“To Open The Door”

A famous educator reviews 100 years of service by the land-grant colleges

The year 1955 marks the centennial of one of the greatest landmarks in our American heritage of education for all the people. A century ago, the Michigan State College and the Pennsylvania State University were founded as the first of a group of uniquely new and evolutionary institutions of higher learning. These twin birthdays have been recognized by the issuance of a special commemorative U.S. postage stamp, dedicated to the two institutions and to the land-grant college idea as conceived in 1862 by Act of Congress.Read more »

What Happened To America’s Public Schools?

Not what you may think

At one point in his 1988 book The Thirteenth Man , the former Secretary of Education Terrel Bell speaks of the decline of secondary education in America. “If we are frank with our selves,” he writes, “we must acknowledge that for most Americans . . . neither diligence in learning nor rigorous standards of performance prevail. . . . How do we once again become a nation of learners, in which attitudes towards intellectual pursuit and quality of work have excellence as their core?” Read more »

Caution: I Brake For History

A BOLD NEW KIND OF COLLEGE COURSE BRINGS the student directly to the past, nonstop, overnight, in squalor and glory, for weeks on end

 

O Public Road … you express me better than I can express myself. ” I first read Walt Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road,” in Leaves of Grass , as an Ohio schoolboy. The great democratic chant struck me hard, a lightning bolt of simple, authoritative words proclaiming that only in motion do people have the chance to turn dreams into reality. Even as a fourteen-yearold I already suspected this. Read more »

What Should We Teach Our Children About American History?

The fiercest struggle going on in education is about who owns the past. Militant multi-culturalists say that traditional history teaching has brushed out minority ethnic identities. Their opponents say that radical multiculturalism leads toward national fragmentation.

In 1987 a sweeping revision of the social studies program in New York State public schools gave the curriculum a strong multicultural slant. It was not strong enough, however, for a task force on minorities appointed by Thomas Sobol, the state education commissioner, in 1989.Read more »

An Unofficial Tour Of Yale

A guide who has been taking it all in for sixty years leads us on a lively, intimate, and idiosyncratic ramble through quiet yards where students once argued about separating from the Crown and to hidden carvings high on the Gothic towers that show scholars sleeping through class and getting drunk on beer

"That building on the left,” said the tour guide, “is William L. Harkness Hall. It was given by Mr. Harkness in 1926 and completed in 1927. It is built of Aquia sandstone with Ohio sandstone trim. It has a lecture hall seating two hundred and forty-nine persons. It has classrooms and faculty offices. Shall we move on?” Read more »

Whatever Happened To New Math?

In the early sixties it was going to revolutionize American education. By the early seventies it had confounded a generation of schoolchildren. Today it is virtually forgotten. But as we head toward another round of educational reforms, we should recall why it went wrong.

Its founding fathers are dead, its disciples scattered, its millions long spent. Yet countless Americans still carry the revolutionary message of new math in their memories, if not always close to their hearts. Now in their mid-thirties or forties, these “new math kids,” myself among them, were part of a learning crusade that in the 1950s and 1960s marched through schools across the nation. For many of us, new math was a disaster; for others, a godsend. Read more »

School For Sailors

A novelist and historian takes us on a tour of the Academy at Annapolis, where American history encompasses the history of the world.

Watery is the first word that comes to mind as you enter the main gate of the U.S. Naval Academy, at the foot of the Maryland town that has become the school’s other name, Annapolis. The broad Severn River greets the sea reaches of Chesapeake Bay a few hundred yards away. A few miles farther out is the Atlantic. Just across Prince George Street is Annapolis harbor, crammed with sloops and power boats. This is obviously a good place for a school for sailors, a nursery of admirals. Read more »

The Public Schools And The Public Mood

Since the birth of the nation, the public’s perception of the quality of public schools has swung from approval to dismay and back again. Here an eminent historian traces the course of school reform and finds that neither conservative nor liberal movements ever fully achieve their aims—which may be just as well.

In a historic meeting at Charlottesville, Virginia, last September, President George Bush and the nation’s governors promised to revitalize America’s public schools by establishing “clear national performance goals, goals that will make us internationally competitive.” Their language recalled the document that had inspired school reforms earlier in the 1980s, A Nation at Risk.Read more »

The War Of The Great Books

What seemed to be just another tempest in the teapot of academia has escalated into a matter of national values and politics. Who would have believed that the choice of which books Stanford University students must read would create so much tumult? And that the controversy goes back so far?

Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind must surely be the most unexpected happening of American intellectual life in recent years. It is an erudite, closely argued book of philosophy and cultural criticism. That it should sit atop the New York Times best-seller list for eleven weeks and produce a hard-cover sale of a half-million copies defies publishing’s common sense. Read more »

What Should We Tell Our Children About Vietnam?

That was the question an Oklahoma high school teacher sent out in a handwritten note to men and women who had been prominent movers or observers during the Vietnam War. Politicians and journalists and generals and combat veterans answered him. Secretaries of Defense answered him. Presidents answered him. Taken together, the answers form a powerful and moving record of the national conscience.

Last year my principal and friend, Rick Elliott, told me that he wanted the Vietnam War to be covered more thoroughly than it had been in the social studies classes at our junior high school in Pryor, Oklahoma. Although Vietnam was our nation’s most recent war, America’s combat role in it had ended before most of our students were born. When you consider that the war was the most divisive event in the past hundred years of our history, it becomes obvious that it is something that desperately needs to be taught in our schools. Read more »