One of the more unfortunate outgrowths of World War II was a feeling of arrogance and heightened sense of self importance by part of the American higher education community. Specifically, that part of higher education that had conducted the secr et development of the atomic bomb during the war felt an obligation to act as the country's intellectual elite after the war. James Conant of Harvard is illustrative of a tight group of academics that offered policy advice on confronting Communists durin g the cold war and the role of public education.
The country's schools were in crisis and needed an emergency response. The academic focus of the schools should be on math, science and foreign languages. Private education was the country's best intellectual resource. Public high sch ools should be organizations designed to "cream" the top 10-15 percent of students for the best postsecondary experiences.
Most important, the public school teacher could not be trusted on either an intellectual or professional basis. Schools of education and teacher preparation were jokes. A condition should be arranged where select post secondary instit utions prepared the content of curriculum and packaged instructional strategies that were "teacher proof." The National Science Foundation did subsidize curriculum content development and teacher training institutes that resulted in the "new Math" and "n ew Physics" (among others) curricula. Although not connected in any direct or deliberately strategic way, the emphasis by the higher education elite did couple nicely with extreme conservative attacks on public education and "progressive" educators of the l950's. Public school s were not imagined as places of poor academic performance but also the breeding ground for "unAmerican" (read communist, socialist, liberal) values. Public educators weren't teaching in "child centered" ways, they were creating propaganda to undermine t he adult and parental authority of American society. Values weren't being "clarified" through critical inquiry, children's brains were being "washed" with liberal thought.
The suggestion for "teacher proof" curriculum packaging and the rise of the "militant" public school teacher unions must be understood in the same historical context. The controversies over the r ole and performance of public education were bubbling before the l960's civil rights and racial politics era.
- James Conant, The American High School of Today, (l958);
- Joel Spring, The Sorting Machine Revisited, (l978);
- Edward Krug, Shaping the American High School, (l964);
- Interest Group Charges National Education Association a "danger".