19th and 20th Centuries, Americans Research Paper

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In this regard, Frye notes that, "The social changes appeared most profoundly to the majority of citizens not in the statistics of gross national product or the growth of technological inventions but in the dramatic occupational changes that faced fathers and sons and mothers and daughters" (1999, p. 4).

The innovations in technology that followed the Industrial Revolution also served to shift the emphasis on education for agricultural jobs to more skilled positions as demand for these workers increased (Frye, 1999). In other words, as American society changed, so too did the requirements for American education and the process can be seen to be mutually reinforcing and iterative by Frye's observations concerning the effects of these trends on U.S. society during this period in American history. In this regard, Frye notes that, "With the change in types and numbers of occupations and their focus in towns and cities, other elements of the social structure also changed. Residence patterns, family structure, inheritance traditions, property holding, and other structures departed markedly from patterns in the immediate past" (1999, p. 15). Therefore, just as the American educational community helped to create the new American social sphere, this larger society in turn served to determine what educational programs and pedagogical approaches would be best suited to provide workers with the new skill sets needed in the 20th century. This process is illustrated by Frye's observation that, "Physical mobility, immigration, internal migration, access to status roles, and other changes consequent to these structural changes produced social stress. Like other social institutions, education reacted to this stress and developed an ideology and program to deal with it" (1999, p. 15).

Other changes that were taking place in the larger American society that would have an eventual but profound effect on education included an increasing competition for class mobility and higher status and these trends were further amplified by the processes of industrialization that took place during the first half of the 20th century. According to Frye, "This status competition gave rise to demands for education as a form of certification in occupational competition. Status competition affected educators directly as well and influenced the relationship among staff in high school, junior college, and university" (1999, p. 16).

These social trends not only resulted in changes to the curricular offerings of American schools, they also helped to shape the pedagogy during this period of U.S. history as well. In this regard, Frye points out that, "The general recognition by public and educators that access to occupations and social mobility were closely tied together in the new economy led to rapid growth in all levels of education. The desire of secondary educators to broaden the services of the high school and the desire of university leaders to serve only 'select' groups of students created a place for a new educational institution within the system" (p. 16). Likewise, the manner in which these social changes affected educators themselves was a significant force during this period in American history. Indeed, Frye adds that, "Among educators themselves, career opportunities, status competition, and professional prestige played no small role in the attitudes of secondary educators, junior college staff, and university officials" (1999, p. 16).

Not only was there increasing value placed on status and social mobility during this period, it became increasingly apparent that the public schools were the appropriate place to effect these desirable changes in education in ways that would benefit the larger American society as well. In this regard, Frye adds that, "Industrial and commercial growth and the consequent need for training and education dominated the thinking of many twentieth century educators. It was widely understood that an effectively trained labor force was critical to economic growth" (1999, p. 16). Moreover, the powerful effect of these social forces on educational philosophy is explicated by Frye's conclusion that, "This view produced a human resources model among American educators who debated policy. It affected the thinking of elementary, secondary, and higher education officials" (1999, p. 16).

Clearly, then, the foregoing is a salient example of how social forces influenced educators during this period in American history, but the influence became especially pronounced during the second half of the 20th century. According to Kaminsky (1999), American educators in the 1950s built on the priorities established during the past 20 years or so to formulate an optimal mix of reforms that would create better schools and better trained teachers who were capable of responding to the changing needs of the American workplace by providing young learners with the new skill set they needed to compete effectively. In this regard, Kaminsky reports that, "In the 1950s educational philosophy's research agendas were directed toward diversifying the curriculum, humanizing school practices, and perfecting the school as a device of social mobility. Educational philosophy's role in all of this revolved around rehearsing the agendas originally defined by the Progressives in the 1930s and 1940s" (1999, p. 77). The purpose and role of American schools was called into question once again during this period in U.S. history in a clear demonstration of the relationship between education and social change. For example, Kaminsky points out that, "For a short period after the war American's educational philosophers were allowed the luxury of realizing the intellectual agendas of pragmatism. The core of this ideology was concerned with the establishment of the public high school" (p. 77). The high value placed on social mobility was also evinced in the shifts in curricular offerings that occurred during this period in American history. As Kaminsky points out:

Pragmatism argued for the diversification and reorganization of the curriculum: It maintained that there was more to school than the classics and the Bible. It argued for an extension of training in the 'practical' arts (commerce, agriculture, home economics, art, physical education, and so on) on the grounds that there were many Americans who were not bound for college and they, too, deserved an education that would allow them to escape from the circumstances of their birth. (p. 77)

Therefore, by placing a high value on social mobility and formulating educational systems that would provide the American workplace with a well educated and well trained workforce, the mutually reinforcing nature of education and social change is made clear. These trends became even more pronounced as millions of returning veterans attended college and vocational training schools and the American workplace responded by creating millions of mid-management jobs that would place a high burden on U.S. competitiveness in the years to come but which defined the social contract that emerged during this period in American history (Kaminsky, 1999).

After the end of World War II, Joseph McCarthy and his band of commie-hunters also had a chilling effect on American education in ways that further highlight the relationship between education and social change. For instance, Kaminsky notes that, "Most American philosophers and philosophers of education abandoned any political economy that traced its genealogy back to Marx. The 'Red Scare' had taught and McCarthyism reminded professors of philosophy and philosophy of education to leave anarchism, Marx, and the rest of the Left alone" (p. 78). Indeed, during the Red Scare, curricular offerings in the United States were focused on educating the next generation of Americans who could counter this growing threat through increased productivity under the auspices of capitalism and a free market economy. In fact, it would be several decades before American public school students would learn that Russia was still the largest country in the world and that socialism, totalitarianism and communism were not necessarily the same thing. These shifts are congruent with Rury's observation that, "Schools today are quite different in many respects from those in the past, and the purposes of these institutions have changed from one period of American history to another" (2002, p. 4).

Although schools at different points in American history may have differed in terms of their focus and curricular offerings, they have largely remained constant with respect to their fundamental purpose. In this regard, Rury points out that, "Education is the social and institutional activity of transmitting knowledge and values from one generation to the next, a process involving large segments of society and in recent times billions of dollars" (2002, p. 4). Because of the enormous amounts of resources that are involved, it is important to identify precisely what is being transmitted from one generation to the next. For example, one of the main purposes of the public schools has been to instill a sense of the responsibilities that go hand in hand with being a U.S. citizen. Likewise, the values that are cherished by one generation are also ensconced in curricular offerings that promote one idealized version of history over another. Consequently, while it is reasonable to suggest that there is in fact a relationship between education and social change, in some ways, the nature of this relationship remains better described than understood, but it appears…

Sources Used in Document:


Coffey, a. (2001). Education and social change. Philadelphia: Open University Press.

Frye, J.H. (1999). The vision of the public junior college, 1900-1940: Professional goals and popular aspirations. New York: Greenwood Press.

Kaminsky, J.S. (1999). A new history of educational philosophy. Westport, CT: Greenwood


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