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When in doubt, punt

It's been more than a quarter-century since "A Nation at Risk" was written, widely published, even more widely (in non-educator circles) agreed with, and even-even more widely (in educator circles) ignored.

The April '83 report by the National Commission on Excellence in Education is probably most well-known for its quote "if an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre education performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war". It's least well-known for the Educational Excellencies' misspelling of "judgment" in their very first paragraph.

Its recommendations for a high school curriculum composed of the New Basics --4 years of English, 3 years of Math, 3 years of Social Studies (an amalgam of the earlier History and Geography with some doctrinal multi-culturalism thrown in) and a half-year of Computer Science (remarkable at a time when a Personal Computer was then still a rarity and IBM itself foresaw the industry future in corporate main-frames rather than pocket-size portables) were never overtly challenged; they just went blithely disregarded. Maybe that was partially because the written critique wasn't particularly welcomed by the intellectually superior educator class, coming as it did from an Administration whose Chief Executive they typically referred to as "an amiable dunce".

Another cause-for-enlightened-educator-disdain might have been that "basics" aren't as much fun for educational theorists as non-basics: since 1964 retired New York State school superintendent John Henry Martin had been trolling remarkably successfully for lavish funding for his magnet schools concept, and indeed in the classic example of the case, only a year after "A Nation at Risk" (1983) a federal judge was ordering (1984) the Kansas City schools to build attractions ranging from TV studios and a zoo to a robotic lab and a model UN auditorium (not the same thing) in order to, among other goals, improve student achievement. Not much in Judge Russell Clark's ruling requiring more attention to basics and more application of standards to measure achievement. It never worked as promised, a whole 'nother story.

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