The Illusive Golden Age

According to any number of reform advocates, our education system would be much better if we just returned to a time in the past when we held students to higher standards.

But Alfie Kohn wants to know “When exactly was that golden period that was distinguished by high standards?”.

The answer, of course, is that it never existed. “The story of declining school quality across the 20th century is, for the most part, a fable,” says social scientist Richard Rothstein, whose book The Way We Were? cites a series of similar attacks on American education, moving backward one decade at a time. Each generation invokes the good old days, during which, we discover, people had been doing exactly the same thing. (“Grade inflation” is a case in point: Harvard professors were already grumbling about how A’s were “given too readily” back in 1894, only a few years after letter grades were introduced to the college.)

I swear, when it comes to history, this country has a collective memory span of about six weeks.