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Реферат: U.S. Culture

The expansion of Christmas has even begun to encroach on the most indigenous of American festivals, Thanksgiving. Celebrated on the last Thursday in November, Thanksgiving has largely shed its original religious meaning (as a feast of giving thanks to God) to become a celebration of the bounty of food and the warmth of family life in America. American children usually commemorate the holiday’s origins at school, where they re-create the original event: Pilgrims sharing a harvest feast with Native Americans. Both the historical and the religious origins of the event have largely given way to a secular celebration centered on the traditional Thanksgiving meal: turkey—an indigenous American bird—accompanied by foods common in early New England settlements, such as pumpkins, squashes, and cranberries. Since many Americans enjoy a four-day holiday at Thanksgiving, the occasion encourages family reunions and travel. Some Americans also contribute time and food to the needy and the homeless during the Thanksgiving holiday.

Another holiday that has lost its older, religious meaning in the United States is Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day. Halloween has become a celebration of witches, ghosts, goblins, and candy that is especially attractive to children. On this day and night, October 31, many homes are decorated and lit by jack-o'-lanterns, pumpkins that have been hollowed out and carved. Children dress up and go trick-or-treating, during which they receive treats from neighbors. An array of orange-colored candies has evolved from this event, and most trick-or-treat bags usually brim with chocolate bars and other confections.

The Fourth of July, or Independence Day, is the premier American national celebration because it commemorates the day the United States proclaimed its freedom from Britain with the Declaration of Independence. Very early in its development, the holiday was an occasion for fanfare, parades, and speeches celebrating American freedom and the uniqueness of American life. Since at least the 19th century, Americans have commemorated their independence with fireworks and patriotic music. Because the holiday marks the founding of the republic in 1776, flying the flag of the United States (sometimes with the original 13 stars) is common, as are festive barbecues, picnics, fireworks, and summer outings.

Most other national holidays have become less significant over time and receded in importance as ways in which Americans define themselves and their history. For example, Columbus Day was formerly celebrated on October 12, the day explorer Christopher Columbus first landed in the West Indies, but it is now celebrated on the second Monday of October to allow for a three-day weekend. The holiday originally served as a traditional reminder of the "discovery" of America in 1492, but as Americans became more sensitive to their multicultural population, celebrating the conquest of Native Americans became more controversial.

Holidays honoring wars have also lost much of their original significance. Memorial Day, first called Decoration Day and celebrated on May 30, was established to honor those who died during the American Civil War (1861-1865), then subsequently those who died in all American wars. Similarly, Veterans Day was first named Armistice Day and marked the end of World War I (1914-1918). During the 1950s the name of the holiday was changed in the United States, and its significance expanded to honor armed forces personnel who served in any American war.

The memory of America's first president, George Washington, was once celebrated on his birthday, February 22nd. The date was changed to the third Monday in February to create a three-day weekend, as well as to incorporate the birthday of another president, Abraham Lincoln, who was born on February 12th. The holiday is now popularly called Presidents’ Day and is less likely to be remembered as honoring the first and 16th American presidents than as a school and work holiday. Americans also memorialize Martin Luther King, Jr., the great African American civil rights leader who was assassinated in 1968. King’s birthday is celebrated as a national holiday in mid-January. The celebration of King's birthday has become a sign of greater inclusiveness in 20th-century American society.


Role of Education

The United States has one of the most extensive and diverse educational systems in the world. Educational institutions exist at all learning levels, from nursery schools for the very young to higher education for older youths and adults of all ages. Education in the United States is notable for the many goals it aspires to accomplish—promoting democracy, assimilation, nationalism, equality of opportunity, and personal development. Because Americans have historically insisted that their schools work toward these sometimes conflicting goals, education has often been the focus of social conflict.

While schools are expected to achieve many social objectives, education in America is neither centrally administered nor supported directly by the federal government, unlike education in other industrialized countries. In the United States, each state is responsible for providing schooling, which is funded through local taxes and governed by local school boards. In addition to these government-funded public schools, the United States has many schools that are privately financed and maintained. More than 10 percent of all elementary and secondary students in the United States attend private schools. Religious groups, especially the Roman Catholic Church, run many of these. Many of America's most renowned universities and colleges are also privately endowed and run. As a result, although American education is expected to provide equality of opportunity, it is not easily directed toward these goals. This complex enterprise, once one of the proudest achievements of American democracy because of its diversity and inclusiveness, became the subject of intense debate and criticism during the second half of the 20th century. People debated the goals of schools as well as whether schools were educating students well enough.

