Education In The USA
Purpose And Scope
Americans believe that every citizen has both the right and the obligation to become educated.
In order to develop an educated population, all states have compulsory school attendance laws. These laws vary somewhat from one state to another, but generally they require that formal schooling begin by age 6 and continue until at least age l6. However, most Americans attend school at least until high school graduation, when they are l7 or l8 years old. About 75% of all American adults and about 85% of younger American adults are high school graduates.
The size of the nation's basic educational enterprise is astonishing. From kindergarten through high school, about 46 million students are enrolled in school. To educate this vast number of students, Americans employ about 2.7 million teachers, by far the largest professional group in the country.
Public and private schools
About 88% of American children receive their elementary and high school education in the nation's public schools. These schools have the following important characteristics in common:
a) They are supported by taxes and, therefore, do not charge tuition.
b) In general, they are neighbourhood schools, open to all students who live within the district.
c) They are co-educational, which means that boys and girls attend the same schools and have nearly all of their classes together. By providing girls with equal educational opportunity, American public schools have helped to create today's self-sufficient American woman.
d) Public schools are required to follow some state guidelines regarding, for example, curriculum and teacher qualifications. But, in most matters, schools are locally controlled. Each school district is run by an elected Board of Education and the school administrators that Board hires. This system creates strong ties between the district's schools and its community.
e) Public schools are non-sectarian (secular), which means that they are free from the influence of any religion. As a result, children of many different religions feel comfortable attending the public schools, and the public school system has been able to help a diverse population build a common culture.
Private schools can be divided into two categories: parochial (supported by a particular religious group) and secular (non-religious). Private schools charge tuition and are not under direct public control, although many states set educational standards for them. In order to attend a private school, a student must apply and be accepted. Parochial schools make up the largest group of private schools, and most of these are operated by the Roman Catholic Church. Private secular schools are mainly high schools and colleges.
Course content and teaching methods
In educating students for adult work and adult life, American schools try, above all, to be practical. American education has been greatly influenced by the writings of a famous 20th-century philosopher named John Dewey. Dewey believed that the only worthwhile knowledge was knowledge that could be used. He convinced educators that it was pointless to make students memorize useless facts that they would quickly forget. Rather, schools should teach thinking processes and skills that affect how people live and work.
Dewey also influenced teaching techniques.education must be meaningful, and children learn best by doing - these are the basic ideas of progressive education. Thus, science is taught largely through student experimentation; the study of music involves making music; democratic principles are put into practice in the student council; group projects encourage creativity, individual initiative, leadership, and teamwork.
What do American schools see as their educational responsibility to students? The scope is very broad indeed. Today's schools teach skills and information once left for the parents to teach at home. For example, it is common for the public school curriculum to include a campaign against cigarette smoking and drug abuse, a course in driver's education, cooking and sewing classes, consumer education, and sex education. Most American grammar schools have also added computer skills to their curriculum. As human knowledge has expanded and life has become increasingly complex, the schools have had to go far beyond the original three Rs ("reading, writing, and arithmetic") that they were created to teach.
American high schools have a dual commitment: (a) to offer a general college preparatory program for those who are interested in higher education; and (b) to provide opportunities for vocational training for students who plan to enter the work force immediately after high school graduation. For the college-bound, high schools offer advanced classes in math, sciences, social sciences, English, and foreign languages. They also have Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which enable good students to earn college credit while still in high school. But in the same building other students take vocational courses such as shorthand and mechanical drawing, and some participate in work/study programs which enable them to get high school credit for on-the-job training in various occupations.
Today, more than ever before, American schools are committed to helping foreign-born students adjust to life in an American class-room. The Bilingual Education Act of l968 provided federal funds for bilingual instruction, which allows students to study academic subjects totally or partially in their native language while they are learning English. Bilingual education is offered in about 70 languages including Chinese, Spanish, Vietnamese, and several American Indian languages. Of course, this type of instruction is available only where a number of students speak the same foreign language. In addition, immigrant students have benefited from the l974 Supreme Court ruling requiring public schools to provide special programs for students who speak little or no English. Today, English as a second language of instruction is common in American elementary and high schools.