We’re Asking the Wrong Questions on Education

EducationThumbby Kurt NY
One of the few things on which modern-day conservatives and progressives can agree these days is the parlous state of American public education. After all, believing such feeds into the prime preoccupations of both ideologies – liberals like to believe government is perpetually underfunded and starved for resources and those of us on the right tend to look at anything to do with government as inefficient, misguided, and possibly dangerous. Yet how bad are things for American students?

One of the metrics most talked about when examining the shortcomings of American K-12 education is the results of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a program run out of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) wherein samples of students from virtually all developed countries take forms of the same standardized test to measure comparable academic achievement. And the results for the United States are pretty dismal – 31 out of 74 countries tested in Math, 23rd in Science, and 17th in Reading for the 2009 series of exams (Source). Frankly, for the amount we spend per pupil on education compared to the rest of the world, we stink, with our roughly $91,700 per head per year eclipsed only by Switzerland (Source).

We’ve all heard of these results, and all of us pretty much accept that we have a major problem in our K-12 education system. So there’s been a decades-long push to raise standards for our kids, with more rigorous testing, coupled with a move from the right for more school choice, the assumption being that American public schools are sewers of mediocrity, crippled by teacher union rules and politically correct curricula devoid of depth and rigor. And, if the example in New York State is any guide, come budget time, we all get bombarded with reminders of how our kids are falling behind the rest of the world and we have to step up our game should we wish to complete with foreign workforces far more educated than ours.

But how true is that? We’ve all heard how badly we stack up against the rest of the world, especially tiny Finland, which is the perennial leader for all European associated states, while spending a third less per pupil than do we. The media tells us we are failing, the left tells us we are failing because we just won’t spend enough, and we conservatives are all too willing to believe it all, since we’re skeptical of the whole process anyway. And there’s a lot of empirical evidence of incompetent teachers, counterproductive union rules, and politically correct pablum or even complete fabrication masquerading as education.

Suburban parents look at the figures and are horrified, thinking their schools are failing them. For which they demand more spending to correct those manifest failures. Government launches new initiatives, such as Common Core, with the intent of raising standards since our students are obviously getting by with too little effot.

But we’re looking at it the wrong way. The average American reading score in 2009 was 500, above the OECD average of 493, only beaten by 6 out of 33 OECD states. Our math  scores were less satisfactory, at 487 vs 496, and our science scores 502 vs 501 (Source: pp4-5). Our average scores are not world beaters but they’re not that far off our competitors.

But what is not readily apparent is far more significant. The average for White American students was 525 and that for Asian Americans was 541, in a test for which the top score, that of Shanghai, China, was 549 (Source: p29). It is only with African Americans and Hispanics that the US average dips. Compared to the rest of the world, American white and Asian students outperform almost everybody.

There is also a high correlation between poverty and performance, with students attending schools in which fewer than 10% receive free or reduced lunch, American kids averaged 551, the best scores in the world, with students approximating the average score of 500 once they reach the 25%-49.9% level (Source: Table 6 p30). School performance dips with poverty.

Which is important because the average poverty rate for the OECD was 11%, while comparable figures for the US that year were 17% (Source). So we underperform our global competitors because of poverty and ethncity. In areas in which poverty is low, we outperform everybody, and even were we to ignore poverty and focus strictly on ethinicity, Americans of Caucasion or Asian descent outperform almost everybody.

So when we obsess on test scores and focus on raising the bar on everyone, we are focusing on the wrong things. Raising standards for everyone and failing increasing numbers of students in order to goad school districts to improve, essentially throwing money at the problem, are misguided, because many of the students on whom we are focusing are already highly competitive globally. To boost performance, we need to concentrate on those schools with high concentrations of poverty or ethnic minorities, an entirely different proposition. • (4890 views)

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72 Responses to We’re Asking the Wrong Questions on Education

  1. Kung Fu Zu says:

    I believe a large percentage of the problems we have in our schools have to do with lack of sanctions for disciplinary problems. Students who arrive late, interrupt instruction and generally cause a ruckus, cannot be dealt with in any significant way. There is no corporal punishment and it takes a whole lot to get expelled. The lawyers have cowed school districts into taking the path of least resistance on this issue. Hell, I recently read the justice department is looking into the disciplining of inner city schools as the overall statistics on education show minorities are being disciplined at a higher rate than other students. More legal nonsense which is helping to kill our schools.

    Furthermore, too many parents use school as a cheap babysitter and don’t get involved in their children’s education. So there is no sanction at home.