History of Education in America

Until the 1830s, most American children attended school irregularly, and most schools were either run privately or by charities. This irregular system was replaced in the Northeast and Midwest by publicly financed elementary schools, known as common schools. Common schools provided rudimentary instruction in literacy and trained students in citizenship. This democratic ideal expanded after the Civil War to all parts of the nation. By the 1880s and 1890s, schools began to expand attendance requirements so that more children and older children attended school regularly. These more rigorous requirements were intended to ensure that all students, including those whose families had immigrated from elsewhere, were integrated into society. In addition, the schools tried to equip children with the more complex skills required in an industrialized urban society.

Education became increasingly important during the 20th century, as America’s sophisticated industrial society demanded a more literate and skilled workforce. In addition, school degrees provided a sought-after means to obtain better-paying and higher-status jobs. Schools were the one American institution that could provide the literate skills and work habits necessary for Americans of all backgrounds to compete in industries. As a result, education expanded rapidly. In the first decades of the 20th century, mandatory education laws required children to complete grade school. By the end of the 20th century, many states required children to attend school until they were at least 16. In 1960, 45 percent of high school graduates enrolled in college; by 1996 that enrollment rate had risen to 65 percent.  By the late 20th century, an advanced education was necessary for success in the globally competitive and technologically advanced modern economy. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, workers with a bachelor’s degree in 1997 earned an average of $40,000 annually, while those with a high school degree earned about $23,000. Those who did not complete high school earned about $16,000.

In the United States, higher education is widely available and obtainable through thousands of private, religious, and state-run institutions, which offer advanced professional, scientific, and other training programs that enable students to become proficient in diverse subjects. Colleges vary in cost and level of prestige. Many of the oldest and most famous colleges on the East Coast are expensive and set extremely high admissions standards. Large state universities are less difficult to enter, and their fees are substantially lower. Other types of institutions include state universities that provide engineering, teaching, and agriculture degrees; private universities and small privately endowed colleges; religious colleges and universities; and community and junior colleges that offer part-time and two-year degree programs. This complex and diverse range of schools has made American higher education the envy of other countries and one of the nation’s greatest assets in creating and maintaining a technologically advanced society.

When more people began to attend college, there were a number of repercussions. Going to college delayed maturity and independence for many Americans, extending many of the stresses of adolescence into a person’s 20s and postponing the rites of adulthood, such as marriage and childbearing. As society paid more attention to education, it also devoted a greater proportion of its resources to it. Local communities were required to spend more money on schools and teachers, while colleges and universities were driven to expand their facilities and course offerings to accommodate an ever-growing student body. Parents were also expected to support their children longer and to forgo their children's contribution to the household.


Education is an enormous investment that requires contributions from many sources. American higher education is especially expensive, with its heavy investment in laboratory space and research equipment. It receives funding from private individuals, foundations, and corporations. Many private universities have large endowments, or funds, that sustain the institutions beyond what students pay in tuition and fees. Many, such as Harvard University in Massachusetts and Stanford University in California, raise large sums of money through fund drives. Even many state-funded universities seek funds from private sources to augment their budgets. Most major state universities, such as those in Michigan and California, now rely on a mixture of state and private resources.

Before World War II, the federal government generally played a minor role in financing education, with the exception of the Morrill Acts of 1862 and 1890. These acts granted the states public lands that could be sold for the purpose of establishing and maintaining institutions of higher education. Many so-called land-grant state universities were founded during the 19th century as a result of this funding. Today, land-grant colleges include some of the nation’s premier state universities. The government also provided some funding for basic research at universities.

The American experience in World War II (especially the success of the Manhattan Project, which created the atomic bomb) made clear that scientific and technical advances, as well as human resources, were essential to national security. As a result, the federal government became increasingly involved in education at all levels and substantially expanded funding for universities. The federal government began to provide substantial amounts of money for university research programs through agencies such as the National Science Foundation, and later through the National Institutes of Health and the departments of Energy and Defense. At the same time, the government began to focus on providing equal educational opportunities for all Americans. Beginning with the GI Bill, which financed educational programs for veterans, and later in the form of fellowships and direct student loans in the 1960s, more and more Americans were able to attend colleges and universities.

