Mandan News

The Good Old Days?

It seems that every time I turn on the TV or open a newspaper someone is taking a shot at K-12 education. Critics lament the fact that high school graduates today are not ready for college and that they require remediation in math and English Language Arts before they can take courses for college credit. These same critics complain about the high dropout rate and argue that schools need to go back to the basics. They long for a return to “the good old days.”

Jamie Vollmer, a businessman from Iowa, makes the argument that when it comes to education many individuals suffer from “Nostesia” which he defines as a hallucinogenic mixture of 50% nostalgia and 50% amnesia. In his presentations and on his website, Mr. Vollmer wonders just when were “the good old days?”

It wasn’t in the 1990’s – IBM CEO Louis V. Gestner, proclaimed in the New York Times that “Our Schools Are Broken.”

It wasn’t in the 1980’s – The National Commission on Excellence in Education issued its report “A Nation At Risk” in which it warned of a rising tide of mediocrity.
It wasn’t in the 1970’s – In 1976 the Educational Testing Service presented college freshmen with 41 multiple-choice questions on basic American history and found that they could correctly answer only half.

It wasn’t in the 1960’s – Admiral Hyman Rickover published, American Education, a National Failure. It became a national best seller. He stumped the country proclaiming that we were not producing the scientist, engineers, and mathematicians we needed to beat the Russians.
It wasn’t in the 1950’s – In 1951 Readers Digest reported that “University Professors and angry business people complained that public school students could not write a clear English sentence, do simple mathematics, or find common geographical locations such as Boston or New York City.”

It wasn’t in the 1940’s – The Navy tested its new pilots if their mastery of 4th grade math. Sixty percent of high school graduates failed. Also, Columbia University conducted a study where a large percentage of people interviewed could not identify the names of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt. Only 6% could identify the thirteen original colonies.

It wasn’t in the 1930’s – The Progressive Education Association noted that secondary education “did not have a clear purpose; it did not prepare students adequately for the responsibilities of community life; and it seldom challenged the student of first rate ability.”

It wasn’t before World War I – In 1912 the Taxpayers Association of California argued that “despite all the calls for change, educational leaders had achieved no results or had to be satisfied with so many compromises that it is generally admitted that the highest efficiency is not being obtained even with the large amount of money now being spent.”

It wasn’t in the 1800’s – Only the top 3% of American students went to college, and yet 84% of colleges (380 of 450) reported remedial courses were needed. Nationwide today well over 60% of all high school graduates attend college (in Mandan roughly 80% of the class of 2013 is enrolled in post-secondary education), is it really a surprise that we still offer remedial courses? The truth is there never was a time when remediation of a significant portion of our college freshmen was required.

Mr. Vollmer asserts that dropout counseling in the 1950’s consisted of the high school principal encouraging certain kids to dropout. Today we do everything we can to ensure that no students leaves high school without a diploma. Nationwide the dropout rate has decreased from over 80% in the 1930’s to around 12% today for the state of North Dakota.

According to Mr. Vollmer, the golden age of America’s schools is a myth. He says that for over 200 years public schools have risen to meet every challenge posed by a rapidly evolving society. The truth is that each succeeding generation of young Americans has been better educated than its predecessors.

If you would like to read more about Mr. Vollmer or “Nostesia” I encourage you to visit his website at:

Hopefully, this article has been informative to you. If you have any topics or items that you would like me to discuss in future columns, or you would like to comment on this article, please feel free to call me at the school (751-6500) or E-mail me at with your thoughts and ideas.

by Mike Bitz