Dr. Justice Explores Historical Essay Contest on Public Education in the Late 1700s

Dr. Benjamin Justice, Associate Professor at the Rutgers Graduate School of Education (GSE) recently published an anthology titled, The Founding Fathers, Education, and “The Great Contest”. This collection of work done by graduate students and scholars focuses on the early ideas and development of the American public education system. Dr. Justice served as the editor and contributed some chapters focusing on religion and education.

Dr. Justice developed the anthology to create an opportunity for graduate students to collaborate with experienced scholars on a project that would produce a publication. Additionally he wanted to revisit his previous research on a historical essay contest dating back to 1795 in Philadelphia in which members of the American Philosophical Society were challenged to design the ideal system of public education.  

The anthology features the transcriptions of the essays, which were originally closed to the public and identifies the anonymous authors who participated in the contest through careful analysis of handwriting and essay topics. It also explores the concept of public education through different lenses ranging from race to religion.  The book also unveils some unique elements in the story behind the essay contest such as the process of reevaluating the rules of peer revision and even the initial stages of planning a second essay contest.

 “It’s a way for us to gain insight about what the founders of our system of government thought about public education” notes Dr. Justice.

It took about three years for the book to be published.  Dr. Justice’s proudest achievement during the process was providing graduate students with the valuable opportunity to work with renowned scholars and get published. Not only did the project result in a publication, but it allowed both students and scholars to explore a unique event that marks a fascinating time in the history of American public education. 

To learn more about the anthology click here.