The Two Faces of American Education

By Andrew Delbanco
Published October 10, 2013, in The New York Review of Books

In 1898, the Boston writer and editor Thomas Wentworth Higginson published a memoir entitled Cheerful Yesterdays. One of the memories that cheered him was of lying before the hearth while his mother read aloud. As for “the children of to-day who have no such privilege,” he wrote, one must regard them with “pity.” When Higginson was a child, public or “common” schools were just emerging, so education remained largely the province of families and churches. Today, when the state of teaching and learning is bemoaned, it is usually the public schools that get the blame. The tide of anger has been rising ever since a national commission released a report in 1983 called “A Nation at Risk.” Read the story.