflict resolution and peer mediation
HIV/AIDS education
CPR training
Death education
America 2000 initiatives (Republican)
Expanded computer and internet education
Distance learning
Tech Prep and School to Work programs
Technical Adequacy
Post-secondary enrollment options
Concurrent enrollment options
Goals 2000 initiatives (Democrat)
Expanded Talented and Gifted opportunities
At risk and dropout prevention
Homeless education (including causes and effects on children)
Gang education (urban centers)
Service learning
Bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education

In the first decade of the twenty-first century, we have added
No Child Left Behind (Republican)
Bully prevention
Anti-harassment policies (gender, race, religion, or national origin)
Expanded early childcare and wrap around programs
Elevator and escalator safety instruction
Body Mass Index evaluation (obesity monitoring)
Organ donor education and awareness programs
Personal financial literacy
Entrepreneurial and innovation skills development
Media literacy development
Contextual learning skill development
Health and wellness programs
Race to the Top (Democrat)

This list does not include the addition of multiple, specialized topics within each of the traditional subjects. It also does not include the explosion of standardized testing and test prep activities, or any of the onerous reporting requirements imposed by the federal government, such as four-year adjusted cohort graduation rates, parental notification of optional supplemental services, comprehensive restructuring plans, and reports of Adequate Yearly Progress.

It’s a ponderous list.
Each item has merit, and all have their ardent supporters, but the truth is that we have added these responsibilities without adding a single minute to the school calendar in six decades. No generation of teachers and administrators in the history of the world has been told to fulfill this mandate: not just teach children, but raise them!

© 2011 Jamie Vollmer  |  To purchase this list in poster form or to invite Jamie to speak visit www.jamievollmer.com

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