Jeff Meadors: Thatcher also left her stamp on education

Jeff Meadors

Jeff Meadors

I remember registering with the Selective Service. Three months later, April of 1982, Argentina and the UK were embroiled in crisis in the Falkland Islands.

Images of Reagan and Thatcher together, unforgettable icons, Cold War freedom fighters, soothed some of the sting of uncertainty and war.

Dubbed the "Milk Snatcher" by those who opposed her education cuts, yet relishing the "Iron Lady" insults hurled by Russian Defense, Thatcher stood tough, never better illustrated than when opposition aimed a 20-pound bomb at her in the Brighton Grand. Surviving the blast by inches, two minutes, and a letter, Thatcher continued the Tory conference sans hiccup.

Eight months post-Brighton bombing, I was a student at the University of London and recall divisive talk about Thatcher in the English streets. Even so, most Americans loved the lady who understood the problem with socialism: You eventually run out of other people's money.

Thatcher left her mark on public education, especially higher ed. She served as education secretary throughout the Heath Government. Those years formed "Thatcherism." She did not cry over the milk that sparked Oxford's refusal to later grant her an honorary degree, nor did she cry for Argentina.

In the 1980s, the U.S. and UK found themselves educationally at risk. "A Nation at Risk," commissioned during Reagan, delivered stinging indictments on America's schools. The report offered commentary on secondary school curricula, the value of homework, dumbing down of textbooks and teacher pay.

On both sides of the pond, school choice surfaced, as well as free enterprise, competition -- all paved way for reducing the educational risks of both nations.

The UK's 1988 Education Reform Act, introduced under Thatcher, created a national curriculum for all state-supported schools as well as a national system of student testing and school inspections. Hopefully the U.S. will not extrapolate from Thatcher's reform to justify linking teacher pay to student test scores. Such American myopia would be salt in the wound of classroom teachers already under siege by armchair quarterbacks.

Thatcher believed university education was failing students in Britain due to its insulation from the free market.

Thatcher introduced the market to British universities by instituting unprecedented fees for international students. Prior to 1981, international students coming to British universities had a relatively free education. University leaders opposed Thatcher, predicting no international students would apply to British universities again.

Thatcher then cut support for research to the universities. She believed some universities misused research money. University leadership unanimously predicted the cuts disastrous for the British economy.

But Thatcher's move reinvigorated research in Britain, placing it behind only the U.S. on all international indices ranking the quality of global scientific research. International student applications to British universities ultimately increased.

Thatcher proved them wrong on all counts. We need more leaders who won't turn away from successful choices for students at risk by ZIP code.

You turn if you want to. I'm with Maggie, and we're not for turning. This is no time to go all wobbly on choices for young Americans.

Jeff Meadors may be reached at pjeffreymeadors@gmail.com.


dennistay53 2 years, 7 months ago

Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. They don't make leaders like these anymore.


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