(Inspired by recent email conversations with Straw School, Manchester, NH classmates, including two who are now teachers.)
Getting lost in Wikipedia, as I often do, I read up on the Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930’s. I was surprised at how narrowly tailored it was, and how few people it employed at any one time. But more surprising was this paragraph about the pool it drew from (italics mine):
Approximately 55% of enrollees were from rural communities, a majority of which were non-farm; 45% came from urban. Level of education for the enrollee averaged 3% illiterate, 38% less than eight years of school, 48% did not complete high school, 11% were high school graduates. At the time of entry, 70% of enrollees were malnourished and poorly clothed. Few had work experience beyond occasional odd jobs.
The crash came in 1929, the CCC was four years later and more, its target group was quite young, so you can do the arithmetic to see how far these lads were from the Roaring Twenties with its high employment. Yet it was the schooling that caught my eye. This was not the previous generation’s immigrants, who had few years of formal education, as with two of my grandparents. These were native born Americans, and these were the white boys – blacks and Indians had separate groups, and I imagine their education levels were even less. 38% of these 17-23 y/o’s had less than eight years of school.
Conservatives like to go on endlessly about the good old days of education, and how their grandfathers had gone to one-room schools but rose to become physicians or chemical engineers or whatever, because the education was superior then despite the lack of resources. I lean pretty conservative, but this is just nuts. Education was terrible until quite recently.
Bloggers and blog-commenters who think about the history of education, changes in pedagogy, and can relate this to their own experience and that of their forebears, who can construct a coherent paragraph about the topic are not a representative sample of the country.
You are not a representative sample.
Are not a representative sample. You are the 1%, in that metric. The 5%, actually.
Your anecdotal experience is of nearly no value whatsoever in discussing the situation.
Let me bring in related statistics about years of education in the population as a whole in the decades before and after this, in order to make a distinction. From the National Center For Education Statistics:
Progressively fewer adults have limited their education to completion of the 8th grade which was typical in the early part of the century. In 1940, more than half of the U.S. population had completed no more than an eighth grade education. Only 6 percent of males and 4 percent of females had completed 4 years of college. The median years of school attained by the adult population, 25 years old and over, had registered only a scant rise from 8.1 to 8.6 years over a 30 year period from 1910 to 1940.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the more highly educated younger cohorts began to make their mark on the average for the entire adult population. More than half of the young adults of the 1940s and 1950s completed high school and the median educational attainment of 25- to 29-years-olds rose to 12 years. By 1960, 42 percent of males, 25 years old and over, still had completed no more than the eighth grade, but 40 percent had completed high school and 10 percent had completed 4 years of college. The corresponding proportion for women completing high school was about the same, but the proportion completing college was somewhat lower.
I was born in 1953. When I reached my 17th birthday I had more education than half the males in the country. The ones I was ahead of was weighted to the older guys, but not entirely so. We forget. I was at a mill city high school, and it was not unusual for kids to drop out when they turned 16 (about 20%), or before graduating (another 20%). And NH as a whole has traditionally had one of lowest dropout rates in the country.
But, you will correctly say, these numbers don’t measure the quality of education. These measure how many people went to school. Not the same thing. Perhaps if you got to go to school the instruction was quite wonderful. Especially in higher grades, eliminating those who were less interested in education (plus however many others who might be talented but too poor) might have made for an excellent classroom experience, don’t you think, AVI?
I think not. But I will leave all this with you to ponder before I comment further. For now, I wanted only to remind you that things were not as our current imagination tells us. We will get topp that. Post WWII America is insanely different from the rest of human existence in terms of education – including the rest of American history..