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Education in North America

The Beginnings, The Revolution, The Nineteenth Century, Higher Education, The Future, Bibliography

What distinguishes the development of education in North America has been its cautious, halting, but nevertheless relentless movement toward universality and inclusivity, an impulse that owes much to the progressive ideals of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and to the consequent development of liberal democracy on the continent. In the early twenty-first-century Canada and in the United States, citizens expect to be able to pursue an education, often at state expense, limited only by their abilities, interests, and preferences. But, however powerful, the sentiment in favor of universal access to education has never meant that education, or its benefits, has been shared equally. It remains the case that racial discrimination, gender bias, and economic necessity force many to forego advanced schooling and to endure lower wages, episodic unemployment, and a generally lower standard of living.

How do we explain this seeming contradiction? Both the impulse to universality and the unequal distribution of education are artifacts of two centuries of developments in educational policy and practice that owe much to the seventeenth-century origins of schooling in North America.

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