The history of the American schoolhouse
reflects the history of education that in turn mirrors a plethora
of contextual societal forces including social, economic and political.
Architectural form, aesthetics, symbolism and layout of the school
building should be directly influenced by the evolution of educational
philosophy and goals, curricular objectives, instructional methods,
and cultural background and value systems of the schools' governing
boards. The architecture of the small one-room country school
building was an appropriate design response that served the basic
educational and social needs of small rural communities for well
over two hundred years starting in the Colonial period of the
United States. As the social problems associated with the Industrial
Revolution grew in the mid and late 19th century, the need for
educating larger groups of immigrants in urban centers became
a necessity. The Common School movement and large multistoried
classroom buildings provided the necessary educational and architectural
response at that time. After World War II, societal changes created
by the baby boom created a need for school construction never
before seen. The rate of building demanded new methods of school
building construction that allowed for further experimentation
in flexible and adaptable space for education. Along with innovations
in educational delivery suggested by the Progressive Movement
lead principally by John Dewey, school architecture soon responded
with more child-scaled, flexible and open environmental settings.
An overview of three periods of educational
architecture, the Colonial period, the Industrial Revolution and
the Information Age, demonstrates how educational facilities have
evolved over time in response to societal and political influences.
The Colonial period (1650 1849) was characterized by an
agrarian society in which many did not value formal education.
Education primarily occurred in informal settings, such as the
home or church, and the main focus was to teach children a trade
or skill. The country one-room schoolhouse in small villages typifies
educational buildings of the Colonial period. Similar structures
were utilized in urban areas, but to accommodate more students
they often included two or more self-contained rooms. As cities
grew, there was a need to educate larger groupings of students.
In response, the Lancasterian Monitorial System that utilized
older students serving as monitors to teach younger children,
allowed one educator to provide instruction for hundreds of students.
The Industrial Revolution (1850-1949) occurred as factories proliferated
in the U.S. to produce products such as firearms, textiles and
sewing machines. The Common School movement arose between 1840
and 1880 in response to a belief that education provided mainly
by family members or through apprenticeships was insufficient
to prepare children to work in factories and offices. Educational
reformers, including Henry Barnard and Horace Mann, argued that
public education was essential to our nation's economic success.
Beginning in the middle of the 19th century, schools typically
were comprised of classrooms and corridors, but by the end of
the century schools often incorporated specialized spaces such
as auditoriums and administrative offices. Specialized facilities
for junior high and high schools emerged during the Industrial
Revolution. The Progressive Movement of the late 19th century,
led principally by John Dewey, focused on child-centered education
and flexible spaces.
The Information Age (1950 to present), following World War II,
is characterized by a society in which people appreciate travel,
celebrate diversity, and seek to reintegrate their work and family
lives. The baby boom fueled the need for many new schools that
were often built as quickly and cheaply as possible, resulting
in buildings with poor insulation and low quality building systems.
The open classroom became popular during the 1950's through the
early 1970's to encourage group work and team teaching, but changes
in teaching styles often did not accompany the changes in classroom
design and teachers complained of distractions. During the 1960's
criticism that public schools were not adequately addressing the
needs of minority and low-income students gave rise to the alternative
schools (e.g., freedom schools and street academies) movement.
This movement is believed to have influenced many other educational
reforms, including magnet and charter schools, school-to-work
initiatives and the more recent re-emergence of home schooling.
The concept of the community school has re-emerged as city and
county agencies seek to leverage tax dollars to create joint-use
facilities that involve the local community in student education.
During the Information Age, computers have become an absolute
necessity for students. Once housed in media centers, computers
may now be found anywhere on campus through the use of wireless
and palmtop technologies.
Throughout the history of American education, educational reformers
have often met strong opposition to their theories about how children
should be taught what they need to know to succeed in society.
Even as new ideas are adopted, it often takes many years for the
physical school setting to respond to changes in pedagogy.
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