A Nation at Risk’s 25th: Missing the Obvious

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To the Editor:

Both E.D. Hirsch Jr. ("An Epoch-Making Report, But What About the Early Grades?") and Howard Gardner ("E Pluribus ... A Tale of Three Systems") miss the most obvious point in their discussions of A Nation at Risk 25 years later.

A Nation at Risk said disaster was at hand, but a quarter-century of history has revealed that the 18 members of the National Commission on Excellence in Education were wrong about almost everything. In both the 1980s and the 1990s, the United States experienced significant growth in multiple economic indicators and in citizens’ perceptions of their well-being. We also saw the end of the Cold War, more than a decade of peace, and, for better and for worse, enormous technological innovation.

A Nation at Risk predicted exactly none of this.

And to the extent that the United States is in a mess now, even the most intense school-haters can’t blame education for George W. Bush’s disastrous administration. You can’t blame schools for an endless and very expensive war, for endless federal deficits, for unprecedented tax cuts in the face of increased war costs, for the dissolution of the regulatory function of the federal government, for the removal of scientific knowledge from federal policy judgments, or for policies promoting the off-shoring of jobs from the United States by American corporations through so-called free-trade policies.

I say none of this as a defender of the status quo in education. I believe that it’s long past time for us to evolve from an industrial paradigm of schooling to an information-age paradigm of personalization.

But you can’t provide a proper remedy if you can’t define the problem accurately. A Nation at Risk was wrong, wrong, wrong. What it reveals in retrospect was the ignorance and bias of its authors and the complete failure of the media to question its hysterical and distorted claims.

David Marshak
Bellingham, Wash.

Vol. 27, Issue 37, Page 26

Published in Print: May 14, 2008, as A Nation at Risk’s 25th: Missing the Obvious

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