The Evolution of Education During the Progressive Era Essay

The end of the nineteenth century brought an explosion of change to American culture. This change came in the form of economic opportunities, massive immigration, and social reforms. As society progressed into a deeper state of industrialism, Americans adapted to a new way of life that accompanied the flourishing industries. Amid the economic and political changes that were occurring during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, social issues began to surface and called for a diverse array of reforms.

Among the wide range of social problems that Americans sought to address was the issue of education. The schools began to experience a paradigm shift within the classroom. The classroom was evolving into an environment that would appropriately prepare American children for the shifting culture that was transpiring outside the school. The purpose of the classroom underwent a transformation in the early 1900s as new classroom practices were adopted that focused largely on the development of the student not only academically, but also socially.

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Educational ideology entered into a period of transformation in which American citizens began to view the classroom as an environment that was student centered. There was a paradigm shift in regards to the type of learners that children were, as well as how to best teach them. They were no longer viewed as passive, but rather active learners, who were best taught by women, and responded more appropriately to positive reinforcement as opposed to stern discipline. The curriculum was also viewed as something that needed to not rely wholly on books, but rather incorporate elements of the world outside the classroom.

American citizens began to focus more on the role of the public school and the impact it had on society. The public school evolved into an institution focused on not only academic instruction, but also the development of skills that were necessary to instigate, as well as adapt to the cultural changes that were taking place. An emphasis on a student-centered approach to classroom instruction was one of the fundamental changes the occurred during the education reform movement. Reformers were relying on the ideas of philosophers such as Locke and Dewey who challenged traditional views of children.

Their views held that a child was capable of change and improvement through the methods of education, and the most effective method of properly determining a suitable process of education was through observing the individual child. It was during this time that the early pedagogical idea of teaching in a manner that addresses the individual needs of the student began to flourish in schools across America. One of the most significant roles that the school would play during the late 1800s and early 1900s was that of an institution focused on “Americanizing” incoming immigrants.

The school was seen as the ideal place to transform the minds and character of newly arrived immigrant children. Amid reforms that focused on the student and meeting their individual needs, Americans believed that through the use of education they could create respectable American citizens out of the immigrant children. The influx of immigrants brought a mass of diverse cultures and traditions, so America relied on the school as a means of imparting American values, ideals and beliefs into the minds of the newcomers.

The teacher, as well as the students, could cultivate within each foreign child the true American spirit and a full understanding of American citizenship. This included full instruction in the English language, an understanding of American history, and “embracing democratic principles, attitudes, and behaviors. ” Reformers and citizens disagreed over the methods that should be used to educate the newcomers; however, Americans were united in their belief that American education for new immigrants was necessary in order to force the abandonment of past cultures and create new Americans out of the immigrants.

This paralleled the progressive idea that the school was an agent that created well-rounded citizens out of its students. By promoting American ideals and traditions in the classroom, teachers were able to establish American principles in all of their students and better prepare them to be respectable American citizens upon leaving the confines of the classroom. Prior to the educational reforms that took place in the late nineteenth century, the school was viewed as a place where children were given a thorough understanding of several specific subject matters, such as Math, Science, and English.

With the reforms, schools emphasized the development of the child as a whole. During this nineteenth and twentieth century, those studying this paradigm shift believed that the change had “been due not so much to any theoretical recognition of the wider meanings of education, as to the practical necessities which the growing complexities of modern life have thrust upon education leaders. ” The school was now a place that was viewed as an institution of progress. According to early reformers of the late nineteenth century education system, the school was an utlet for meeting four prominent needs. Charles Robbins describes the school as a place where social traditions and cultures could be controlled. The second role of the school was that of training men and women to be successful leaders. The school provided an equal opportunity to reach beyond the boundaries of education and develop citizens who would be innovative and problem solvers. Robbins also believed the school was a means of national defense and prosperity; a place where economic development can occur and the nation could fight against poverty.

Lastly, he felt the school was an instrument of social reform and progress. He viewed education and the school as a place where students could look to the past to bring about social change and future advancement. As a social institution, the school had three distinct ways in which it contributed to training students to interact socially with one another and prepared them for the future. According to Irving King, the school was a mechanism of preserving culture and allowing for the development of future advances and work within society.

A second purpose of the school was its role as a social group. It was meant to provide instruction to those who had an understanding of internal social relationships. Lastly, he saw the school as a place in which students might utilize one another’s minds to learn from each other and develop both intellectually and socially. The philosophy regarding that the school as a social institution was not necessarily an idea created by the minds of the late 1800s; however, the notion that the school would serve this purpose was better understood and developed as a practice during the time period.

