Lessons of a Century

Americans in the 20th century made tremendous efforts to create, in the words of Noah Webster, "a system of education that should embrace every part of the community."

In January 1999, Education Week began a yearlong series chronicling the successes and setbacks in those efforts over the past 100 years. Lessons of a Century appeared in 10 monthly installments, both in the print edition and on the World Wide Web. The series, now complete, examines all aspects of the educational landscape--people, trends, historical milestones, enduring controversies--with an emphasis on their continuing relevance. Essays by leading scholars and other observers offer additional perspective.

You can read all 10 parts here as they originally appeared in Education Week on the Web by choosing selections on this page, or you can order the softbound book from our Products & Services Special Reports page.

The 100 entries in this last installment of Lessons of a Century show how forces and thinkers far removed from the classroom often shape what happens when the teacher closes the door and the pupils open their books.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Influential figures from this decade in American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Influential figures from this decade in American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Influential figures from this decade in American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Influential figures from this decade in American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Influential figures from this decade in American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week

Featured persons who helped shape 20th century American education.
December 15, 1999 - Education Week (Web)

Before the 20th century, education was a decidedly local affair. The young American democracy, which had grown up in opposition to the hierarchies of Europe, operated on the simple premise of keeping government limited and close to home. Local citizens decided whether to have schools, raised the money, hired the teachers, and chose which books to use. They also elected lay leaders, in the form of local school trustees, to oversee the job.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

In 1900, when the town of Stow in eastern Massachusetts was paying Josephine Newhall the less-than-princely sum of $323 to teach three grades for one semester, the townspeople more than likely picked up the tab.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

When a former student and colleague sought an affectionate nickname for Ellwood P. Cubberley, the Stanford University professor who would become one of the century's most influential educators, the young man chose "Dad." The name stuck, and from about 1903 to his retirement in 1933, "Dad" was how Cubberley was known to his students.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

It was a moment steeped in symbolism. President Lyndon B. Johnson stood before the one-room schoolhouse in Stonewall, Texas, that he once attended. Flanked by his former teacher at the school, he signed into law the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

Who should be in charge of the publish schools, and how should they be run?
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

Without a system of local control by elected trustees in the 19th century, this country might not have created the most comprehensive and popular system of public education in the world.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

American education grew up from the community outward. From Colonial times onward, local citizens built the schools, raised the money, hired the teachers, and chose which books to use. They also elected local leaders to oversee the job.
November 17, 1999 - Education Week

Andover has remained true to its mission of building character while preparing students for college.
October 20, 1999 - Education Week

The term "private school" had only recently entered the lexicon of American education at the end of the 19th century. Earlier in the nation's history, few distinctions were made between institutions based on how they were financed and governed. But when the "common school" arrived on the scene, any school that did not fit that mold suddenly seemed different.
October 20, 1999 - Education Week

In November 1884, America's Roman Catholic bishops assembled in Baltimore for a series of meetings. They debated topics ranging from the appointment of church leaders to the burial of members of their flocks in non-Catholic cemeteries.
October 20, 1999 - Education Week

As ferocious as today's debate is over private school vouchers, it may be surprising that early in the history of the republic, American religious schools periodically received generous public funding.
October 20, 1999 - Education Week

American schools have long been polite places where no one confronts anyone else too directly.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

Opal McAlister was young, ambitious, and grateful when she took her first teaching job in 1923. One teacher's journey from Calvin Coolidge to Gerald Ford.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

In 1857, the year the National Education Association was founded, teacher and lecturer William Russell made a bold proposal: Give teachers control over entry into their profession.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

In a world that likes to pigeonhole people, Albert Shanker was a paradox.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

The men and women charged with educating the nation's young people occupy a special place in American society. Teaching has long been considered more than just a job--even a calling.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

The century was young when the activist Margaret Haley dared to speak from the floor of the National Education Association's convention in Detroit, challenging the assertions made by its president. Teachers, she complained, were grossly underpaid.
September 15, 1999 - Education Week

Over the century, students have been faced with various forms of assessments. What follows is a sampling of questions; wording and punctuation are as they appeared to test-takers.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

How the standardized testing of students grew into a big business.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

Over the 20th century, the tests designed to measure what students know have changed like the seasons, but one thing has remained a constant: the tool necessary to record such measurement--the lead pencil.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

Come every spring, Texas students from the 3rd to the 10th grades take the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

