The History of Technology Education in America

Technology Education is a tradition of systematized knowledge, social ideas, and technological education that can be traced to the philosophical period of The Enlightenment. The evidence of these origins is Denis Diderot's massive Encyclopédie, published from 1751-1772, distributed widely in Europe, and introduced into the United States by Thomas Jefferson. Diderot's work sought to disseminate technological knowledge by representing the mechanical arts systematically in texts and illustrations. Inspired by this document of The Enlightenment, many early attempts were made to systematize production and transform the arts and crafts into manufacturing systems. Among these was Thomas Jefferson's encouragment of the American government to support the concept of uniformity in firearms manufacture. Eventually this idea spread to the work of Eli Whitney and other early industrial innovators and led to the standards of interchangeability in parts which made possible what has come to be known as the "American system of manufacturing."

While this was happening in the United States the Russian system of tool instruction was being developed at the Moscow Imperial Technical School. This Russian system provided a method for integrating Diderot's systematic representation of the mechanical arts with practical instruction.

When Adam Smith published The Wealth of Nations in 1776, he referenced systematic manufacturing as a force of change. The Russian system occurred at about the same time as the emancipation of serfs and a relatively high growth rate of the economy. In the late 1860's the Russian system was adopted in the United States after the civil war had created an equal social and economic condition. Economic growth and social change created by the successes of systematic manufacturing in America had established a need for Technology Education.

Neither Russia nor the United States had a history of influential guild systems that were to effect Technology Education in the educational systems of Europe. Both of their systems of Technology Education were born new out of the Age of Enlightenment. This philosophical approach to how people teach, learn, and otherwise transmit technological knowledge and how people can learn to construct technological artifacts and culture made it possible for Technology Education to be a pursuit of education theory and be a part of the broad public education curriculum that was formalized by the end of the nineteenth century in America.

The engineering, manufacturing and overall technological prowess, not to mention the robust economy and the influences of the social, political and cultural base of America throughout the twentieth century are all indebted to the long history of Technology Education in the curriculum of every public school in the United States. This universal passport to technological literacy has succeeded in empowering every American with the resources to achieve the goal of the American Dream for the past hundred years. It has also succeeded in making America a nation of innovators, inventors, creative thinkers and inspired problem solvers. These attributes have taken our minds to the micro-world of the computer chip and the macro-world of the moon mission, both within 100 years of the establishment of Technology Education. It will be there to firm our understandings of technology in the age of Neo-Enlightenment, the Information Age.