The Public Interest

Back to Basics

Diane Ravitch

Winter 1978

Polemieal book usually has one central idea, and the book stands or falls according to how well the case for that idea is made. Our Children’s Crippled Future,* by Frank E. Armbruster, has two ideas that appear to be the same, but are not. The apparent theme is that American children are being cheated out of a sound education by trendy educators who have abandoned the tried-andtrue methods of the past. Not far beneath the surface is another argument, charging that many things have gone awry during the past 20 or 30 or 40 years: Every educational innovation has been a waste of money; teachers are paid too much; classes are too small; children are disrespectful; middle-class values have been eroded; and all this has happened at the expense of the unknowing, unwilling, hard-working taxpayer. Armbruster not only wants to go back to the basics, he wants to go back to the 1950’s-or better yet, to the 1930’s, when schools “upheld the standards and taught the essential subjects of middle-class America.” The problem with the book is that the first idea, which is amenable to analysis and documentation, is constantly undercut by the second, which is simply nostalgia for what the author, at least, regards as a better time. 

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