Debates on Compulsory Education in the United States


Compulsory public education still elicits debates centuries since the implementation of the Policy in the United States. The Compulsory education system was founded on the Prussian model of education established with a principal aim of teaching children how to be obedient. In 1790, Pennsylvania adopted a policy to allow free education for the poor children under the assumption that children with rich parents could continue paying for their education. The newspaper sources selected highlights the debate on the issue of compulsory education more than a century ago. The first newspaper article was published on March 27, 1870, and it concerns a debate about public education versus parochial education systems. The second newspaper is “A Perspective piece about who would benefit most from compulsory education. “Caring for Children: Legislation for Compulsory education asked,” published on February 15, 1890. The third newspaper article is “Compulsory education in Practice,” by Omaha Herald Nebraska published on January 08, 1870. The academic source to be used is an article by Valerie Strauss published May 2, 2017, about a proposal to end compulsory public school. From the four sources, it is evident that despite transforming, compulsory education in the United States is an issue that has been debated over time.

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In the newspaper article by Daily Inter Ocean, there is evidence of an ongoing debate about the use of other languages to teach children in Pennsylvania after the adoption of the compulsory education system for children. The article presents the incidence in which Lutheran natives living in Pennsylvania attempted to push for their children to be taught in their native language. According to the compulsory education policy at that time in 1870, teaching in all schools was supposed to be conducted in English, thus all children attending school were supposed to learn and understand English irrespective of whether they know another language or not. In another article by Nebraska, it depicts the progress of compulsory education in the United States. The author acknowledges the idea of introducing compulsory education where young boys and girls are allowed to attend school irrespective of their parents’ economic status. However, challenges the idea of compulsory education because of the doubt on whether the children gain considering that the system is more of like forcing them to attend school. Nebraska goes on to elaborate how some parents are neglecting their children and relegating their responsibilities to the school. Parents fail to train their children on intellectual development and expect their children to excel by simply attending school.

Nebraska’s claims are similar to Valarie Strauss’ sentiment based on a claim by a politician that compulsory public schooling is a “burden” to the children and education should only be voluntary to those who wish to learn. According to Strauss, a group of politicians is willing to start a campaign against compulsory education where children are expected to start school by a certain age. They argue that quality education is meant to prepare the next generation of individuals who will be in charge of the nation. Thus, parents should have a better comprehension of their children than the policymakers. According to Strauss, in the past, before states began to implement the compulsory education policy, education used to be a privilege and people used to strive to get an education. However, currently, it is forced to every person.

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The newspaper article “Caring for Children” highlights the issue about the need to provide children with education. Other issues covered in this article are financial aspects as well as the need for kindergartens for early education development among children. The article depicts how a large number of children were not in school before the compulsory school initiative. Education was reserved for the few who could afford. The rest could not take their children to school because to them it was beyond their means. Moreover, the article highlights how a proposal was made to raise allocation to industrial training by $10,000 so that some amount could be used in establishing kindergartens. Similarly, in the modern article, the author presents highlights important aspects of the compulsory education such as homeschooling, private schools as well as the competition aspect. Strauss’ article shows that despite criticism from the politicians, compulsory education still offers several benefits.

The new article by Nebraska gives an account that despite most states having established compulsory education system with functioning school, some parents conduct raised concerns about the quality of education their children would get. For instance, some parents did not care the importance of their children going to class and they would rather attend to other issues without paying attention to what their children were learning at school. Similarly, in the article by Daily Inter Ocean, the article depicts how the Lutheran parents were misguided by opposing the move to their children in English. Despite the fact that English was widely used in the United States, these parents did not feel comfortable with teaching being conducted in English which means they even doubted the reason for taking their children to school because to them children learning English was the same as learning their vernacular which they used to speak at home.

Strauss highlights the long history of compulsory education in the United States. For instance, in 1642, Massachusetts Bay Colony was the first to adopt a prototype of the compulsory education although at that time it was not based on schools instead parents taught their children how to read and write especially in understanding the colony laws. Years that followed, more colonies adopted similar policies that later lead to the inception of compulsory education. The author also highlights how Massachusetts became the first state to establish common schools in each town and each parent was expected to take their children to school failure to which the fine would be imposed.  Later in 1805, the state of New York also adopted the same policy by offering free elementary education for the poor children. By 1870, all states had adopted the policy to provide free elementary education. Conversely, the article by Nebraska gives a brief overview of the progress of compulsory education and how early plans began to create large schools that could accommodate all children including the colored

To conclude with, compulsory education in the United States has undergone tremendous evolution over the years. The newspaper article sources as well as the scholarly source all highlight various issues on the transformation of compulsory schooling. Also, the debates on the importance of compulsory schooling have been going on since the period when the policy was implemented and incorporated into the Federal laws.

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  1. Nebraska, Omaha  Herald. “Compulsory education in Practice,” America Historical Newspapers. January 08, 1870.
  2. Daily Inter Ocean. Public Vs. Parochial Education. America Historical Newspapers. March 27, 1870
  3. Critic Record. Caring for Children: Legislation for Compulsory education asked,” America Historical Newspapers. February 15, 1890.
  4. Strauss Valerie. Arizona lawmaker: Let’s end compulsory schooling and stop forcing education ‘down everybody’s throat’ Answer Sheet. Analysis. May 2, 2017.
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