America has had a great respect for education from its earliest times. Education is now the most important factor in determining a person’s social role and economic prospects. Universities were founded in the earliest days of the settlers who had come across from England. Harvard College was founded by religious refugees from Cambridge, England in 1636, only fifteen years after the Pilgrim Fathers had landed, and there were eight other colleges before 1776, though for a long time they had few students. Religious bodies were also very active in developing elementary and secondary schools, and soon after 1800 progress was made towards universal education paid for from taxes. Except in the South, America was before Europe in providing schools for all children, and more recently in providing free education up to the age of eighteen.
Under the United States Constitution, the Federal government has no power to make laws in the field of education; each state is fully responsible within its own territory. The Federal government can give financial help, and new laws have vastly increased its powers to help in this field. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare, headed by a member of the Cabinet, is responsible for these functions at federal level. Since 1960 it has contributed ever – increasing amounts of federal funds to local programmes at all levels, including special assistance to schools in disadvantaged areas. Total public expenditure on education doubled in real terms up to 1980, to an amount twice as great per person as in any Western European country. However, during the 1980s, federal government contributions were cut, and in most states the total public expenditure per student in real terms was less in 1987 than in 1977.
Each state has an educational administration, not subject to federal
control, and the state authorities lay down generul principles concerning the organisation of schools and such matters us the ugcs of compulsory education. Schools are provided and managed by local community boards of education. A fairly large city has a board of its own, and otherwise a board may cover the area of a county or of several local communities. All states have for some time had compulsory school-attendance up to the age of sixteen, and some beyond that, but the laws are not everywhere enforced with the same vigour. With so much local control the standards of education provided in different parts of the United States are by no means uniform. In the South the authorities spend less per pupil than in most other parts; more people are illiterate (having attended school irregularly or not at all, in spite of the law), more leave school early, fewer go to universities.
Most children attend mixed schools, with boys and girls together all through the school time up to the age of eighteen, though there are a few separate schools for the older pupils. Education in nearly all parts of the United States is comprehensive, in that there is no selection of children who attend full-scale secondary schools. Distinctions within the educational system are based in part on the use of private institutions by the few who can pay for them and think it worth while to do so, and, more important, on the different social characteristics of the areas in which schools are placed. Racial factors may be involved, although segregation has been formally abandoned.
Elementary education begins at the age of six. At this stage four- fifths of all the teachers are women, mostly married. The atmosphere is usually very friendly, and the teachers have for a long time now accepted the idea that the important thing is to make the children happy and interested. The old rigid and authoritarian methods of education were discredited in America rather a long time ago – so much so that many people now think that education has gone too far in the direction of trying to make children happy and interested rather than giving them actual instruction.
The social education of young children tries to make them accept the need for human beings in a society to work together for their common good in all sorts of ways. The emphasis is on cooperation rather than competition throughout most of this process. This may seem curious, in view of the general idea that American society is highly competitive, but the need for making people sociable in this sense has come to be regarded as one of the main functions of education. In spite of all this most Americans do grow up with
competitive ideuM, aiul quite a lew become criminals, but it is not fair to say thut the нукісш Tails. It probably does succeed in making most people sociable and ready to help one another both in material ways and through kindness and friendliness.
Partly because for several generations many children have had foreign-born parents, schools have been used to build up a sense of Americanness. For many decades the school day began in the classroom with the flag salute. One child held up the United States flag and all recited together: ‘I pledge my allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.’
In 1942 the Supreme Court ruled that no child should be obliged to take part in the flag salute, and since then it has restricted this practice as well as religious prayers. But in most places a majority of parents want to keep these traditions alive.
The practice of obliging children to travel long distances, so that schools may be racially more mixed than their immediate neighbourhoods, has been unpopular. But there have always been many children who have needed to travel quite long distances to school each day, and the school bus is a long-established institution, much older than court-directed busing. The school bus is painted yellow, with the words ‘School Bus’ in enormous letters along its sides. When it stops, all other traffic must stop. It flashes lights and waves arms marked ‘Stop’ to make this absolutely clear. Thus the children, while being themselves protected, daily see the community impose upon itself a well-justified and symbolically-dramatised discipline.
