There have been some interesting places to bring the discussion that came up in the comments, and I am impatient to get to them. But I think I will stay with my original plan for now. After this there are a few additional quick-hitters to spur thought, but no more extended essay.
Here are the weaknesses of those purported advantages:
Better teachers: Just because women in general had unacknowledged talents and some of them went into teaching does not mean those particular women were good teachers. Let’s go back just a bit further in history, to the late 19th and early 20th C and pick up the flow of who was heading up classrooms. My great-grandmother taught at a one-room school in Londonderry. She started at 17. Alert readers will suddenly remember Anne of Green Gables, the “Little House” books, and others of the era, and how young teachers might be. Moving forward in time, schools began to require that teachers had a highschool diploma, later a certificate from a Normal School (two-year teaching academy, later increased to four-year), then a Teacher’s Collge, and only quite far along, a Bachelor’s Degrees. Those with the earlier credentials were grandfathered – er, grandmothered – in. I had at least two teachers with a Normal School certificate only, even in my day. So whatever natural abilities they may have had, the majority of teachers did not have so much training – and there was not a lot of continuing ed in those days or supervision after.
Further, generic ability is not necessarily teaching ability. In that same district, my grandfather had Robert Frost at Pinkerton Academy – certainly a surplus of talent for a high school English teacher, you’d think. But Gramps wasn’t impressed. Frost was obvious about not wanting to be there and was apparently not very good. (Frost’s biographical info agrees that he took the job only because he had to.) So too with other teachers of the day. They didn’t want to be there. They didn’t like kids, especially boys. Lots of them were talented, competent, teachers. But there wasn’t a lot of floor in the profession. You could go pretty far down and no one would do a thing about it, just letting you plod along oddly for decades. And they did, most schools had at least one crazy abusive teacher. A lot of kids got left out. Public shaming was the norm. The worst students got little help, just embarrassment. The best students did okay if there was a track system (assuming anyone had recognised they were intelligent, which was not a given if you had attention issues), in terms of not getting into as much trouble. But the brightest students have always been largely self-taught. The non-book students mostly learned outside of school as well. There was a kind of cooperative, conscientious student who did well enough and probably got some value.
Some of them were great. I’m not ignoring that. And current education departments may destroy more teachers than they build (I don’t know that to be true, I just know that some people think so), but by age alone, a 24-year-old is going to be better than a 19-year-old. Bad training is going to be at least better than no training most of the time.
More dropouts: Not in first grade. Not in sixth grade. By highschool perhaps the system had weeded out a lot of kids who had less intelligence, or drive, or cooperativeness, and the remaining students could really sail. But that is ultimately less than a third of the system. The exception would be head-injured or developmentally delayed children, who were largely absent from the schools. If that did indeed create a better classroom environment – I doubt it would have much effect, but let’s pretend – do we want to pay that cost again?
Attention span and authority: We sat still for hours. I recall something in Reader’s Digest only a few years later noting that speeches in the Senate were kept under an hour, but fifth-graders hat to sit still for an hour at a time every day. One hour? How about 8-10 in the morning until 15 minutes of recess, then 12:30-2 every afternoon until that recess, with another 75 minutes after each? Getting up and doing things was rare.
I have no idea what everyone else did, but I read in secret or daydreamed my way through it. It must have been hell for active kids. But if we were able to accomplish that better then, before TV and video games and computers destroyed our ability for sustained concentration, it still sounds more doltish and docile than “focused” to me. Sixth grade, two hours straight, most mornings of the week – I’m not sure that’s a good thing.