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New Studies in Education: The Evolution of the Connecticut State School System with Special Reference to the Emergence of the High School


by Orwin Bradford Griffin - 1928

THE purpose of this study was to discover the origin of the high school in Connecticut and to trace the course of its emergence in the several communities.1 In order to produce a thoroughgoing treatment of the subject it was found necessary to go back to the very earliest legal enactments bearing upon schools, beginning with the famous Code of 1650. What has resulted is a detailed account of the evolution of the Connecticut state school system, culminating in exhaustive attention to high school development.

THE purpose of this study was to discover the origin of the high school in Connecticut and to trace the course of its emergence in the several communities.1 In order to produce a thoroughgoing treatment of the subject it was found necessary to go back to the very earliest legal enactments bearing upon schools, beginning with the famous Code of 1650. What has resulted is a detailed account of the evolution of the Connecticut state school system, culminating in exhaustive attention to high school development.


Pertinent educational conditions during the successive periods considered have been reconstructed from contemporaneous documents. Practically every statement made is founded upon scrutiny of original papers. Literally thousands of pages of hand-written school reports and scores of manuscripts besides, dealing with individual institutions and situations, have been located and many important facts elicited from them. Over one thousand issues of early Connecticut newspapers, including ten complete annual volumes of a weekly journal between 1830 and 1840, were closely perused for supporting testimony. The archives of the Connecticut State Library and of the Division of Research of the Connecticut State Board of Education at Hartford yielded a wealth of corroborative evidence.


The essential characteristic of the unfolding of the scheme of education in Connecticut has been the process of adding new instructional offerings at the top of the regular district school courses as need has arisen to supply more advanced studies for older pupils. Under the "local option" situation affecting provisions of high school instruction in Connecticut towns, high school studies have been introduced into the numerous district schools from time to time and separate upper departments have come into existence at random over the State as interest has been aroused by the friends of education and necessity for such advanced education has been publicly felt in individual localities.


The conception of an institution of a higher order approaching in nature the modern American secondary school was formulated as early in Connecticut as in any other quarter. A minute examination of the Connecticut law of 1798, permitting and describing "a School of a higher order," has revealed this enactment to be so clear-cut a step in the evolution of the high school as a distinct entity that it might with perfect propriety be denominated "the first American high school law," antedating by a generation the so-called Massachusetts high school law of 1827.


From this rudimentary form of a "higher order" school no perceptible development was experienced until the period following Henry Barnard's dedication of himself to the cause in 1837. Barnard's Independence Day address of 1838, setting forth a definite plan for gradation of schools into primaries for children four to eight years of age, intermediates for those eight to twelve, and high schools for boys and girls from twelve to sixteen, marks the opening of the high school era in Connecticut education. This lecture, repeated at school conventions and on other occasions in the larger cities, disseminated the idea of the organization of upper grades as a unit for the advanced instruction of older pupils and led to spirited meetings in various centers at which action was taken which eventuated in the establishment of many high school departments. The history of the entire movement is spread on the pages of the present volume, which educational statesmen will find to contain a mass of material to guide them in forming judgments with reference to both immediate and future problems of the American secondary school.


Thus the historian of education must chiefly justify himself, by an accumulation of voluminous evidence on the basis of which sound prophecies of future trends may confidently be predicated. This new study has brought together for the first time in comprehensive fashion all the essential data dealing with public education in Connecticut. The feature which to-day crowns the whole structure of that gradual, logical development is this institution called "the high school." In the light of its ancestry and in the face of its present status no one can safely assert that it constitutes a crystallized organization. Simply it represents to-day's answer of the American people to the question, How far shall our children be educated at public expense? Broadly interpreting the entire sweep of facts disclosed by this investigation, we are irresistibly brought to the conclusion that to-morrow's response will be the junior college. The ominous cloud of the mounting costs of public education will check for a space the advent of the junior college, but the future will witness its widespread acceptance in the typical state of Connecticut, and in other states, and its vogue comparable to that now enjoyed by the high school. The coming of this new institution will but mark the next logical step in the upward extension of the American public school system.







1 By Orwin Bradford Griffin, Ph.D. Teachers College, Columbia University, Contributions to Education, No. 293.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 29 Number 4, 1928, p. 355-356
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 5785, Date Accessed: 5/26/2022 9:05:51 PM

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