Federal Aid: The Head of the Class

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More remarkable than the extent of his administrative powers and responsibilities is Keppel's achievement, over a few brief years, in shaping Washington's concept of the federal partnership in education, and the success with which he has helped gather lawmakers, politicians and educators into a purposeful alliance that supports the federal role. The key to Keppel's success, says Columbia University Professor of Education Lawrence A. Cremin, is that he is "a man of intellect, but he's not arrogant. He is a political animal in the Aristotelian sense—a man who understands power and wants to use it for decent purposes." Adds Memphis School Superintendent E. C. Stimbert: Keppel is "a breath of fresh air in education."

Thrust toward Learning. The notion that any federal bureaucrat, no matter how enlightened, should wield any influence at all in education would have shocked America's early settlers. Schooling was mainly a parental responsibility, and its aim was to make sure that children learned to read the Bible. The Constitution was silent on the matter of education, and schooling became a function of state governments, which delegated power to towns and local school boards. Still, the main thrust of education was directed chiefly at achieving spiritual and moral purity. Fresh ideas, however, had begun to emerge. In Europe, Jean-Jacques Rousseau declared that education should strive to prepare a child for the world about him, not for the hereafter. Switzerland's Johann Pestalozzi urged schools to stop the "empty chattering of mere words" and help children to learn through observation, experimentation and reasoning. In the U.S., Horace Mann, contending that education could become "the most effective and benignant of all the forces of civilization," vastly strengthened the Massachusetts system of free public schools for the poor as well as the rich.

By 1900, 32 of the 45 states had compulsory-attendance laws.* Soon, educators came to accept John Dewey's dictum that education is not a preparation for life but a part of it, and that a school must "reproduce, within itself, the typical conditions of social life." "Progressive" education in the 1930s and '40s thus took the stress from textbooks and placed it on self-discipline and experimentation. The classrooms became more exciting, but soon educators were out-Deweying Dewey; permissiveness, and ultimately anti-intellectualism spoiled Dewey's dream. Thanks to reformers like former Harvard President James Conant (TIME cover, Sept. 14, 1959), schools began turning to the ideal of comprehensive education as well as cultural development for all children.

Except on rare occasions, the tradition of local control kept the Federal Government away from the schoolhouse. In 1862, the Morrill Act set up land-grant colleges, chiefly to promote agriculture and the mechanical arts. During World War I, the Government financed vocational training in the high schools. Then, after World War II, the Treasury financed the $14.5 billion G.I. Bill of Rights. Now, no longer was a high school education alone sufficient to meet the demands of a reawakened nation. College was the goal, and better preparation for it an absolute necessity.

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