I'm still chewing on James Kwak's recent contribution to the discussion over the declining quality of American education, aka "it's all the fault of the greedy capitalists." One could dismiss it (especially as caricatured by me) as vulgar Marxism, and I do suspect that the problem is more complicated than so simple a model. But here's sometihng I remember and I'm pretty sure James does not: Sputnik and the epidemic mania to "catch up with the Russians."
Boy, if ever there was as time when we thought we could solve problem by throwing money at it, that was it: the new dollars, not least Federal, sluiced into schooling of all forms, with the urgent purpose of keeping those Russkies in their place.
There were huge disconnects here: I'm sure a fair number of the dollars nominally intended for astrophysics were waylaid into post-structuralist gender studies. But the fact is that education, particularly science/tech education, took on an aura of respectability that it simply hadn't enjoyed before--not in my wonky, geeky childhood, at least.
Of course some will argue that this in itself was a tragedy, or at least a travesty: that to train automatons for service to the military industrial complex was itself a betrayal of a great idea. But at the margin, I suspect it also a bit more engaging and challenging and even intrinsically worthwhile. Kind of makes you pine for good ol' Leonid Brezhnev and his crew.