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The Purposes of Education in American Democracy

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On April 25, 1938 the Educational Policies Commission voted and approved the publication of The Purposes of Education in American Democracy. The committee’s purpose of the publication was to accomplish two things. The first was what the committee believed schools within the United States should accomplish as in educational objectives and second how to reach those educational objectives (vii). The commission expressed the importance of the kind of society in which we live to be of great importance to education. It was also stated that achievement of democracy was an increasing problem facing the profession of educators. The book’s purpose was to help lead you to think for yourself along with others dealing with your daily work, to increase your skills and thoughts within your profession, and to realize the great opportunities which you have as well as obligations (vii).
The Nature and Sources of Educational Objectives
The commission believed educational objectives relate to a scale of values (p. 1). To determine what the scale of values would include depends primarily on place to place as well as day to day within a society. The purpose of education evolves and will reflect and interact with people in their everyday lives (Hanley, Roehrig, Canto 2015). Moral standards and ideas reflect through values which will thrive within education relating what is good to all future generations that are still to come (p. 2). The ever-changing world in which we live promotes the constant study and revision of education to hold more meaning to people and to be fruitful within our schools (Hanley, Roehrig, Canto 2015).
Society determines and influences values which people cherish. Economic and social situations should not promote educational objectives. In the educational realm, changes within education must have a purpose. According to the author Rogers, the Educational Policies Commission set the objectives in education around the development of a person, his or her relationship with others, economic efficiency within a society, and the commitment to civic responsibility (1980). The values and moral standards taught through the American educational system were to build a thriving and democratic society to be proud of within the United States.
The Objectives of Education
The interests in objectives and educational purposes differ greatly from many different sources which include educational leaders, professional groups, youth, and ordinary citizens. The committee stated, “The term education implies the existence of some person other than the learner, a person moreover who is interested in the outcome and who desires to encourage one type of conduct rather than another” (p. 41). Ideals and values are important behaviors which education seeks to find mastery of knowledge, acquisition of such attitudes, and development of habits found by the learner to be desirable. According to the committee, social and personal values appear to be a way of living known as a democratic ideal. The ideals and values are a part of the American educational system which enhances the democratic way of life.
In 1938, the committee found it necessary to establish guidelines within the educational realm to help students reach the potential of being a good citizen within a democracy. Schlesinger states, “It seems bizarre to have to make the case that the public school system should prepare citizens for democracy. This is, after all, why our public school system was founded in the first place” (p.88). The guidelines included objectives of self-realization, human relationship, economic efficiency, and civic responsibility. The committee found each of the areas to relate to each other and concentrate around the individual, relationships within others in the home and community, creation and use of material wealth, and socio-civic activities (p. 47).
The Objectives of Self-Realization
The committee believed that it was important to begin the objectives with the development of the individual learner and through the interaction of the learner and society (p. 52). The immaturity in which a young person attains blossoms over many years of education which promotes from their curiosity and grows into human knowledge. The committee stated, “A little knowledge is a wholesome thing; only its misuse is dangerous” (p. 52). Learning is not based solely on books but also with continuing study, experience, experiment, and reflection (p.53). Formal schooling is only a starting point for which an individual will grow throughout their lifetime.
The objectives which the committee outlined targeted the areas of need within the educational system. The committee highlighted the areas of self-realization of the inquiring mind, speech, reading, writing, number, sight and hearing, health knowledge, public health, recreation intellectual interests, esthetic interests, and character. The committee sought education for self-realization in a democracy which permits an individual to seek his or her own way when pertaining to religious philosophy through an atmosphere of tolerance and freedom (p.69). The separation of Church and State which gives every man and woman complete freedom of religious belief and opinion (p. 68), was upheld and respected by the committee as an educated person has the responsible direction to his or her own life through democracy. The committee believed that each person develops his or her own philosophy of life through the learning process.
The Objectives of Human Relationship
The objectives of human relationship included respect for humanity, friendships, cooperation, courtesy, appreciation of the home, conversation of the home, homemaking, and democracy in the home according to the committee. Citizens viewed education as the leader in implementing human welfare through the scale of values of a person, which holds an impact on developing personality (p.73). With the developments of inventions along with the application of machinery, the educational system found themselves teaching students to consider the well-being of others without wavering to one side or the other (p.75). It was important for the school to encourage learning that developed desirable human relationships especially when relating to the amount of competition which was becoming more present at this time (p. 77). In turn, this led the committee to the realization of “democracy is a highly cooperative undertaking” (p. 77) and children could become more effective through cooperation at school.
Family is the creator and guardian of human values according to the committee (p.79). The most impressionable years of a child were at home with their family and education, noted by the committee, as being one of the responsible parties to improve and develop the family life (p. 80). With the change of times along with the progress of invention and science, the family ideals were changing (p. 81). More women were working outside of the home, divorce was becoming more popular, and fewer jobs were available which made the awareness of needed adjustments very visible (p. 84). As the times were changing rapidly, the democratic family saw differences settled through reason, persuasion, and compromise which would assist in future relationships for individuals and as a citizen within a democratic society (p. 88).
The Objectives of Human Efficiency
As the committee continued with the objectives, next on the list was the objectives of economic efficiency which included work, occupational information, occupational choice, occupational efficiency, occupational adjustment, occupational appreciation, personal economics, consumer judgment, efficiency in buying, and consumer protection. The committee found the objectives to economic efficiency related to activities pertaining to creating and using goods and services (p. 91). The committee continued with the belief that within a democracy each able-bodied adult would hold an occupation that he or she found fit for and able to provide social and individual values (p.92). Work opportunities were scarce within the educational program of the time because of traditional studies viewed to be more worthy (p.92). It was a work in progress to adopt the ideals of educational values occurring outside of the classroom (p. 92).
America was in need for well-designed vocational guidance to extend within the public schools (p. 95). The committee noted that preparation for vocational success should be a part of the educational job (p. 96). Every subject taught within the school can relate to occupational activities as well as contribute to the whole of the general education (pp. 97-98). The committee stated, “These social changes confront America with the need for informed intelligence and a sense of social responsibility as well as vocational adequacy among its people” (p. 99). An organized education acts as the responsible party to see the purposes within society realized (p. 99).
The Objectives of Civic Responsibility
The final part of the objectives for the committee identified the objectives of civic responsibility and this consisted of social injustice, social understanding, critical judgment, tolerance, conservation, social applications of science, world citizenship, law observance, economic literacy, political citizenship, and devotion to democracy. The committee saw the negative aspects of teaching social activity but believed that students needed a guided hand in learning about both sides of any given situation and being able to make their own unbiased decisions (p. 110-111). Differences of opinion was a part of life and learning tolerance and how to reach one’s own opinion was sought by the committee to be of importance in education (p. 112). The school’s responsibility was to seek ways to address the feelings and impulses of the young (p. 110). The civic responsibilities of citizens within a democracy held dear and true to the American educational system.
Education known to be highly patriotic should teach cooperative and constructive membership (p. 114). The committee saw that the school’s role should include restoring reason and peace within a nation of international issues at the time (p. 115). Understanding the nature of law through instruction and organization was a necessity for the committee (p. 116). Being an educated citizen in a democracy would include the knowledge of economic problems as well as knowing about the local, state, and national governments which included civic responsibilities which included voting (pp. 117-118, 120). The committee stated in the end, “The entire curriculum, the entire life of the school, in fact, should be a youthful experience in democratic living, quickening social inventiveness and agitating the social conscience. So are citizens for the democratic state successfully educated” (p. 123).