American Education: Past And Present University Essay Example

As the third most populous country in the world, the American educational system is posed with a large and challenging task: schooling millions of children, and raising the next generation of American adults. The establishment of this system is, by some means, miraculous, and its history is considerably rapid and storied. However, as long as the American educational system remains tied to local and state funding, it will never be able to live up to its full potential.

To understand this issue, though, you have to look at its history. The roots of the American education system are largely found in religious organization. Some of the earliest schools in the United States were started by colonists in New England, for example, and parochial schools sprung up in large numbers around the country as religious Europeans immigrated.

Schooling as we now know it, however, may be most directly linked to the adopting of obligatory attendance measures, where it is a legal requirement for children to receive schooling of some form. This became a legal requirement in each state across the country in the second half of the 1800s, though some states did not implement such a measure until the late 1910s (Bandiera et al.). At this time, approximately 70% of American children were in some form of school.

O’Neill 2The way school came to be as it is today, has much less to do with compulsory attendance as it does with the development of what schooling itself means. Though this has shifted over the past century, the core ideal – of education as both a right and a municipal good – has remained; this concept is largely derived from progressive education theorist John Dewey. Dewey argued that education, at its core, should be about helping a person become a person, and that it was the role of the educator to help shape an individual into a citizen (Reese 10).

Education was, in this light, portrayed as a critical component of the democratic project. Whether or not American schools live up to this ideal today is a separate question, and to be addressed later.Despite the Great Depression, the first half of the 20th century saw a rapid increase in the number and size of schools in the United States. In 1910, for example, only around 10% of Americans had a high school diploma; this number had increased to 40% by 1935, and then 50% by 1940 (Goldin 688). Perhaps the greatest overarching change to occur in the history of American education, however, can be found in desegregation.

Previous judicial statutes such as 1896’s Plessy v. Ferguson had established a principle of “separate but equal” in regard to segregated American schools. This was rarely more than a legal talking point, as the vast majority of non-white students received lackluster educations as a result of chronic underfunding. The landmark case Brown v. Board of Education changed this in 1954, where the Supreme Court found that this principle was, in fact, unconstitutional.

For a period between the case’s decision and approximately 1970, schools across the country were desegregated, meaning that since 1970, American education has been technically equal. It must be noted, though, that American schools are not truly desegregated. Throughout the Reagan and H. W. Bush administrations, federal measures ensuring integration were gradually stripped away; seeing that

O’Neill 3the root causes of de facto segregation – namely housing segregation and economic racism – still exist, and have perhaps even been worsened, American schools are likely not as integrated as they are claimed to be (Wood 109).Second to Brown v. Board, the greatest federal action on American education began with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed by Lyndon Johnson as a portion of his Great Society in 1965.

Primarily concerned with the increase in funding, the act also aimed at universalizing and democratizing both access to education and the performance of educational infrastructure; the act was renewed by Congress repeatedly after its initial passing. Though changes were made upon each renewal of the ESEA regarding where funds would go and how they would be allocated, the most substantial change in the 20th century came with 1994’s Improving America’s Schools Act. Goals, as stated by the Clinton administration, included increased funding for bilingual education, education technology, and disadvantaged students.

Consideration of the present day begins with the No Child Left Behind Act. It is widely held that the contemporary state of American education leaves much to be desired, especially when contrasted with its previous functionality. Indeed, education has increasingly become a public issue since the passing of No Child Left Behind, which some hold responsible for a perceived decline in quality.

In seeking to measure the performance of schools around the country, the act institutionalized the widespread use of standardized testing – a measure widely decried and, ultimately, of little positive effect (Hoyle and Kutka 355).In opposition to standardized testing, there arises a unique feature of the American educational system: its markedly localized character. While there are a variety of federal regulations pertaining to education, much of a school’s curriculum is decided by its local district. Through this, a student’s education is in some ways determined by the lottery of birth – where

O’Neill 4they are born, where their home may be, and what their parents make- these are all strong determinants (Wood 100-101). Such has almost come to be an expectation of parents sending their children to schools. Indeed, governing boards are continuously faced with “…the articulation of increasingly differentiated demands for schooling that are more closely aligned with the linguistic, cultural, and religious preferences of specific […] households,” (Plank 14).

These demands are currently translating into a rise in homeschooling and charter schools, furthering the disintegrated nature of American education. Such expectations, and the expectations of performance, essentially amount to American public schools being expected to do more with less (15).Perhaps the greatest issue in American education, however, is the economic aspect. This again returns the issue to the localized character of schooling, and of school funding; the quality of a student’s education may be primarily determined by the abilities of their surrounding tax base (Wood 101).

