The Purpose of Public Education

To begin to answer this question, or move towards the more important question of what SHOULD be the purpose of public education in America, first we must start with what WAS the purpose of education in America.

Thomas Jefferson, widely considered the most adamant supporter of public education among our country’s founders, proposed a two-track school system which would separate workers from the “learned” class. Jefferson describes, “The mass of our citizens may be divided into two classes — the laboring and the learned. The laboring will need the first grade of education to qualify them for their pursuits and duties; the learned will need it as a foundation for further acquirements.” He went on to explain how this system would operate by “raking a few geniuses from the rubbish,” making it nearly impossible for those in the laboring track to access the opportunities, power, and wealth that are often tied to educational attainment.

Contrary to what many believe, the Constitution of the United States does not explicitly guarantee the right to a quality education. Challenges to the quality of education have had to utilize the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment to work towards educational equity.

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