During the 1901 N.E.A. convention in Detroit, Michigan's Superintendent of Public Instruction provided a clue when he claimed:
"The character of our education must change with the oncoming of the years of this highly practical age. We have educated the mind to think and trained the vocal organs to express the thought, and we have forgotten or overlooked the fact that in about four times out of five the practical man expresses his thought by the hand rather than by mere words." Callahan (1962), p. 9
So what we are experiencing today -- 111 years later -- is the exact same thing only business and industry have changed leaving schools still perfectly structured to train students to "express his thought by the hand rather than by mere words."
The private sector began the slow but steady abandonment of the centuries-old tradition of training workers for business and industry. They expected the public schools to drop its focus on literacy, humanities, and recitation to become the new provider of training for employment in America's rapidly expanding industrial complex. Practical skills rather than thinking and speaking skills. The mainstream journals, industry leaders, politicians, and even the general public attacked public schools as wasteful and failing. But William H. Maxwell, superintendent of the New York City schools struck back, attacking the
"...'arrogant unreasonableness' of certain educational theorists who periodically made sweeping indictments of the schools and then offered their pet solutions."
Doesn't that sound familiar to all of us right now?
Maxwell went on claiming that "nothing had been as arrogant as the..."
"...agitation with which the educational world is now seething for the introduction of industrial or trade teaching in the public schools. That agitation, as every one knows, originated with the manufacturers. They had practically abandoned the apprenticeship system of training workmen. No longer training their own mechanics, they have found it difficult to obtain a sufficient supply of skillful artisans, unless they import them from Europe at great expense. Out of this dilemma the exit was obvious -- persuade the State to assume the burden. It was only a new application of Colone Sellers' definition of patriotism -- The old flag and -- an appropriation! -- let the State do the work that is so oppressive to us. And, as a first step to secure their ends, they and their agents in unmeasured terms denounced the public schools as behind the age, as inefficient, as lacking in public spirit. And why? Because the public schools are not training artisans -- are not doing the work that had been done by employers of labor for thousands of years. The arrogance of the manufacturers was two-fold -- first, in condemning the schools for not doing what thinking men had never before considered it the duty of the schools to do and what the traditions of thousands of years laid it upon the manufacturers to do; and, second, in demanding that the State, after taxing consumers for fifty years, through a protective tariff, in order to fill the pockets of manufacturers, should then proceed to pay the bills for training their workmen. To condemn a great industry -- schoolteaching -- for not doing what hitherto it had never been expected to do, and to clamor not only for protection from competition but for relief at the hands of the state from the duty and expense of training artisans -- could arrogance farther go?" p. 14
But Superintendent Callahan was a lone wolf among the sheep as most school superintendents capitulated -- along with the teachers -- and forced public schools to become job-training centers for growing American industry. And there we still stand today, once again attacked because private-sector business no longer needs hoards of manufacturing and unskilled laborers. A new economy calls for new skills and knowledge but still today, business abdicates its responsibility to train new workers, preferring instead to point fingers at the public education system THEY CREATED and calling it a failure. And why not? It gets them off the hook at taxpayer's expense.
What is that old saying? "Those who fail to learn history are doomed to repeat it?"
Excerpted from Callahan, Raymond E. (1962). Education and the Cult of Efficiency. The University of Chicago Press.
Related post: Education reform appears caught in a time warp