From the Archives II: A Dream Deferred

Sad but true: American public schools are segregated places. Kids’ chances of going to school with someone from a very different economic background are slim and getting slimmer. As I continue my work in the Philadelphia archives, I’ve come across another bit of evidence that this was not what Americans wanted.

mt vernon school philly

School for all (boys)…at least in theory

In 1828, the education committee of the state senate of Pennsylvania issued a report. There was no disagreement, they said, about the immense value of public education. As they put it,

The diffusion of education among the great body of the people, is an object very near the hearts of the benevolent and humane. It is conceded to be the most powerful means of furthering the cause of morality and religion; and its importance to a country possessing a republican form of government, is universally admitted.

Moreover, schools funded by the public should serve to unite the public. At Pennsylvania’s public schools, the committee promised (with emphasis added):

All the rising generation of a great community are instructed in the rudiments of learning. The doors of the common school houses are open to all without distinction, and the children of the rich and the poor meet there in the participation of a common benefit, upon terms of the most perfect equality. Such a system is above all praise, and deserves imitation every where.

At least, that was the dream. So far, it hasn’t happened. The children of the rich tend to go to schools with other children of the rich. Likewise for the children of the poor. But then again, it has only been 190 years. Maybe we’ll get there soon.

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1 Comment

  1. Agellius

     /  May 17, 2018

    “schools funded by the public should serve to unite the public”

    Except they won’t unite the public unless the public already happens to agree on what values public schools should promote. For example one of the quotes says, “It is conceded to be the most powerful means of furthering the cause of morality and religion.” But what if some people don’t want morality and religion to be furthered? You get division.

    Whereas in the private school my kids attended, there was a wide range of income levels, from rich-and-powerful to lower-middle-class, and probably a few poor people. But these families were united in the school’s mission, which was to impart Catholic religion and morality, straight with no chaser, to their children. The result was that we and our kids got to hobnob with people who otherwise would have moved in totally different circles from us.

    The ironic thing is that most liberals would probably describe this school as lacking diversity.

    Let people go to the schools they choose and, yes, some of them will segregate by race and income level. But others will segregate by religion and values and other things, thereby uniting people of different races and income levels in ways that otherwise wouldn’t happen.


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