<p>I N B R I E F
U S A
Bureau of InternatIonal InformatIon Programs
u.s. DePartment of state
All societies must wrestle with fundamental questions
about the nature and purpose of their educational
system, but the United States was the first nation to face these
questions as a democracy.
Early on, Americans understood that their future as a free
people rested upon their own wisdom and judgment, and not
that of some distant ruler. For this reason, the quality, character,
and costs of education have remained among the country’s
central preoccupations since its founding.
Educational institutions of all types and sizes, from nursery
schools to advanced research institutions, populate the
American landscape. Public schools have been described as
the nation’s most familiar government institutions. Whether
communities are poor or affluent, urban or rural, public schools
are a common denominator throughout the United States.
From their origins two centuries ago through today,
America’s public and private schools have served to define
the American identity. Every national experience shaping the
American character has been played out in its classrooms: race
and treatment of minorities, immigration and growth of cities,
westward expansion and economic growth, individual freedom
and the nature of community.
Fundamental questions about the purpose and methods of
education have resonated in public debates in the United States
from the “common school” movement of the early 19th century
to debates over academic standards and testing today.
Should schools emphasize basic skills — reading, writing,
and mathematics — or provide a broad education in the liberal
arts and sciences? How can schools provide equal access to
all yet maintain high academic standards? Who should pay
for schools — parents or the public? Should schools focus on
practical, job-oriented skills, or give all children the academic
courses necessary to succeed in college? How should teachers