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The following tape recorded program is distributed through the facilities of the National Association of educational broadcasters. Oral essays on education a dynamic new radio series designed to present leading personalities of our society as they attempt to discover the scope of problems which confront modern education. This week Dr. James in Terra Michigan State University College of Education interviews Dr. Margaret Mead famed anthropologist and author and she identifies they because you're aspects of education in our American culture. Now here is Dr. Htun Tara. Dr. Mead in your various activities and travels in your understanding's that you've been developing about various kinds of cultures and the emphasis they put on education. And then as you've analyzed American culture and its emphasis on education in this vast
area we have gone through of criticism and critical evaluation and change in our educational construct as you have viewed this panorama of culture and education hand in hand. Could you give an analysis of the attributes of the problems the American culture United States culture is having with education the reasons for the changes which are underway. Because I wouldn't say culture and education would be I would simply make education one part of our culture and an unusually important part. Of course you know I start from primitive people where children simply learn from older people the things that they need to know and a boy goes with his uncle and learns trapping a little girl follows her mother to the well. And then as civilization develops we the things we have to learn are so complicated that we have to have some division of labor and have some people spend all their time teaching other people's children the things they need to know
and that makes another great contrast. And then you have the contrast between the society that's changing it's trying to build it some new ideal and stable old society that's merely trying to perpetuate the stable old society wants just enough education to reproduce whatever it's got to produce the right number of priests and leaders of statesmen and so forth. But the United States of course is a conspicuously society that had trust an educational system to build a new society and so that I think our extraordinary concern with education is expectable. The minute anything appears to be going wrong in the country. We tend to look at the schools the crime rate goes up. This must be because something went wrong in the schools. If our youngsters show up badly in physical education tests as compared with Austrians
This is the fault of the schools. If religion is going down in the country and church attendance decreased as it did in the 20s and 30s this somehow also is the fault of the schools even though we don't really believe in teaching religion in schools but we ought to teach the thing that comes before religion in the schools. So whether it's health or general state of morality or corruption in the country we tend to go back to the schools and of course we've added. Then when war came along and were war one came along we were horrified to discover how many illiterate young people we had who were unfit to be soldiers and this were in World War Two. We discovered that we had a great many and stable people in this country who were unable to bear the strains of being away from home when in strange surroundings. This again we went back and looked at the schools. We at that point
also of course looked a little bit. But. That's in a sense a kind of counter reaction that the schools in defense will turn around and blame the families for the conditions that they find they're unable to create. And then of course with this recent problem that more and more of the fate of the world depending upon technology and science and the dramatic event of Sputnik we've again said well if the Russians can put up a Sputnik and we can't. This must be the fault of the schools. It's really the arena in which we conduct our discussion about most things. Is it unique with American United States culture that we create this institution which we call education schools and as you've referred to it here or is this very common throughout the world that we create such institutions societies do play such a tremendous amount of reliance upon them.
Or is this a development as a society gets more complex. Well all societies that are complex have to have a school system of some sort that is ways of specialized training of young people and all complex societies have to d for the period in which young people can participate completely until they've learned the necessary skills. Now we were the first society to really attempt universal education on the scale that we did. We're now paying the price of having been pioneers. We're more out of date than other people. It's much easier to start a modern school system in Burma than it is to revise the school system of a solid American city who's known that had good schools for a hundred fifty years and hasn't looked at them in all that time. Just as you know in Great Britain which was the pioneer in industrialization is now way behind the United States which came in later and Germany who had its industry destroyed and could start over. We
were suffering to a degree in this country from having made this experiment first but also the schools become get this kind of important. So when you're trying to really transform something and we were trying to make a new population we were taking people from peasant populations all over the world from peasants of Eastern Europe coolies from China and primitive people from the. Very hinterland of Africa who have been brought here from all these different backgrounds and trying to make them into literate Americans. We this requirement of universal literacy for instance is in itself a terribly new thing. It's only within the last 25 years it's beginning to be necessary to be literate to be a human being and that parents are as much worried now about their children learning to read and write
as they used to be about their learning to talk and walk. This again has put a tremendous extra burden on the school system. We counted on the schools to turn children of people who had grown up in every part of the world eating every sort of food and living in every sort of way into little Americans who knew how to use the telephone and ride on a bus and handle money and send telegrams and decipher signs and brush their teeth every day and eat the right kind of breakfast so that the American educational system became far more than a way of transmitting. An existing culture. To a few people who could carry it on. It became also far more than a way of creating an elite a specialized group of people who could carry on the work of the world. It was the mechanism that we counted on for the transformation of the children of the millions who came to this country as adults.
