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Post Our Golden Age: When Was That?
Created by John Eipper on 04/05/21 4:52 PM

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Our Golden Age: When Was That? (Francisco Ramirez, USA, 04/05/21 4:52 pm)

In response to Tor Guimaraes (April 4th), did our beloved USA ever have a good healthcare system available to all citizens? And all could get a decent-paying job?

As for our marvelous education system, the 1983 report A Nation At Risk report bemoaned our failing schools with Madison Avenue-inspired phrases such "a rising tide of mediocrity" and the hyperbolic statement that were another country to have imposed our education system on us, we would see it as declaration of war.

So, how far back in time do we have to go to discover the Golden Age? And, if we go far back in time, for whom was it golden? Who coined the phrase military-industrial complex and when was it coined? Do we have to go back to Father Knows Best and Dragnet to get to the Golden Age?

Mine is not an apology for resource misallocations, but a pushback against Golden Ageism, an intellectual graveyard that I shun because it is so attractive past a certain difficult-to-specify age. I am counting on our young editor to keep me tied to the mast and not allow the Golden Age sirens seduce me.

JE comments:  First of all, Francisco, are you flattering me?  If so, I am duly flattered.  "Young editor"--I'll take the description, but note that I just qualified for the over-50 Pfizer vaccine. 

Francisco, you present a fascinating concept:  Golden Ageism.  More specifically, when were our Halcyon Days?  How about our Salad Days?  My brilliant, late grandmother Isabel Emerson Eipper, who passed away in 2012 at 100, described it best:  "Good old days?  Don't talk to me about the good old days.  The Good Old Days weren't that good."

Finally, could I pester you for an overview of A Nation at Risk?  Sheesh, it came out almost forty year ago.  And here we are, still at risk, but somehow plugging along.


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  • "A Nation at Risk": Landmark 1983 Report on US Education (Francisco Ramirez, USA 04/07/21 2:49 AM)
    John E asked for an overview on the 1983 report, "A Nation At Risk." Anya Kamenetz published a good summary in this April 29, 2018 piece in nprEd. If you search for "A Nation At Risk" on the internet, the article will pop up.

    This is the official title:


    US National Commission on Excellence in Education. 1984. "A Nation At Risk." Cambridge, Mass: USA Research.


    I am taking the liberty of copying and pasting a few paragraphs from this overview:


    "A Nation at Risk" cited statistics such as: "The average achievement of high school students on most standardized tests is now lower than 26 years ago when Sputnik was launched," and "[The SAT demonstrates] a virtually unbroken decline from 1963 to 1980. Average verbal scores fell over 50 points and average mathematics scores dropped nearly 40 points."


    Those numbers weren't made up. But they weren't the only ones out there.


    The report de-emphasized the fact that more students than ever were graduating from high school and attending college, and that top US students led the world in academic achievement.


    The Department of Energy--yes, Energy--commissioned a follow-up analysis of test score trends in 1990. It was known as the Sandia Report, after the federally funded Sandia National Laboratories which produced it.


    Its authors were engineers trying to generate economic forecasts, not education authorities with an ax to grind. And they didn't diagnose the same disaster that "A Nation At Risk" did.


    "To our surprise, on nearly every measure, we found steady or slightly improving trends," one of the authors, Robert Huelskamp, later wrote.


    How could this be? Because of a statistical effect known as Simpson's Paradox.


    In the early 1960s, college-going was still rare. It was mostly top students, largely well-off white males, who took standardized tests like the SAT and applied to college.


    By the 1980s, college was more available to more people, and more important to getting a good job. Many more people were taking the SATs and applying to colleges. This included more people of color, more low-income students and other historically disadvantaged groups.


    So, when you lumped everyone's scores together, as "A Nation At Risk" did, you saw declining average scores from the 1960s to the 1980s.


    But, when you broke out test takers by subgroup, as the Sandia Report did, looking at men, women, whites, Hispanics, African-Americans and low-income students separately, you found that most of these groups of students were improving slightly on test-taking over that time.


    "The idea that American schools were worse just wasn't true," says James Guthrie, an education professor at Lynn University in Florida. Guthrie published a scholarly article in 2004 titled "A Nation At Risk Revisited: Did 'Wrong' Reasoning Result in 'Right' Results? At What Cost?"


    OK, but surely, there has been a decline in the last ten years or so. If you search for SAT Score Trends in the 21st century in the Internet you will not find evidence to support overall decline.


    So, am I happy as a clam with schools and universities in America? No.


    JE comments:  Here's the Kamenetz article.  It exposes the age-old problem of statistics:  they can lead you to any conclusion you want to find.


    https://www.npr.org/sections/ed/2018/04/29/604986823/what-a-nation-at-risk-got-wrong-and-right-about-u-s-schools


    So...I am relieved!  But surely, at least, our education is suffering during the pandemic?


    I had to investigate Simpson's Paradox.  Wikipedia provides a head-scratcher of an example, on baseball batting averages.  David Justice had a higher season average than Derek Jeter in both 1995 and 1996.  However, if you combine the averages for the two years, Jeter's was higher.  Huh?  Click below:


    Simpson's paradox - Wikipedia


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  • When Was the "Golden Age" for the US? (Tor Guimaraes, USA 04/07/21 3:23 AM)
    Francisco Ramírez (April 5th) makes a good point: let's be careful believing that a particular time is a Golden or a Dark age. Everything is relative, particularly when you view it from different perspectives of the participants.

    For that reason, I try to always implicitly or explicitly state my perspective when I make such evaluations. Regarding my beloved USA, I think the golden age was around 1948 through the 1960s, with relatively high standard of living, a strong middle class, strong scientific supremacy, an educational system which was the envy of the world, etc. Did we have large warts hanging down our face? Yes: militaristic tendencies, poverty reigned in some US regions, we had income disparity, injustices, crime and corruption, open racism, hedonism, abuse of weaker nations for our own benefit, etc. Nevertheless, I think American exceptionalism was at its highest; the whole world was in awe and we were respected by most, even our enemies.


    Since childhood I have always considered myself to be a lousy tactician but the best strategist in my world. As such, I live in a world of trends from the past to the likely future, grounded on today's evidence available to me. Much to my despair, since the 1970s we went down in some important trends, and they keep getting worse as I see them. If we don't make drastic changes, my family and friends are doomed, my beloved USA and the world are doomed. It is that simple. Cheers.


    When I was a young boy I remember reading a book about the rise and fall of civilizations. The author was an American translated to Portuguese, and his conclusion was that since the old civilizations, we (America?) had learned so much that there was no reason to think we had to fall someday. I remember having a mixed feeling of reassurance and skepticism. Unfortunately to me, humankind is apparently not smart enough to control its basic negative instincts of mental laziness, lack of discipline, fear, greed, disrespect for knowledge, for each other and for the environment we all live in.


    JE comments:  If we take out segregation, McCarthyism, and Vietnam, was the Golden Age that golden?  We'll also have to overlook that era's environmental devastation.  Remember when the Cuyahoga river in Cleveland...caught fire (1969)?  Consider too the Mad Men genre of harassment of women in the workplace.  Oh, and the three-martini business lunch, which couldn't have helped with productivity.


    Possibly the only upside of the 1950s?  The (white, male) working class was lifted out of poverty, thanks to high-paying (unionized) manufacturing jobs.  Tor Guimaraes has several times linked this phenomenon to the Cold War imperative of preventing the radicalization of the American proletariat.  It's a convincing argument.

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