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Reading, Writing and Arithmetic...and Everything under the Sun

For those who are not in the field of education, this is something for you to consider. Those who are, are already well aware but may wish to share with others.

I teach a university course focused on the foundations of American education that delves into the history, philosophy, and current trends that have impacted, and still impact, our teachers and students. As part of the course, I use Jamie Vollmer's eye-opening overview of the progression of expectations that have been placed upon our schools, teachers and administrators from their founding until today. Just so you'll have some understanding of what is required of one of the most underappreciated and vitally important professions that exists today, please read on.

The Increasing Burden on America’s Public Schools (edited from an article by Jamie Vollmer)

America’s public schools can be traced back to the Puritans of Massachusetts who established schools to: 1) teach basic reading, some writing and arithmetic skills, and 2) cultivate values that serve a democratic society (some history and civics implied).

The founders of these schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising a child. Gradually, some science and geography were added, but the curriculum was limited and remained focused for 260 years.

At the beginning of the 20th Century, society began to assign additional responsibilities to the schools. Politicians and business leaders saw the schools as a logical site for both the assimilation of immigrants and the social engineering of citizens of the “Industrial Age.” The trend of increasing the responsibilities of the public schools has accelerated ever since…

FROM 1900 TO 1910, WE ADDED -nutrition -immunization, and -health to the list of school responsibilities.

FROM 1910 TO 1930, WE ADDED -Phys. Ed., including organized athletics, -the practical arts, -vocational education, including home economics and agricultural education, and -school transportation began to be mandated.

IN THE 1940s, WE ADDED -business education -art and music -speech and drama -half day kindergarten, and -school lunch programs appeared (We take this for granted today. It was, however, a significant step to shift to the schools the job of feeding America’s children 1/3 of their daily meals).

IN THE 1950s, WE ADDED -expanded science and math education -safety education -driver’s education -expanded music and art education -foreign language requirements were strengthened, and -sex education was introduced (topics continue to escalate)

IN THE 1960s, WE ADDED -AP programs -Head Start -Title I -adult education -consumer education -career education -peace, leisure, and recreation education

IN THE 1970s, THE BREAKUP OF THE AMERICAN FAMILY ACCELERATED, AND WE ADDED -special education (mandated by federal government) -Title IX programs (greatly expanded athletic programs for girls) -drug and alcohol abuse education -parent education -behavior adjustment classes -character education -environmental education -women’s studies -African-American heritage education, and -school breakfast programs appeared (Now, some schools feed America’s children 2/3 of their daily meals. Sadly, these are the only decent meals some children receive.)

IN THE 1980s, THE FLOOD GATES OPENED AND WE ADDED -keyboarding and computer education -global studies -ethnic studies -multicultural/non-sexist education -ESOL and bilingual education -teen pregnancy awareness -Hispanic heritage education -early childhood education -Jump Start, Early Start, and Prime Start -full day kindergarten -pre-school programs for children at-risk -after school programs for children of working parents -alternative education in all its forms -stranger/danger education -anti-smoking education -sexual abuse prevention education -health and psychological services were expanded, and -child abuse monitoring became a legal requirement for all teachers

IN THE 1990s, WE ADDED -conflict resolution and peer mediation -HIV/AIDS education -CPR training -death education -expanded computer and Internet education -inclusion -Tech Prep and School to Work programs -gang education (in urban centers) -bus safety, bicycle safety, gun safety, and water safety education

IN THE FIRST TWO DECADES OF THE 21ST CENTURY, WE HAVE SUPERIMPOSED UPON EVERYTHING ELSE -Internet Safety -Bullying Prevention Programs -Texting and Social Media Etiquette -Elevator and Escalator Safety Instruction -Body Mass Index Evaluation (Obesity Monitoring) -Eating Disorder Counseling -Suicide Awareness Programs -Organ Donor Awareness Classes -Steroid Abuse Prevention Programs -Media Literacy Training -Expanded Early Childhood Wrap Around Programs -Financial Literacy Development -Intruder Lockdown Training -Health and Wellness Programs -Leadership Training -Contextual Learning and Skill Development -Entrepreneurial/Innovation Skill Development -Credit Retrieval Programs -On-Line Learning Requirements -Common Core Standards -S.T.E.M Programs

And on top of it all, an unprecedented level of high stakes, standardized testing as a result of unfunded federal mandates from No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

And in most states, we have not added a single minute to the school calendar in six decades.

Amazing, isn't it?

All of these added items have merit, and all have their ardent supporters, but they all cannot be assigned to the schools. Even so, the expectations for what teachers and administrators must successfully accomplish each year continues to grow, often without additional compensation or additional resources.

No generation of teachers in the history of the world has been asked to meet this goal.

Unless we are a student of a particular topic or issue, we often base our understanding of it on our own experiences (or lack thereof). When it comes to schools and the current state of education, if you're only basing your understanding of what takes place in schools today on what you experienced when you were there, then, unfortunately, you may be very out of touch. Experience does not make one an expert. Yet newspaper columns, social media, talk radio, and the halls of legislatures are filled with "expert" opinions based on perception and memory and little to no facts. If you want to know what's happening, ask an educator.

Be informed. Be concerned. Be engaged. Be involved.

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