At this time in what has been a challenging year, we need to pause and reflect on the fact that once again, educators have come through for young people and this country in unbelievable ways. This tradition of coming through in times of need is one all the educators of the past and present have held faithfully and it deserves a “thank you” from all Americans.
All of those who work in our schools can be proud of the way they face the unknown and find unique ways to serve our students. Examination will reveal that whenever our country has faced a huge task, America has turned to the schools and all the people who work in them to get the job done.
In the last 120 years, we have had three different eras which required the county to change drastically. Schools and the entire school team performed magnificently in each of these eras to keep this country a world leader. Indeed, in the past 120 years, one decade after another, the entire school team served with distinction. We need to be proud of the role teachers and staff are still playing. Remembering success in the face of past challenges can serve all of us well today and tomorrow.
First was the manual labor era. In the 1800s it took 95% of our population to feed this nation. Planting, tending, and harvesting crops were regarded as more important than schooling. A minority of children were educated. School schedules revolved around the labor needs of the family farmer. It also was assumed that anyone could teach.
Later, requirements to teach were enacted. To teach, a person had to have attended school one or two grades beyond the grade they taught. Manual laborers made up the bulk of workers in both rural and urban environments. The workday was 12 hours and the work week was six or seven days. Less than 5% of our population entered college. The standards and requirements in schools were not very high. “Come when you can” was more of a rule for students than “come every day.”
Then came the industrial era and everything changed. It brought a migration from the farm to the city with a need for a large workforce that could read and write as well as operate industrial machinery. As the complexity to produce, operate, and maintain equipment increased, so did the need to have a workforce which could read and write, as well as run, fix, maintain, and build industrial equipment.
The call to meet the needs of our country changed. Our schools were counted on to meet this need. We realized that to support a mass production economy, we had to have a mass consumption society to keep things going. To get more kids in the classroom and have them be successful in the workforce, we implemented a system of mass education that included students from every background and social status. Our country prospered and thrived as a result.
Then came World War II. The government promised all GIs a free high school or college education when the war was over. To facilitate their success, funding was provided to support education opportunities for them at unprecedented levels.
By the 1950s, over 50% of all eligible young people were in high school. We increased teacher certification requirements again. Our teachers had to have more skills to teach their students with a wide variety and level of abilities. Both worker and management needs in business and industry as well as demands for professional skills increased—and college enrollment rose to 10% of the population.
The industrial era also brought social and labor unrest, rebellions, and demands from minorities for more rights in the 1960s. Again, the country turned to our schools to integrate, include more students, teach our minority students, and educate children with different physical and mental needs. Schools responded. By the late 1970s, over 90% of all our children eligible to be in school were in our classrooms. Teachers took a more respected place in society. Employment as a teacher without a degree was not allowed. Requirements for continuous teacher certification included additional college study and certification periodically. The master’s degree became common and even more advanced degrees were not rare.
Then, the 1980s introduced the high-tech era. The computer brought the need for even greater skills and more sophistication in the workplace. Accelerating the trend of the industrial era, fewer people were needed to produce greater quantities of work. Fewer people were needed to get more work done a whole lot faster and much more accurately. Again, our country turned to our schools to prepare students for a new kind of work and job. And again, as they have through history, educators did the job.
We have now moved to a high-tech knowledge and skill-based society. Most jobs are no longer in the manufacturing sector of the economy. Education now faces the challenge to meet the needs of this latest era.
The wide range of comprehensive services schools provide to students, parents, and society now exceeds those of almost any public institution—and more seems to be expected of schools as the days pass.
Leading up to and during the COVID-19 crisis and even now, schools continue serving students in ways that are unbelievable. In addition to teaching them, schools bus children to school and take them home every day. Schools are feeding students both breakfast and lunch. Schools provide healthcare. Counseling services are provided and attention is given to the social needs and extracurricular needs of students. Schools compensate for mental and physical strengths and weaknesses of students. And services for students with special needs are provided. Schools have had to teach students at home and at school. During the crisis, many teachers had to teach their students online and then had to turn around and teach their own children.
These realities should make the entire team of every school proud. The entire team means everyone: administrators, teachers, counselors, paras, coaches, secretaries, nurses, cooks, custodians, bus drivers, members of the board of education, and support staff. Each member of this team is vital to meeting the needs of our students. They have done the exceptional during one of the most difficult times of our history—and they continue to every day.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. The entire school team has done more good for more people, more consistently, and more effectively than we would have thought possible just a few years ago. The tradition of superior performance continues in our schools. Bless all of you. Just take a moment to take pride and joy in what you have achieved. You are all wonderful.