When I was a boy, I lived in a closed farming society that probably consisted of about 100 square miles. We went to church and school together, Mt Zion Evangelical United Brethren, and Mt Zion school grades 1-12. Our presidents usually had a high approval rating by most people I knew, even if they voted for the other party because they wanted our country to succeeded. Generals, such as Ike and MacArthur were highly revered by all; I remember sitting in a study hall in the spring of 1951 listening to MacArthur give his “Old soldiers never die” speech to congress along with the high praise of all of my teachers. In just a short time after this, Truman had justifiably fired MacArthur with his feet of clay. There was no support of Truman's position by my teachers or a Truman study hall speech. Truman caught some major flack over this in my enclave, even after MacArthur’s cowardice, avarice and bad judgment was available for all to read.
At the time, I had wondered why MacArthur’s speech had gotten top-drawer study hall treatment, and Truman's hadn't, but it was very clear my teachers didn't like Truman's decision and it was mentioned in classes. I wondered at the time, with the facts, why was there still problems with this issue?
At the Mt. Zion rural school that was closed in 1992 and consolidated into a bigger school, Wynford, my mother taught 5th grade, and I was one of her students much to my chagrin! There were 20 students in my graduating class, and I was the only one in that class that went to college. Others from Mt. Zion did go to college; in our farming family where education was strongly emphasized most of my aunts and cousins were teachers. The push into a college direction came mainly from our mothers who wanted us all to have the college experience, and to have some options in our lives outside of the closed farming life which was the main option of our classmates. In our high school yearbook three of my friends and I could see ourselves finding gold in Alaska in 20 years and being very rich. This didn't happen. In perspective, it probably wasn't that great an idea. Just finding gold wouldn't necessarily make one rich! Rich is a relative term; I have everything I want, home and cars are paid for, we travel when we want to. At least relative to my childhood aspirations, I must be rich without finding gold!
While the farming enclave I grew up was a closed society and most in the community remained near their homes after graduation, all of the community children I knew dreamed about leaving and doing something big outside our little enclave! This was mirrored across the United States which was a collection of many small groups in the late 40's and 50's, and the later strength of our country came from the people that left these smaller societies to forge fundamental breakthroughs in science, technology, biology and medicine. For example, space exploration, computers and communication, genome research and advances in surgery and medication. It is clear that our country's main strength came from the diverse manpower we could pull together to attack diverse problems from our collective small groups who had always had people that dreamed of doing something big! This is clearly documented in the autobiographies of our contemporary heroes, for example, Neil Armstrong, Steve Jobs, Jonas Salk, Condoleezza Rice, Bill and Hilary Clinton to name a few.
I am questioning whether this is still the case? When I was a child, we had our fictitious heroes who were larger that life cowboys like Tom Mix or Johnny Weissmuller who really was Tarzan and taught us how to do a Tarzan yell! Maybe Ike and FDR because we hoped they could win the war (There was always news about the war when we escaped to the weekly Saturday movies)! Now this generations heroes are wannabes that appear on American Idol for example, or the plethora of reality TV programs. The younger generation believe there is an easy way to make a living hanging out like they do on reality TV, or being a celebrity of some kind. We had hoped to do the same thing in 1953 in our high school yearbook with the idea of discovering gold in Alaska, but we wrote it down as a joke, this younger generation still thinks there is gold at the end of some reality TV rainbow.
What does this have to do with the small groups dynamics in our culture? OK, the elders in these closed societies see that that our society is idolizing the wrong people and the wrong ideals and is telling their young people everything outside their little enclave is bad and evil there are drugs and gangs so we will home school you so you don't have to be exposed to all that evil and we will control what information you read and see on TV. We will tell you what is right, and by the way, the best thing for you to do is stay forever in our community to avoid all the evil that is out there in the rest of the world! We know what is best for you. So It didn't matter whether Truman was right and MacArthur was wrong, if you liked MacArthur, you forget about inconvenient facts that make him look bad!
If the young are not leaving their enclaves, this is an indication our society is contracting in it's ability to generate new ideas and cannot grow intellectually as it did when I was young. There are very few options for young people to escape their comfortable small groups. They are held back by the increasing cost of an education, and there a fewer and fewer ways to scrape money and scholarships together. Data bears this out, low income students have less than a 9% chance of completing college in 2007 and I am sure it is a lot less now. I am very discouraged about our future prospects and the fact that most certainly the superstars mentioned earlier would not have as easy an opportunity to get a college education as they had in the past. After graduation, the job opportunities are still pretty bleak, especially in jobs that are not science and engineering related. Of all those who have graduated college since 2006, only 51 percent have a full-time job, according to recent Rutgers study. The average college graduate has a debt of around $25,000 (of course, the better schools would go a lot higher).
Another argument for the contracting society is the massive attacks on public education by education bureaucrats such as Pearson and it's ilk through charter schools, testing, and attacks on teacher unions with the result that people are not going into teaching like they used to. All the available data shows the charter schools do no better and sometimes a lot worse than the public schools. By reducing teaching to a few hoops that everyone jumps through (even the teachers) college students that were going into teaching are moving into other majors. The Ed-Business people have tried to turn teaching into a glorified technical program like welding or auto repair. This is completely the wrong direction, and has turned education into a quagmire.
Is there some hope at the end of the tunnel?
1) All of the charter schools and the teach to the Pearson-type test ideas are not helping and are causing a drag on our education system. We are rated 31st in the world in a recent education K-12 study! We learned a lot in the 40's and 50's, we need to put more energy and funding into the public system, let the teachers decide the pass-fail-graduation, use the tests for as a tool the teacher can use, but give the responsibilities of grading and passing back to the teacher! Get these large private corporations out of the education business!
2) It is clear we need some way to educate people cheaply and efficiently. We must not restrict
education to only those that can afford these massive costs.
I hope we can wake up and do something if not in my life time at least in the next generation!