American Democracy and The Purpose of Education Essay Example

American Democracy and The Purpose of Education Essay Example
📌Category: Education, Higher Education
📌Words: 1910
📌Pages: 7
📌Published: 27 May 2021

On April 25, 1938 the Educational Policies Commission voted and approved the publication of The Purposes of Education in American Democracy. The commission’s purpose of the publication was to accomplish two things. The first was what the commission believed schools within the United States should accomplish as in educational objectives and second how to reach those educational objectives (vii). The commission expressed the importance of the kind of society in which we live to be of great importance to education. It was also stated that achievement of democracy was an increasing problem facing the profession of educators. The book’s purpose was to help lead you to think for yourself along with others dealing with your daily work, to increase your skills and thoughts within your profession, and to realize the great opportunities which you have as well as obligations (vii).  

The Nature and Sources of Educational Objectives

The commission believed educational objectives relate to a scale of values (p. 1). To determine what the scale of values would include depends primarily on place to place as well as day to day within a society. The purpose of education evolves and will reflect and interact with people in their everyday lives (Hanley, Roehrig, & Canto, 2015). Moral standards and ideas reflect through values which will thrive within education relating what is good to all future generations that are still to come (p. 2). The ever-changing world in which we live promotes the constant study and revision of education to hold more meaning to people and to be fruitful within our schools (Hanley, Roehrig, & Canto, 2015). 

Society determines and influences values which people cherish. Economic and social situations should not promote educational objectives. In the educational realm, changes within education must have a purpose.  According to the author Rogers (1980), the Educational Policies Commission set the objectives in education around the development of a person, his or her relationship with others, economic efficiency within a society, and the commitment to civic responsibility. The values and moral standards taught through the American educational system were to build a thriving and democratic society to be proud of within the United States.

The Objectives of Education

The interests in objectives and educational purposes differ greatly from many different sources which include educational leaders, professional groups, youth, and ordinary citizens. The commission stated, “The term education implies the existence of some person other than the learner, a person moreover who is interested in the outcome and who desires to encourage one type of conduct rather than another” (p. 41). Ideals and values are important behaviors which education seeks to find mastery of knowledge, acquisition of such attitudes, and development of habits found by the learner to be desirable. According to the commission, social and personal values appear to be a way of living known as a democratic ideal (p. 42). The ideals and values are a part of the American educational system which enhances the democratic way of life. 

In 1938, the commission found it necessary to establish guidelines within the educational realm to help students reach the potential of being a good citizen within a democracy. Schlesinger states, “It seems bizarre to have to make the case that the public school system should prepare citizens for democracy. This is, after all, why our public school system was founded in the first place” (p. 88).   The guidelines included objectives of self-realization, human relationship, economic efficiency, and civic responsibility. The commission found each of the areas to relate to each other and concentrate around the individual, relationships within others in the home and community, creation and use of material wealth, and socio-civic activities (p. 47). 

The Objectives of Self-Realization

The commission believed that it was important to begin the objectives with the development of the individual learner and through the interaction of the learner and society (p. 52). The immaturity in which a young person attains blossoms over many years of education which promotes from their curiosity and grows into human knowledge. The commission stated, “A little knowledge is a wholesome thing; only its misuse is dangerous” (p. 52). Learning is not based solely on books but also with continuing study, experience, experiment, and reflection (p. 53). Formal schooling is only a starting point for which an individual will grow throughout their lifetime. 

The objectives which the commission outlined targeted the areas of need within the educational system. The commission highlighted the areas of self-realization of the inquiring mind, speech, reading, writing, number, sight and hearing, health knowledge, public health, recreation intellectual interests, esthetic interests, and character. In addition, the commission sought education for self-realization in a democracy which permits an individual to seek his or her own way when pertaining to religious philosophy through an atmosphere of tolerance and freedom (p. 69). The separation of Church and State which gives every man and woman complete freedom of religious belief and opinion (p. 68), was upheld and respected by the commission as an educated person has the responsible direction to his or her own life through democracy. The commission believed that each person develops his or her own philosophy of life through the learning process (p. 71). 

The Objectives of Human Relationship

The objectives of human relationship included respect for humanity, friendships, cooperation, courtesy, appreciation of the home, conversation of the home, homemaking, and democracy in the home according to the commission. Citizens viewed education as the leader in implementing human welfare through the scale of values of a person, which holds an impact on developing personality (p. 73). With the developments of inventions along with the application of machinery, the educational system found themselves teaching students to consider the well-being of others without wavering to one side or the other (p. 75). It was important for the school to encourage learning that developed desirable human relationships especially when relating to the amount of competition which was becoming more present at this time (p. 77). In turn, this led the commission to the realization of “democracy is a highly cooperative undertaking” (p. 77) and children could become more effective through cooperation at school.

