In the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War, Americans began to develop a robust school system. Yet back then, like today, disagreement was pervasive regarding the kind of education that was needed, who should pay for it, and how schools should be governed. In a recent book titled “Democracy’s Schools: The Rise of Public Education in America,” Dr. Johann Neem tells the story of how and why Americans decided that schooling should be a public good, and explores the significance of the debates that shaped the creation of our contemporary public school system.
On Thursday, Nov. 16, the Brown Center on Education Policy at Brookings convened a panel with Dr. Neem and other experts on education to explore the history and purpose of public education, focusing on the defining features of democratic education—promoting equality, nurturing human beings, preparing citizens, and fostering civic solidarity. Are these still the purposes of education in today’s world? Should they be?
The session began with a presentation followed by a response and a panel discussion.