50 Years of American Voices


George H. Gallup

The 13th annual Gallup Poll
of the Public’s Attitudes Toward
the Public Schools

“The public expects a great deal from schools, and the findings from a question concerning six objectives of education provide further proof of these high expectations. Most studies dealing with the goals reveal that the public expects the public schools to assume responsibilities that in the past have been borne by the home and the church. For example, in the present survey the objective that receives the highest vote from respondents is "developing students’ moral and ethical character." The concern for "teaching students to think,” shown in the results, may spur present efforts to find procedures that improve thinking ability. One nation, Venezuela, has appointed a minister of cabinet rank to help improve the thinking abilities of students in that country. And both Great Britain and the United States are mounting promising efforts to improve the problem-solving abilities of students.”

What was happening in American education?

January 1981: Terrel Bell becomes U.S. Secretary of Education with the expectation that he would abolish the Department of Education. He had been Utah education commissioner.

Feb. 23, 1981: In Widmar v. Vincent, the U.S. Supreme Court rules that the University of Missouri cannot refuse to allow a religious organization to use its facilities when other organizations are given access to those same facilities. Several years later, Congress extends that reasoning to the use of public school buildings by passing the Equal Access Act.

Sept. 26, 1981: Budget Director David A. Stockman orders the withdrawal of proposed federal rules that would have listed ketchup and pickle relish as vegetables in school lunches.

1981: Districts throughout the United States continue to fight court-ordered busing, and President Ronald Reagan makes clear that he opposes mandatory busing.

What else was happening in the United States?

Jan. 20, 1981: Fifty-two American hostages held by Iran for 444 days are released on the same day Ronald Reagan is inaugurated as the 40th president of the United States.

1981 Hostages come home Ap 810127064 Use

Shredded paper fills the air over buses carrying former hostages and their family members down Pennsylvania Avenue to a reception at the White House in Washington, D.C., Jan. 27, 1981. (AP Photo)

March 30, 1981: President Reagan survives assassination attempt.

June 5, 1981: The Centers for Disease Control reports on a rare form of pneumonia in gay men, what later becomes known as AIDS.

June 12, 1981: Major League Baseball goes on strike.

Aug. 1, 1981: MTV debuts, introducing the world to music videos. The first video? “Video Killed the Radio Star” by the Buggles.

Aug. 5, 1981: President Ronald Reagan fires thousands of striking air traffic controllers after they ignore his order to return to work.

Sept. 25, 1981: Sandra Day O’Connor becomes the first female associate justice on the U.S. Supreme Court.

1981 Sandra Day OConnor Ap 8109250137 Use

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, the first female justice of the Supreme Court, is sworn in by Chief Justice Warren Burger in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 25, 1981. O'Connor's husband John holds two family Bibles. (AP Photo/White House)

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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?