During the 1960s the federal government also began to play more of a role in education at lower levels. The Great Society programs of President Lyndon Johnson developed many new educational initiatives to assist poor children and to compensate for disadvantage. Federal money was funneled through educational institutions to establish programs such as Head Start, which provides early childhood education to disadvantaged children. Some Americans, however, resisted the federal government’s increased presence in education, which they believed contradicted the long tradition of state-sponsored public schooling.

By the 1980s many public schools were receiving federal subsidies for textbooks, transportation, breakfast and lunch programs, and services for students with disabilities. This funding enriched schools across the country, especially inner-city schools, and affected the lives of millions of schoolchildren. Although federal funding increased, as did federal supervision, to guarantee an equitable distribution of funds, the government did not exercise direct control over the academic programs schools offered or over decisions about academic issues. During the 1990s, the administration of President Bill Clinton urged the federal government to move further in exercising leadership by establishing academic standards for public schools across the country and to evaluate schools through testing.

Concerns in Elementary Education

The United States has historically contended with the challenges that come with being a nation of immigrants. Schools are often responsible for modifying educational offerings to accommodate immigrants. Early schools reflected many differences among students and their families but were also a mechanism by which to overcome these differences and to forge a sense of American commonality. Common schools, or publicly financed elementary schools, were first introduced in the mid-19th century in the hopes of creating a common bond among a diverse citizenship. By the early 20th century, massive immigration from Europe caused schools to restructure and expand their programs to more effectively incorporate immigrant children into society. High schools began to include technical, business, and vocational curricula to accommodate the various goals of its more diverse population. The United States continues to be concerned about how to incorporate immigrant groups.

The language in which students are taught is one of the most significant issues for schools. Many Americans have become concerned about how best to educate students who are new to the English language and to American culture. As children of all ages and from dozens of language backgrounds seek an education, most schools have adopted some variety of bilingual instruction. Students are taught in their native language until their knowledge of English improves, which is often accomplished through an English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Some people have criticized these bilingual programs for not encouraging students to learn English more quickly, or at all. Some Americans fear that English will no longer provide a uniform basis for American identity; others worry that immigrant children will have a hard time finding employment if they do not become fluent in English. In response to these criticisms, voters in California, the state that has seen the largest influx of recent immigrants, passed a law in 1998 requiring that all children attending public schools be taught in English and prohibiting more than one year of bilingual instruction.

Many Americans, including parents and business leaders, are also alarmed by what they see as inadequate levels of student achievement in subjects such as reading, mathematics, and science. On many standardized tests, American students lag behind their counterparts in Europe and Asia. In response, some Americans have urged the adoption of national standards by which individual schools can be evaluated. Some have supported more rigorous teacher competency standards. Another response that became popular in the 1990s is the creation of charter schools. These schools are directly authorized by the state and receive public funding, but they operate largely outside the control of local school districts. Parents and teachers enforce self-defined standards for these charter schools.

Schools are also working to incorporate computers into classrooms. The need for computer literacy in the 21st century has put an additional strain on school budgets and local resources. Schools have struggled to catch up by providing computer equipment and instruction and by making Internet connections available. Some companies, including Apple Computer, Inc., have provided computer equipment to help schools meet their students’ computer-education needs.

Concerns in Higher Education

Throughout the 20th century, Americans have attended schools to obtain the economic and social rewards that come with highly technical or skilled work and advanced degrees. However, as the United States became more diverse, people debated how to include different groups, such as women and minorities, into higher education. Blacks have historically been excluded from many white institutions, or were made to feel unwelcome. Since the 19th century, a number of black colleges have existed to compensate for this broad social bias, including federally chartered and funded Howard University. In the early 20th century, when Jews and other Eastern Europeans began to apply to universities, some of the most prestigious colleges imposed quotas limiting their numbers.

