"Michael" writes in response to Dr. Wilson's post, Educating for Oblivion:
At the beginning of the twentieth century, it was the usual opinion that a grammar-school education was sufficient for most ordinary citizens. An old comprehensive examination required to pass the eighth grade, I believe in Omaha or some other midwestern city, has been reprinted in a number of recent publications, and it asks questions in English literature and grammar, history, geography, and other subjects that many university undergraduates could not be expected to answer correctly today.Is the requirement of a high school diploma for most jobs in the urban service economy being gradually replaced by a requirement for some sort of college degree or a certificate from a technical/vocational school? Is it possible to employ so many people as literate service drones? Or does God provide talents and interests that are not commensurate to the political economy that a community adopts?
High school was not then thought to be for everyone. Often, attending high school required youngsters from rural or small-town families to go to a city and board with relatives or accommodating strangers at their own or their parents’ expense. This deterred those lacking motivation. A commercial course was offered for those intending to seek white-collar employment, and taught such skills as shorthand and bookkeeping. Relatively few took the college preparatory course, which typically included three or even four years of Latin, and the higher mathematics.
The effort to encourage all young people to finish high school dates from no earlier than the middle of the Great Depression. The decline of the high school diploma as signifying command of any sort of valuable knowledge has proceeded on its downward course even as the minimum school-leaving age has risen. It seems reasonable to assume that the warehousing in high schools of adolescents under the age of 18 (now the minimum school-leaving age in most of the U.S.) who have neither the ability nor the inclination to learn practical or abstract skills, has mainly to do with keeping them out of the labor market.