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You often hear about “the good old days,” and education is no different. You even hear it from people who you wouldn’t expect to ever like public education at any time. Yes, someone pointed out that linked article from a few years ago to me, and while I think there are some good points in there, it raises a number of questions.
One thing the author points out is that back in the 1950s, when he was in school, women had fewer options, and so a much higher percentage of teachers were very high quality, intelligent, and capable. What he leaves implied is that since women now have many more options in the economy, they don’t have to choose being a teacher, and as a consequence, the quality of teachers has necessarily gone down. Indeed, in my experience some of the least knowledgeable, least intelligent, least capable people I have ever met have been recent college graduates with degrees in education. The most capable teachers have been those who have received alternative certification. This raises a number of questions about the quality of our college education departments.
It also raises questions about what can be done about the fact that our changing cultural attitudes toward women has created more economic opportunities for them, which has then necessarily reduced the quality of teachers. The last thing we want to do is reverse those trends. If we want to improve the quality of teachers, we need to change the requirements to become a teacher, perhaps eliminate having to get certified to be a teacher if you have a Master’s or a Ph.D. in the field in which you’re teaching (for, say, middle and high school), and improve pay. You get what you pay for, and that is true with employees as with anything else.
Another issue the author raises is local control. There was a change from local to federal control in no small part because of school segregation. Local governments in the South segregated the schools, and it seems unlikely they were going to ever desegregate their own schools. The federal government had to step in, I believe, to end segregation. Some people may lament the fact that this created the first step in the federal government controlling public schools as much as they do now, but I have no doubt it was worth the trade-off.
That being said, there are many benefits to local control — and, given the current cultural conditions, a return would likely be beneficial without the problems we had 50 years ago. With local control comes more parental involvement. It also brings you a closer relationship between the school and those parents. Schools were once the center of community, and they could be once again if people did not perceive those schools as primarily run by bureaucrats more interested in pleasing state and federal politicians over parents. Those bureaucrats do not care about the children they’re over, the parents of those children, or the teachers they employ precisely because they are more interested in following the bureaucratic rules created by state and federal politicians who know absolutely nothing about how children learn.
The fact that there are cultural reasons our public schools are not as good as they once were doesn’t mean we cannot adjust our public schools to that new culture. The fact that our public schools have primarily reacted to those changes by getting worse and worse should disturb you. Especially if getting worse didn’t necessarily have to be an option.