bloodbaths come easy when your own blood’s not involved

Es­ti­mated reading time is 4 min­utes.

ON APRIL 7, 1970, Cal­i­fornia Gov­ernor Ronald Reagan was at a meeting of the Council of Cal­i­fornia Growers. The topic turned to stu­dent protests and the ever-glib, ever-genial Reagan quipped, “If it takes a blood­bath, let’s get it over with—no more ap­pease­ment.” In other words, let bring some of the blood­baths we were re­spon­sible for around the world back home!

If you look this state­ment up on your browser, you will find count­less rightwing web­site finding one way or an­other to jus­tify St. Ron­nie’s calling for the spilling of Amer­ican stu­dents’ blood. This should sur­prise no one: the right cheered when stu­dents were ac­tu­ally gunned down in May 1970 at Kent State, and they’d cheer again in 2018.

They don’t even care that none of the stu­dents mur­dered that day were, in fact, demon­stra­tors! They seem to just like the blood.

A nation at risk

In 1983, Pres­i­dent Rea­gan’s Na­tional Com­mis­sion on Ex­cel­lence in Ed­u­ca­tion is­sued A Na­tion At Risk: The Im­per­a­tive for Ed­u­ca­tional Re­form. Its pub­li­ca­tion is con­sid­ered a land­mark event in modern Amer­ican ed­u­ca­tional history”although not nec­es­sarily a good landmark.

“Once launched, the re­port, which warned of a rising level of medi­oc­rity, took off like wild­fire. During the next month, the Wash­ington Post alone ran some two dozen sto­ries about it, and the buzz kept spreading. Al­though Reagan coun­selor (and, later, at­torney gen­eral) Edwin Meese III urged him to re­ject the re­port be­cause it un­der­mined the pres­i­dent’s basic ed­u­ca­tion agenda—to get gov­ern­ment out of education—White House ad­visers Jim Baker and Michael Deaver ar­gued that A Na­tion At Risk pro­vided good cam­paign fodder.

Reagan agreed, and, in his second run for the pres­i­dency, he gave fifty-one speeches calling for tough school re­form. The ‘high po­lit­ical payoff,’ Bell wrote in his memoir, ‘stole the ed­u­ca­tion issue from Walter Mon­dale, and it cost us nothing.’

What made A Na­tion At Risk so useful to Reagan? For one thing, its lan­guage echoed the get-tough rhetoric of the growing con­ser­v­a­tive move­ment. For an­other, its di­ag­nosis lent color to the charge that, under lib­erals, Amer­ican ed­u­ca­tion had dis­solved into a mush of self-esteem classes.” (Edu­topia)

Bloodbaths: cover of Reagan's A NATION AT RISK report on educational failures in America.

Here are a few items that A Na­tion At Risk claimed:

Amer­ican stu­dents are never first and fre­quently last aca­d­e­m­i­cally com­pared to stu­dents in other in­dus­tri­al­ized nations.

Amer­ican stu­dent achieve­ment de­clined dra­mat­i­cally after Russia launched Sputnik, and hit bottom in the early 1980s.

SAT scores fell markedly be­tween 1960 and 1980.

Stu­dent achieve­ment levels in sci­ence were de­clining steadily.

Busi­ness and the mil­i­tary were spending mil­lions on re­me­dial ed­u­ca­tion for new hires and recruits.

“If it takes a blood­bath, let’s get it over with—no more ap­pease­ment.” – Gov­ernor Ronald Reagan, 1969

The Sandia Report

Ap­par­ently there were some doubts about the find­ings and the wording of A Na­tion At Risk. In 1990, Sec­re­tary of En­ergy Ad­miral James Watkins com­mis­sioned the Sandia Lab­o­ra­to­ries in New Mexico to doc­u­ment the de­cline with some ac­tual data.

“Sys­tems sci­en­tists there pro­duced a study con­sisting al­most en­tirely of charts, ta­bles, and graphs, plus brief analyses of what the num­bers sig­ni­fied, which amounted to a major Oops! As their puz­zled preface put it, ‘To our sur­prise, on nearly every mea­sure, we found steady or slightly im­proving trends.’

One sec­tion an­a­lyzed SAT scores be­tween the late 1970s and 1990, a pe­riod when those scores slipped markedly. The Sandia re­port broke the scores down by var­ious sub­groups, and some­thing as­ton­ishing emerged.

Nearly every subgroup—ethnic mi­nori­ties, rich kids, poor kids, middle class kids, top stu­dents, av­erage stu­dents, low-ranked students—held steady or im­proved during those years. Yet overall scores dropped. How could that be?

By then, how­ever, cat­a­stroph­i­cally failing schools had be­come a po­lit­ical ne­ces­sity. George H.W. Bush cam­paigned to re­place Reagan as pres­i­dent on a promise to con­front the crisis. He had just called an ed­u­ca­tion summit to tackle it, so there simply had to be a crisis.” (Edu­topia)

What was ac­tu­ally hap­pening was rather dif­ferent than what Rea­gan’s people had found. Here are some of the find­ings of the Sandia Report:

Be­tween 1975 and 1988, av­erage SAT scores went up or held steady for every stu­dent subgroup.

Be­tween 1977 and 1988, math pro­fi­ciency among 17-year-olds im­proved slightly for whites, no­tably for minorities.

Be­tween 1971 and 1988, reading skills among all stu­dent sub­groups held steady or improved.

Be­tween 1977 and 1988, in sci­ence, the number of 17-year-olds at or above basic com­pe­tency levels stayed the same or im­proved slightly.

Be­tween 1970 and 1988, the number of 22-year-old Amer­i­cans with bach­elor de­grees in­creased every year; the United States led all de­vel­oped na­tions in 1988.

Nei­ther the Reagan nor the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tions saw any need to re­lease the Sandia Re­port. It went largely un­known with few knowing it even ex­isted. Then, in 1993, the Journal of Ed­u­ca­tional Re­search printed the re­port. And it still re­mains largely un­known and un­read and people still be­lieve the non­sense in A Na­tion At Risk  . . .


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Check out page two of this ar­ticle. It spells out Rea­gan’s Oc­tober Surprise.

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