On a more immediate scale, one must look to the effect of the Great Recession. In the past decade, investment in public education has fallen dramatically (Leachman et al. 2017). This requires examining how schools are funded. Federal funding, while at an all-time high for education, only makes up a small portion of overall education funds at 8%; the task of financing schools instead primarily lies with local and state funding measures. Since the beginning of the Great Recession in 2008, most states in the country have cut those measures (Leachman et al.).

While some of the cuts have been made back over the course of national economic recovery, a substantial portion – approximately one-third of all cuts made – have not. This comes at a time when more and more students are entering public schools, meaning the strain on the system is only increasing.

O’Neill 5Another complicating factor is that of collective bargaining. Many right-wing detractors disproportionately focus on the presence of organized labor in American schools as the reason for its current disarray; such is patently false, but there is some validity to critique. First, however, you have to look to the reasoning behind organized labor in schools – the answer is simply that wages for teachers have never been very good, and unionization provides a means of empowering educators to seek better pay (Wood 107).

The problem, then, comes in the fact of diminished oversight, where teacher’s unions may make firing a staff member difficult. As with the issue as a whole, one can see the utility in such a measure: job security for teachers is important, and it should, in some scenarios, be difficult to let a teacher go, such as in the case where their curriculum contradicts the wishes of a vengeful parent. However, it is also true that flexibility in managing a staff base may be critical to the effective management of a school system (107).

When considering these defects, one must examine the means by which they may be fixed. The most immediate of these can perhaps be seen in an overall change in the way schools are funded and maintained. Instead of schools being beholden to their communities’ abilities to fund them, the American educational system should be reformed into a single, unified body entirely funded by federal means (Hoyle and Kutka 358).

The most recent relevant federal legislation, 2015’s Every Student Succeeds Act, does not advance towards this goal, and does little to change the status quo of American education.Ultimately, the history of education in America must be examined for its achievements and its faults. Its historical accomplishments in rapid establishment and near-universality ought to be praised, as should its democratic mission. Its shortcomings, largely contemporary, should be noted and criticized, and the cause of these shortcomings must be clearly identified as an

O’Neill 6ineffective method of funding. Only when these two bases are considered against the historical contexts of its development can one comprehensively understand the American education system.

The Hypothesis-testing System

In cognition, stress is defined as the state of mental or emotional strain resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances. Moreover, stress has a double-sided effect, with one aspect supplying the negative, such as mood and behavior declines, while the positive aspect “tends to facilitate cognitive function, particularly in implicit memory,” which uses past experiences in order to remember events without actively thinking about them. (Sandi 2013)

However, exposure to high levels of stress tends to impair explicit memories, which is the conscious, intent driven recollection of information, experiences, and concepts. Therefore, it is reasonable to assert that moderate levels of stress are beneficial to the formation of the cognitive self, whilst more sufficient levels impede cognitive functions and produce symptoms, such as behavioral and mood swings. Before determining the different sides of stress, it is important to first understand the overall umbrella term of stress. Stress can be divided into three sub concepts: acute, chronic, and episodic. Acute stress is commonly explained as a feeling that is thrilling and frightening at the same time.

Most of the incidences usually cause no harm, since they are traditionally ordinary events that accelerate the rate of brain function. Given this, it is important to note that the brain develops proper strategies to tackle similar matters in the near future. The body restores back to normal once the danger is done. This is because the brain tries to cope with the surrounding, and preserves the chemicals for a similar event that is likely to occur at any time in the future. Frequent occurrences of acute stress result in the generation of episodic stress.

Episodic stress is likely to occur because one gets anxious about the events they suspect will happen to them. For instance, if your life situation is chaotic, you are likely to be ready for the next brawl that might alter proper functioning. The last type of stress is chronic stress. Chronic stress is prolonged and hence it is expected to cause detrimental effects to the health of individuals. In determining the extend of the concept of stress, a set of components are used in order to define the actual, intended experience of stress.

In Robert Stawski’s Examination of the Effects of Exposure to Stress and Stress -Reactivity on Selective Attention, “stressors, events, or environmental demands are experiences or perturbations that require appraisals, or subjective evaluations of whether a situation requires behavioral adaptation.” (Stawski 2006) Furthermore, responses, such as behavioral, psychological, or biological, to these experiences are collectively known as stress responses.