    Until something is done about these problems you won’t see any improvement in the results.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Oh, good grief. This is the self-esteem movement come home to roost. Everyone’s feelings must be spared. God forbid little Jimmy or Susie be told that they got an answer wrong.

      This is surely what Dennis Prager means by some people being “nice” but not “good.”

  2. ladykrystyna says:

    Perhaps that is why the Left only talks about money – they don’t want to admit that blacks and Hispanics bring down our numbers.

    But obviously it is not the color of their skin that makes this so. It’s the culture. Education is not stressed enough more so if the poverty level is low for blacks and Hispanics. I’d like to see if poor whites and Asians do the same or similar to poor blacks and Hispanics.

    Of course it still doesn’t mean more money need be spent. It means a cultural shift. That is the hard part.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Yes, culture culture culture. And even *that* you’re not allowed to talk about. Because the Democrats treat blacks like spoiled children who can never be wrong, you’re not allowed to talk about the cultural ideas that lead to blacks’ low achievement scores.

      As Thomas Sowell says, the intellectuals (Democrats, in this case) don’t care about there constituents. They simply use them as mascots or puppets for various purposes, whether to flatter themselves in their own sense of do-gooderism, or just for votes.

      • faba calculo says:

        If you really want to talk about forbidden topics, try pondering the question of whether or not it’s possible that different ethnic/racial groups are simply more intelligent, on average, than others.

        Note: this is NOT to say that any ethnic/racial group is solely made up of idiots. Obviously that’s not the case.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I think it’s certainly possible for differences in I.Q. in various ethnic groups. But from everything I know, such differences are minuscule and unimportant, even if they could be accurately measured.

          Culture and cultural attitudes are the key, including the cultural attitude to understand how being “nice” isn’t necessarily doing anyone a favor. What people often need is the “unkindness” of the truth and a willingness to help people mend their ways.

        • Kung Fu Zu says:

          James Watson, the co-discoverer of the double helix was forced to resign as director of Cold Spring Harbor Labs, a well know research lab, as he wondered why Africa was the only geographical area which did not appear to have kept up with the rest of the world, or some such thought. I can’t recall the exact quote.

          Larry Summers was pushed out of Harvard because he mentioned a statistical truth, i.e. that women do not perform as well as men in math and science. Oh the humanity!

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Yeah, I’m constantly using that Larry Summers incident as an example of Liberal Fascism. And, of course, he caved to it.

      • ladykrystyna says:

        At least Bill Cosby did (and sometimes still does) talk about the black community’s dirty laundry. Of course, the blacks didn’t like it.

        I was thinking if we could just get Bill Cosby teamed up with some right wing blacks to basically ‘go on tour’ about education, we could make some real inroads.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Thanks for the article, Kurt. It’s a good one, although I’m not so sure things are as rosy as the numbers suggest. Last I heard, in Washington State 1/3 of the students graduated with sufficient skills, 1/3 were deficient, and 1/3 didn’t graduate at all.

    And I read Thomas Sowell’s “Inside America Education,” which I thought was very good. It doesn’t paint a rosy picture either.

    By the way, I’m glad you like the site and please do what you can to spread the word.

    • Kurt NY says:

      I don’t think the situation is rosy at all. Especially as the proportion of minorities in the US increase, as is our poverty rate (for which the skyrocketing percentage of children born to single women is an unwelcome harbinger), our education problems are going to increase.

      My point is not that there aren’t problems in our K-12 setup – there are. Nor should we cease to try to improve our system – Kung Fu Zu’s point about the need for improved discipline in schools is precisely on point. But, even with all the well documented and anecdotal things we know about dysfunctional schools, certain sets of kids are already outperforming the world – the scare stories we all know should not cause us to throw money around indiscriminately.

      American underperformance K-12 is a function of poverty and ethnicity and the culture (and cultural expectations) inherent in that. Raising standards sounds good (and is a welcome development anyway) but it will not resolve the issue.

      • ladykrystyna says:

        Sounds like the problems with education are the same with health care – all results and experiences are not the same, and the squeaky wheel gets the oil.

        That is not to say that problems should not be fixed, but that’s how they should be approached – compartmentalized so that we can address the actual problems without overturning the whole thing.

        The old “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” problem.

  4. Kung Fu Zu says:

    A few years back, I did some subbing in what is considered one of the best school districts in Texas. There are lots of Asians in the district and they consistently place one and two in the high school graduating classes.

