When children are not learning, where can parents look for answers? Who will tell the truth?
The experts, you say? The same people, you mean, who shaped and controlled the schools where these kids aren't learning? These experts do not inspire confidence. There are too many signs of failure and dysfunction. It's as if we glanced into the kitchen of a restaurant and saw insects scurrying on counters. No matter how fancy the decor, we should be suspicious.
Clearly the experts have a conflict of interest. If they can't do a good job, are they going to tell us why? Aren't they more likely to make excuses and try to cover-up?
What we know for certain is that the USA spends more per capita than almost any other country But we still don't place well internationally. Mediocrity is our norm. We are paying for gold but getting brass.
There are many theories to explain our poor performance. The machinations of unions. The greed of publishers. The poor training of teachers. The indifference of parents. The schemes of ideologues. The lazy bad habits a monopoly or a cult might fall into. And simple dimwitted incompetence.
Even the possible explanations are scary. Probably it is better not to be distracted by the question of which factor is the most destructive. Probably all are working together.
Unhappy student by Istockphoto.com
Unhappy student by Istockphoto.com
So let's stay focused on the stats, that is, the hard evidence showing that millions of children don't learn to read properly, don't learn to master arithmetic, and don't learn the most basic facts about this country or the world.
Once upon a time, an eighth-grade education meant that one had a substantial amount of learning. Now a high school diploma could mean that one has hardly any education at all. Students reach college with huge gaps in their knowledge.
Evidently, the Education Establishment has embraced theories and methods that are not the best choices. Some critics speak of schools deliberately dumbing down students. The tendency in general seems to be toward talking a good game, throwing around pretentious jargon, and doing the minimum that each community will tolerate.
The question that must haunt us is this: suppose our experts
engaged in rigorous comparative testing and identified the best
theories and methods. If we did things at a higher level, couldn't
we easily lift every student 30, 40 or 50%? Add that up across the
society, and we're talking about a Renaissance.
We have millions of children who are quickly classified as failing readers. If they were taught properly, they would be good readers. That's not a 30% improvement; that's a 300% improvement, from someone who is sub-literate to someone who can read a book for pleasure.
Who is destroying our schools from within? Are there ruthless social engineers trying to build a new world order? We have to ask them: where is it written that dumb societies do better?
In this complex, competitive world, the opposite would seem to
be the case. We want our society be to be as smart as possible.
That can happen only if each student is as smart as
There is a simple answer here. Americans need to demand a reversal. Away from dumb, toward smart. Every American must speak for the children.
It will be so easy to tell. In the second grade kids are reading little books. In the third grade they are doing arithmetic. In the fourth grade, they know where their state is on a map of the country. In the fifth grade, they know who George Washington is.