"The invention of the scientific curriculum expert represented an extraordinary shift in power away from teachers, parents, and local communities...."
AS FAR BACK as 1983, a commission appointed by the Reagan Administration entitled its report regarding U.S. education: "A Nation at Risk." It concluded ominously: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves." We still allow it.
In 1994, the Educational Testing Service reported that a mere 42% of U.S. college graduates could summarize a newspaper article accurately. In 2012, U.S. high school students scored below the mean on the math portion of the Programme for International Student Assessment test, ranking 26th out of 34 nations involved. In 2015, American kids did even worse, scoring near the bottom on the same exam.
It was not always this way. Literacy in 18th- and 19th-century America was high. For instance, the essays of The Federalist, articulating sophisticated political theory, were
Progressives thought only an elite few should go to college and become society's leaders. These bright kids would receive the full academic program--literature, math, history, and science. The rest of us would learn practical life skills--vocational training, hygiene, driver's ed, and so forth. The educated intellectual elite would govern in the legislature and classroom; the rest of us would be good worker ants, doing our jobs competently and uncritically obeying the government's wise rulers.
They put this theory into practice in numerous ways. During the early 20th century, such researchers as Lewis Terman developed the Stanford-Binet intelligence test. Educational historian Diane Ravitch of New York University points out that "the public schools employed the tests to predict which students were likely to go to college and which should be guided into vocational programs."
Shortly after World War I, several progressives--including John Franklin Bobbit at the University of Chicago--developed the field known as Curriculum Studies. Prior to this, plumber to master Shakespeare's dramas, or calculus, or Greco/Roman history? This last field, Bobbit wrote, "deals with a world that is dead ... with manners ... and languages that are altogether impracticable in this modern age."
Rather, curriculum designers claimed, if agricultural production declines, the schools should improve agricultural...