Two recent articles caught my attention. It’s hard to read them together and not shake your head.
The testing groundwork was laid in 1837, when a lawyer and legislator in Massachusetts named Horace Mann became secretary of the newly created State Board of Education, part of the Whig Party’s effort to centralize authority and make schools modern and accountable. After a fact-finding trip abroad, Mann claimed in 1844 in a nationally publicized report that Prussia’s schools were more child-friendly and superior to America’s. Boston’s grammar masters, insulted, attacked Mann in print, and he returned the favor. In December, some Whig reformers, including Mann’s close friend Samuel Gridley Howe, were elected to the School Committee and soon landed on the examining committee.
Howe masterminded the use of written tests. His committee arrived at Boston’s grammar schools with preprinted questions, which angered the masters and terrified students. Pupils had one hour to write down their answers on each subject to questions drawn from assigned textbooks.
What helps explain the half-century of promises made in these ads is knowing about the love affair Americans have had with new technologies in life and in schools. Consider the early-19th-century Frenchman who wrote of his travels in America. He said: “Every new method which leads by a shorter road to wealth, every machine which spares labor, every instrument which diminishes the cost of production, every discovery which facilitates pleasures or augments them” impressed Americans. Alexis de Tocqueville saw the practical side of this nation in the early 1830s when he toured it with a companion. Americans’ subsequent embrace of steam engines, railroads, turbines, telephones, assembly lines, automobiles, airplanes, and one technology after another right up to the iPhone 5 and beyond is a history of falling in and out of love with the latest device that will “lead to a shorter road to wealth.”
Also, check out the slideshow that accompanies Cuban’s piece.
The lesson here? Hug your local education historian.