    People would ask me how the different student groups compared. I would advise them that from worst to best were, Latinos, then blacks but whites were not that much different, then East Asian and by far the best I ran into as a group were the Indians. Understand that this cross-section came from one of the more affluent cities in the USA.

    That being said, I am convinced the reason the Latinos are worst and the Indians were best was largely based on culture. I will not go into the attitudes which I encountered from various groups, but they were fairly consistent from group to group. Slack discipline with a cultural bias against education is a difficult to overcome.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      That reminds me of another good book. Add to your list (if you haven’t read it already) Thomas Sowell’s “Race and Culture.”

      It’s probably not much that you haven’t heard before. But it is a very good compendium. And it is one of the few books I would recommend as part of the “self-educating” curriculum.

    • ladykrystyna says:

      That was my thought exactly. My kids’ school is definitely diverse. Total UN in terms of ethnicity and race. The kids that get the most awards and recognition for reading? Asians and Indians.

      Although one girl, who was one of my older daughter’s good friends, is black. Very bright. Very. Her parents came from Nigeria I think. Education was VERY important. So much so that they took her out of the school this year for something more challenging. And our school has been ranked pretty high for California.

      And my daughter’s best friend is mixed (black and white) and her parents are definitely into education.

      So I think my observation of culture, but also economic class has a lot to do with it as well. The area I live in is a mix of economic classes, but leans more middle to upper middle class.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        So I think my observation of culture, but also economic class has a lot to do with it as well. The area I live in is a mix of economic classes, but leans more middle to upper middle class.

        I saw a similar post by Kurt just now on NRO where he said the problem is poverty and ethnicity.

        I don’t think in terms of class, and for good reason: that is how Marxist parse society and it’s just a way that is in error. What we should understand about the middle class is that they don’t have some magical starting point simply by being “middle class.” Middle class is actually a set of values and expectations that tend to produce the kind of success that puts one into the middle class and maintains it. (And if you lose those values, you may find yourself in the gutter.)

        The same thing regarding ethnicity. Absent true racist boundaries to advancement (and that does not exist in America, except for the politically correct ones that do retard progress), one’s ethnicity is as important as one’s hair color. Rather, it’s the values that certain subcultures in society hold that is the real determinant of success.

        It’s noted, for instance, that blacks from outside the United States do quite well in our schools. That is because they and their family have different ideas and different expectations.

        None of this has to do with class or ethnicity.

        • Kung Fu Zu says:

          yes, I taught a girl whose family immigrated from West Africa and she was much more attentive and interested than many white kids. A lot depends on families.

          • CCWriter CCWriter says:

            I remember reading in a magazine about a girl from Africa who was fostered or adopted by an American family. After she had gotten settled in and started becoming accustomed to American life, one day she noticed what was obviously a school uniform (they look similar in any country, I guess) hanging in her closet. She was so excited! She hadn’t yet figured out if she would be allowed to go to school. Where she came from, it was a privilege and a ticket to a good future.

            • ladykrystyna says:

              Wonderful story. There is so much we take for granted in this country.

              Reminds me of a time, fairly recently, where I struck up a conversation with a young black man. Wish I could remember when this was. Ah well, old age.

              Anyway, his family was, I think, from Nigeria but he was born here. His parents took him back to Nigeria for a visit and he said that that trip made him appreciate that he lives here in America.

              That’s not to say that every other country on the planet is horrible and the people are horrible. I’ve been to Kenya and there was good and bad (too much bad though). The people were sweet and kind, the landscape was beautiful and wild. But, let’s face it, their gov’t sucked and kept people from improving themselves.

              Anyway, I always remember that. I remember, too, that my mom is a naturalized citizen and the first in her immediate family, and that they were also refugees after WW2. It makes me appreciate this country a lot.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Ditto. Wonderful story. Gratitude is absolutely essential to being an American. I still have to kick myself and realize the privilege it is to have all these books available and to be able to talk instantly to people such as yuze guys anywhere in the world.

              But — BAHHHHHH! — I want my Obamaphone and I want it now!!! BAHHHHH!

              • ladykrystyna says:

                “But — BAHHHHHH! — I want my Obamaphone and I want it now!!! BAHHHHH!”

                LOL. Yeah, there are times I just want to throw in the towel and start collecting welfare and food stamps. I’d qualify too.

                But I’ve already told my mother I’d rather dumpster dive and be homeless than do that.

