An influential educator in the early 20th century, John Dewey laid the foundation for progressive education. Considered a pragmatist, Dewey did not agree with the traditional teaching practices of the time of rote learning and instead preferred taking a child-centered approach engaging in practical application, and working toward content mastery. He believed in democracy, encouraging these aspects within the classroom as not necessarily a simple form of government but also how we should conduct our community life. He was also concerned with increasing diversity in the classroom, believing the cultural changes in America needed to reflect more in the classroom. John Dewey had a tremendous impact on education reform in America with his fundamental principles of progressive education.

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John Locke made substantial contributions to how we think about government, religious toleration, and education. Through his many writings in the 17th century, Locke held the position in his second book of the An Essay Concerning Human Understanding that when we are born, our minds are tabula rasa or a blank sheet. It was from this position he believed what we know and what affects our persona is primarily through our education. In his work Some Thoughts Concerning Education, which started out as letters of advice to the education of a friend’s children, Locke talks on the importance of parents educating their children and through natural means, rather than rote learning. Much of Locke’s thoughts on education aligned with his politics, believing in cultivating reason, thinking for oneself, and participating in government.

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Brown v. Board of Education

After the abolishment of slavery, the Fourteenth Amendment was created in 1868 to give the freed slaves equal protection and due process of the law. Unfortunately, this was largely ignored in many facets, including education. It was not until after many lawsuits and continued fighting for justice that the Supreme court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board of Education that separate but equal schools were unconstitutional. The legal defense of the multiple cases encompassed within Brown v. Board of Education stipulated not only the unequal education of black students but also the social effects of making black students feel inferior. Although it was not an automatic process, every school in America was eventually desegregated, and an inclusive education became available regardless of race.

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