Public Education: Good Days Always Just Ahead

Member Group : David Kirkpatrick

Perhaps no public institution is the subject of as many rosy predictions as public education. From the 1840s, when Horace Mann was assuring everyone that more public schools would mean fewer prisons, to more recent promises of miracles to be derived from the latest federal program, there has never been a shortage of assurances of good days just ahead if only we will accept the panacea of the day. Herewith are some optimistic guarantees tempered by the cautions of pessimists.

"In 1922 Thomas Edison predicted that ‘the motion picture is destined to revolutionize our education system and…in a few years it will supplant largely, if not entirely, the use of textbooks…In 1945, William Levenson, the director of the Cleveland public schools radio station, claimed that ‘the time may come when a portable radio receiver will be as common in the classroom as the blackboard.’…President Bill Clinton campaigned for ‘a bridge to the twenty-first century…where computers are as much a part of the classroom as blackboards.’" Todd Oppenheimer, The Atlantic Monthly, July 1997

"The President has just signed a school aid bill worth 5.5 billion dollars…large portions of that sorely needed money…will be poured down the same narrow funnels which have proved so unhelpful to so many students in the past…And we’ll come back in one year or two years asking for more money because many of the schools are still a disaster area…" Harvey B. Scribner, Chancellor, New York City schools, Vital Speeches of the Day, August 15, 1971.

"…one thing seems to me as certain as any, and that is that 25 or even 10 years from now schools will not be any where as prominent in American life as they are now." John Holt, 1971

Within a decade or so, there will undoubtedly be dramatic developments in the use of educational technology as a means of cutting costs and improving educational quality…Technology may eventually revolutionize formal education by taking much of it out of the school building and putting it in the home." Continuity and Discontinuity, The Carnegie Commission on Higher Education, August 1973

"…television may bring an end to the careers of school teachers, since school itself was an invention of the printing press and must stand or fall upon the issue of how much importance the printed word will have in the future." Neil Postman, Conscientious Objections, 1988

"Public school teachers are at the precipice of fundamental change in America’s learning industry, but could easily be overwhelmed by sweeping change. To reinvent education, rethink what was it we decided we would never do, and that’s what you’re going to do. Revolutions come from outside, they don’t come from inside." Dr. George Land, The Voice, Harrisburg, PA: PSEA, May 1993

"After all, we’re either going to change what we’re going to do or public education is going to die as we know it." Frank Hayden, former Detroit School Board President, 1993, Information Legislative Service, New Cumberland, PA: Pa. School Boards Assn, Feb. 9, 1993 (Have you looked at conditions in the Detroit school district lately, not to mention the city of Detroit itself.)

"Long before reform of the educational system comes to any conclusion, the system itself will have collapsed." Lewis Perelman, Education Review, March/April 1997

"The days of the traditional big-city school board are numbered…the boards have shown that they can’t manage, can’t deal effectively with unions, and shortchange the kids." Neal R. Pierce, p. A13, The Philadelphia Inquirer, December 2, 1996

It’s been said that in a race between a turtle and a rabbit the turtle may win, but that’s not the way to bet.

Thomas Edison didn’t seek to improve the candle, he invented the light bulb. Henry Ford did not seek to breed better horses; he built cars. Similarly, on balance the present school system needs to be replaced not reformed Those in the system, and their supporters, will never voluntarily permit this to happen. Only the educational equivalent of the freedom Edison and Ford had can bring this about. Which is why the ultimate triumph of school choice is inevitable.
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