A look back: 1969 is déjà vu all over again

A look back: 1969 is déjà vu all over again

When your editor is Scott Rothschild and you miss a deadline, you had better have a good excuse. So, when I received a gentle reminder over the weekend that my column was due, followed almost immediately by President Kimball’s completed assignment, the pressure was on.

Fortunately, I was stuck in an airport, flight canceled, with nothing to do. Unfortunately, this particular weekend, the news was filled with reports of the death of Peter Fonda, and the 50th anniversary of a concert at Yasgur’s farm. These two distractions created an unquenchable desire to re-watch “Easy Rider,” the iconic motorcycle movie from 1969. That led to downloading the soundtrack on iTunes, which led to downloading the Woodstock album which led to watching that documentary, and of course, no column completed.

Fortunately, the search for an excuse is the mother of creativity. So, Scott, I was doing research for this column pretty much all day on Sunday. Because 1969, the year “Easy Rider” was released and Woodstock happened, was quite a year. In science, 1969 reigns because of Neil Armstrong, Apollo 11 and the moon landing, but did you know that it also marks the first use of ARPANET to send a message? ARPNET was the precursor to what we now call the interwebs.

In politics and government, 1969 marked the reinstatement of the draft (If your birthday was September 14, you were going to Vietnam.) Ted Kennedy drove off a bridge and into Chappaquiddick. The story of the Mai Lai Massacre broke. Two major criminal events, the Trial of the Chicago Eight, and the Tate-LaBianca murders took place that year. The Beatles broke up. In happier news, the Brady Bunch first aired and in Columbus, Ohio, someone was enjoying the first Frosty at the first Wendy’s restaurant.

People of my vintage remember most of these things well, but what was happening in the world of education in 1969? Except for the fact that Mr. Coburn was a great teacher at Ridgeview Elementary in Olathe, I don’t remember much at all about fifth and sixth grade. But things were happening. (I DO remember the Chiefs’ Super Bowl season started in 1969!)

My Google search revealed a shocking event that occurred in 1969. Educators know that 1954 marks the year when schools were ordered desegregated “with all deliberate speed” in Brown v. Board. I was shocked to learn that 15 years later, we learned the outer limits of the definition of all deliberate speed. In the 1969 Mississippi case of Alexander v. Holmes County, the courts replaced “all deliberate speed” with “immediately” because no progress toward desegregation had been made in Mississippi, or in many other places. A whole generation of children were still attending purposely segregated school 15 years after the court ordered the practice ended.

In the déjà vu department, a group of states released a report in 1969 called ES ’70: An Education System for the Seventies. And you thought these Vision 2020 projects were new? ES ’70 called for the creation of a “learning environment of unprecedented richness and variety … provided by various audio-visual aids, self-study systems, programmed instruction, educational television, computer assisted instruction, single-concept films, and communication linked study centers.” Other goals were for students to move at their own pace, to put less emphasis on what is learned and more on the process of learning, and “skills for responsible jobs after graduation, focused on the beginning, not end of their alternatives.”

A cynic might look at these reforms for the seventies and think they look an awful lot like the goals of Kansans Can — here we go again. Which is why the context of Alexander v. Holmes becomes important. In 1969, about 50 percent of Americans held high school diplomas. The vision for education in 1969 was not that all students would benefit from this “Education System for the Seventies.” Children of color were still having to sue local districts for the right to be included. Special education students didn’t have equal access until a decade later.

Today, we have a similar vision for students, but it is for every child in America. Every. Single. Child. Today we know more about how to teach children. Today we have better tools. Today we have higher expectations. It has been 50 years, and we still have a monumental task ahead.