The same time we were developing the kind of culture which could be transmitted to adults. You see if you've grown up in and you already have learned what it is to speak a language and to be a responsible member of a society you know what marriage is what the home is what work is what government is. You come to a new country and you read a book on the subject. And we've developed almost everything in our culture you can read a book on how to make friends how to be a success how to keep your wife how to bring up your children all the things that in other countries were taught by apprenticeship from the old to the young were taught in this country in this adult to adult way and. This is cutting into our school systems too because we expect the school to be able to teach anything. So the school teaches a child to eat the right breakfast. Now what the school really teaches a child is to recite the rite breakfast and go home and eat what they're given. But when they grow up this recitation this verbal statement you
know cereal with cream glass of milk and egg and orange juice. This recitation gets translated into activity. But with a tremendous very often tremendous loss to loss in depth because we expect all these things to be learned rather parrot wise in school instead of deeply from parents to children in the home. And this background this first job our education in the United States has shifted a great deal and we now have the second generation group so to speak within our society you know what's the job of education second generation and third generation. But it what has always happened in this country is that in a sense the new or newest comers and the newest problems and the latest arrivals from anywhere from Europe or from the
slums are from the country into the city from the less complex to the more complex tend to have a tremendous imprint on the society. And when we began not only using elementary schools as this transformation device but when we began insisting on everybody going to high school and using the high school which had once been the preparation for those who were going to go on to more education using the high school as a way of keeping all the young people out of work out of mischief out of trouble and off the streets. Then the imprint of the young people who came from homes that had not expected this and it weren't ready to take it spread upward through most of our high schools so that if you look at the at most American high schools today are designed to teach children whose parents if not a
literate don't read who have learned nothing at home who if allowed out of school would get into mischief and who don't want to stay in school. This is the standard which spreads up and affects even the children who would normally expect to go to college who are reasonably highly motivated and have had a great deal of background. I don't to put words in your mouth here at all but I gather from what you've been saying that we expect of our schools primarily or elementary schools that they perform several functions at the same time. Now we do. In the past we had certain other functions. Now these functions have changed and presently they seem to be to provide a safeguarding function for keeping children off the streets. I think that's the way you are and seeing the streets as either dangerous physically OK and a health preserving
and body building kind of an institution we expect this and health testing is the New Years. You made a comment that I think was very significant and it by virtue of the fact that they're in the school during the day that you have some expectation our society does that this will automatically take care of their out of school activities. How would you put it if they're in school today they've slipped somewhere that you know of last night. Yes that we think that as long as children aren't in school somehow they are looked after I mean that from the old sort of behavior that that you were expelled from school if you smoked out of school so that your moral behavior out of school and your physical behavior out of school is somehow supervised and we contrast children who work and who therefore think of is in danger because of exploitation in working conditions or bad company and
things of this sort. This contrasts with the school which is supposed to be good company where and where children are supposed to be protected from every form of evil influence. Well along with all these areas we've talked about physical conditioning and health it's relationship and a kind of a housekeeping or a babysitting that's a bad word safeguarding safe in child care for the little ones. And what about the professionalized part of education in this too. Sure we expect of the schools that the child gets some formalized training to prepare him for further steps in the school. What about it. Well of course with the first thing we expect is that they will learn to read and as anxiety has mounted about learning to read. We're having more trouble with reading and maybe one of the principal reasons we have so much trouble with reading it. Another reason may be that we're keeping more children alive with various kinds.
It isn't Chrissy's than we were in the past so that we probably didn't have the same number of children who didn't have an ocular vision to teach a hundred years ago and we didn't have may not have had the same children with all sorts of complications of symmetry and so forth. But at any event the first thing we expect is that they will learn to read and therefore become human beings in the full sense of the word that's necessary. Then we expect the school. Two in a sense tell them what they want to be. To give them vocational vocational motivation and vocational guidance. If we find we aren't getting enough people entering a profession that we need people for. Somehow the school hasn't done a good job both in motivation and in preparation and we immediately turn back and say this is the school's fault. It isn't fostering persuasion or it isn't fostering habits of industry or it isn't fostering dedication.
