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Boston U. President Offers Reform for American Education

By Jay Rogers
Published October 2, 1989

Boston University president, John Silber, in a recently published book, Straight Shooting (Harper & Row), gives a detailed criticism of the American educational system and offers an ideology of reform from the viewpoint of his many years of experience.

President Silber was the subject of controversy last year when he advanced a measure which enforced curfews on students living in dormitories and disallowed overnight guests, after a student complained about her roommate’s sexual conduct and that she had disregarded her requests to discontinue this behavior.

In Straight Shooting, Silber is no less controversial, as he proposes some radical methods of reform. Silber scathingly portrays America’s public education system as being substandard: “The standards today are derisory by standards that were operative in ordinary little country schools a hundred years ago.”

Silber believes that high school teachers should score an “A” on a college level exam in their subject area as a prerequisite to certification, claiming that the current system is an “unintentional conspiracy to defraud the American public because they are certifying the ineducable to be educators.”

Silber’s emphasis on moral education is derived from a varied background. After seeing his family struggle to survive during the Depression, Silber studied for the ministry, investigated the legal profession, received a doctorate in philosophy from Yale, and taught at the University of Texas in Austin.

After being appointed as B.U. president in 1971, Silber has implemented numerous reforms, which have elevated Boston University’s stature to one of the most highly respected schools in the nation.

In Straight Shooting, Silber remarks that when college students cringe at the thought of entering the “real world” upon graduation, it is a further indictment against a substandard system. According to Silber, “That is an expression of escapism … It suggests that they were avoiding the real world all the time they were in school.”

Silber’s intelligence and his controversial, yet well-thought-out views are earning him a place in American history. The result of the Chelsea “experiment” will be an indicator of the effectiveness of Silber’s moral education. If the plan is a success, Silber may one day be viewed as a reformer of education in the late 20th century.


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