The Dumbing-Down of Public Schools

You may have read stories about the difficulty of tests given to public-school students in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Some of the questions would have challenged even the brighter seniors in today’s schools. This anecdotal evidence suggests that educational standards were generally much higher in the public schools of yore than they are now. One reason, I suspect, is the dumbing-down of schools that probably accompanied the social and legal push to keep children in school through the 12th grade.

In Michigan, when my father was of school age, it wasn’t uncommon for children (especially boys) to drop out after the 8th grade. High school, in those days, seemed to be considered preparatory for college. Boys like my father, who was intelligent but of a poor family, weren’t considered college material and would often drop out after completing the 8th grade in order to go to work, perhaps even to learn a trade that would pay more than they could earn from manual labor. (When my father dropped out, the Great Depression was at its depth and it was all the more necessary for him to take whatever job he could get, to help support his family.)

The prep-school thesis came to me when I was browsing old yearbooks and found a yearbook for 1921 in which my high-school principal is pictured as a high-school senior. (It was the high school that my father would have attended had he gone beyond the 8th grade.) One page of the yearbook gives a list of the 1920 graduates and tells what each of them is doing (e.g., attending the University of Michigan, working at a particular factory, at home without a job). Here are some things I gleaned from the page:

The class of 1920 consisted of 28 males and 50 females. This is an improbable male-female ratio, which supports my thesis that dropping out to work was common among males. (Most male members of the class of 1920 would have been only 16 at the end of World War I ended, so it is unlikely that the war had more than a minute effect on the number of males who reached graduation age.)

A year after graduation, two-thirds of the males (19 of the 28) were enrolled in college (mostly at the University of Michigan), and another one was attending a technical school in Chicago. That two-thirds of the males were in college in 1921, long before the insane push for universal higher education, support the idea that most males who went to high school were considered college material.

Of the 50 females, only 8 were definitely in college, with 5 of them at teachers’ colleges (then called “normal schools”). Several others gave locations that might have indicated college attendance (e.g., Oberlin, Albion). But there were at most 14 collegians among the 50 females.

Two females were already teaching, presumably in small, rural schools. But the fact that they were teaching at the age of 19 (not uncommon in the “old days”) is testimony to the quality of high-school education in those days. It also says a lot about the needless inflation of standards for teaching young children.

It pains me to think of the tens of millions of young persons — male and female alike — who have been pushed into high school, and then into college, instead of being allowed to find their own way in life. They have been denied the opportunity to learn a trade through apprenticeship, or just by working hard; the opportunity to learn self-reliance and responsibility; and the opportunity to contribute more to the well-being of others than most of them will contribute by going to college.

Smaller high-school enrollments would also mean fewer public-school teachers and administrators to feed at the public trough and fuel the expensive (and largely fruitless) war among school systems to see which one can spend the most per pupil.  Fewer students pushed into college would also mean fewer college-professors and administrators to feed at the public trough, and to spew their pseudo-intellectual nonsense.

The best thing about smaller high-school enrollments would be the reduction in the number of impressionable young persons who are indoctrinated in left-wing views by high-school teachers, and then by college professors.


Related posts:
School Vouchers and Teachers’ Unions
Whining about Teachers’ Pay: Another Lesson about the Evils of Public Education
I Used to Be Too Smart to Understand This
The Higher-Education Bubble
The Public-School Swindle
Is College for Everyone?
A Sideways Glance at Public “Education”

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