“Education is at the heart of America’s Crisis
– Michael Dukakis, unsuccessful Democratic candidate in the 1988 United States presidential race.
Are America’s educational problems fixable? In order to do so we would do well to take a good look at our assumptions about “mind” and what it means to us today, for only through a thoroughgoing reevaluation of our notions of what teaching and learning are all about in this New Age of technology will we be able to make the changes in our educational system that need to be made in order to allow us to advance with these rapidly changing times in which we live.
The philosophy of education that prevailed in the 19th century in the United States was summed up as being one that rested
on the teaching of the “three R’s,” “readin’, ritin’ and rithmetic.” Practical or “secular” subject matter was not divorced from that of a metaphysical nature, as religious instruction and the teaching of morality were found in public classrooms as well as in private and parochial schools- vide the McGuffy reader with its tales of self-undoing and self-reclamation for the errant and repentant.
Two world wars came along in the 20th century, leaving American society greatly transformed in their wake. Millions of Americans went through great struggle, going from the near-starvation status of the Depression hey had known during the Great Depression of the 1930’s to the trials and tribulation of the second world war and the equally great changes in many areas; industry,housing, inter-raciala/ethnic relations and technology chief among them – that followed immediately on the end of this mega-war, Suddenly the “three R’s” approach to education was outdated – especially ion the area of (a)rithmetic. What was now needed was not just a well educated citizenry who could do sums sufficiently quickly to ring up a transaction at a (still mechanical) cash register, but rather mathematics whizzes who could help America help pave the way to the Age of Space
Thanks to the GI Bill, which gave millions of military personnel returning from war a government subsidized opportunity to get an education in a variety of fields that ranged from nuclear physics to umpiring a baseball game, America’s colleges, universities and trade schools were packed to the gills with new students. Because of the prosperity that followed World War II, American teenagers were no longer forced to quit school early in their classroom careers, and a many more of them – now free of the need to get a full time job to support their families as so many of teenagers had been forced to do during the Depression – began to finish high school. With high school graduation rates soaring during the late nineteen forties and nineteen fifties, hundreds of thousands – if not more- teaching jobs were created. Many these openings were filled by military veterans Anybody who went to school in the three or four decades that followed the war will remember the sudden reminiscences of male teachers sharing their combat experiences with their students.
Many of us of a certain age can remember this or that high school teacher interrupting a lesson (often in something as unrelated to modern combat as 19th century French literature or the life cycle of a fruit fly) in order to share a graphic memory of a bloody invasion beach in the South Pacific or some such.
…to be continued