        • ladykrystyna says:

          I get what you are saying about class. I certainly don’t want to break my rule and argue from the premise the Left sets out, but one can see a difference between middle class and upper middle class blacks and education as compared with their lower class counterparts. If class wasn’t a problem, then there wouldn’t be so many backs in the lower rung and so many in the lower rung doing poorly in school.

          Same with Hispanics.

          “Rather, it’s the values that certain subcultures in society hold that is the real determinant of success.”

          I agree. But I think it does vary depending on economics as well. Blacks that are doing better understand what it takes to get there – education, among other things.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            LadyK, everywhere that you are using the word “class” you could simply substitute “cultural norms or practices.”

            Kurt made a good point that it’s easy enough for humans to get caught in a “I’m not worth nothing” mentality if one is poor. Even so, I suspect we’re just making excuses for people. Lincoln was dirt poor. And being poor and having the desire to better yourself are not at all mutually incompatible.

            And there are many middle class yutes who go to school (bad schools) and are still impoverished, or at least intellectually and morally so. And this will catch up with them too.

            Forget class and ethnicity. Those are just excuses. Yes, it takes courage perhaps for a person to do the work to better himself, but let’s not forget that America was built on this kind of courage. There is no reason to think that it takes any kind of special or Herculean effort to achieve it.

            We should probably stop treating people as victims because they are amongst “the poor” or are part of a certain ethnicity. We need to treat them like Americans and pass onto them the idea of the American Dream.

            • ladykrystyna says:

              All good points, Brad. Thanks.

            • CCWriter CCWriter says:

              I’m thinking of Herman Cain’s parents and Ben Carson’s mother. Cain’s parents were poor but hard working, Carson’s mother was single. They had a vision for their kids to succeed and they made sure it happened. Would that either one of them was in the White House now! Not only do they both know how to run organizations and solve problems, but such role models!

              • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

                And think it was Glenn Beck who had Carson on a few days ago and was playfully twisting his arm to run for president. Carson sounds like an unusually sober and intelligent man. Even understated. He so runs against the grain of the kind of superficial, obnoxious, thoughtless, and even vulgar man this is so often the typical product of our culture. Somebody bottle whatever it is he is drinking.

              • ladykrystyna says:

                I’d just keep an eye on Dr. Carson – he is not fond of guns. Doctors can be like that sometimes, especially if they’ve seen a lot of gunshot victims.

                But other than that, I do like him. 😀

            • Kurt NY says:

              “We should probably stop treating people as victims because they are amongst “the poor” or are part of a certain ethnicity. We need to treat them like Americans and pass onto them the idea of the American Dream.”

              Well stated, Brad. Thing is, no one escapes poverty or overcomes disability unless he ceases to whine about how hard it is for him but actually does something about it. Yes, folks born into poverty have a tougher time of it, but feeling sorry for them and treating them like victims doesn’t provide a solution – just makes the person making the judgment feel better about their own social conscience.

              • Kung Fu Zu says:

                Poverty and disability are not the same thing, although it is true that poverty is much higher amount the disabled and families of the disabled than amount the general public.

                Of course, it depends on how one defines disability. In today’s world, we have loosened the definition to the point that more people are going on to SSI than welfare.

    • Kurt NY says:

      I’ve noticed the same thing. Next school concert, check out the ethnicities of the kids in the orchestra. See who is in the Honor Society and in the non-athletic clubs. Chances are Asians will be over-represented, as are certain other ethnicities, while others will be so non-existent as to be invisible. Certain cultures inculcate expectations in their young that lead to better life results. And there is absolutely no substitute for effective parenting.

      Where parenting does not instill effective discipline or willingness to submit to the requirements of learning, no amount of money or effective educators can overcome that lack. Lack of education can lead to poverty, the culture of which further discourages the cultural and personal qualities necessary to obtain the education necessary to escape poverty, which leads to more poverty, which…

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Where parenting does not instill effective discipline or willingness to submit to the requirements of learning, no amount of money or effective educators can overcome that lack. Lack of education can lead to poverty, the culture of which further discourages the cultural and personal qualities necessary to obtain the education necessary to escape poverty, which leads to more poverty, which…

        Absolutely well said. And that was missing from Jeb Bush’s article. We don’t need to totally transform education (other than gutting the layers of bureaucracy and Leftist/liberal practices). We need people to transform themselves from dependent attitudes to self-actualizers, if you will.

        And it doesn’t help that what many people hear from the Democrat Party and the media is how they just don’t have a chance in this life. And yet stupid liberals keep voting for them and we keep getting RINOs such as Jeb Bush offering more and more statist solutions as well — under nice-sounding words, of course.