Family is the creator and guardian of human values according to the commission (p. 79). The most impressionable years of a child were at home with their family and education, noted by the commission, as being one of the responsible parties to improve and develop the family life (p.  80). With the change of times along with the progress of invention and science, the family ideals were changing (p. 81). More women were working outside of the home, divorce was becoming more popular, and fewer jobs were available which made the awareness of needed adjustments very visible (p. 84). As the times were changing rapidly, the democratic family saw differences settled through reason, persuasion, and compromise which would assist in future relationships for individuals and as a citizen within a democratic society (p. 88).

The Objectives of Human Efficiency

As the commission continued with the objectives, next on the list was the objectives of economic efficiency which included work, occupational information, occupational choice, occupational efficiency, occupational adjustment, occupational appreciation, personal economics, consumer judgment, efficiency in buying, and consumer protection. The commission found the objectives to economic efficiency related to activities pertaining to creating and using goods and services (p. 91). The commission continued with the belief that within a democracy each able-bodied adult would hold an occupation that he or she found fit for and able to provide social and individual values (p. 92). Work opportunities were scarce within the educational program of the time because of traditional studies viewed to be more worthy (p. 92). It was a work in progress to adopt the ideals of educational values occurring outside of the classroom (p.  92). 

America was in need for well-designed vocational guidance to extend within the public schools (p. 95). The commission noted that preparation for vocational success should be a part of the educational job (p. 96). Every subject taught within the school can relate to occupational activities as well as contribute to the whole of the general education (pp. 97-98). The commission stated, “These social changes confront America with the need for informed intelligence and a sense of social responsibility as well as vocational adequacy among its people” (p. 99). An organized education acts as the responsible party to see the purposes within society realized (p. 99). 

The Objectives of Civic Responsibility

The final part of the objectives for the commission identified the objectives of civic responsibility and this consisted of social injustice, social understanding, critical judgment, tolerance, conservation, social applications of science, world citizenship, law observance, economic literacy, political citizenship, and devotion to democracy. The commission saw the negative aspects of teaching social activity but believed that students needed a guided hand in learning about both sides of any given situation and being able to make their own unbiased decisions (p. 110-111). Differences of opinion was a part of life and learning tolerance and how to reach one’s own opinion was sought by the commission to be of importance in education (p. 112). The school’s responsibility was to seek ways to address the feelings and impulses of the young (p. 110).  The civic responsibilities of citizens within a democracy held dear and true to the American educational system. 

Education known to be highly patriotic should teach cooperative and constructive membership (p. 114). The commission saw that the school’s role should include restoring reason and peace within a nation of international issues at the time (p. 115). Understanding the nature of law through instruction and organization was a necessity for the commission (p. 116). Being an educated citizen in a democracy would include the knowledge of economic problems as well as knowing about the local, state, and national governments which included civic responsibilities which included voting (pp. 117-118, 120). The commission stated in the end, “The entire curriculum, the entire life of the school, in fact, should be a youthful experience in democratic living, quickening social inventiveness and agitating the social conscience. So are citizens for the democratic state successfully educated” (p. 123).  


The commission’s purpose for education was to outline a set of objectives through values to guide and lead the future citizens of a democracy. These ideas and thoughts were heart felt and believed to hold the key to a successful future for citizens in the United States. As we see within today’s educational realm, objectives are still seen within curriculums. Through societal changes, we see a distance in much of the public school and democracy in which our educational platform built upon many years ago. As we see our curriculums built upon today, we lack the inspiration of our forefathers pertaining to values, but we can see and acknowledge the need for objectives within a curriculum. The author Stitzlein (2018) notes, the relationship between public schooling and democracy still exists today because of the realization of changes within a society which supports democracy not being the end of education, but how we achieve it. 

According to authors Kahlenberg and Clifford (2017), Americans have revolved around the priority of public education between preparing for skilled workers within our economy to educating for the responsible citizenship. Vocational education has been a great asset to America preparing future citizens for positions within the society, as we lack in the field of teaching responsible citizenship due to the many standards outlined within our civics courses at the high school level. Our society changes rapidly, and our educational platform tries to keep up with all of the changes, but at times we are falling behind. The direction of values pertaining to educational goals are no longer met nor acknowledge within our ever-fast pace changing society. Democracy also lacks the attention within our public education system due to the fact political tug-a-war is very present within the educational realm.  


Educational policies commission. The purposes of education in American democracy 1938

Washington, D.C.

Hanley, A. W., Roehrig, A. D., & Canto, A. I. (2015). States’ expressed versus assessed 

education goals in the era of accountability: implications for positive education. The Educational Forum,79(2), 130-147. doi:10.1080/00131725.2015.1004208

Kahlenberg, R. D., & Clifford, J. (2017, April 03). Putting democracy back into public 

education. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from

Rogers, Harriet D., "Prioritization and assessment of educational goals" (1980). Electronic

Theses and Dissertations. Paper 2777.

Stitzlein, S. M. (2018, September 18). Public schooling and democracy in the united states -   

Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Education. Retrieved March 1, 2019, from


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