Education expanding to meet needs of the whole child

By David F. Larson
Inside District 87
Posted4/17/2015 12:58 PM

The inception and establishment of public schools began in the 16th and 17th centuries. Compared with today, the original expectations for America's public schools were simple -- teach basic reading, writing and arithmetic skills and cultivate the values of a democratic society (some history and civics implied).

The creators of the original public schools assumed that families and churches bore the major responsibility for raising the child.


Beginning in the 19th century, society began to assign additional responsibilities to schools. Politicians and business leaders viewed public schools as the logical place to assimilate newly arrived immigrants and help with the social engineering of the first generation of the Industrial Age.

This trend of increasing public schools' responsibilities began then and has accelerated ever since. Just look at what we have added through the decades.

From 1900 to 1940, we added nutrition, speech and drama, immunization, half-day kindergarten, vocational education, school lunch programs, the practical arts, business education, physical education and organized sports.

In the 1950s and 1960s, we added driver's education, consumer education, foreign language requirements, career education, sex education, peace education, Advanced Placement programs and leisure/recreation.

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In the 1970s and 1980s, we added special education, bilingual education, drug and alcohol abuse education, keyboarding and computer education, parent education, Jump Start, Head Start, Even Start, character education, full-day kindergarten, early childhood education, anti-smoking education, environmental education, sexual abuse prevention education, school breakfast programs, multicultural education, child abuse monitoring, health and psychological services, Title IX (expanded sports for girls), and stranger/danger education.

And finally, in the 1990s and 2000s, we added HIV/AIDS education, expanded computer/Internet education, integrated special education classes, tech prep and school-to-work programs, bus safety education, anti-bullying education, Internet safety education, intruder alert training, steroid abuse education, and bike safety.

Despite not adding any minutes to the school day, public schools have responded to this rising flood of expectations over the last few decades. Teachers are instructing more students in more subjects to higher levels in more creative and dynamic ways than ever before.

Despite this daunting agenda, our public schools have prepared millions of people from all classes and backgrounds to achieve the American dream. Public education has played a principal role in helping America become the world's pre-eminent democracy and most successful economy.


Gov. Bruce Rauner and our legislators need to be reminded that adequate resources are critical to the continued efforts to meet these myriad educational expectations. Appropriate investment in our local public schools is the best strategy to ensure that all Illinois citizens can thrive and prosper.

This investment in public schools is the best turnaround strategy for Illinois.

• David F. Larson is superintendent of Glenbard High School District 87. His column appears in Neighbor monthly during the school year.

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