        • ladykrystyna says:

          I saw you over at Jeb Bush’s article and chimed in right behind you. 😀

          “And that was missing from Jeb Bush’s article. We don’t need to totally transform education (other than gutting the layers of bureaucracy and Leftist/liberal practices). We need people to transform themselves from dependent attitudes to self-actualizers, if you will.”

          Well said. And obviously some troll claimed that you meant they shouldn’t be taught technology or computer skills.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            They *shouldn’t* probably be taught computer skills. An elective class in high school? Sure. But it’s not kids who need classes in computer skills. If I have a problem with something, I ask the kids.

            • ladykrystyna says:

              LOL.

            • CCWriter CCWriter says:

              I’m sure glad I took typing in high school.

              • ladykrystyna says:

                Me, too!

                In fact, we had a science teacher in high school. She had a Ph.D. Dr. McConnell was her name. She told us – we who were in the “honors classes” – that we should not look down on our typing classes or even our writing classes. She told us that she knew many a smart scientist who couldn’t type their own reports, articles, etc., or even write very well. She told us that we would be very grateful for it.

                And boy am I ever!

              • cdjaco says:

                Yep, same here. It was probably one of the most useful things I learned in public education.

                As for computer skills — that’s not so important. I liked computers, so I learned what I needed to in my spare time. A lack of school-based computer education didn’t keep me from becoming a software developer.

              • ladykrystyna says:

                cdjaco – good point.

  5. Monsieur Voltaire says:

    I have way too many thoughts on the subject to express them in a short post–having experienced school at different levels in three European countries and in the US, having been on either side of the lectern and being in academia now. So, a few random ideas.

    Let me start by saying that what you all say makes perfect sense–beautifully summarized by Kung Fu, “slack discipline with a cultural bias against education is a difficult to overcome.” Plus, the infantilization of young men and women all the way into the college age (which spawned the disease of lower expectations and self-esteemism), Leftist indoctrination often replacing real instruction, etc. These are cultural problems, that far transcend schools: cure them in society, and they will be cured in school too.

    But there is another angle, though, that bothers me about how the issue of education is framed in the US. Too often, education is simply talked about as a sort of glorified job training curriculum, rather than a process whereby the wisdom of Western culture is poured into the eager minds of the young, together with the seeds for whatever specialization they want to take towards future employment. Simply put, how cultured do we expect our high-school graduates to be? In my experience the answer is “not very much,” compared with the over-emphasis on more technical skills. This is why we keep talking about our graduates “competing on the job market,” while the inward aspect of education is all but neglected in our public discourse.

    To me, the difference between a cultured individual who has acquired the sensibility of Western tradition and wisdom since his infancy, and a merely well-educated one is the same as that between a well-ploughed field and a potted plant. The first is ever-ready to make whichever seeds sprout and freely multiply; the second is already a final product, but the reach of its roots is limited. It’s the difference between the wisdom of The Fool becoming part of who you are, and saying you’ve done King Lear in high-school and remembering the plot. It’s not by coincidence that we use the same root word for “culture” and “cultivating.”

    Also, one of the (to me good, but definitely controversial) aspects of grade-level public education in Europe is that in some countries mandatory education stops at the 8th grade. After that, only the ones who truly want to study go on, so there is an implicit “assumption of risk” (as lawyers would say) and responsibilities, and the problem of slacking and lack of discipline is weeded out through rather high and sternly-enforced standards. If you can’t cut it, you’re out–simple as that. And we have this idea of a “cultural class” that transcends how much money you come from; drop out of it by your own fault, and you truly feel like a real loser.

    As for money. The public high-school I attended had Alcatraz-style pressed-wood desks (with a hole for the inkwell to remind us of their age!), a decrepit 18th-century building with no gym, and we were never fewer than 30 in class. Still, I never recall thinking (or any of my classmates or parents saying) that more money was needed. But also, in fairness, my experience with European schools was at a time when countries were still for the most part mono-cultural, no kid I ever knew came from a broken home, and parents were in general on the side of the teachers as a united front against our potential preference for soccer over books. So, again, we are talking about the overall culture of a country (which is alas very much changed for the worse even there since I’ve left).

    So, money is not the object here. It is only an easy way for politicians to measure their amount of “care.” If I had a magic wand, I would marry European grade schools and American universities (which are hands-down the best in the world, and one of the reasons why I came to the US in the first place).

    • CCWriter CCWriter says:

      I really must get around to writing that book review of Kevin Williamson’s “The End Is Near.” He has a whole chapter on education.

