Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The following letter, published in 1986 in the New York Times,articulates what has always seemed instinctively correct to me about the teaching profession:

Feminism and the Decline of Teaching Published: July 25, 1986

To the Editor: Your article on the differences in the lives of Radcliffe women and Harvard men of the class of 1961 (Week in Review, July 13) brought to mind my own recent high-school reunion, class of 1956. After rummaging through the biographies prepared for the occasion, I was surprised to discover that fully two-thirds of the women who went to college and ended up in the work force became kindergarten to 12th-grade teachers. I remembered many of these women, who graduated from college in 1960, as being among the brightest people in our class.

Naturally, this was the pre-women's liberation era, and so graduates from places like Wellesley, Barnard, Cornell and Tufts had limited vocational options. In addition, further professional training was out for many who had to bring in a paycheck to support their husbands in medical and law schools. The school systems of the period were the richer because they recruited from a captive pool that contained many of the best women graduates from our universities.

Today, task forces and blue-ribbon panels decry the declining quality of teaching in the public schools. Part of the problem has to be the laudable success of the women's movement. Why should women graduating at the top of their classes from the best universities choose teaching when all the other more glamorous and better-paying professions are at last open to them? No one would turn the clock back to the time when most college-trained women were locked into teaching careers. Yet, clearly, one unintended consequence of the women's movement has been the general decline in the quality of classroom teaching.

MELVIN SMALL Detroit, July 13, 1986

The writer is chairman of the history department, Wayne State University.