Re: The "stupid" masses

Hal Finney (
Thu, 26 Dec 1996 22:55:53 -0800

Chris Hind wrote, quoting an unnamed source:
> >If America's underclass
> >was given access to a real education - not the condescending crap they
> >dish out in gang-controlled public schools - and chose to use it, they'd
> >be as good as "the stupid masses" or the rest of the middle class.
> Here I totally agree with you. The schools in the US are far worse now than
> when the majority of the people on this list went to them.

I went to school in the 60's and 70's, and I have kids now in 6th and
8th grade. My wife was a high school teacher for about 4 years in the
early 1980's. So I have seen something of the school system in each of
the last four decades.

There are some changes for the worse, but some for the better as well.
There seems to be more variation among individual teachers than among
the school systems over the years. My son had to do a report on Cuba
in 6th grade; the assignment was to create an advertising brochure which
would make people want to tour the island. He did a nice job and got
a strong A but it wasn't very hard. On the other hand my daughter had
to do a report on Greece last year, and had to go into a lot more detail
about the culture, history, etc. I recall doing a similar report on
Ecuador when I was in 6th grade. The difference is that my son's teacher
did not ask as much from the students. (It was his first year teaching,
and he left after that one year.)

Kids today have a lot more opportunities than when I was in school.
We have high school kids taking courses at the local junior college
during the day. That was unheard of at my school. More kids are taking
AP classes, more are taking college entrance exams. Things are more
inclusive and more diverse.

True, my kids are going to relatively good schools. Things are of course
a lot worse in the inner cities. But schools have always been bad there.
My wife student-taught at a school in a rough part of town in 1980.
It was common for the students to set lockers on fire during the day;
this happened several times each week. Walking down the hall, past the
shells of burned-out lockers, still black and (in some cases) smoking,
you might have thought you were in a war zone. Students would routinely
skip class, parents didn't care, and it was generally not a place where
much learning occured (the exception was the advanced classes, where
the kids were highly motivated).

Summing up, it is not really clear that schools are that much worse today
than they were 10 or 20 years ago. The problems may be more visible and
our expectations higher. While it is undoubtedly true that many of the
underprivileged would benefit from better schools, my limited personal
experience with their situation suggests that the poor home environment
is a larger problem.