The Evolution of Education During the Progressive Era

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The end of the nineteenth century brought an explosion of change to American culture. This change came in the form of economic opportunities, massive immigration, and social reforms. As society progressed into a deeper state of industrialism, Americans adapted to a new way of life that accompanied the flourishing industries. Amid the economic and political changes that were occurring during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, social issues began to surface and called for a diverse array of reforms. Among the wide range of social problems that Americans sought to address was the issue of education. The schools began to experience a paradigm shift within the classroom. The classroom was evolving into an environment that would appropriately prepare American children for the shifting culture that was transpiring outside the school. The purpose of the classroom underwent a transformation in the early 1900s as new classroom practices were adopted that focused largely on the development of the student not only academically, but also socially. Educational ideology entered into a period of transformation in which American citizens began to view the classroom as an environment that was student centered. There was a paradigm shift in regards to the type of learners that children were, as well as how to best teach them. They were no longer viewed as passive, but rather active learners, who were best taught by women, and responded more appropriately to positive reinforcement as opposed to stern discipline. The curriculum was also viewed as something that needed to not rely wholly on books, but rather incorporate elements of the world outside the classroom. American citizens began to focus more on the role of the public school and the impact it had on society. The public school evolved into an institution focused on not only academic instruction, but also the development of skills that were necessary to instigate, as well as adapt to the cultural changes that were taking place. An emphasis on a student-centered approach to classroom instruction was one of the fundamental changes the occurred during the education reform movement. Reformers were relying on the ideas of philosophers such as Locke and Dewey who challenged traditional views of children. Their views held that a child was capable of change and improvement through the methods of education, and the most effective method of properly determining a suitable process of education was through observing the individual child. It was during this time that the early pedagogical idea of teaching in a manner that addresses the individual needs of the student began to flourish in schools across America. One of the most significant roles that the school would play during the late 1800s and early 1900s was that of an institution focused on “Americanizing” incoming immigrants. The school was seen as the ideal place to transform the minds and character of newly arrived immigrant children. Amid reforms that focused on the student and meeting their individual needs, Americans believed that through the use of education they could create respectable American citizens out of the immigrant children. The influx of immigrants brought a mass of diverse cultures and traditions, so America relied on the school as a means of imparting American values, ideals and beliefs into the minds of the newcomers. The teacher, as well as the students, could cultivate within each foreign child the true American spirit and a full understanding of American citizenship. This included full instruction in the English language, an understanding of American history, and “embracing democratic principles, attitudes, and behaviors.” Reformers and citizens disagreed over the methods that should be used to educate the newcomers; however, Americans were united in their belief that American education for new immigrants was necessary in order to force the abandonment of past cultures and create new Americans out of the...
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