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Julie Falk

Youth Corner ...

Education in America

(5 February 1947)

From Labor Action, Vol. 11 No. 5, 3 February 1947, p. 7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The speeches and articles of politicians discussing America’s educational accomplishments have been long and bombastic. From ward-heelers to Senators we have heard an infinite number of times stock phrases such as “our finest educational system in the world” and “millions spent for education.”

Let us examine the meaning of the first platitude: “finest educational system in the world.” Viewed relatively, there is more than a grain of truth to it. Compared to devastated Europe or barbaric Stalinist Russia, educational opportunities in America appear good. But a comparison of this nature is misleading. An educational system, superior by comparison with other countries cannot be equated to an educational system superior in itself.

The relative worth of our educational system has some significance, but it is not valid as a measure of actual educational achievement in America. The fact that other countries are extremely deficient in providing adequate and progressive educational facilities for their youth does not in any way justify what we will sec to be the appalling failure of America’s educational opportunities.

Some Facts on Education

The National Educational Association (NEA) has just published an annual report to the public titled, Our Children. Though the NEA is a conservative, semi-official group, its report is factual and objective. The facts published are startling. I am sure that even the wisest of us would sit back and re-read with incredulity some of the facts concerning the status of America’s educational level and school facilities.

Space allows for only a few of the more important facts uncovered in this study, with a minimum of editorial comments.

  1. In the 1940 census it was discovered “that there were twice as many adults who had never gone to school at all as there were students in our institutions of higher learning.”
  2. The same census showed that these “average citizens of twenty years of age had attended school for only nine years.” That means that the average-American does not pass the high school freshman stage.
  3. The census also revealed that there were ten million in America who are “functionally illiterate.” In four states, Louisiana, South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia, more than 30 per pent of adults over twenty-five years did not have more than four years grammar school to their credit. The national percentage for this category of semi-literate adults is amazingly high, 13.57 per cent – more than one out of every eight!
  4. Indicative of the low educational levels is the fact that 676,000 were rejected by the Selective Service for mental and educational backwardness. And those who were in the army, perhaps know best, from personal observation, that the Selective Service standards could not have been very high.
  5. In 1940 “there were more inmates of prisons, mental institutions, and aims houses, than there were students in universities.”

    Our capitalist society is evidently more conducive to developing paupers, delinquents and neurotics than to the growth of well-educated and adjusted adults.
  6. Despite child labor laws and compulsory school laws there are five million young people of school age who are not in school.

(To be continued)

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