“Ninety-five percent of the kids who go to college in the United States would not be admitted to college anywhere else in the world.” said Albert Shanker, former president of the American Federation of Teachers.
Dr. Thomas Sowell, renowned professor of economics at UCLA, paralleled Shanker’s statement when he wrote about a recurring experience he encountered during his days at the prestigious university.
“I was amazed,” he said, “that so many of the students had no conception of logic and no sense of how to use the English language, much less any serious knowledge of basic information that was once taken for granted.”
Yet, he went on to say, UCLA students represented an above-average sample of California high school students.
“More than once,” he said, “as I went over a student’s ungrammatical writing and confused reasoning, I found myself asking ‘What were you doing for 12 years before you got here?’”
Only later when he began doing research on American education did he realize why high school graduates were so poorly educated. His discovery was that much of the agenda of so many schools across the country was a social or ideological agenda – the exclusive mission to educate (with all that that means) was being abandoned.
The conclusion of the matter? When the focus is blurred, the distinctives are always compromised, be sure of it.
While the pressure has been on for decades to socialize (read: politicize) our classrooms, this is hardly appropriate in a public forum where young minds are uninformed and values are still being formed. Moreover, it betrays a gross misunderstanding of what it means to educate in the classical tradition, turning the teacher into a veritable social engineer.
This has been a slow decades-by-decades process, but here we are. Only a wise teacher resists falling into the trap, but even the best of our professional educators have unwittingly become ideological pawns in the classroom, doing the state’s bidding on all subjects social, political, sexual and otherwise.
Cheri Pierson Yeeke, former Teacher of the Year in Virginia: “Precious time is being diverted away from academics in order to socialize students.”
But education is about reading, writing, math, science and history. Educators are about producing thinkers, and these core disciplines have always been the best way to do that.
To try and sell political ideology or the therapeutic domain on the grounds of seeking to “replace rote learning with higher-order thinking” is quite a stretch at best and utterly deceitful at worst.
As Sowell said, “Ignorance plus emotions do not equal thinking. The fact that such claims are blindly repeated in the media is only another symptom of how few people still think, after decades of mush being taught in our schools.”
The National Assessment of Educational Progress reported that “large proportions, perhaps more than half, of our elementary, middle and high school students are unable to demonstrate competency in challenging subject matter in English, mathematics, science, history and geography. Further, even fewer appear to be able to use their minds well.”
Ideological engineering, values clarification, the affective domain … none of this is education, no matter how many times it is declared to be.
Abraham Lincoln was once asked how many legs a dog has, if you count the tail as a leg. “Four,” was his reply. The fact that you call the tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.
The more our society re-defines education, which is exactly what John Dewey’s progressive model has been doing in this country since the early 1900s, the less educated our young people will become.
And the more “we the people” fall in line, the deeper gets the hole we’re digging. Coping with ignorance then becomes not only our inevitable intellectual legacy, but our interminable one as well.