The 1960s Education: Overview

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The 1960s Education: Overview

A revolution in education took place in the United States during the 1960s. The federal government became increasingly education-oriented. Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson lobbied Congress for increased federal aid to education, leading to the creation of new programs. Their efforts displeased conservative politicians and community leaders, particularly those who opposed school integration and who believed that education policy was strictly a local issue. Education policy became a hotly debated topic during the decade for two primary reasons. First, it was closely related to one of the decade's prime social movements: the fight for equal rights for black Americans. One of the key issues related to that movement was the further desegregation of America's schools, as called for by the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas Supreme Court decision. Secondly, the government refused to offer funds to private and parochial schools; this incited heated debate throughout the decade.

During the 1960s, students from grade school through university-level began studying old subjects in new ways. One of the offshoots of the civil rights movement was a change in the approach to teaching American history. Courses exploring the founding of the United States began emphasizing diversity. The struggles of black Americans for equality were added to course material, as were the experiences of Native Americans. Education theorists insisted that teachers be empowered to develop their students' minds and encourage their intellectual curiosity, rather than merely stressing learning by rote (a method of memorization). New scholastic disciplines also became available, from courses in social science, sociology, and theater arts to increasing numbers of foreign language classes. Meanwhile, bilingual education programs increased as immigrants began to insist on maintaining their native cultures and continuing to speak their native languages while simultaneously learning English.

Despite these changes, some scholars and theorists still voiced criticism of the manner in which Americans were educated. Formal schooling did little to encourage creativity or individuality, they noted. They charged that students were merely being prepared to enter the workforce and accept authority and mediocrity passively, rather than to think for themselves.

Beginning in mid-decade, young American males not only faced the draft, which was a system by which young men were called to mandatory service in the U.S. military, but also the escalation of the fighting in Vietnam. Many who might not otherwise have planned to attend college, or who might have put off continuing their education, enrolled in college straight out of high school, or applied to graduate school as soon as they achieved an undergraduate degree. As the war continued, it was fought more and more by the "under-classes": those who could not afford college tuition fees. One consequence was that military personnel, particularly the youngest members, were increasingly under-educated. To alleviate this problem, the military committed millions of dollars to fund education programs for its manpower.

Meanwhile, the struggle for civil rights and the growing unpopularity of the conflict in Vietnam led to increasing unrest and protest on university campuses. Student protests and demonstrations during the decade began with the 1964 "free speech" movement, on the campus of the University of California, Berkeley. Within a few years, thousands of students from universities large and small were actively demonstrating on campus. Their causes included the war in Vietnam, racism in American society, course content, and what they considered to be the inappropriate union between college administrators and the military-industrial complex. Often, student demonstrators were dispersed with firm police crowd-control methods.

As students petitioned and demonstrated to change the world, they also changed the rules and regulations on campuses. Student protests led to the demise of many long-standing campus regulations. Increasingly, women were no longer required to sign in and out of dormitories, or adhere to curfews. Male and female undergraduates were allowed to visit each other's dorm rooms. The formality of many college classrooms gave way to the informality of "rap sessions" and open discussion among students and teachers.

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The 1960s Education: Overview

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The 1960s Education: Overview