Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Here’s a strange thought for you. Strange, but based on these facts: 1) Less than 200 years ago most people, 90% or more, were agricultural workers and lived in farming communities. 2) Not even 100 years later 50% or more of the people, men but women also, now living mostly in cities, held jobs in manufacturing. 3) And finally, today, or another 100 years later, nearly 70% of the people living in this country, and in fact according to the World Bank living in all the world’s richest countries, hold jobs in the service industries.

The strange fact? —that the public schools during this 200 year period of enormous changes haven’t themselves changed in any fundamental way. Begun as Thomas Mann’s common school in Massachusetts in the 1840s they’re pretty much the same today as then. It’s as if our schools and our principal occupations were those ships or trains not passing one another but traveling in parallel paths alongside one another but without ever making contact. For what if anything in our schools has changed that at all reflects the fact that people’s occupations, not to mention neighborhoods and communities, are no longer today what they were 200 years ago?

Isn’t this strange, that somehow we’ve acted during the 200 years as if what the parents were doing in their lives had little or any relevance to the education of their children? It may very well be this single fact that most accounts for the frequently noted failure of our schools to educate, as well as the failure of an endless and still ongoing series of reform efforts to improve things. The schools have from the beginning tragically separated themselves from the work of the people, and consequently from the lives of the people’s children.

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