School and home are closely linked, and there is, ideally at least, a sense of partnership between teachers and parents. In some places it is the practice for the teacher to stay in the classroom for half an hour at the end of the school day, to be available for any parent who wishes to come to talk to him or her about a child, and there is no need for the parent to make any kind of formal arrangements with the head teacher before going to see the class teacher.
There is a strong tradition by which every school is closely identified with its community, both through the elected local school board and through the parent teachers’ associations. In big cities this tradition has been weakened by the sheer problems of large scale organisation, and the vast bureaucracies have become unpopular. The practice of busing children damages the link between community and school, and strengthens the bureaucratic barriers between them.
There has been bitter argument; the bureaucracies huve been fiercely criticised; parent-teachers’ associations have demanded more influence. Some parents’ organisations have been suspicious of ‘radicalism’ among teachers, and have interfered in the curricula of their schools, mainly in a conservative direction. Parents’ organisations have objected to the use of books which they found to be ‘communistic’, ‘racist’, ‘obscene’, ‘heretical’ or ‘anti-American’.
Although there is so much diversity in the control and organisation of schools, everyone knows what is meant by first grade, second grade and twelfth grade, with one grade for each year. The teaching profession is not quite so simply arranged. It may be difficult for a teacher to get his or her qualifications from one state recognised in another state, as each state has its own arrangements for training teachers. Teachers for the younger children have often been trained in schools of education from the age of eighteen; senior teachers have normally completed university degrees, with teacher-training forming part of the university curriculum at the later stages. Education may be respected and highly valued, but teachers are not. Their pay and prestige, in relation to other professions, are low in comparison with the general standards of Europe.
Secondary education is in one or two stages. From the age of eleven or twelve to eighteen the term ‘high school’ is generally used, though the first three years of this are called junior high school and the senior classes are called senior high school. Where the local population is big enough, the senior high schools may be separate institutions. America is remarkable for the number of people who stay at school until they are eighteen; four-fifths of all young people aged seventeen are still at school, and more than half of those aged eighteen. As full high school education up to the age of eighteen is available to everyone, there is no problem about gaining admission to a senior high school, though in some places there are selective schools or classes for children who show special academic ability. The idea of total equality of opportunity for all people creates a barrier against such segregation, though there are inevitably many people, particularly in the educational world, who think that such segregation is desirable, and current opinion is mainly in favour of some selectivity on academic grounds.
Once children have reached high school they are very conscious of the need to obtain good marks in their high school work if they wish to go on to a university of high reputation. Some universities arc very selective in their admission, while others will admit uny students
provided thut they huve pitted through all of the high school courses up to the final or twelfth grade, even if they have obtained rather low minimum pass marks in their high school courses. High schools generally organise much activity outside the classroom, for example, societies to which the pupils may belong, orchestras and brass bands, and there is also organised school sport. Every large high school has its football team and also teams for basketball, baseball and other sports. The football team is perhaps the most important, supported by cheerleaders, a marching band and majorettes.
One of the characteristics of high school education is its great breadth. Pupils do not specialise in any particular direction, and they take classes in all kinds of subjects all through the high school period. They are given an immense choice of academic and non-academic courses. Sometimes pupils complain that the progress is very slow and that they do not learn very much, but this is a factor connected with the inclusion of children of all levels of academic ability in the same school and in the same class. Children who are rather backward in learning are often allowed to go on to the next grade even though their work suggests that they should repeat a grade.
Although the state school systems are intended to provide equal opportunity for all, there are inevitably great differences between schools. Many high schools in the central city areas include large proportions of pupils who are reluctant to go to school at all. Juvenile delinquency is high among pupils in schools of this type, and teachers often have a very difficult job.