In order to characterize and value these stress responses, the whole experience of stress as a whole is measured under experimental control. Once the experiments are conducted, it is then determined whether acute, chronic, or episodic stress causes changes in cognitive function and processes. Stress and cognition are interrelated, and thus has been the subject of research experiments. In 1968, “a discovery of glucocorticoid receptors in the rodent hippocampus [has led to much] research that has focused on the effects of stress on hippocampal-dependent functions, such as episodic memory.” (Stawski 2006)

Several research studies that emphasize the correlation between stress and decline in cognitive processes include Kuhlmann’s experiment, stating that “exposure to stress impaired young adults’ recall of a list of words 24 hours later, when compared to recall 24 hours after a non-stressful control task.” (Stawski 2006) In a similar experiment, Lupien “showed that older adults recall performance on a paired-associates memory task was poorer after stress compared to before, and that performance did not change after participants were exposed to a non-stressful visual search task.” (Stawski 2006)

These experiments manifest that the negative effects of stress will impact task performance involving “attention control, or effortful cognitive processing.” (Stawski, Sliwinski, & Smyth 2006) The negative aspects of stress on cognition have well been documented however, there are several limitations regarding laboratory testing. One of the main challenges in experimental settings is how to induce stress in a controlled setting.

Acute stress is normally elicited by variable procedures and in spite of this, “variability may lead to reduced comparability between results from different stressors.” (Wu & Yan 2017) Given this, the main issue becomes the lack of a standardized modem of delivery for stress and the associated responses. A secondary issue that arises from laboratory settings is that only moderate levels of stress may be induced. This issue serves as a limitation due to the fact that “moderate stress may not have the same effects on cognition as higher levels of stress.” (Wu & Yan 2017)

Cognitive functioning and negative response to stressors are thought as to have a positive correlation, meaning that as one factor increases, the other follows. However, is it possible that stress can have a positive, profound impact on cognitive performance? In a 2011 experiment, researchers aimed to answer this exact question. First, researchers observed “that stress reactivity consistent with maladaptive, threat response differentially predicted performance on two categorization tasks.” (Ell, Cosley, & McCoy 2011) The first task, information-integration, was mediated by procedural-learning system, while the second task, rule-based learning, was mediated by hypothesis testing.

The hypothesis-testing system “is highly dependent upon working memory,” and working memory is significantly impaired by increased stressors or threat. (Ell, Cosley, & McCoy 2011) Therefore, the it is reasonable to assert that increased stressor activity would be expected to impair the hypothesis-testing system, thus resulting reduced accuracy in the rule-based task. However, researchers hypothesized that the two tasks “operate in parallel, and compete for control of the observable categorization response across trials.” (Ell, Cosley, & McCoy 2011)

Initially, the hypothesis-testing system is in control, but control shifted in favor of the procedural-based learning exhibited in the information-integration task. Due to this completion, researchers hypothesized that “manipulations designed to interfere with the hypothesis-testing system can actually facilitate learning” in information-integration tasks. (Ell, Cosley, & McCoy 2011) To test this hypothesis, researched subjected all the participants to a social stressor in order to induce an arousal response. Immediately following the introduction of the stressor, participants were randomly assigned to complete one of the two tasks.

The experiment concluded that “increased threat reactivity was associated with higher accuracy on the information-integration task,” as initially predicted. (Ell, Cosley, & McCoy 2011) Positive stress facilitates learning by promoting completion among systems, eliminating the negative stressor that is conducive. This experiment proves that stress can be beneficial, and moreover, essential. The determinant that concludes whether stress is beneficial or harmful lies within each individual, as stressors and stress responses differ from one another.

In conclusion, it is indeed true that stress and stress factors fluctuate the way that cognitive processes operate and proceed. The two-sided approach of stress benefits, as equally as harms, cognitive controls. Negative stress illicit unwanted consequences, such as mood and behavioral declines, as well as decline in attention and performance tasks. In contrast, positive stress facilitates learning in procedural-learning tasks, and promotes overall health in psychological and behavioral systems.

Why Kids Need Recess, By Megan Kompare

How many of you had recess when you were in primary or elementary school? According to “The Benefits of Recess”, starting in the 1990’s, schools and legislators agreed that it was more important for a student to do well in their classes and on standardized testing based on their opinions, rather than listen to scientific evidence that proved differently.  Children in school are prohibited from improving their academic, social, and physical wellness as well as their future because schools and politicians are more concerned about making money.

When I was in primary school before I was old enough to join a sports team or four, I never had recess when I was in school. My school day started at 8:00 and ended at 3:00. Physical Education was only once a semester and only took place once or twice a week, depending on what day in the rotation it was. As a result of a lack of physical exercise in school, I would come home from school, and as my mother termed it, “burn off steam”. This meant that I would go outside and ride my bike or walk my dog for an hour or so before working on homework.

Kids nowadays don’t have an opportunity to take a break from learning while they are school, which effects their academic, social, and physical purposes, as well as their future. Primary and elementary schools are too focused on meeting academic deadlines than they are about their students health.