Americans tried various means to eliminate the most egregious forms of discrimination. In the early part of the century, "objective" admissions tests were introduced to counteract the bias in admissions. Some educators now view admissions tests such as the Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT), originally created to simplify admissions testing for prestigious private schools, as disadvantageous to women and minorities. Critics of the SAT believed the test did not adequately account for differences in social and economic background. Whenever something as subjective as ability or merit is evaluated, and when the rewards are potentially great, people hotly debate the best means to fairly evaluate these criteria.

Until the middle of the 20th century, most educational issues in the United States were handled locally. After World War II, however, the federal government began to assume a new obligation to assure equality in educational opportunity, and this issue began to affect college admissions standards. In the last quarter of the 20th century, the government increased its role  in questions relating to how all Americans could best secure equal access to education.

Schools had problems providing equal opportunities for all because quality, costs, and admissions criteria varied greatly. To deal with these problems, the federal government introduced the policy of affirmative action in education in the early 1970s. Affirmative action required that colleges and universities take race, ethnicity, and gender into account in admissions to provide extra consideration to those who have historically faced discrimination. It was intended to assure that Americans of all backgrounds have an opportunity to train for professions in fields such as medicine, law, education, and business administration.

Affirmative action became a general social commitment during the last quarter of the 20th century. In education, it meant that universities and colleges gave extra advantages and opportunities to blacks, Native Americans, women, and other groups that were generally underrepresented at the highest levels of business and in other professions. Affirmative action also included financial assistance to members of minorities who could not otherwise afford to attend colleges and universities. Affirmative action has allowed many minority members to achieve new prominence and success.

At the end of the 20th century, the policy of affirmative action was criticized as unfair to those who were denied admission in order to admit those in designated group categories. Some considered affirmative action policies a form of reverse discrimination, some believed that special policies were no longer necessary, and others believed that only some groups should qualify (such as African Americans because of the nation’s long history of slavery and segregation). The issue became a matter of serious discussion and is one of the most highly charged topics in education today. In the 1990s three states—Texas, California, and Washington—eliminated affirmative action in their state university admissions policies.

Several other issues have become troubling to higher education. Because tuition costs have risen to very high levels, many smaller private colleges and universities are struggling to attract students. Many students and their parents choose state universities where costs are much lower. The decline in federal research funds has also caused financial difficulties to many universities. Many well-educated students, including those with doctoral degrees, have found it difficult to find and keep permanent academic jobs, as schools seek to lower costs by hiring part-time and temporary faculty. As a result, despite its great strengths and its history of great variety, the expense of American higher education may mean serious changes in the future.

Education is fundamental to American culture in more ways than providing literacy and job skills. Educational institutions are the setting where scholars interpret and pass on the meaning of the American experience. They analyze what America is as a society by interpreting the nation’s past and defining objectives for the future. That information eventually forms the basis for what children learn from teachers, textbooks, and curricula. Thus, the work of educational institutions is far more important than even job training, although this is usually foremost in people’s minds.


The arts, more than other features of culture, provide avenues for the expression of imagination and personal vision. They offer a range of emotional and intellectual pleasures to consumers of art and are an important way in which a culture represents itself. There has long been a Western tradition distinguishing those arts that appeal to the multitude, such as popular music, from those—such as classical orchestral music—normally available to the elite of learning and taste. Popular art forms are usually seen as more representative American products. In the United States in the recent past, there has been a blending of popular and elite art forms, as all the arts experienced a period of remarkable cross-fertilization. Because popular art forms are so widely distributed, arts of all kinds have prospered.

The arts in the United States express the many faces and the enormous creative range of the American people. Especially since World War II, American innovations and the immense energy displayed in literature, dance, and music have made American cultural works world famous. Arts in the United States have become internationally prominent in ways that are unparalleled in history. American art forms during the second half of the 20th century often defined the styles and qualities that the rest of the world emulated. At the end of the 20th century, American art was considered equal in quality and vitality to art produced in the rest of the world.

Throughout the 20th century, American arts have grown to incorporate new visions and voices. Much of this new artistic energy came in the wake of America’s emergence as a superpower after World War II. But it was also due to the growth of New York City as an important center for publishing and the arts, and the immigration of artists and intellectuals fleeing fascism in Europe before and during the war. An outpouring of talent also followed the civil rights and protest movements of the 1960s, as cultural discrimination against blacks, women, and other groups diminished.

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