By editorial board • 

Advances in public education deserve acclaim, appreciation

Culture warriors have been amping up their attacks on public education to almost histrionic levels in recent years.

They have accused our schools of lacking rigor and discipline, infusing students with liberal values, failing to demand verifiable mastery, abdicating responsibility for instilling morality and neglecting the traditional mainstays of reading, writing and arithmetic. They demand a return to the more uniform and regimented model of what they view as our halcyon past — from the 1900s, if not the 1800s.

But they may, in fact, be pining for a past that never was anywhere near as sound as they make out — and one utterly incapable, in any event, of preparing pupils for the advanced technology permeating modern American life.

Back in the rural agrarian past of America’s early days, a grade school diploma was considered good enough for most kids and a high school diploma good enough for the vast majority of the rest. College was for doctors, lawyers and academics, who would predominantly come from the upper classes.

The school year typically only ran about 130 days, compared to about 180 today. And thanks to being exposed to more childhood diseases and pressed into more work demands at home, students attended, on average, only about 60% of the time.

In rural parts of our largely rural country, one-room schoolhouses relegated students of all grade levels to a single teacher — typically a woman of 16 to 20, as marrying was disqualifying in most jurisdictions and men were largely otherwise disposed.

The curriculum was heavy on civics, cyphering, composition, grammar, rhetoric, geography, history, the humanities and the classics. A lot more emphasis was put on rote memorization than on the critical thinking skills required in today’s world.

In 21st century America, even managing the family farm demands expertise in accounting, management and public policy, not to mention advanced agricultural science and methodology. That’s what it takes to be even minimally competitive these days.

Are our schools up to the challenge?

Judging from the dozens of stories our newspaper has published in recent years on innovative, cutting-edge programs, particularly at the high school level, we think they are. In fact, we think they are doing a vastly better job than their armchair critics are giving them credit for.

Students excelling in science and math can immerse themselves in competitive robotics and enroll in the likes of Mac High’s academically demanding Engineering and Aeronautic Sciences Academy. Colleagues can pursue academic studies, while gaining real-world experience on the side, in firefighting, metalworking, nursing, viticulture, childcare, auto mechanics, heavy equipment operation, construction, the culinary arts and myriad other increasingly competitive fields.

That’s as true in the Amity, Dayton, Sheridan, Willamina and Yamhill-Carlton districts as it is in the McMinnville School District. In their own way, each is rising to the challenge of producing graduates capable of coping with today’s unprecedented flux and complexity.

These are not your father’s schools, nor those of your father’s father’s father, heaven forbid. Nor should they be, as we need to be looking forward, not backward.

There’s no going back to simpler times. Those are gone for good. And, truth be told, it’s for the better in most regards.


Web Design and Web Development by Buildable