A link exists between democracy, industrialization, and universal education which can be traced all the way back to our founding fathers in the late 18th century, shortly after our Revolution. They, most notably Thomas Jefferson and Noah Webster, felt that the American education system should be the tool with which they could create a uniform national culture by blending together all nationalities and religions. This system would be based on standardized texts which would get to the core principles of republican government. They went on to include that if the American voting system was to be successful, they would need informed and educated people who can make sound decisions. Unfortunately, this vision was not carried out, as two decades later, in the early 1800s, the country remained split, with many states thinking of themselves as independent from the country as a whole.
This education mess seemed to mimic the politics of the time. Education was not uniform at all, and was primarily administered by separate localities, with no coordination among them. For the most part, only the rich were able to afford the tuition fees necessary for public schooling. High school was even rarer, and college was nearly unheard of.
One man, Horace Mann, saw the urgent need to develop a more efficient school system, and proposed that the government set up what he called “common schools” – schools funded by taxes – in his state of Massachusetts. The idea caught fire, and soon spread to other states which began to see the advantage of an educated work force as the United States began to pass other world powers in technology. Many also noted that these “common schools” were doing an admirable job of merging and mixing the many different cultures now in America.
Every state government soon had at least some mandatory education laws in place by 1918 – most required students to attend school until at least the 8th grade or the age of 16. High school continued to be a form of higher education, as most students did quit school after the mandatory 8 years.
Shortly after this, however, industrialization made another big push, and fewer and fewer people were making a living from agriculture anymore. This growing economy called for more white-collar jobs. Now nearly 95% of all people under the age of 25 who enter high school have graduated, and 67% of all of those graduates went on the college – the highest of any nation. The percentage of people going to college is currently higher than the percentage of people who went to high school in 1910.