The Irascible ProfessorSM

Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro
"In every age 'the good old days' were a myth. No one ever thought they were good at the time. For every age has consisted of crises that seemed intolerable to the people who lived through them."...  ...Brooks Atkinson.

Commentary of the Day - June 2, 2009:  Longing for the Good Old Days.  Guest commentary by Susanne Shaphren.

No matter what the subject of a commentary on education, there's always a fascinating common thread to the responses.

Education professionals and concerned parents agree that most (if not all!) of today's problems either were not a problem or could have been easily prevented or remedied in the "good old days."

Some point to the fact that most children had stay-at-home mothers to help them learn their colors, letters, and numbers before they started school.

I was lucky enough to have a teacher/mother whose first priority was her children and a certified public accountant father with the patience of a saint who spent countless hours (and destroyed countless boxes) attempting to demonstrate geometry by "building" three dimensional shapes for his algebra-brained daughter.

Many of my friends didn't share that advantage.  Even though their mothers didn't work outside the home, they were too busy with community activities (or didn't consider themselves "qualified") to teach their children.

Many classroom teacher understandably long for the good old days when pupils were taught to sit quietly and respect their elders.

Those of us who were students in the dark ages remember all too well what it was like to be seen but not heard ... even when we were allowed to speak.

I'll never forget ever so bravely raising my hand to ask a question at a school assembly on the dangers of smoking.

The elite panel of American Cancer Society experts laughed out loud when I suggested there might be risk involved by being exposed to secondhand smoke!

Today's scientific studies seem to prove there is a definite risk ... to young children with respiratory problems whose parents smoke as well as to individuals who were exposed to secondhand smoke through their jobs (lounge singers, waiters, waitresses, etc.)

In all candor, must confess that I wouldn't have gone on to make great scientific discoveries even if my idea had been given credence by the experts.  I do wonder though if other important breakthroughs might have been stifled by the attitude that students could never come up with a question/theory that might merit further investigation.

No matter how thick our glasses, how strong our contact lens prescription might be, our hindsight is always 20-20.  We ever so clearly see that things were better in the "good old days" ... or were they?

The young woman who would become my mother completed her studies and student teaching at Central Institute for the Deaf (affiliated with Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.)  She honed her skills teaching deaf students to speak instead of sign at Smouse Institute in Des Moines, Iowa before moving west with her brand new husband in the late 1940's.

Both of them laughed at family members who thought they were going to live in the bygone times of cowboys and Indians.  My mother stopped laughing and started her own school when the State Superintendent of Public Instruction insisted there was no need for special education in Arizona!

I was shocked to read recently the obituary of an acquaintance's mother.  Even though she was barely a decade older than my mother, there was a sentence that surely should have applied to a woman of a prior century.  It indicated that when this teacher married, she was required to retire and free her position for a man who needed to support his family!

(Ed. note: It was not uncommon in the late nineteenth and early 20th century for female teachers to be dismissed if they married.  In more liberal districts where married women were allowed to teach, they had to resign if they became pregnant.  It also was quite common during that period for male teachers to be paid more than female teachers for the same work.  The IP, in fact, attended Agassiz grammar school in Cambridge, MA from 1945 to 1952 where almost all the teachers were unmarried women.)

2009, Susanne Shaphren.
Susanne Shaphren is a freelance writer from Arizona who publishes both fiction and non-fiction.  She is the daughter of a teacher

The Irascible Professor comments: Susanne, of course, is right to note that the "good old days" were not so good in many respects.  Those unmarried teachers at Agassiz Grammar School in Cambridge, MA that the IP encountered in the late forties and early fifties did have a few quirks.  And, a few had some amazing gaps in their backgrounds (one did not know who the composer Claude Debussy was), but by and large they were excellent teachers.  They were concerned about their students, but they also had high standards.  Unfortunately, in some areas such as grading the standards today are not what they once were. 

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