April 7, 2010

Thoughts on Education, Part 2

On April 15, 1939 as the country began emerging from the Great Depression, my grandfather (we’ll call him RWD) delivered a paper at the Eastern Public Speaking Conference (EPSC), held here in Syracuse. The title of his paper was ‘The Taxpayer Looks at Our Public Schools.’

My grandfather, whom I never knew, was president of the School Board, and also worked at Oneida Ltd. I’m not sure what specifically led to him appearing before the EPSC. His paper, typed on now-faded paper, without a single typo or correction, mentions that he was invited to speak before the group, but doesn’t provide any reasons for the invitation.

His opening line? “It is not easy for a business man to talk to a group of teachers about education. I find that we don’t always talk the same language. And even when we use the same words, I find that we do not always mean the same thing.”

I get the sense he was there to speak in support of public speaking classes in schools, although even he admitted at the end that “…this is not the sort of paper that will inspire teachers to go on to do bigger and better things.” So, maybe he didn’t quite hit the mark he was aiming for 71 years ago; he might not have fully made the case for public speaking, but he did raise some interesting concepts about the state of education back then; here are some of his key points:
  • “The taxpayer demands that pupils must pass.”
  • “How many teachers today can describe ‘the why’ of the courses they are teaching?”
  • “It is the kids that are important, not educational formulae and traditions.”
  • “Educators must accept the social responsibility for seeing to it that kids (and their parents) see ‘the sense’ of the courses, and that pupils are motivated to creditable work.”
  • “It has been (his) experience that so-called ‘educated’ people do plenty of talking about education, but do very little hard thinking about the fundamental problems.”
  • And last: “… (You) who are carrying the torch should not always hold it on high. You should occasionally wave it lower down, so as to attract attention to the value you bring.”
Interesting, don’t you think, how little things have changed in all these years?

In upcoming posts, I’ll delve into what was behind the points RWD was trying to make back then, and how he pulled everything together at the end.  I think we'll find that what we as taxpayers want today from our educational system is really pretty much the same as what we would have looked for in my grandfather’s time.