In order to understand the four main reasons how recess affects a students health and future, we need to understand why schools no longer have recess. Schools are getting rid of recess to spend more time in the classroom. The biggest reason why is to meet academic achievements (

What this means is that schools are more concerned about meeting academic deadlines each year because in the instance of some schools, if the students as a grade as a whole reach a certain grade, they receive a certain amount of money from the state. In order to receive the most amount of money as possible, the school wants the students to do well. The school will also receive a certain amount of money is students do well on standardized tests, like the ACT, SAT, and PSAT/NMSQT. (Thompson)

From this paragraph alone, one could conclude that schools care more about money than they do about students. Based on this information and the information above about the four main reasons why students need recess, one would think that schools would allow children to take a 15 minute break everyday would actually help them do better, but they don’t.

Academic purpose— Taking a break between classes allows for students to retain and process information better as well as burn off energy to allow them to focus on their work (The Benefits of Recess). Social purpose— Allowing children to socialize freely – meaning there aren’t any adults instructing them, but they are nearby supervising – gizes them the opportunity to learn how to do things on their own such as develop their social skills (The Benefit of Recess).

Physical purpose— Not only does being outside and moving around help with staying physically fit, but it also encourages children to be active at home and to release stress in a healthy manner. In addition to being physically fit, children are also exposed to Vitamin D, a vitamin essential for bone growth in children (Denoon and The Benefit of Recess).

Their future– The phrase “I’m preparing you for the workforce” was often said by my teachers. But were they really? If you work for at least four hours, at least at my retail job, you have to take a 15 minute break. If you work eight hours, the average amount of time a student is in school, you have to take two 15 minute breaks, and a 30 minute meal break. It almost sounds like a retail job does a better job at taking care of it’s employee’s than a school does.

State the Solution: There are only two ways to solve the problem of giving kids a break in school and that is to give them a break in the morning and allow them to have recess when they have lunch. Break in the morning— A break in the morning, say somewhere around the second and fourth periods, can represent a 15 minute break while in a job. It will also allow children to process what they just learned and prepare them to learn more material later in the day.

Recess during or around lunchtime— Allowing children to play on a playground, something that’s been decreasing since the 1990’s, (The Benefits of Recess), will allow them to burn off energy and help with focus in upcoming classes. SIGNAL THE WRAP UP! Both of these solutions help develop social skills in children as well as benefit a student’s future as well as their physical well-being and academic learning.

Schools and politicians have a bigger concern about making money than they do about improving children’s academic, social, and physical wellness as well as their future. Studies have proven that children do better when they are given a break or have recess, but schools and politicians have decided to ignore these studies because of money. When children are given a break, they are able to focus better in class, improve their social skills, be physically fit, and prepare themselves for a future job.

As I was doing my research, I came across a book called, “The Art of Play” by Anna R. Beresin. In the book, Beresin describes how she and a group of students that attended the University of Philadelphia created an experiment on where they gave nine school toys for recess to see what the kids would do and how it affected their grades. The first step in four of these schools was to convince them to even have a recess, while four had to be convinced to stop using recess as a punishment or for enrichment. Beresin has a quote that summarizes why kids need recess.

“…there are a host of practices that are being reinvented during play; the practice of fine and large motor skills; the practice of balance; the practice of friendship; the practice of culture, and with it the practice of words, of singing, drawing, dancing, acting; the practice of design, of expansion and contraction; the practice of juxtaposition; the practice of practice.”

At the time that the study was conducted in 2010, 50 percent of Philadelphia’s children between the ages of 6-12 were overweight or obese. This is due to children moving less not only at home, but at school. Their parents had to walk to school, had some form of recess, and had toys that involved movement. Nowadays, kids take buses or cars to school, more than likely don’t have recess, and have electronic devices to keep them entertained.

While it might be a little strange for a bunch of college students to start protesting outside of the nearest elementary or primary school to give the students inside recess, what we can do is something we did two weeks ago, which is vote. Vote for the politicians that actually want to improve our education system, and not put money into their pockets.


  1. Beresin, A. R. (2014). The art of play: Recess and the practice of invention. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.
  2. Breedlove, K. (2013). Recess’s Effects on Children’s Health & Wellness. Retrieved from
  3. DeNoon, D. J. (2008). The Truth About Vitamin D: Why You Need Vitamin D. Retrieved from
  4. Flannery, M. E. (2016, July 27). After Years of Cuts to Playtime, Parents and Educators Are Bringing Recess Back. Retrieved from
  5. Pellegrini, A. D., & Bohn-Gettler, C. M. (2013). The Benefits of Recess in Primary School. Retrieved from
  6. The Benefits of Recess. (2016, April 15). Retrieved from
  7. Thompson, V. (2018, September 27). Do Standardized Test Scores Factor in to How Much Money a School Will Receive? Retrieved from