How Our Great Education Institution Was Created

“Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”  George Washington, Farewell Address

And as our American education story goes, it was President Abraham Lincoln who signed the Morrill Act “to promote the liberal and practical education of the industrial classes in several pursuits and professions of life.” This set the foundation for the land-grant college system, our agricultural experiment stations, and extension (diffusion) of practical research-based information.

How do we grow a nation?

How do we grow a nation?

Lincoln believed that “The legitimate object of government is ‘to do for the people what needs to be done, but which they can not, by individual effort, do at all, or do so well, for themselves’.”

A hundred years later, the need to maintain the integrity of educational research and development through the use of our public institutions of higher learning was recognized by the educational visionaries of that time and written into law – the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And the role of the federal government was clearly understood as expressed by John F. Kennedy,…

“A century of experience with land-grant colleges has demonstrated that Federal financial participation can assist educational progress and growth without Federal control.”

A network of regional educational laboratories was to be developed intending to provide the basic research and development of practical solutions to the issues facing schools. They were to serve as the bedrock of excellence promoting use of best practices ( Theory of Action). The information they provided was then to be disseminated (diffused) to the schools. But the goal of forming a network to freely disseminate information (diffusion of knowledge) and assist in training at the local level was never fully realized.

And time marched on. The Reagan administration report, A Nation at Risk, pointed to the Cooperative Extension System as an example of America’s can do spirit. Ronald Reagan recognized that…

“Despite the obstacles and difficulties that inhibit the pursuit of superior educational attainment, we are confident, with history as our guide, that we can meet our goal. The American educational system has responded to previous challenges with remarkable success. In the 19th century our land-grant colleges and universities provided the research and training that developed our Nation’s natural resources and the rich agricultural bounty of the American farm.”

How we make progress is up to us.

How we make progress is up to us.

By using the right foundational building blocks, it is possible to erect an institution for the diffusion of knowledge that is built to last.

(This is the last of a ten blog series on The Road to Educational Quality and Equality that began with The March Begins.)

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