Social and political reform during the Progressive Era of American history led to major advancements in public education. In this lesson, we’ll examine three of those advancements: the spread of high schools, urban education, and teacher training.
Picture this: a society where politicians can’t be trusted to do the right thing because they are bribed by the powerful and rich. A place where corporate greed means that the average worker can barely make enough to live on, even as the companies they work for (and the men in charge of them) turn a tidy profit.I’m talking about America in the late 19th and early 20th century.
From about the 1880s to about the 1920s, the Progressive Era in America tried to address these issues through a time of great social activism and political reform.The focus of the Progressive Era might sound familiar to you: it was about the rights of all individuals, including women, minorities, consumers, and other groups that people felt did not receive all the rights and protections they deserved. It was a response to political and corporate abuses against people who were weaker than those in power.From protecting consumers from scrupulous corporate practices to securing education and voting rights for all people, the Progressive Era had such far-reaching effects that we are still talking about some of the same issues today, a century later!The Progressive Era had a large impact on all aspects of our lives, from shopping to voting to going to school. Let’s look at some of the ways that the Progressive Era impacted public education in America.
How long did you spend in school? How long did your friends and family members spend in school? If you’re like most people today, you probably know a lot of people who finished high school and perhaps even quite a few who went to college.Before the Progressive Era, that wasn’t the norm. Most students were educated only up to the level that was necessary for them to function in life. For women, that usually meant primary school only, as they only needed a basic literacy to run their husband’s household.Men, especially white men, went to school longer. For working-class men, going to school until they reached their teenage years was relatively common, so many men only got an education through what would be considered middle school today. Some men from the middle and upper classes went on through high school or even to college, but it wasn’t nearly as prevalent as it is today.
The point is, before the Progressive Era, education was about who you were, not about what you could do. Women, minorities, and people from the lower classes didn’t really go to high school or college.But during the Progressive Era, that began to change.
There was a great expansion of high schools throughout the United States, and people of all walks of life began attending high school. A high school education became the new normal for many people, and many different types of people became prepared for college, even if they didn’t all go to college.The Progressive Era value of education was an important driving factor in the high school movement. Progressives saw that education was key to equality for all people, including those who had traditionally been shut out of power, like women and racial minorities.
The Progressive Era was mostly fueled by urban, educated people who saw that the country would benefit if everyone had opportunities to be their best.
One of the major goals of the movement became making a better way of life for immigrants, minorities, and poor residents of cities. After all, if the majority of progressives lived in urban areas, it stands to reason that they would be concerned with cities and other urban areas.In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a great distance between the rich and powerful and the poor immigrants and minorities of the city. In many urban areas, the richest people in the world lived only a mile or two from the poorest and most dejected Americans.To many people in the Progressive Era, education was seen as an important way to bridge the gap between the rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless. Many urban poor people worked in factories, which were still new during the late 19th century. As more and more cities sprang up around factories, the need for education grew.
Urban education, or schooling in cities, became a major focus of the Progressive Movement. As progressives saw it, education for the lower classes, minorities, and immigrants in cities around the country was one of the most important things that could be done to improve life in America. Schools sprang up in cities across the country, leading to more and more people having access to education.
With all of this talk of expanding education through high schools and improved urban education, you might start to think that students were the only focus of the Progressive Era’s educational reforms. But you’d be wrong!Another big reform in the Progressive Era was the rise of teacher education. Normal schools, which offered training in how to be a primary teacher, became more and more common during the early part of the Progressive Era.
These schools did not offer a college degree but did offer a teaching certificate to those who wanted to be teachers, particularly women who might be shut out of traditional colleges.As time passed, though, normal schools didn’t seem like enough training for teachers. Colleges and universities began offering degree programs in education and teaching.
First, they offered bachelor’s degrees, and then, slowly, schools began offering graduate degrees in education-related fields. All that was part of the movement to provide teacher education so that children would be taught by highly qualified teachers.
The Progressive Era in American history happened in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and focused on securing rights for all people through social activism and political reform. In the world of education, this meant offering high school to all students and bolstering urban education for the poor, immigrants, and minorities.
Finally, the Progressive Era saw a rise in teacher education, starting with normal schools and progressing to undergraduate and eventually graduate degrees for educators.
Once this lesson is done you should be able to:
- Describe the focus of the Progressive Era
- Discuss the Progressive Era’s impact on education
- Explain how the Progressive Era improved the status of women, minorities and poor people
- Recall the improvements made in teacher education during the period