America Goes to School: Law, Reform, and Crisis in Public Education

By Robert M. Hardaway | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine
Conclusion: Can Our Public Schools Be Saved?

The problems of American public schools are steeped in history. Without an understanding that history--the origin and evolution of the American system of one-room schools; the Prussianization and consolidation of those schools and the creation of an administrative and bureaucratic empire built on sexism, age segregation; the leadership principle, and the stripping of the authority of the classroom teacher, the early application Brighamian "liquid brain" theories, which resulted in the termination of early attempts to provide preschooling; the legacy of racism and the judicial development of theories of segregation based on administrative preconceptions of language disabilities, intelligence, and socioeconomic status; the politicization of the public schools and their use as ideological tools; and finally the clumsy judicial imposition of arbitrary principles of criminal procedure and due process--there can be no understanding of the failure of the public schools today, the tragic decline of student achievement, and the shameless denial of equal educational opportunity.

In light of such a history, the present plight of the public schools comes not as a surprise but as a logical outcome of historical forces. As the renowned African American economist Dr. Thomas Sowell recently observed, it is not "surprising that academic work is so readily abandoned for social experiments, ideological crusades and psychological manipulations by educators whose own academic performances have long been shown to be substandard." The average (SAT) score for aspiring teachers is 389 out of a possible 800." 1 In The Teacher Who Couldn't Read, an author relates his 17 years as a teacher who couldn't read or write. 2

In the few instances where public schools have attempted to impose discipline, the results have been dramatic. Time magazine has reported the policies of civil rights activist George McKenna, who in the 1970s was appointed as principal of a public school in the Watts area of Los Angeles, which was described as a school that "had a serious drug and gang problem [and] where students were, in essence, in control." 3 MacKenna imposed a very strict discipline code, which both

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