An early goal for public education in this country was to help people become economically self-sufficient.
Our leaders felt that public schools would give all Americans the basic reading and math skills they needed to succeed in the workplace. As a result, poverty and its consequences would be reduced.
Early national leaders also saw the public schools as a “social escalator in a merit-based society.”
They thought it would enable children of humble birth to pursue financial success and improve their lot in life.
Later, as the Industrial Age introduced new occupations, the public schools offered more courses with direct vocational content.
Early proponents of public schools also saw an educational role in enhancing individual happiness.
They felt that knowledge would produce people who could think rationally, apply the wisdom of the ages, and appreciate culture.
In 1749, Benjamin Franklin said: “The good education of youth has been esteemed by wise men in all ages as the surest foundation of the happiness of both private families and of communities.”
It is very important as we continue to reform and improve public education that we keep our eye on the big picture — the lofty goals our founding fathers had in mind.