With this school we're talking about I have been talking about here in a generalized term inevitably ends up in a classroom with the teacher students and a teacher there may be several or there may be few students in there. In this particular classroom now the question immediately comes to mind here if these are all the expectations that society holds of what happens in this institution and society creates called a school. What about the teacher who has to do all of these perform these functions. What should our teachers be like or what are they like and how we develop this body of people to do teaching. We've made you know we've always worked towards the all purpose teacher in this country from the days of the little red schoolhouse where the teacher had to sweep the school and stoke the fire. Now we we now have great schools with thousands of students but the teachers are still devoting a great proportion of their time to activities like stoking the fire and
keeping the snow out and seeing if the roofs are fixed and first aid and all the things that a teacher had to do when she was all alone. We give our teachers very little time to teach. They have to keep track of the who is there and who isn't there because they can collect money from state subsidies or federal subsidies if a child is in school. They all they're responsible for anything that happens to a child if they stray out of the classroom. And this is a terribly important event. They're responsible for their health their morality. They some teachers have to spend 50 and 60 percent of the time in some form of disciplinary activity because they have too many students and insufficient materials to deal with them. So one of the very we've never really let our teachers teach as fully as they might when we've had a good teacher. We very seldom make it possible for them to teach the thing they know and love and are good at. I mean whether it's third grade children or
mathematics. How about other cultures. Are we typical in this respect or are we atypical and I think we're atypical we expect. But I don't know about the Soviet Union and I'm pretty sure that in very rapidly developing countries that are just putting in school systems like Indonesia. Or Thailand that probably the rural school teacher again has to be practically everything agricultural expert and half doctor and a whole series of things just as the role school teacher used to have to do here only more so. But for the countries that we tend to compare ourselves with most often Scandinavia and Germany and France and England it's part of western culture. Certainly we demand a great deal more of our schools and expect them to take far more responsibility for the total life of the child and the adolescent. Then European schools do which are still primarily designed for the
learning of specific skills. With these great demands and expectations that you've indicated here that we have in the United States for our teachers. And you've indicated in a sense this is atypical. We are not typical of the Western cultures in general in this respect. Are we typical or would you analyze the body of people we have doing teaching in the construct which we have surrounded them economically and socially and the expectations we have of them really out in the overall picture here in our culture. But it's changed of course from the ambitious and quite intelligent young person in the community the girl who would teach school for three or four years before she married and the boy teacher would teach school for a couple of years and then study law or medicine and go on from an occupation on the whole for the bright youngster in the small community
it teaching moved especially after World War One into an occupation that could be followed by. Mildly ambitious young people who came from less privileged backgrounds. It was a way in which they could get an education. It was a way in which they could get some social status and teaching in this country is not in elementary school particularly but also to a degree in high school has not been a highly respected occupation. So we have the paradox of the school being the institution we trust most and feel most betrayed by if it doesn't carry out it's the bands that we make on it in a sense being the heart of the community and yet the officials of the school that it would correspond to priests and another kind of system perhaps are not the people to whom we give the
greatest respect or the greatest support. And this is a I mean aggravated of course in this country by the fact that schoolteaching was a woman's job and that we if men went into it they were immediately seized upon to do things that we thought of as male to be administrators where they were any good at it or not to be football coaches whether they were interested in athletics or not. And to teach science and mathematics because that was supposed to be male. And with a very much smaller selection of males and not comparably as able one this is been another complication in the whole school system because the leadership has been given to people who were put there because of their sex and not because of their ability. Well this brings up the question Are the statements that both of us have heard practically everyone has heard that the social support we have given teachers the financial support we have given teachers
have been generally poor and very poor and people seem and I'm talking about people in general the critics here seem to think and say actually some cases that automatically if we give teachers better social support and give them greater financial support will automatically have better teachers. Do you see truth to this or is there some question in your mind. I think it's a we will keep better teachers if we give better financial support. We're losing good teachers every day simply because they can't afford to teach. This is of course particularly true of men who have wives and children or women with family responsibilities. The better we pay our teachers the more good people can afford to teach. But I don't think the primary motivation to be a good teacher is going to come from simply teaching being a financially good job. The primary motivation is going to come from people who enjoy teaching and they can't