Standards, tests, and accountability programs are today's favored tools for raising overall academic achievement. Testing policies are also meant to increase equity, to give poor and minority students a fairer chance by making expectations clear and providing instruction geared to them. In practice, though, it is proving hard to meet the twin goals of equity and higher achievement. This is because our schools are trapped in a set of beliefs about the nature of ability and aptitude that makes it hard to evoke effective academic effort from students and educators.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

Three pioneers of the testing field: Thorndike, Terman, and Yerkes.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

Gauging the knowledge students acquired was an endeavor of educators long before the 20th century dawned, but it has become a national obsession as the century ends.
June 16, 1999 - Education Week

At the dawn of the century, Highland Springs Elementary School was akin to thousands of other one-room schoolhouses that dotted the American landscape. Inside the roughly hewn structure near Richmond, Va., a lone teacher toiled in relative isolation to provide basic lessons to more than two dozen students. She supplemented her own meager education with textbooks and the state course of study.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

In The New Republic, a pundit argues that "vocational education is, irreducibly and without unnecessary mystification, education for the pursuit of an occupation."
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

One thing we have learned from examining the history of curriculum in the 20th century is that curriculum reform has had remarkably little effect on the character of teaching and learning in American classrooms. As the century draws to a close, it seems like a good time to think about why this has been the case.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

Boxes of tarnished trophies and other long-forgotten memorabilia symbolizing East High School's earliest sports triumphs lie in storage, replaced in school display cases by the honors bestowed on more recent generations. Even fewer traces of the Denver school's academic legacy endure.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

On Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik I--the first manmade satellite to orbit the Earth--and with it a campaign to change K-12 curriculum in the United States.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

The promise of technology, from the Victrola to the World Wide Web.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

For the young pupil who daydreamed of exotic places and heroic deeds early in this century, a schoolbook could quench the imagination. Back then, history textbooks were plump with lively narratives about the glorious conquests of brave explorers and the noble struggles of the nation's founders to create a new republic.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

Parents, educators, and politicians have long debated what students should learn in American schools--and how they should be taught.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

In some ways, the Scopes trial was about a lot more than the teaching of evolution in public schools. And in some ways, it ended up being about a lot less--a sideshow that obscured as much as it revealed real concerns among Americans about religious beliefs, science, academic freedom, and public education.
May 19, 1999 - Education Week

Excerpts
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

Much of the philosophy behind the 300-student Francis W. Parker Charter Essential School would be sweetly familiar to its namesake.
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

The energy and optimism that radiated from the United States as it strode confidently into the 20th century found a perfect outlet in the multifarious movement known as progressivism.
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

The debate between traditionalists and progressives over curriculum (and I use this term to include both content and pedagogy) is essentially a debate on how best to prepare students to live in society. Differences of opinion about curriculum stem from deeper differences about the nature of learning, the nature of society, and the purpose of schools in a democracy. Traditionalists structure schools to prepare students for filling roles in society--not for transforming it. They do not see that traditional approaches may contribute to maintaining the inequity and injustice that exist in our society. Progressives see society as needing improvement and the schools as serving the function of helping students become thinking citizens who can contribute to creating a more just society. John Dewey, the leading progressive educator of the century, wrote that "education is the fundamental method of social progress and reform."
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

On May 3, 1971, Newsweek magazine's cover story explored the "joy and excitement" of an educational movement that had burst into the national consciousness with the publication of Charles E. Silberman's Crisis in the Classroom.
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

In dreams begin responsibilities, as the poet Delmore Schwartz once said. The educators profiled in these pages recounting the century's philosophical debates in education wanted to see their ideas take hold. They knew it might require a decade or more for schools to put the principles into practice. Stamina had to accompany passion. Publication often marked the start, not the end, of the work. One upshot is that many of the best-known books on education reform this century have one or more sequels where "implementation" is the story.
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

John Dewey has been called the "most influential writer on education" and the "greatest philosopher" this country has produced. He's also one of the most misunderstood, oft-quoted, and least-read educational commentators of the progressive era.
April 21, 1999 - Education Week

March 24, 1999 - Education Week

As the United States waged war in Europe against fascism, a leading European intellectual issued a clarion call for America to mount a similar battle on the homefront: a crusade against racism. Published in 1944, Gunnar Myrdal's An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy was never a best seller. But its influence on U.S. opinionmakers was profound.
March 24, 1999 - Education Week

It takes just one look at the San Francisco schools to see that desegregation reaches far beyond black and white.

March 24, 1999 - Education Week

OTHER SPECIAL REPORTS

See archives of other special reports and past series from Education Week:

Most Popular Stories

Viewed

Emailed

Recommended

Commented