10.11.02

LAKE WOBEGONE EFFECT. Joanne Jacobs discovers parents who equate "average" with "underachiever." "They're used to hearing all children described as 'excellent'," she notes, then asks, "Is there a coherent all-school strategy for educating all students -- or a grab bag of special programs?" Should there be a distinction? I ask this in all seriousness. Long ago, Alfred Marshall wrote, "Ought we to rest content with the existing forms of division of labor? Is it necessary that large numbers of the people should be exclusively occupied with work that has no elevating character? Is it possible to educate gradually among the great mass of workers a new capacity for the higher kinds of work; and in particular for undertaking co-operatively the management of the business in which they are themselves employed?" (Principles of Economics, eighth ed. (1936), p. 41)

For a long time, this series of questions has been neglected by the education establishment, because the high-technology of the middle twentieth century was one in which people could be productive without being challenged intellectually. Whether there is a twenty-first century version of Fordism that will enable people with few intellectual skills to earn a middle-class standard of living remains to be seen. If there is no such magic, different strategies that draw out the best from different people make sense to me.

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