Mental Discipline, Curricular Reform, and the Decline of U.S. Astronomy Education, 1893-1920
Nineteenth-century astronomy education rested on a powerful rationale of support within American liberal arts colleges and high schools. Descriptive astronomy was widely regarded as suitable for improving a student’s “mental discipline.” But the collapse of mental discipline pedagogy, along with concurrent efforts to standardize and reform secondary-level curricula, were responsible for a significant post-1900 decline in astronomical teaching. As a result, astronomy education was not broadly reinstated into secondary curricula until after the launch of Sputnik in 1957. This report demonstrates that changing relationships between disciplinary specialties and pedagogical theories provide no guarantee of sustained curricular success—a conclusion equally relevant to today’s science educators.
A course in Astronomy…would certainly do as much for the average high school boy or girl in strengthening the intellectual faculties, in broadening the character, in elevating and stimulating thought, desire, and purpose, and in creating a strong and pure imagination, as any other subject, whether scientific or literary, embraced within any course for high schools.—E. Miller, 1895
In this present dark age of elementary astronomical teaching, High School instructors might about as well demand to have the stars themselves brought down to the school-room as to ask for an astronomical laboratory.—Mary E. Byrd, 1903
To a utilitarian age astronomy seems a somewhat worn-out, useless science.—Harold Jacoby, 1911
Marché, J. D. 2001, Astronomy Education Review, 1(1), p.58–75