Education During the Progressive Era: Reform & Growth of Urban Education

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  • 0:03 Progressive Era
  • 1:26 High School
  • 3:10 Urban Education
  • 4:38 Teacher Education
  • 5:38 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Social and political reform during the Progressive Era of American history led to major advancements in public education. In this lesson, we'll examine three of those advancements: the spread of high schools, urban education, and teacher training.

Progressive Era

Picture this: a society where politicians can't be trusted to do the right thing because they are bribed by the powerful and rich. A place where corporate greed means that the average worker can barely make enough to live on, even as the companies they work for (and the men in charge of them) turn a tidy profit.

I'm talking about America in the late 19th and early 20th century. From about the 1880s to about the 1920s, the Progressive Era in America tried to address these issues through a time of great social activism and political reform.

The focus of the Progressive Era might sound familiar to you: it was about the rights of all individuals, including women, minorities, consumers, and other groups that people felt did not receive all the rights and protections they deserved. It was a response to political and corporate abuses against people who were weaker than those in power.

From protecting consumers from scrupulous corporate practices to securing education and voting rights for all people, the Progressive Era had such far-reaching effects that we are still talking about some of the same issues today, a century later!

The Progressive Era had a large impact on all aspects of our lives, from shopping to voting to going to school. Let's look at some of the ways that the Progressive Era impacted public education in America.

High School

How long did you spend in school? How long did your friends and family members spend in school? If you're like most people today, you probably know a lot of people who finished high school and perhaps even quite a few who went to college.

Before the Progressive Era, that wasn't the norm. Most students were educated only up to the level that was necessary for them to function in life. For women, that usually meant primary school only, as they only needed a basic literacy to run their husband's household.

Men, especially white men, went to school longer. For working-class men, going to school until they reached their teenage years was relatively common, so many men only got an education through what would be considered middle school today. Some men from the middle and upper classes went on through high school or even to college, but it wasn't nearly as prevalent as it is today.

The point is, before the Progressive Era, education was about who you were, not about what you could do. Women, minorities, and people from the lower classes didn't really go to high school or college.

But during the Progressive Era, that began to change. There was a great expansion of high schools throughout the United States, and people of all walks of life began attending high school. A high school education became the new normal for many people, and many different types of people became prepared for college, even if they didn't all go to college.

The Progressive Era value of education was an important driving factor in the high school movement. Progressives saw that education was key to equality for all people, including those who had traditionally been shut out of power, like women and racial minorities.

Urban Education

The Progressive Era was mostly fueled by urban, educated people who saw that the country would benefit if everyone had opportunities to be their best. One of the major goals of the movement became making a better way of life for immigrants, minorities, and poor residents of cities. After all, if the majority of progressives lived in urban areas, it stands to reason that they would be concerned with cities and other urban areas.

In the late 19th and early 20th century, there was a great distance between the rich and powerful and the poor immigrants and minorities of the city. In many urban areas, the richest people in the world lived only a mile or two from the poorest and most dejected Americans.

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