Because many big city high schools have a reputation for roughness, middle-class parents are anxious to place their children in schools in which a different atmosphere will predominate. Such people tend to live in suburbs, and a suburban high school is likely to be dominated by pupils striving towards university entrance. There are a few expensive private schools but there is no significant tradition of privileged or prestigious private education below the level of the university. On the other hand, some unfavourable impressions of the public system, together with devices aimed at increasing the social and racial ‘mix’ in public schools since the 1960s, have tended to stimulate private education in the past few years.Read More
For a very long time America has led the world in higher education, quantitatively at least. In 1825 England still had only two
universities, Oxford and Cambridge. The United Stutee ulrcudv hud over fifty colleges for a smaller population. By now, in addition to hundreds of junior colleges (with two-year courses), teachers’ colleges and special schools, there are over 2,000 universities, colleges or other institutions with four-year courses leading to bachelors’ degrees, though only some of these provide postgraduate work as well, for masters’ degrees and doctorates.
Nearly half of all people aged nineteen are in full-time education, but only half of these successfully complete full four-year courses for bachelors’ degrees. Some attend junior colleges with two-year courses (from which they may transfer); most start full four-year degree courses. Most students receive federal loans to cover part of the cost of their studies; much smaller numbers receive federal grants, or scholarships or bursaries from other sources. Virtually all pay part of their costs themselves, from family contributions or from part-time work or both.
Most students aiming at bachelors’ degrees take the four years (freshman, sophomore, junior and senior) consecutively at the same institution, but some interrupt their courses. Some start late in life and may spread their courses over several years. For each stage of the course it is necessary to gain adequate average grades over a number of courses, and credits gained at one stage can be accepted for a later stage after an interval, if necessary with change from one institution to another. For the freshman year, courses usually cover a wide range, and with each later year there is scope for more specialisation. Essentially, the system by which a person becomes a college graduate is a progression from that which makes him or her a high school graduate.
About one-fifth of college graduates continue with studies for masters’ or doctors’ degrees, in their own major subjects or for professional qualifications in law, medicine, business, etc., which involve two to four postgraduate years. Postgraduate schools admit students on the basis of their grades in bachelors’ degree studies, and require minimum-level passes in appropriate preparatory subjects.
Most college students are in ‘public’ institutions, a minority in ‘private’ ones. Every state has its own full university system, and in a big state there are many separate state campuses, general and special, at different levels. In terms of research output, and of Nobel prizes won by academic staff, the most prestigious is the University of California at Berkeley (across the bay from San Francisco). It, and the University’s campus at Los Angeles, are the two major
A university graduation ceremony.
institutions in the California state system, but there are many dozens of other campuses in that system. Other states have parallel systems, often with one principal campus, with up to 50,000 students, in a small town in which the university is the main focus of activity. Most big cities have their own city-funded universities – in some cases with several campuses – often separate from the state system. In general state and city colleges now charge tuition fees which cover a minor part of their costs, at least for state or local residents – though students from other states pay several times as much.
The oldest, and in some ways the most prestigious, colleges are private, funded partly from their endowments, partly by contributions from business and, above all, former students. A few receive some state or city grants as well. But in general they need to charge high fees for tuition, averaging about five times the rates charged by equivalent state colleges for local residents.
Some of the best-known private universities are the oldest ones in the Northeast, known informally as the Ivy League. These include Harvard, Yale and Princeton. The research carried on at Harvard and at its newer neighbour in Cambridge, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has contributed to the prosperity of the Boston area, though other private and public universities nearby also have some share in this development.
These colleges are all quite small, but there are also the yet smaller
institutions of the Little Ivy League, as well as many hundreds of other private colleges all over the United States. Their variety is extreme. Some students prefer a small college for the sake of the closer contact with the professors than in the state colleges, some for religious or other reasons. But some of their graduates go on to state university postgraduate courses.
Until 1960 most of the private institutions, including the small liberal arts colleges, were for either men or women only. Since then there has been a revolutionary change. By now almost all the former men’s colleges have become coeducational and the most selective of them may have raised their academic standards by attracting many of the cleverest women. About three hundred former women’s colleges now take men as well, and some of them are finding that the men dominate the staff and student life. In 1987 about a hundred allfemale colleges were still resisting the trend of change, defending their special role in the educational system but suffering a decline in applications for admission. Conversion to coeducation is still continuing. Meanwhile, the number of women students had increased until by the mid-1980s they outnumbered the men.