      One of his main points is that our education system is designed to deliver not what the consumers (parents, children) actually want but what the government and the teachers’ unions and the academic elite want. It is not forced to be creative and responsive and competitive. Perhaps it could deliver cultural knowledge, perhaps it could deliver marketable job skills, perhaps it could do both. It is not doing either satisfactorily. And it will not until the incentives and controls are changed. On the plus side, in line with Kevin’s general thesis, some changes are inevitable and imminent.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I agree with your points, MV, about inculcating good character and wisdom by passing on the best of Western Civilization.

      But another point needs to be expressed: The education system, by and large, is run by ninnies. It really isn’t a secret what subjects need to be taught and how to teach them. This requires only the will to do so, and it doesn’t take much money, as you suggested.

      The ninnies haven’t an ounce of tough-love in them. Much of education is watered-down because there is more emphasis on self-esteem stroking than on learning.

      And discipline is a shambles, almost certainly due in large part that women now predominate in the education system. There cannot be learning without common-sense discipline, and that tends to be a man’s area of expertise. And, no, suspending kids who carve a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun isn’t a substitute for that, nor are all the various idiotic “no tolerance” policies.

      One can’t educate the kids unless one has a proper environment in which to do so. Fear induced by political correctness has caused teachers and administrators to treat “people of color” children differently and thus for thuggery and other disciplinary problems to go unpunished. The one thing smart a Bush said was that doing so was “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” From my contacts in the local school district, there is a lot of this going on.

      Thomas Sowell makes many other basic points in “Inside America Education,” including the point that the education and accreditation process of teachers themselves is abysmal. That is, the teachers we have now are not particularly bright. The career path of education has become like choosing study hall or shop (apologies to those who really are budding carpenters) as a course in high school. It’s what you choose when you really don’t want to work hard.

      • Kung Fu Zu says:

        One of the more encouraging things about this group is that after reading people’s posts, I see that I am not alone in my thoughts.

        For years, I have been telling my wife that one of the major problems in modern schools is the fact that women are running them. I mentioned that to her again, only this morning, when I read a story about some library which had a reading competition every summer and the same boy, now 9 years old, had won it for the last 5 years. The librarian suggested he stop competing as he was “hogging” the prize and discouraging the other children to to part. Boo hoo. She had even suggested that maybe they should draw a name out of a hat to determine the winner.

        This type of crap has become endemic in society. It is part of what I mean when I say we have stopped pursuing excellence at all levels, because we don’t have to as everyone is “special”.

        This type of attitude hurts the kids. They come out of school thinking the know something and with an inflated opinion of their self-worth. They hit the job market and nobody gives a damn about them being special. Too many are simply not prepared.

        I can remember my elementary school principle, Dr. Raines. He walked the halls like a god. He wore a suit everyday and although he would smile at and occasionally talk to children he didn’t kid around with them. He was the authority in the school and you didn’t want to cross him, not because you were afraid he might paddle you, but you had respect for him.

        Recently, I have seen female high school principles who dress like the students they have responsibility for. This is not only disgusting, it is insidious. Teachers and principals are too often becoming something like pals. Respect and discipline are undermined. I could go on, but won’t bore you.

        This problem extends to other areas. For example, I am convinced one of the reasons business interests are pushing for amnesty is that when given a choice between poorly educated people who know they are poorly educated, but understand they have to work for a living (illegals) and poorly educated people who think they know everything and believe they are special thus make poor employees (Americans) business interest prefer the former to the latter.

        What needs to be done is business interests need to get deeply involved in improving education in this country.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          This type of crap has become endemic in society. It is part of what I mean when I say we have stopped pursuing excellence at all levels, because we don’t have to as everyone is “special”.

          This type of attitude hurts the kids. They come out of school thinking the know something and with an inflated opinion of their self-worth. They hit the job market and nobody gives a damn about them being special. Too many are simply not prepared.

          Tis the rot of the socialist mindset. This is what you get when your highest value is “equality.” It can’t help but lead to demonizing success.

          Now, there is perhaps a place (Kindergarten) where you do sorta stress everyone being “special.” But that notion has to progress from what is age-appropriate for Kindergarten to what is appropriate for kids as they get older.

          And they should all be told that, like Michael Jordan, they probably have some innate and quite “special” talent. But unless you work at developing it, simply thinking of yourself as “special” is worthless.

          And we must acknowledge that some people are going to have more talent (or showier) talent than us. And we have to accept that. This is one of the requirements of living in freedom. It does come with some burdens and responsibilities.

