50 Years of American Voices

1994

Author:
Stanley M. Elam, Lowell C. Rose, and Alec M. Gallup

The 26th annual PDK/Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes Toward
the Public Schools

"The fundamental tragedy of American education is not that we are turning out ignoramuses but that we are turning out savages," says Frederick Close, director of education for the Ethics Resource Center in Washington, D.C. Close would institute moral education or character education in the schools in an effort to counteract what he calls “a continuously rising crime wave among the younger generation." He echoes the sentiments found in a growing body of literature that includes the best-selling Book of Virtues, by William Bennett, who used his office as secretary of education in the late Eighties to campaign for "moral literacy" in the public schools. (Book of Virtues is subtitled A Treasury of Great Moral Stories and is intended for home and school use.) Like many of his fundamentalist backers, Bennett believes that we must recover paradigms that we once shared as a nation "before the triviality of television absorbed most of children's attention and before a prevailing cynicism made virtue seem laughable."

"Kevin Ryan, a professor of education at Boston University, points out that public schools have bent over backwards in their efforts not to offend anyone about anything. To make themselves inoffensive and studiously neutral, they have all but cleansed the curriculum of religious and ethical content. He speaks of schools as 'morally dangerous places for children.'

What was happening in American education?

1994: The Clinton administration passes two major pieces of education legislation: Goals 2000 and Improving America’s Schools Act, which renews ESEA. Between them, the two pieces of legislation codify the eight goals as envisioned by the 50 state governors in 1989 and incentivize states to create standards aligned to those goals.

1994: Congress passes the Gun-Free Schools Act, which penalizes students for having weapons on school property.

April 1994: The National Education Commission on Time and Learning publishes Prisoners of Time, which details problems with the traditional school calendar.

1994: Teachers Dave Levin and Mike Feinberg start the “no excuses” Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school in Houston, Texas. KIPP eventually grows into a network of 209 charter schools across the country.

Bell Curve Cover

September 1994: In The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray assert that intelligence, not socioeconomic status, predict one’s path in life.

Oct. 20, 1994: Lynne Cheney, who headed the National Endowment for the Humanities, blasts the proposed National History Standards in a Wall Street Journal op-ed for presenting a biased, “grim and gloomy” account of American history.

Nov. 8, 1994: California voters support Prop 187 to make it illegal for children of undocumented immigrants to attend public schools.

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Hundreds of high school students are bused back to school after demonstrating against Proposition 187 in Los Angeles, Nov. 2, 1994. (AP Photo/Eric Draper)

What else was happening in the United States?

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California Angels fan Randy Tiffany holds up a sign protesting the possible players' strike at a game at Anaheim Stadium, Aug. 6, 1994. In the foreground is Daniel Hipper, 12, of Anaheim. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

Jan. 1, 1994: The North American Free Trade Agreement goes into effect, creating a trilateral trade agreement between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Jan. 17, 1994: Paula Jones accuses President Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

Aug. 12, 1994: Major League Baseball Players go on strike for 232 days, canceling the 1994 World Series.

June 17, 1994: O.J. Simpson is arrested for the murders of his ex-wife and her friend, following a police chase that is broadcast across the country.

July 5, 1994: Jeff Bezos begins Amazon.com as an online bookstore.


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We welcome your conversation about the poll results and the other information we’ve assembled here. What did we forget? What do you remember about this year? How do you think the events of this year influenced the responses to our questions?