The wave of disorderly student protest of the 1960s seems to have subsided. It began with support for the civil rights movement of that time, in the last years of race discrimination. Then came demonstrations against the Vietnam war, then demands for more student participation in the running of the universities, and demands for new types of courses such as black studies. There were objections to examinations, and to the competitiveness they engender. But since the early 1970s there has been a change, with students aiming again at academic success within the system. At the same time, there have been changes in the courses chosen, with a new preference for types of study which can be expected to be useful for careers in business. There is less interest in liberal arts. On the other hand, a surge of interest in computer studies fell away when the computer industry ran into trouble. A decline in concern with social issues can be seen from a comparison of the attitudes expressed by students in 1972 and 1982 (as shown by the survey quoted on page 136).
The individual young person knows that his or her prospects of success in life depend on education more than on any other single factor. So there is an ever-increasing demand for educational opportunities. At the same time, it is generally recognised that even from the material point of view, economic development up till now has owed much to the skills and abilities which grow through
education, and Гог the traditional Americans, respect for learning is reinforced by a doctrine that it is an investment that brings the community an economic return as well as social and cultural improvement.
Russian technological success has brought an unpleasant shock to American pride. Even the most conservative elements are impressed by the signs that the Russians have equalled or even surpassed the Americans in achievements which depend on a great mass of trained talent and skill, and the first reaction to the Russian achievements in space was a new support for greater efforts in the educational field.
In the 1960s much of the impetus came from claims that part of the population (mainly black) enjoyed inferior access to education, and to diplomas and degrees, because of the conditions and the nature of society. Tremendous efforts were made to counteract the effects of social disadvantage, but the mixture of values caused confusion, and weakened the old concern with excellence.
The results of the vast increase in educational expenditure have been disappointing. In 1976 the National Centre for Education Statistics in the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, produced a survey, The Condition of Education. It showed that between 1963 and 1975 the average scores by high school seniors (18 year-olds) in the Scholastic Aptitude tests (graded on a scale from 800 to 200) had fallen from 478 to 434 in mathematics and from 502 to 472 in reading and writing. A disturbing number of students were far below any reasonable standard after twelve years of school, and some of these were nevertheless going forward to higher education. More than a quarter of the first-year students in Ohio State University were below minimum competence in mathematics and English, and remedial courses were provided for them. There was a fear that the vast efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged had produced few benefits, and that the quality of the system as a whole had declined. A new concern with the pursuit of excellence and a new insistence on high standards, both in technology and in other fields, has lately brought some improvement to the system as a whole, though surveys of the mid-1980s found that more than one in ten of seventeen year-olds could not read and write well enough to write answers to a simple set of questions such as those on a job – application form. In January 1987, President Reagan proposed that there should be a minimum high school curriculum of four years of English. In a document supporting his State of the Union message he put forward the aim of ‘raising literacy standards dramatically’.
Changing aspirations of students, 1967-82
Percentages of first year students hoping to continue, after graduation, to
1 How Гиг il»t I he іенропнен indicate an increasing materialism? or
2 Do the responses indicate a decline in social concern?
3 Discuss the change indicated in the responses to number 8, bearing in mind that one of the objects of the student protest movement at the end of the 1960s was the grading system, А, В, C, D (very good, good, etc.) on the ground that grades were elitist.
4 Discuss the answers to number 10, in relation to the setting of lower grade requirements for members of disadvantaged groups: and in the light of the fact that Asians are now showing above-average grades. Is all such discrimination wrong?
1970 75 84 70 75 84
College Enrolment by Sex
Public School Enrolment and Expenditures
Educational Attainment (Persons 25 years old and over)
4 years or more of high school
100— 1 I
1 Consider the fact that in 1984 almost three-quarters of the population had completed at least four years of high school, in relation to the finding that one-fifth of young adults were functionally illiterate (compared with one- tenth in Britain and almost none in Japan).Read More
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How to make possible a combination useful with pleasant? And to make it it is absolutely simple, it is necessary toRead More
From time to time the bureau of the international information programs of US State department publishes the list of the foreigners of higher education institutions of America most popular in eyes.
In total in the American higher education institutions more than 760 000 students foreigners study. Most of all students from China. They go in advance with a big separation from pupils from other countries. India, South Korea and other countries further follow. In November of last year in TOP-25Read More
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