          But, god almighty, who is teaching that anymore? Instead you get all this touchy-feely hogwash.

          And, yes, it’s about time that adults stopped trying to be everyone’s pal. Good god, how friggin’ psychologically fragile and silly have we become? Children need authority figures, not pals. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lot of room to be cordial, even chummy. But at the end of the day, teachers and principals need to know that kids need them to be authority figures, not their playmates.

          Again, none of this was addressed by Jeb Bush. And I have little doubt that to some extent, however minor, the realization by business that Mexicans come with less “self esteem” baggage than your typical American yute is a factor in terms of their stance on illegal immigration. It’s not just about paying people less.

          I know many people in business because they are my customers. And a common theme is that these precious little snowflakes right out of high school or college think it is beneath them to actually have to show up on time, work for minimum wage, and do all the normal duties of a job.

          As I tell my brother, we will never be out of work, no matter how bad things get. There just isn’t going to be much competition to speak of. There will always be at least some room in this world for people who aren’t complete dumb-asses.

          • ladykrystyna says:

            “And, yes, it’s about time that adults stopped trying to be everyone’s pal. Good god, how friggin’ psychologically fragile and silly have we become? Children need authority figures, not pals. That doesn’t mean there isn’t lot of room to be cordial, even chummy. But at the end of the day, teachers and principals need to know that kids need them to be authority figures, not their playmates.”

            It’s funny that you say that. I’ve been thinking that this has been a parenting problem as well.

            There are things that kids do nowadays that would have NEVER crossed my mind to do when I was a kid or a teen. Sure, as a teenager, I flipped my mom off behind closed doors when I was mad at her. But to her face? Hell, no! I’d still be grounded (if I was lucky).

            And the way my mom talks about her parents as well.

            Now I don’t think parents should be authoritarian, but rather authoritative.

            And my parents were. I think from the get go, so that I even realized it as as toddler, I knew who was boss. There was no question.

            But nowadays, parents are taught to be so namby pamby that even toddlers can run roughshod over their parents and it’s hard to break them from the habit once you realize you’ve got a monster on your hands.

            I’m not even advocating spanking per se (I know that can be a personal issue for many people), but at least when I was a kid, that was still on the table as a possibility and it was part of what kept you in line, along with the notion that you had RESPECT for your elders.

            Now the kids know that all they have to do is lie to Department of Child Services and they are protected. They know that adults – whether parents or teachers – have their hands tied. And so they push the envelope.

            • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

              Verg good points, LadyK. I’ve seen many parents who just refuse to act the role of parent. Many have been taught the namby-pamby doctrine that little Johnny must always be free to express himself and, especially, that the mere assertion of authority is that nastiest of all things, “authoritarianism.” I like your distinction in this regard, by the way, but it seems that many libtard parents are unable to do so.

        • ladykrystyna says:

          “One of the more encouraging things about this group is that after reading people’s posts, I see that I am not alone in my thoughts.”

          It is nice, isn’t it?

          “For years, I have been telling my wife that one of the major problems in modern schools is the fact that women are running them.”

          I would be more specific – LEFTIST women are running them. Perhaps we need more conservative/libertarian female teachers and more old school nuns. 😀 The nuns never did have a problem with disciplining. 😀

          “They come out of school thinking the know something and with an inflated opinion of their self-worth. They hit the job market and nobody gives a damn about them being special. Too many are simply not prepared.”

          I always bring that up because I read an article in TIME magazine (of all things) about this very thing and it was over 10 years ago at least. I wish I had kept the damn magazine. I’ve tried to find it online and couldn’t.

          Anyway, it was about how kids are incapable of working on their own, even to the point where colleges were telling parents at orientation to “lay off” and let their kids learn to navigate the administrative aspect of college. Apparently, kids were having their parents call the administration about class problems, etc. I would have never done that and I went to college in the early 1990s. And then employers getting phone calls from parents because Johnny got a bad employment review.

          “For example, I am convinced one of the reasons business interests are pushing for amnesty is that when given a choice between poorly educated people who know they are poorly educated, but understand they have to work for a living (illegals) and poorly educated people who think they know everything and believe they are special thus make poor employees (Americans) business interest prefer the former to the latter.”

          You may have a point there.

          “What needs to be done is business interests need to get deeply involved in improving education in this country.”

          I’ve said the same thing. And I hope this doesn’t sound “corporatist” in some way, but I always thought that at least at the high school level, businesses should have say about skills they will be looking for in employees. That way we can cut down on the “you have no experience” bull that goes on when you are first getting into the workforce.

