Section II – American Education Part 8
The Second Half of the 20th Century: Post-World War II and Beyond
Human diversity makes tolerance more than a virtue; it makes it a requirement for survival.
-Rene Dubos, Celebrations of Life, 1981
Following World War II, the population of the United States increased dramatically with a post-war baby boom. [Yes, we had some of highest number of births during 1945-1964 or so, but the highest birthrates were actually in the first 20 years of the 20th Century, by percentages. Of course we also had mass immigration then too.] Higher education also experienced a boom as the Congress passed the GI Bill in 1944 that provided subsidies for returning veterans to attend colleges and universities. Over ten million veterans took advantage of this opportunity dramatically increasing the number of people who completed college.
As the numbers of school children grew, the demand for facilities and teachers also increased. As the need for teachers increased, teacher certification requirements were lowered and in some cases almost eliminated to the point where little or no professional training was needed to teach. However, this trend later reversed itself as the teacher shortage became in actuality a teacher surplus in the late 1960’s to early 1970’s and teacher certification requirements were once again raised.
More schools had to built to contain the large numbers of school age children and small school districts joined together with other districts to from larger ones which could better bear the burden of increased capital costs and administration. The one room schoolhouse where one teacher taught all grades (usually grades 1-8) that had been a staple of life in rural America almost disappeared because it was cheaper to build bigger schools and bus children to central locations.
During the 1950’s the major political concern for the United States was the Cold War. Following World War II, the Soviets had moved into Eastern Europe and asserted control over the governments of many of these countries. The United States believed its mission was to prevent the further spread of Communism and dominate the Soviets in every aspect. [This was wrong. This is like ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ but in this case it was keeping up and exceeding the Russians.] In 1957 the Soviet Union, set off a shock wave in the United States with the first successful launch of an artificial satellite called Sputnik. Almost immediately politicians blamed this failing on the American educational system claiming it wasn’t rigorous enough and that more attention needed to be paid to mathematics and science education. Subsequently, the federal government appropriated millions of dollars for educational reform. [This was wrong. The American education system was doing just fine. It was American society that had different priorities. The federal government had no right to finance education.]
The 1950’s were also the beginning of the end of school segregation. In 1954, the Supreme Court heard the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education of Topeka. This case looked at the issue of segregation and this time ruled that it was illegal to deny entry to a facility based on the race. However, this ruling did not immediately end segregation. Strong opposition arose in many school districts throughout the country and schools were often the scene of violent confrontations when integration was first initiated.
A school in Fort Meyer, Virginia. September 8, 1944. [I feel it necessary to comment on the double standard here. At that time (and now) there are about 104 (as high as 109) HBCUs, that is, Historically Black Colleges and Universities in the US. If separate is NOT equal then how do you justify the existence of these schools? I see NO call to integrate them. Again, the Feds are interfering with education, and they should stay out of it. What does age have to do with? This time it is the Judicial Branch.]
In the 1960’s, the political emphasis changed from an external or global focus such as the Cold War to the consideration of internal affairs such as civil rights and the President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. [Another failed program.] President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech in 1961, asked the American public to consider “…not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country,” ushering in a new era of consciousness about the real meaning of equal opportunity and alleviating conditions associated with poverty.
Both Kennedy and Johnson allocated massive amounts of dollars to breaking the cycle of poverty and education was one of the areas receiving some of these funds. Programs such as Head Start, Job Corps, subsidized school lunches, and Title One began during this time. [Head Start has not worked. Whatever so-called boost it gives is gone by 3rd grade and the kids fall behind and continue to do so until they dropout of school. Job Corps- Is that still around? I guess it was not a rousing success either. Subsidized school lunches obviously have not broken the ‘cycle of poverty’ either. Title One. Not so sure that this has worked either. The War on Poverty has been an utter failure. The poverty rate was about 22 % in the 1960s and is now about 21%, but there are twice as many people in the country and therefore almost twice as many in poverty now compared to then. So, tell me that the war on poverty has worked. They say that there would even more in poverty had it not been for these programs. We will never truly know. But for over 50 years these programs have been around to no avail. A program that does not work should be canceled.]
The reform movement in education was also characterized by a new curricular emphasis. Teachers were encouraged to experiment and use their creativity to make education more interesting and involving for their students. Rather than textbook oriented stay in your seat type of learning that had characterized teaching instruction in the 1950’s, students were allowed choices, given flexible scheduling, individualized instruction and non-graded schools. [I never saw any of this. I saw a little more freedom in high school in the 70s but I think that this is normal. I am talking about choosing which science to take and choosing electives, but it was still textbook and stay in your seat type learning. It was fine for me.]
However, the curriculum reform movement of the sixties did not have the hoped for results in improving educational outcomes. [Of course not. Nothing can be done about it. Please accept this fact.] Test scores dropped, enrollments fell and public confidence in teachers was eroded. There was a strong back to the basics curriculum movement emphasizing reading, writing and arithmetic computation along with teacher accountability.
The seventies can probably be characterized as a time of economic concerns with the 1973 OPEC oil crisis, double-digit inflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment. Schools also suffered as a result of this economic pressure as funding was cut for public education.
In 1975 Congress passed PL 94-142 requiring a free appropriate education for all handicapped children. This law required that handicapped children be educated to the best of their ability and that they have an individualized educational plan written to suit their specific needs. In this same year, Title IX of the Education Amendments Act took effect requiring that access to programs (in particular sports programs) not be denied on the basis of gender. [Yeah now girls too can stop concentrating on studying and play games, just as boys do. This is great. NOT. Yes it is fair but not right. If you truly feel that we are competing against kids of other nations—Europe in particular, then we should spend time on study and not playing sports. Mistreating everyone the same does not make it right.] Prior to the implementation of this law, females had only limited opportunities to participate in school sports because the funding (if it was provided at all) was not provided at the same level as it was for male sports programs.
Nation At Risk
The eighties probably saw an escalation of the criticisms aimed at public education and teachers. In 1983 the national report A Nation at Risk was published detailing how the public school system had failed miserably in educating America’s children. [It did not fail. I have shot down most of what this report had said. There was another report that came out in 1990, The Scandia Report also contradicts some the statistics of the A Nation at Risk Report, thus debunking it.] As a result of this report <A Nation at Risk>, school reform movements gained momentum and a number of states passed laws requiring higher standards and expectations for students. [Yes, it has undermined the system that did work by having conflicting and unachievable goals.]
The educational focus for the nineties has been primarily directed at school reform. Goals 2000 [None of which were met and scrapped out in the early 2000s. Some have been revived under Obama for Goals 2020. Christ when will the Federal Government ever learn?] are an effort by the federal government to set standards for American education. Restructuring schools to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population and greater competition from a world that is rapidly changing in terms of technology has been the focus of most educators. For the most part teachers have risen to the occasion, taking on roles of leadership and leading the way into the 21st century. [Economist Paul Krugman says that we CANNOT educate ourselves back to a strong middle-class and says we should stop trying. I agree. All Obama is doing is giving people a false sense of hope.]