The 1910s Education: Overview
The 1910s Education: Overview
Before 1910, most American educators were influenced by European theories of education. As the economy in the United States changed from agrarian (farm-based) to industrial (factory-based), educators began to see that the European theories no longer fit the American lifestyle. To meet the growing needs in education, changes were made to ensure that public schooling would prepare students for an industrial society. Vocational instruction aimed at teaching practical work skills became a significant part of the American secondary school curriculum. With the support of corporations and business, public schools initiated programs to instruct young men and women on using modern machinery for industry and agriculture.
Teenagers were not the only group to benefit from vocational studies. For the first time, adults could learn about an array of vocational and academic subjects in evening extension courses and earn college credit through correspondence schools. Immigrants were offered courses in literacy and "Americanization." During and after World War I (1914–18), American soldiers and sailors were encouraged to complete high school degrees and enter colleges and universities.
In addition to curriculum adjustments to more closely connect education to the needs of the modern economy, there also were changes in the psychology of education. Educators such as John Dewey wanted to update teaching methods in public schools. Under the traditional teaching system, the instructor's job was to relate knowledge in a straightforward manner for students to memorize. Through the first ten years of the twentieth century, the teacher was viewed as an authoritarian figure who kept order in the classroom and tutored students in "the three Rs": reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic.
According to Dewey's system, which led to the development of a movement called progressive education, teachers would take a more humanistic approach to their students. The teacher, no longer a taskmaster but a guide, would encourage pupils to develop as human beings and show concern for their physical, mental, moral, and social growth. In 1916 the publication of Dewey's highly influential book, Democracy and Education, presented theories of modern educational psychology to a broad audience for the first time. Dewey's philosophies convinced people in powerful positions in government and industry, as well as educators, that progressive education was suitable for America's changing society.
In recognition of these new challenges for teachers, more sophisticated teacher training programs were developed during the decade. At the Teachers College at New York's Columbia University, a new curriculum was established that became a model for training programs across the nation. During the decade, not only teacher training, but also training for nurses, secretaries, homemakers, farmers, and factory workers, was refined and updated.
Not every school in the United States functioned with equal assets, however. Public schools in the South were impoverished. Often, schoolhouses were poorly lit and lacking indoor plumbing, and sometimes only a few books were available. A few of the Southern states had no compulsory education laws, which meant that even children too young to be needed for farming work were not legally required to attend school. Furthermore, school terms were shorter in the South than in other parts of the country. The lack of regulation fostered the problem of widespread child labor. Fortunately, throughout the decade, legislation was enacted that resulted in some uniform improvement in education for all parts of the United States.
At all levels of education, from public elementary schools to colleges and vocational training programs, racial and gender discrimination was evident. For instance, schools in the South were racially segregated (separated). If white students suffered from poor standards of education, their African American counterparts were even more deprived. Their school systems had poorly trained teachers, shorter terms, fewer books, and rundown schoolhouses. With the establishment of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the advocacy of black intellectuals such as W.E.B. Du Bois, an effort was launched to raise the level of education for African Americans in the South.
Girls and women, too, were held back from pursuing certain kinds of higher education. Many colleges and universities did not accept applications from women. Particularly in professions such as the law and medicine, as well as theology, women held only a small number of positions. It was common belief in American society that women were best suited to be wives, mothers, and homemakers, and that they should not seek the jobs of men, who were considered the traditional breadwinners. In cases of racial and gender discrimination, the motivation for placing limitations on knowledge was the same: educating African Americans and women to a high academic level would encourage those groups to pursue equal rights with white men. Discrimination in education would remain a major issue for decades to come.