Public Schools Create Citizens In A Democratic Society

Jeffrey Mirel:

How do you get people who hate each other learn to resolve their differences democratically? How do you get them to believe in ballots not bullets?
What if the answer is “public schools” and the evidence for it is in our own history during the first half of the twentieth century?
In the years spanning about 1890-1930, two institutions–public schools and the foreign language press–helped generate this trust among the massive wave of eastern and southern European immigrants who came to the U.S. during that time. This is not a traditional “melting pot” story but rather an examination of a dynamic educational process.
The majority of these immigrants were dramatically different from the native born Americans they encountered here. Most immigrants knew no English, worshipped at synagogues or Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches, and had little knowledge of democracy. Many native born Americans viewed this “invasion of immigrants” as akin to the onslaught of the barbarians who destroyed Rome. Indeed, some argued that these newcomers were genetically incapable of becoming Americans.