by Steve Lancaster 1/28/19
It is time I came clean to the awfulness. I attended public schools in the 50s and 60s, not only that but in the South. According to some it is a wonder that I can walk and chew gum at the same time. However, I do not believe that public schools of the first generation of boomers were the same as later generations and so different from today’s public schools that comparison is almost out of reach. My teachers were WWII veterans, male and female, and all had come of age during the depression. The experiences of these events gave drive to their efforts to educate and see us realize the American dream.
The veterans seldom talked about their experiences during the war. Mr. Woods, who taught algebra 1, I found out later, was a decorated Normandy vet with a Bronze star and citations for bravery and leadership and was one of the first to enter Dachau. Mrs. Bridenstine, 9th grade English kept yours truly after class to find out why I did not pay attention to her lectures on sentence diagraming. I my defense I claimed to be reading Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov section on the Grand Inquisitor. She questioned me about the book and satisfied herself that I was really reading it. I spent the rest of the year reading and submitting reports on what I read and was exempted from the drudgery of regular class room work. I later found out that most of her European relatives had perished in the Holocaust. There were others, Mrs. Hinton, Junior year history, who got so excited about the early colonial settlement she sometimes cried. Mrs. Crumb, Algebra II, Geometry and Trig. She was tough as nails in class and soft as a pillow to needy students.
We were a distinctive and diverse group of students, Fayetteville was one of the first school districts in the South to desegregate after Brown. Blacks were on sports teams very early in the 50s, some schools refused to play Fayetteville for this reason. In high school we had Latin, Greek, German, Spanish instruction, debate and chess clubs. Our starting quarterback was a whiz at Latin, and not even Catholic.
So, what happened? By the time my oldest was in elementary school, in California, most of the generation of teachers I had were retiring and were replaced by a generation that had never seen war or scarcity. True enough, they were my generation of boomers and given the superior public-school education we received should have carried on with the traditions we were taught. Was it the lingering effect of Vietnam, exposure to Communist philosophy, or just the general malaise of institutions left on their own? Maybe all, perhaps something else ephemeral and mysterious? I know that by the time my youngest was in elementary school we paid the cost of private schooling through Jr. High.
For all the hoopla about diversity our public schools are less diverse and, I believe more segregated, then anytime in the last 100 years. At high schools and universities across the country students are segregating themselves into clubs, dorms and dining facilities exclusive to their ethnic and cultural history. The melting pot is broken seems to have become a forgotten memory of old men.
I know my grandchildren do not benefit from the same schooling I received, at least those in the US. My three in Israel I think do much better. The oldest goes into the IDF this year after graduation. There is something homogenizing about common military experiences, and the threat of war on the doorstep clarifies thinking.
For years we have discussed the opposing thoughts about all volunteer and conscript militaries. Our military families now constitute a smaller percentage of the population than anytime in the 20th century, about 1/10 of 1%. The men and women who volunteer for service are better trained, skilled and educated than at any time in our history, and there is a sense of unit cohesion among them absent in their peers who have not served. Yet, conscription during both world wars, and even Vietnam provided a level platform of what it means to be American. An opportunity to live, fight and die with people from every state, of every culture and background.
I do not know if universal conscription is a cure for the troubling drift of our culture, but it may be a place to start. However, it would give a common experience for the lack of elementary and secondary education about what it means to be American. Conversely, the possibility for abuse by political leaders should give pause. • (116 views)