A nation at risk
On April 26, 1983, the Presidents Commission on Excellence in Education
released a remarkablereport, A Nation at Risk. This Report has stimulated in the
media considerable discussion about the problems in our schools, speculation
about the causes, and assignment of blame. Astonishingly, few of the media
reports have focused on the specific findings and recommendations of the
Commission. Almost none of the media reports tells that the Commission itself
refrained from speculation on causes and from assignment of blame.
Because of the extraordinary clarity and importance of the Commission’s
Report, the editors of the Communications decided to reprint the Reports main
section in its entirety. We are pleased to present it to you here.
Peter J. Donning
America’s position in the world may
once have been reasonably secure
with only a few exceptionally welltrained
men and women. It is no
Knowledge of the humanities . . . must
be harnessed to science and technology
if the latter are to remain creative
and humane just as the humanities
need to be informed by science
and technology if they are to remain
relevant to the human condition. .u ……
Secondary school curricula have
been homogenized, diluted, and diffused
to the point that they no longer
have a central purpose.
Many 17-year-olds do not possess the
“higher order” intellectual skills we
should expect of them. Nearly 40
percent cannot draw inferences from
written material; only one-fifth can
write a persuasive essay; only onethird
can solve a mathematics problem
requiring several steps.
Our findings and testimony confirm
the vitality of a number of notable
schools and programs, but their very
distinction stands out against a vast
mass shaped by tensions and pressures
that inhibit systematic academic
and vocational achievement
for the majority of students.
. . . the professional working life of
teachers is on the whole unacceptable
. . .
The people of the United States need
to know that individuals in our society
who do not possess the levels of
. skill, literacy, and training essential
to this new era will be effectively
disenfranchised, not simply from the
material rewards that accompany
competent performance, but also
from the chance to participate fully
in our national life.
We must demand the best effort and
performance from all students,
whether they are gifted or less able,
affluent or disadvantaged, whether
destined for college, the farm, or industry.
Of all the tools at hand, the public’s
support for education is the most
It is … the America of all of us that
is at risk; it is to each of us ·that this
imperative is addressed.
It is by our willingness to take up the
challenge, and our resolve to see it
through, that America’s place in the
world will be either secured or forfeited.
Americans have succeeded before
and so we shall again.