This was in response to the rapid societal changes that the United States was experiencing. Society was placing new demands upon the school that broadened the scope of the overall purpose of education. The school had grown “to be a modern giant” that adapted to the constant societal changes. In an attempt to meet these needs and act as an agent of social progress, the education system used a fourfold approach. First, the school attempted to diversify the classroom and bring in a mix of cultures. It was a place where ideas and beliefs were to be exchanged and students were to learn from one another.

Yet, amid the diverse ideas, Americans focused on instilling important American values and beliefs in each of the students. The school also attempted to provide a greater opportunity for social interaction through recreational activities, such as a gymnasium and theater production. These forms of amusement were meant to keep crime rates low and decrease student participation in brothels, saloons, and gambling. One of the third means of approach was providing specialized classes that would prepare students to enter into the workforce.

Lastly, the school would fulfill its social goal by offering art, science, and other modes of social intercourse. The school would offer students the opportunity to gain a greater awareness of the economic, social, and political transformations that were occurring, as well as how to adapt to and initiate some of these changes. Ultimately, those studying the school during this time period saw it as a means of training students to meet the demands of society and further prepare them to continue the cycle of innovation and modernization.

With a new focus on employing the school as method of socializing students and developing them to meet the changing needs of society, Americans had to determine exactly what type of socialized students the school was meant to produce. The education provided must benefit not only the individual, but also society as a whole. During a time when class warfare was becoming a major problem of society, Americans saw the school as a place where class conflict could be eliminated.

Through the education system students would learn how to create a perfect organization in which every individual would have what is best for him and would render to society the best that is in society, not him. Americans believed that by socializing the child through the school, the student would develop a social awareness of what is best for society and would work to achieve the goals of society, as opposed to his own selfish desires. A burden was placed upon the school to instill a moral influence on students that was lacking within the home. It was also tasked with providing students the necessary training to become efficient employees.

Through the training that the school offered to the student, Americans saw an opportunity for the younger generations to institute future social reform. Society believed that “the betterment of the individual physically, intellectually or morally is the starting point for all social improvement. ” School provided an environment where social bonds could form and minds would be intellectually stimulated. The social aspect of the school prepared students to take future initiative and instigate new social reforms that would positively benefit society as a whole.

The paradigm shift surrounding the school during the Progressive Era had many implications in regards to the exact type of education that the school would provide students within the academic, as well as social realm. Theorists began to focus on pedagogical development and the type of curriculum provided to the student during instruction. Several theorists such as Booker T. Washington and John Dewey are renowned for their work surrounding educational reform in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Washington was a firm advocate of a segregated classroom environment based on a project method.

His philosophy of education was founded on the idea that the student, specifically the African American student, would work on real world projects that would develop both their academic knowledge, as well as skills that would be applicable to their future trade. Washington promoted the idea of independent thought. “Students were provided with experiences related to their lives, or the life of their communities, and they were expected to develop their capacity to think from their abilities to do,” ultimately preparing them to face real world challenges.

His ideas and views of education were closely aligned with those promoting educational reform. Students were to learn how to discover knowledge independently from the teacher and use skills they learned in the classroom to solve the social problems permeating society. The curriculum of schools was shaped around this ideology and teachers were expected to adopt teaching strategies that would promote these ideas. One of the leaders in education reform during the late nineteenth century was John Dewey. He published several works that described his philosophy on education reform.

His view on education was that it “ought to begin with the student’s own experience and should prepare the student to take charge of his or her own destiny in an industrial society. ” Dewey saw education as a crucial means of transmission of societal customs and traditions, as well as knowledge that was pivotal in preparing men to become future leaders. Amid a society that was undergoing an industrial transformation, Dewey felt that “as societies become more complex in structure and resources, the need of formal or intentional teaching or learning” would continue to increase.

Dewey envisioned the school as an environment that encouraged the fostering, nurturing, and cultivating of immature minds that influenced society’s ability to sustain itself. The school acted as a social institution because it was an environment where students interacted with one another in such a way that would improve their own performance. In the school environment, students learned from each other, challenged and stimulated one another, as well as provided approval or condemnation. John Dewey saw this type of social interaction as necessary in the developmental process of the immature mind.

Through the interactions and experiences that the student would encounter in the school environment, they would be socially and mentally prepared to be efficient citizens and leaders of society. His views on preparing students not only academically, but also morally, socially, and developmentally were prominent ideas of the education reform movement during both the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. The schoolhouse was taking on the role of a social center for the student and would function not only as a place of instruction, but also as a center “of life for all ages and classes. John Dewey was one of the strongest proponents of the school acting as a center of social activity. Americans felt that the school was not meeting its full potential for instruction and sought to create an environment where students could interact and better prepare themselves for citizenship. This was important to American reformers because they understood that the student would have a large impact on the future of society. The extent of education that the student received would influence their ability to effectively lead in the future.