enjoy teaching under conditions where they can't teach. Which is true of Certainly most of our big cities today and many other school systems that the teacher is doesn't have the time to teach the facilities to teach. She has to spend her time on a whole series of other occupations that could be carried out by other people. Doctor meet a little a few minutes ago you brought up kind of in an analytical way from the standpoint of the teachers the administration of schools in the creation of a institution within society. Call it the schools with this educational institution inevitably week also construct a kind of an administrative over are I Archy here more than just people that are in the positions. The very nature of the construction of the unit its divisions and how it's separated into various units all comes into this. Again with your experience with other cultures and other
societies is the United States and it's and I think it's fair to typify it as a very well organized structure in education are we to very organized structure. Well that's right. Heavily are going to maybe not well heavily organized. Is this typical or is this atypical in this you know compared to other cultures. Well of course in a country like England for instance where the school originally existed for the elite and remained maintained a considerable amount of autonomy I mean it descended from either the monastery or the castle and people sent their children to the care of the monks or the next Lord. And there was a great deal of autonomy and the idea of parents interfering with the school was much less developed than it was in this country this country. It's the parents that invented the school and sent for the school teacher and boy did her around and built the school. So
you have a different administrative structure because it's so much more interwoven in this country with our elected school boards and our thousands of school districts and each school district setting its own style and the school being set up as a representative of local government and local responsibility. All this is is completely virtually unique in the United States and maybe a few small countries for this to chew on. I'm not a specialist and in an administration. But in general the degree of involvement of the local citizenry with the school and the number of local units is characteristic of the United States. This means inevitably an involvement with politics at quite a different level than the level that you would get in a centralized school system like that affronts. It means and involve hundred tween the parents and the teachers and a good deal of what we call I think our school administrators
system is protected. It's an attempt of the school to protect its autonomy in a situation where so many demands are made on it and it never has the facilities to meet the demands. And it's a pretty protective shell which it is. There are tremendous attempts to standardize which again are protective against attacks on the curriculum. And if you can say that every teacher taught the same the same day in school at least you're guiltless. If the children didn't learn anything but if the teacher took the children for a trip then you're liable. You see so that I think we have to think of our organization. Some of them as protective some of them as attempts to deal with this very complicated federal state and local structure where we're always trying to introduce at a higher level. Pressures on the local level to improve something or change something for the whole country.
The people. Community X are more likely to be asking questions now about their school. I mean what are we doing about this. What's our mathematics program like. How do our children measure up physically. When national tests are announced and American children are supposed to be defective how many children from our school are winning a National Science Award in the science fairs. How do our teachers salaries compare with other communities that all of these questions now tend to be stimulated on the positive side. In a nationally communicated ideas people read an article in Harper's or they read a Life magazine study that compares a Russian schoolboy with an American schoolboy and then they begin to ask questions at the same time that we have this very strong local emphasis on our schools being our
business and whether they're good or bad they're our business and nobody else's and we the people in Podunk. That was Dr. Margaret Mead well-known anthropologist author and associate curator of ethnology at the American Museum of Natural History relating they peculiar job of education in our own American culture. Dr. maid was interviewed by Dr. James and Tara of the Michigan State University College of Education. Next week Mr. Charles ACP chairman of the Department of Communications and education New York University will discuss education as a focal point of democracy. Oral essays on education was produced by Wayne S. Wayne and Patrick Ford distribution is made through the National Association of educational broadcasters. This is the end E.B. Radio Network. Oh no. No no. No no. No no.
Oral Essays on Education
Dr. Margaret Mead
Producing Organization
Michigan State University
WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Dr. Margaret Mead, "Education in Our American Culture." Dr. Mead is Associate Curator of Ethnology, American Museum of Natural History.
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The thoughts of distinguished Americans in a survey of American eduction.
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Interviewee: Mead, Margaret, 1901-1978
Interviewer: Tintera, James
Producer: Wayne, Wayne C.
Producer: Ford, Patrick
Producing Organization: Michigan State University
Producing Organization: WKAR (Radio/television station : East Lansing, Mich.)
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-3-1 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:32
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Chicago: “Oral Essays on Education; Dr. Margaret Mead,” 1960-11-22, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed December 2, 2021,
MLA: “Oral Essays on Education; Dr. Margaret Mead.” 1960-11-22. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. December 2, 2021. <>.
APA: Oral Essays on Education; Dr. Margaret Mead. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from