Schools in 2024: Low Skills, Leftist Ideals

by E. Jeffrey Ludwig at

American education was visibly in decline in the 1950s.  The 1955 book Why Johnny Can’t Read by Jonathan Flesch was a bestseller and was already resisting the “whole language” approach to teaching reading, and it called for a return to phonics.  A recent book by a regular AT contributor, Bruce Deitrick Price, entitled Saving K–12: What Happened to Our Public Schools? How Do We Fix Them?, also bemoans the lack of phonics education and the new math.

On the ideological front, a 1953 book by James B. Conant, entitled Education and Liberty; The Role of the Schools in a Modern Democracy, emphasized that schools should focus on strong intellectual skills.  Although he was a strong advocate of public schools, which brought together students from all social classes, in this book, he expressed a belief that “it may well be that the ideological struggle with Communism in the next fifty years will be won on the playing fields of the public high schools of the United States.”

Thus, we see that two great concerns of the 1950s — that basic reading and math skills be retained and continuously improved, and that the USA through its schools would continue to reject communism — were great goals to be advanced.  Yet the exact opposite has happened: reading and writing skills have sharply declined, and the schools are hotbeds of leftist and communist thinking.  American social and political mores have been diluted or are being overturned in alarming ways since the 1960s, and this has been accompanied by a corresponding decline in the verbal and math skill sets of the students.  In short, “dumbing down” of students and leftism appear to be hand-in-glove processes.

Having been a student-teacher myself in the Philadelphia public schools, I knew how dramatically backward the schools had become.  In one class, I had asked the students who the president of the United States was, and the entire class mocked me for asking such a simple question.  “Of course, of course,” they jeered, “the president of the USA is Pres. Carter!”  When they stopped jeering, this young teacher threw a piece of chalk into the gutter of the blackboard and retorted, “OK — if you are so smart, who’s the vice president of the U.S.?”  Not one hand went up.  No one called out the answer.  There was only a stupefied silence.  There were four students in that 10th-grade class who literally were unable to write their names at the top of any classroom assignment, let alone write the classwork assignment.  They were in 10th grade and totally illiterate.