The More Things Change…

Originally published in the January/February 1997 California HomeSchooler.

Just for fun, can you date these comments on the American education system? (Described in David C. Berliner and Bruce J. Biddle’s The Manufactured Crisis: Myths, Fraud, and the Attack on America’s Public Schools (Addison Wesley, 1995), a fascinating look at how most popular school criticism completely misses the real problems.)

  1. 1. The schools are: (a) not teaching enough facts, (b) not teaching thinking skills, and (c) not preparing young people for jobs.
  2.  [Schools are] failing to teach traditional subject matter because they are too concerned with life-adjustment education.
  3. [Could readers] imagine a more grossly stupid, a more genuinely asinine system tenaciously persisted in to the fearful detriment of over seventeen million children and at a cost to you of over four-hundred and three million dollars each year—a system that not only is absolutely ineffective in its results, but also actually harmful in that it throws every year ninety-three out of every one hundred children into the world of action absolutely unfitted for even the simplest tasks of life? Can you wonder that we have so many inefficient men and women; that in so many families there are so many failures; that our boys and girls can make so little money that in one case they are driven into the saloons from discouragement, and in the other into brothels to save themselves from starvation? Yet that is exactly what the public-school system is today doing, and has been doing.
  4. Everyone is aware today that our educational system has been allowed to deteriorate. It has been going downhill for some years without anything really constructive having been done to arrest the decline, still less to reverse its course. We thus have a chronic crisis; an unsolved problem as grave as any that faces our country today. Unless this problem is dealt with promptly and effectively, the machinery that sustains our level of material prosperity and political power will begin to slow down.
  5. The mental nourishment we spoon-feed our children is not only minced but peptonized so that their brains digest it without effort and without benefit and the result is the anaemic intelligence of the average American schoolchild.
  6. There were complaints from frustrated university professors and angry business people that public school students were woefully unprepared for college as well as for work. The typical high school student could not write a clear English sentence, do simple mathematics, or find common geographical locations such as Boston or New York City. There were no basic standards. . . The schools were also ignoring religion. The curriculum was inappropriate for life at mid-century, giving students worhtless information and outdated training and worst of all, boring them. As one critic put it, “We are offering them a slingshot education in a hydrogen-bomb age.”


  1. 1909 (Atlantic Monthly)
  2. 1949 (Time)
  3. 1912 (Ladies Home Journal)
  4. 1959 (Admiral Hyman Rickover)
  5. 1900 (Gunton’s Magazine)
  6. 1951 (Readers Digest, Scientific Monthly)

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