As society was experiencing social, economic and intellectual changes, the school was required to keep up with the changes to prevent a body of adults who were without the necessary training and skills to adapt to the progress that was occurring. For reformers, where “progress is continuous and certain, education must be equally certain and continuous. ” The change in the purpose of the school led to a significant shift in the type of instruction that was deemed necessary.

Schools began to focus on teaching students study skills that would be beneficial in motivating the student to use time outside of the classroom to expand their knowledge in an independent manner. Prior to the educational reform that took place in the late nineteenth century, teaching children how to study was not a subject adequately addressed in the classroom. As the schools began to place a greater emphasis on creating a student-centered classroom environment, training students on how to study allowed for the students to use their abilities to expand their mental growth and learn in environments beyond the classroom.

Studying was deemed one of the great ideas of the Progressive Era because it eliminated the possibility of students wasting time hearing lectures from the teacher over information that they had already learned. Devoting time to instructing students in the art of studying was important because it allowed for the student to zealously acquire knowledge, independent from the teacher. Promoting this type of education furthered the overall objective of the school and its goal to cultivate knowledge that would assist students in being effective members of society.

According to Hinsdale, studying is not limited to the school, but can be accomplished in all areas of life. Instructing the student how to master a subject is essential in helping the student develop into a respected citizen. This aligns closely with the ideas of King, who believed that without an understanding of certain skills, such as studying, students would not be prepared to use their minds to initiate societal change or master new subjects and skills.

Studying was simply another component of the overall curriculum that was viewed as an important aspect of education due to the effect it would have on developing and preparing the student to use their knowledge and understanding to further improve society. As education reform extended the focus of academic learning in the school to social and developmental areas, teachers had to adopt new methods of teaching that conformed to the new school standards. In regards to instruction of the fundamental subjects, teachers were trained to take a different approach to instruction than they had in the past.

Authors of the time addressed this issue by compiling manuals that teachers could rely on for developing effective curriculum and classroom management. According to Kendall and Mirick, teachers were obligated to modify their instructional practices to meet the point of view that prevailed during the present time. For teachers during the Progressive Era, there was a requirement to not only be knowledgeable in subjects that would help develop students for future careers, but also to maintain a formidable understanding of fundamental subjects while meeting the arduous standards of instruction that education reformers were proposing.

English, Math, and Social Studies were fundamental academic subjects that were believed to be crucial to a child’s education. Teachers were required to be adequately trained in teaching these subjects in the most efficient manner to their students. Developing a full understanding of these important subjects was important to reformers because it was content that would be utilized in the student’s future career. Various methods of teaching these subjects were developed to assist the teacher in meeting the standards that were set by the new reformers.

Teachers were encouraged to eliminate busy work from the classroom and focus on challenging the students to expand their knowledge and skills as preparation for their future role in society. When teaching the fundamental subjects, educators sought to implement the process of questioning students as a method of learning that was promoted by the ancient Greek philosopher, Socrates. An effective teacher would utilize the questioning method to expand the students mind.

Using this approach allowed for an appropriate amount of balance between the teacher and the student. The questioning method stood “in contrast both with the lecture method, which tends to make pupils passive, and with the let-alone method, which leaves the unguided. ” Through utilizing questioning as a method of instruction teachers could gain the attention of the students while encouraging them to use their minds to search for the answers. Also, questioning was a way of securing more effective classroom management.

When there is constant dialogue occurring between the student and the teacher, the class will be more engaged and behavior issues are less likely to occur. Many education reformers favored incorporating questioning into instruction time because it allowed for a student centered approach to instruction, as well as required the student to stretch their mind and stimulated mental growth. Advocates of education reform during the Progressive Era saw the school as a valuable agent of social progress.

As the American lifestyle was undergoing a constant state of flux, the school was subjected to a transformation as well in an attempt to keep up with the shifting demands of society. The school provided an opportunity for students to receive the training that was necessary to help the student adapt to the rapid changes in the environment. As an institution, “it must interpret to [the student] the intellectual and social meaning of the work in which he is engaged; that is it must reveal its relations to the life and work of the world. Education reform during the late 1800s focused on a change in attitude regarding the purpose of the school. Reformers understood that society had undergone a complete transformation and the school would have to be drastically modified if it was to keep up with the changes in the community. The school was no longer strictly focused on intellectual instruction, but now had expanded and was promoting the full development of the student so that they could effectively contribute to society as a well-rounded citizen.