Prior to the 19th century education was available primarily to the social elite of society. A classical education demanded familiarity with great works of western civilization literature – the Latin and Greek texts that withstood the test of time to define civilization as it was perceived in the Western world (DeBoer, 1991). It attempted to train a student’s mind to think, rather than for a specific purpose. It is the antecedent of collegiate liberal arts education, and contrasts directly with knowledge accumulation leading to expertise in specialized practice. Classical education was available only to the upper class, who had the time and resources to intellectually grapple with its philosophical implications without having to spend significant time and energy struggling to survive. Historically, education for the working class allowed them to manage responsibilities of life. Education for the upper class translated into philosophical satisfaction. The 19th century changed dominant views concerning education.
In his 1860 essay “What Knowledge is of Most Worth?” Spencer (1924)
determined that education related to the maintenance of good health was most
valuable. He declared that
reading, writing, and arithmetic were important for employment, but beyond
those subjects most of what was taught in school was largely irrelevant to
student life. He advocated
science as a way to understand manufacturing processes (physics) and
maintain health (biology). He
argued for practical education in child rearing and using science to instill
moral discipline through independent thought and self-responsibility.
The second half of the 19th century changed the face of higher
education as well. The
Land-Grant College Act of 1862 created educational institutions that focused
on agriculture and industry, providing higher education opportunities to
people who were not part of
The 19th century was a time of great scientific and technological achievement. Technology spawned by scientific advances began imposing itself upon the lives of people. Prominent examples include cement (1824), telegraph (1837), internal combustion engine (1858), dynamite (1866), telephone (1876), light bulb (1878), steam turbine (1884), and automobile (1885) (“19th Century Inventions”, 2004). Late in the century, the Committee of Ten, a group of ten college and school leaders, was created to standardize college preparation requirements. In its report, the committee recommended four curriculum high school models with science representing 20 percent of a student’s total time in high school (DeBoer, 1991). The professors of science who served on the committee were certainly interested in promoting their own views of the value of science education, especially since they were transforming an education tradition based on the classics that was historically available only to a small, elite group. Science education, particularly science laboratories, played a major role in the introduction of constructivism and guided discovery to high school classrooms (DeBoer, 1991).
At the turn of the 20th century, science was becoming an increasingly
important part of university study.
The establishment of graduate education gave the university an
increasing role in training students for careers (Duderstadt, 2002).
With the arrival of the assembly line in 1903 and its accompanying
industrial model, the factory system, more scrutiny was given to education
on all levels as a means of economic advancement.
The practical aspects of education were further enhanced by the
experience of World War I with clear military benefits emerging from
soldiers who were able to read, write, and follow directions.
The percentage of students educated in high school was increasing.
In 1890, about 6.7 percent of 14-17 year olds were in high school.
In 1920, that percentage had jumped to about 32.3 (DeBoer, 1991).
The increasing number of students pressured schools to provide a
practical education that students could use no matter what their professions
after high school. Technology in
factories generated prolific quantities of goods.
Applying technology to cope with an increasing student population was
a natural consequence of the success of the factory system.
In the 1920s, technology was targeted primarily towards performance
assessments. World War II
brought astounding implementation of new technologies.
A few examples include proximity fuses, solid fuel rockets, synthetic
rubber, radar, and the atomic bomb.
Scientific advances achieved during the war convinced American
political leaders that science was a major factor in national survival for
both military and economic reasons (
19th Century Inventions 1851 - 1899. (2004).
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Cuban, L. (2001). Oversold and
Underused: Computers in the Classroom.
DeBoer, G. E. (1991). A History of
Ideas in Science Education : Implications for Practice.
Duderstadt, J. J., Atkins, D. E., Brown, J. S.,
Gomory, R. E., Hasselmo, N., Horn, P. M.,
et al. (2002). Preparing for the
Revolution: Information Technology and the Future of the
Huxley, T. H. (1901). Science and
Education: Essays by Thomas H. Huxley.
Rudolph, J. L. (2002).
Scientists in the Classroom.
Spencer, H. (1924).
Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical.