Erin O’Connor is reading Diane Ravitch’s Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform. The book starts with the progressive education movement, which had some regressive ideas, O’Connor points out. Progressives favored tracking most students into vocational studies with academics reserved for the elite.
Learning for its own sake was considered impractical and elitist even as the rationale for not teaching academic subjects was itself elitist: The subjects taught in the traditional academic curriculum — Latin, Greek, algebra, and so on — were felt to be well beyond the abilities of most people, who could neither reason nor remember well enough to master them. Progressive education as it was initially conceived and implemented by educationists across the country was thus in many ways profoundly conservative, even reactionary, in its conception of human potential and in its correspondingly rigid notion of school not as preparation for life as a thinking citizen but as preparation for specific manual jobs.
Now schools don’t try to prepare students for responsible citizenship or gainful employment; college is the magic transformation agent that will turn slackers into thinking, working adults.