Education: In the Schoolroom

Public schools have long served to assimilate immigrants into American society. In the late 1800s, they helped to create a shared culture and a common language with patriotic imagery, symbols, recitations, and pageantry. Many families embraced assimilation. Others resisted, choosing to maintain ties to their religion, languages, and customs through private schooling. African Americans had fewer choices and were forced to attend segregated public schools until the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education.

Assimilation through Public Schools

Public schools encouraged the incorporation of newcomers with programs and images intended to inspire patriotism. In most classrooms, American flags hung alongside images of the American eagle and George Washington. Spellers and dictionaries helped standardize American-style spelling and pronunciation, so children learned English regardless of their parents’ language.

Patriotic school pageant, early 1900s

Patriotic school pageant, early 1900s

Courtesy of Library of Congress

Patriotic pencil box, 1900–1902

Patriotic pencil box, 1900–1902

Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Student slate, 1870–1885

Student slate, 1870–1885

Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Flag-wrapped slate pencils, 1875–1915

Flag-wrapped slate pencils, 1875–1915

Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Eagle school bell, 1860–1930

Eagle school bell, 1860–1930

Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Public school desk, 1905–1920

Public school desk, 1905–1920

Gift of Dr. Richard Lodish American School Collection

Resisting Assimilation

Many people chose to resist assimilation efforts and to maintain their religion, culture, and language by sending their children to private schools. Catholics created parochial schools to sustain their religious traditions; Jewish schools provided faith-based lessons, rituals, and language instruction; and Chinese American schools taught traditional theater, music, language, calligraphy, and literature.

Children at Nam Kue Chinese School, San Francisco, California, 1926

Children at Nam Kue Chinese School, San Francisco, California, 1926

Courtesy of Chinese Historical Society of America

Catholic uniform, 1945

Catholic uniform, 1945

Gift of Catherine M. Keen
 

Hebrew textbook, 1930–1970

Hebrew textbook, 1930–1970

Gift of Rae and Joseph Gann Library at Hebrew College

Hebrew mini Scrabble educational toy, 1950s