Then Kent State happened four days later. He said his words were just a figure of speech, and he said that anyone who was upset by them was neurotic.
And he certainly did not let up on the criticisms of campus protestors that had aided his election. Mr. Reagan's denunciations of student protesters were both frequent and particularly venomous. He called protesting students "brats," "freaks," and "cowardly fascists." And when it came to "restoring order" on unruly campuses he observed, "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement!"
Several days later four Kent State students were shot to death. In the aftermath of this tragedy Mr. Reagan declared his remark was only a "figure of speech." He added that anyone who was upset by it was "neurotic
It was not just students who caught his wrath. He started showing the same contempt of public education helped along by his Secretary of Education, William Bennett.
In California Mr. Reagan had made political hay by heaping scorn on college students and their professors. As President his administration's repeatedly issued or encouraged uncommonly bitter denunciations of public education. William Bennett, the President's demagogic Secretary of Education, took the lead in this. He toured the nation making unprecedented and unprincipled attacks on most aspects of public education including teacher certification, teacher's unions and the "multi-layered, self-perpetuating, bureaucracy of administrators that weighs down most school systems." "The Blob" was what Bennett dismissively called them.
President Reagan put forth a report called The Nation at Risk. It slammed public education. It was taken up by the media and spread widely with little questioning. This is from an article at Edutopia in 2010. It is an interesting comment on Reagan's purpose.
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.
Sounds to me like the start of the harsh zero tolerance movement.
My own thoughts from 2009 on this time in education history and the goal.
There was a reason he was so critical of public education, pushing his rhetoric to the limits. His goal was to privatize government, and education was no exception.
He did not get what he wanted, but he started the ball rolling for those who came after him....Republicans and Democrats alike. We got steamrolled by the Republican Propaganda Machine and never really knew what hit us.
Many do not remember Ronald Reagan and his push to privatize government. It is noticeable that so many people honestly do not understand the value of the traditional public education in our country. A little about Reagan's terrible influence on public schools and their teachers, his influence in harming the union movement, and the secretive way he turned government over to corporations.
Reagan appointed a privatization commission in 1987.
President Reagan today appointed a commission to study ways Government functions can be turned over to private business.
Prof. David F. Linowes, a political economist at the University of Illinois, was named chairman of the President's Commission on Privatization, and said the 12-member panel's mandate ''is very broad.'' It will ''probe the entire dimension of Government operations'' and offer recommendations in six months, he said.
Mr. Reagan, vacationing at his ranch near here, issued a statement saying the commission would help him ''end unfair Government competition and return Government programs and assets to the American people.''
I was teaching in a successful school system when the Nation at Risk report came out. I remember we all looked at each other and wondered what was going on? It was very hard to comprehend that such a report was true.
From a chart at the bottom of the Edutopia article, a comparison of the media-embraced Nation at Risk....and the sadly neglected and ignored Sandia report of 1990.
"A Nation at Risk" (1983)
What the report 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.
The Sandia Report (1990)
What was actually happening:
Between 1975 and 1988, average SAT scores went up or held steady for every student subgroup.
Between 1977 and 1988, math proficiency among seventeen-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 seventeen-year-olds at or above basic competency levels stayed the same or improved slightly.
Between 1970 and 1988, the number of twenty-two-year-old Americans with bachelor degrees increased every year; the United States led all developed nations in 1988.
The attacks on public education continue today. It warms me to see a major newspaper take up the topic now and then. They are starting to notice. However it has been mainly the bloggers and online forums that have covered what is happening and that have told of the dangers inherent in this movement to dismantle public schools.