by David Safier
I'm still working my way through the education discussion at the Thursday night debate between Fred DuVal and Doug Ducey in Tucson. Here's the biggest educational gaffe of the night, made by Ducey. It's one of those classic "When I was a boy" blunders. He was talking about how today's schools in Arizona and across the country are under-performing compared to schools in other countries, and he compared them to the wonderful schools America's K-12 youth attended back when.
"Anyone that’s my age in this audience or older grew up in an America that was number one in the world in K-12 education, and so far and away number one, we didn’t know who number two was."
Ducey graduated high school in 1986, so his "We're Number One!" glory days were the 1980s. Those were his happy-go-lucky teen years, so he probably didn't read the Reagan White House document, A Nation at Risk, which came out in 1983, when he was a freshman. [NOTE: Ducey graduated college, not high school, in 1986, which means his high school graduation rate was probably 1982, a year before A Nation at Risk was published but part of the time the report is referring to. I regret the error.] It didn't exactly trumpet the excellence of our schools. Quite the opposite. In its early paragraphs, the report said:
The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people. What was unimaginable a generation ago has begun to occur—others are matching and surpassing our educational attainments.
Things got even more dire in the next sentence.
If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the schools Ducey attended which, according to him, were "so far and away number one, we didn’t know who number two was."
And for those of us older than Ducey, well, there was the Sputnik scare of 1956. The Russians put a satellite up in space before we did. Why? We were told it was because our math and science education had slipped way behind the Russkies. Scared the hell out of everyone.
Oh, and in 1955 there was the book, Why Johnny Can't Read, that described the deplorable state of our schools. That same year, the film, Blackboard Jungle, came out. Pretty serious film. If you watch it, you'll learn what a mess our schools for poor and minority students were back then.
If we want, we can go back even further, to Plato's day, when the adults of Athens deplored the poorly educated, undisciplined youth running wild around the agora. There was this one especially terrible teacher at the time, by the name of Socrates, who was "corrupting the youth of Athens." Instead of firing him, they gave the old man a dose of hemlock. Talk about taking away a teacher's tenure protections!