Foundations of Education

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Among the significant figures in the history of the American Educational System, few have had as much ideological and practical influence as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Horace Mann, John Dewy, and Johann Pestolazzi. Each altered the course of American education to a degree that the developments made during and after the lifetimes of each of these figures are practically manifested in today's educational environment. In some cases, as with Franklin, much of his contribution was practical, with the establishment of public libraries and emphasis on self-education. Others, such as Dewy, were ideological pioneers that changed the methods of education. One can never overlook the role of politics in American Education; the regulation of education and the presence of Patriotic/Nationalist agendas in curriculum are still issues that we face today, those who played a significant role in the establishment of the current system also influence the fundamental goals and outcomes of that system.

Benjamin Franklin is heralded as one of the greatest American philosophers as well as one of the most influential figures in American history. His fundamental desire for education and self-improvement would set an example for others to follow as well as establish a model for the educated American. He was also a major proponent of schools as both an ideological tool for indoctrinating members of other religions, as well as a method for assimilation of other races and cultures into the white Anglo model. We are still struggling as a culture to undo the influence of those who followed this model. Practices of exclusion, segregation, racism, and exploitation were typical of the early model of American education. Franklin notes, "Why increase the Sons of Africa, by Planting them here in America, where we have so fair an opportunity, by excluding all blacks and Tawnys and increasing the lovely white…"

This statement is somewhat loaded in that it is apparently anti-slavery, but for the wrong reasons. It places an obvious racial value judgment on Blacks as intellectually inferior. The racist tendencies of his philosophy were not, however, the most important parts of Franklin's development of education. His establishment of public libraries is probably the greatest accomplishment and boon to education to that time. Public libraries continue to offer the opportunity of free self-education. This ability is one of the most powerful tools for freedom a nation can possess. If censorship is avoided, it offers anyone individual control over their education. This is an absolutely necessary step towards a free state. Control over education and literature is control over thought and social mobility. This social mobility is one of the fundamental issues Benjamin attempted to address over the course of his life. He would be one of the most influential founding members of the Academy movement in early America, which both set the stage for the first high schools as well as beginning a movement of private education that still exists as an option today.

Although Franklin's intention with the academy movement was to provide social mobility to anyone, the result was a system that preserved the elite and excluded most others. Today it is possible to attend private College Preparatory Schools that are much the same as they were in Franklin's time. Most are predominantly white, with high tuition that excludes middle and lower class students. They also tend to offer an intense curriculum similar to that proposed by Franklin.

Concurrent to the developments of Franklin were the political and philosophical changes brought by Thomas Jefferson. Although Jefferson's ideas on education were progressive in some ways, the racial and social hierarchies that dominated the period were very apparent in his work. Although he believed in free education for all Americans, this was an exclusive term, limited to white Americans. His ‘Bill for the More...
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