Letters | Challenges in education

Mediocrity, excellence go hand in hand in our system

RE “US schools still lagging other nations” (Page A2, April 25): The 1983 report “A Nation at Risk” and former education policy maker Chester Finn have done more to create a myth of America’s recent educational decline than any document and individual in more than two centuries of so-called failure. In 1845, Horace Mann lamented the scandalous quality of education in the public school system. In 1909, Ellwood Cubberley, later named the dean of Stanford’s school of education, wrote, “Whether we like it or not, we are beginning to see that we are pitted against the world in a gigantic battle of brains and skill.” He added that we were losing the battle.

In fact, we have always had mediocrity and excellence in a system that cannot seek an average, and where comparisons to educational standards of other nations mean little or nothing.

We have had a breathtaking 60-year run, and it isn’t over yet, in spite of “A Nation at Risk.” Do we really want to be Singapore or Finland? Then we’d have to create a standardized system of national management, which Americans won’t accept.


All we do is complain, but we will never acknowledge the mediocrity we build into our system as a part of our inequality. There will always be superb K-12 education right next to a starving and underperforming system somewhere in an impoverished neighborhood, and if we keep doing what we have been doing, we will always have one-third of American Nobel laureates born somewhere else.

Sol Gittleman