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Truth is, it’s a mixed bag. It is true that many, if not most of today’s college students, could not pass a math exam as was taught to our 12 year old ancestors; however, only a very few had access to an education. It is also true that modern education has been dumbed down for a variety of reasons, the primary one being the misguided philosophy/psychology that students should not be made to feel bad because they failed an exam. It is also true that modern education is more concentrated on social issues vs academic achievement. It is also true that most teachers do not want to be held accountable for the performance of their students (neither do principals or college professors for that matter). Having pointed out just a few of the flaws of the modern system, many more citizens were illiterate in the 1800s and early 1900s. Those who were educated were largely being taught by tutors or in very small classrooms, many were parochial schools. I think this continuous “passionate” rehashing of the past gains us little. This not to say there are no lessons to be learned, but lessons can only be learned through an objective assessment. Regarding below: In 1800, I doubt slaves and indentured servants were counted in that number, nor does it take into account later mass immigration by people who may have been illiterate and/or didn’t speak or read English. And, when education was finally formalized for black Americans it was in sub- standard facilities with few resources.
Look, I’m a homeschooler, so I don’t think government has the answer for my children’s education, but it does serve a purpose.
In 1983, Robert A. Peterson’s “Education in Colonial America” revealed some stunning facts and figures. “The Federalist Papers, which are seldom read or understood today even in our universities,” explains Peterson, “were written for and read by the common man. Literacy rates were as high or higher than they are today.” Incredibly, “A study conducted in 1800 by DuPont de Nemours revealed that only four in a thousand Americans were unable to read and write legibly” [emphasis mine].