Education Fails Again

Posted by on October 11th, 2010 at 8:07 AM

American public education is in crisis. Again. The American Youth are not being educated. Despite the widely accepted assertion that American schools fail to perform the function for which they are instituted, the country managed, against all odds apparently, to survive the 20th Century.

Not only did we survive it, we emerged at the top of the heap, nearly, on the international scene. Militarily, no nation can match ours: and we have proved that we can destroy a country without hardly trying. Technologically, too, we reigned supreme for most of the century. We have rocket scientists galore, and medical science advances every day, making doctors and pharmacists into millionaires overnight. Our bankers exceed those of other nations in duplicity and chicanery, and the hypocrisy of our politicians knows no equal. Economically, we’re still a major threat even if China or Japan is in first place.

How this was achieved with the rotten public schools we have is open for fervent debate. But not by me. I’m content.

Every 6-9 years, the American educational system comes in for bashing. Yet it survives pretty much as it’s been since the 1930s (albeit without ink wells in the desktops). And American institutions, political and social and economic—not to mention Hollywood—continue to triumph. In the long run.

By way of proving just how cyclically regular the criticism is, I’m posting two cartoons in this neighborhood. They aim at a slightly different aspect of life and learning in American schools, but they make my point just the same: we’ve heard it all before.

At the top is the cartoon Bill Schorr concocted a few weeks ago in honor of our Annual Back to School Festivities. Below that, a cartoon I conjured up at the same time of year 17 years ago when I was drawing editorial cartoons for the member newspaper of the National Council of Teachers of English. Apparently, not much has changed.

The rabbit, by the way, is imitating Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pose in promotions for a movie current at the time, “The Last Action Hero,” a suggestion that classroom teachers are heroic, too.

Not much has changed. The heroes are still there, underpaid and overworked and just a little giddy at being, once again, under fire for a vast array of things they can’t really help—the vulgarity of popular culture, the profit motive, the ability of politicians to believe two contradictory things at once (and repeatedly to declare as much), the fanatic extremism of believers both religious and philosophical that sanctions whatever violence they commit in the name of their beliefs, the supremacy of appearance (always) over reality.

But I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I’m a cartoonist as well as a typist.

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