“EDUCATION MEANS DIFFERENT THINGS TO DIFFERENT PEOPLE…” Its specific purpose was controversial then as it is clouded now. Everyone agreed, in general, that it would so some good. When the Colony of Massachusetts enacted the Compulsory Education Law in 1642, it was to prevent the young from degenerating into savagery. In other words, it was to preserve civilization and to prepare for the unexpected (Perkinson, 1991). Two hundreds fifty years later, American sociologist Edward Ross concurred that education was an expensive form of police, (Joel Spring, 1989).
The configuration of education had changed as the nation proclaimed its independence in 1776. Political figures and slave owners converged to draw and impose a blueprint supported by the economic and political infrastructures at that time. That is why Ira Shor and Paolo Freire (1987) complained that schools are set up to market official ideas and not to develop critical thinking. In fact, the Bill of General Diffusion of Knowledge introduced by Jefferson in 1779 proposed a three-year free education for all children wherein the most talented (the presumed future leaders) would be selected for further education at public expense (Spring, 1989).
Horace Mann, who has been hailed by many as the father of American education, objected to Jefferson’s idea for fear of creating and nurturing an aristocracy to the demise of the rest of society. Instead, Mann thought of a “Common School for All” that would teach the basic principles of a Republican form of government (Spring, 1989). Unfortunately, Mann’s dream that was more democratic than Jefferson’s was never materialized due to colliding societal interests, namely religion, slavery, and class.
Founded in 1830, a group of the Workman Party realized that Mann’s vision was not democratic enough because “sending children to a common school will not eliminate the difference in social backgrounds. The well-to-do child would return from school to a home richly furnished and full of books, whereas the poor one would return to a shanty barren of books and opportunities to learn, (Spring, 1989). The party favored that all children be removed from their families and placed in State Boarding Schools where they would all live in the same types of rooms, wear the same types of clothing, and eat the same kinds of food. In that milieu only, party members argued, education would truly allow all members of society to begin the race on equal terms.
Going along with the thinking of Henry George, a San Francisco newspaper wrote that “the progress of the few had been built on the poverty of many”. Jacksonian democrats opposed also the Jeffersonian’s philosophy. They regarded colleges and universities as seedbeds of aristocracy. They would, rather, support universal schooling wherein schools would be equalizers instead of being selectors. One can see that throughout the debates by founding fathers on education, nothing had been said about the education of the minorities, particularly the black who were languishing in servitude as the backbone of the United States economy at that time.