Saturday, September 25, 2010

Reforms in Public Education: continual cycles of failure or fashion?

When we have no great wars to divert our attention and no major social calamity to lift the spirits of the pundits and media talking-heads, we Americans entertain ourselves by finding something wrong with the public schools and picking at it.

What is usually wrong is something that was the outcome of an educational reform some ten to twenty years earlier. I grew up when “Life Adjustment” was the motto. Kids were given a smattering of a variety of subjects, including trade skills, to prepare them for “real life.”

But in the middle of my high school years, 1957, the Russians “beat us into space.” Immediately it was discovered that public school curriculum was flaccid and unfocussed, especially in math and science. Everybody knew that Russian kids, when they were not turning their parents in to the authorities for treason, were busily stuffing their brains with calculus and physics.

Ten years later, it was discovered that the schools were joyless factories pushing to manufacture automatons in the name of science, the economy and national defense. So the public schools were “reformed” once again to become “greener.”

Ten years later, the pendulum swung back: America was found to be in 1983 “A Nation at Risk.” Schoolpeople accordingly had to (pretend to) dance to the new tune.

With America 2000 (and, later, No Child Left Behind) the school reform entrepreneurs were doing better than ever. Reform training materials, books, seminars and in-school staff development were sold at an astonishing rate. Foresight, intelligent action, and careful judgment continued at an all-time low.

To see why change was inevitable for a particular reform, see AMERICA 2000: An Education Strategy. The Artifact of a Society Past

--- EGR

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