          And may even cut down on the idea that a Bachelor’s Degree means you’re “trainable”. Such degrees are a dime a dozen and another reason why it’s hard to find a job – a glut. Too much supply.

      • ladykrystyna says:

        Brad, well said. I agree about “becoming a teacher”. People do it because they know that they’ll only work 9 months out of the year and have a great pension and health care.

        It’s what I’ve tried to explain to my mother (who wanted me to be a teachers so that when I had kids I could be with them in the summer and have great benefits) – teaching is a profession. I’m not going to do it because of “summers off” and “great benefits”. Just like I never took classes in college so that I’d have a 4 day weekend. I took classes that were part of my major AND that interested me.

        And it’s what I said about law school to many of my college friends – don’t pick it because you don’t know what else to do. It’s a profession. It will be incredibly hard and boring if you don’t have any interest in it at all.

    • ladykrystyna says:

      “Also, one of the (to me good, but definitely controversial) aspects of grade-level public education in Europe is that in some countries mandatory education stops at the 8th grade.”

      Monsieur, I completely agree. My mother was raised in England after WW2. She always talks about how at 11 and then again at 13, you were given a test to see if you were “college material”. If not, you still got some “grammar school” (which was just a form of high school), but you were out by 16 and either working or going to vocational school. My mother wound up going to vocational school (secretarial) while her brother went on to university.

      I think our country has placed too much emphasis on “going to college” and has flooded the market with far too many Bachelor’s degrees. I always say that a Bachelor’s Degrees are now what High School degrees used to be. They are, for the most part, useless now. So people go to graduate school, including flooding law schools and graduating far too many people in the legal field making it even harder to find a job. Or just going for any “graduate degree” that is still useless.

      I think figuring out who’s “college material” and who isn’t and leaving college for when it’s necessary to a career path would make way more sense. More young people would be taking up vocational trades (which can still involve making good middle class money) or working, instead of disrupting classes and wasting time. Less young people in debt up to their eyeballs after having majored in underwater basketweaving or grievance studies.

      • Kurt NY says:

        Exactly so. Here in New York, the state’s official emphasis is college readiness for all students. Which sounds good but ignores the fact that human capability is on a bell curve, and not everyone has the ability or inclination for college-grade occupations. Why is it somehow less for someone with the aptitude and desire to be, say, a carpenter or plumber to be precisely that?

        I understand Germany also has an exam called Das Arbitur, given in middle school wherein the student’s capabilities are assessed, pushing some into college track and others into apprenticeships, etc. Seems a pretty cost-effective and efficient thing to me. But on the other hand, it seems somewhat draconian to chart a kid’s course in life in his teens. Probably happens anyway but none of us is standing there saying to the child “No you can’t.” Which is probably the main conundrum of education.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          But on the other hand, it seems somewhat draconian to chart a kid’s course in life in his teens.

          And now they’re working the scale from the other end with this “early childhood education” nonsense. The “Republican” candidate for governor in Washington State (who lost) was a proponent of this. I mean, at some point, is the government going to have “early home education” where they come in and change the diapers for you?

        • Kung Fu Zu says:

          The Abitur is the final exam given at the end of secondary school, i.e. an exam which one must pass to graduate the German equivalent of high school. After Germans pass their Abitur, they should be at the level of a sophomore in college.

          In Germany, Austria and Switzerland , the smaller percentage of children end up going to our equivalent of high school.

          It is the same in much of Asia. In Singapore, by the time a child is about 10 or 12 it is already determined what educational path he will take.

          While this is very effective in separating the good student from the poor student, it is harsh in that a child’s chances are narrowed drastically once the child is not accepted in the up educational path.

          This is why I think the community college system in this country is so good. We all know, many Americans do not mature until they are older and as a result they waste their time in school. The community college system gives people another opportunity to get on a better path and succeed. It can be used almost as a trade school for some and a jump off for a better university for others.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            This is why I think the community college system in this country is so good. We all know, many Americans do not mature until they are older and as a result they waste their time in school.

            Ditto, although it depends upon the quality of the community college. Another factor is that technology is changing so fast, it is becoming increasingly necessary to have to re-educate oneself in one’s work career.

            The farcical aspect to me is that public education has proven so inadequate at educating kids that business now picks up some of that slack — which is expensive — which I believe is another thing that will spur business to automate anything and everything that they can until we humans are divided into two classes: the button-pushers and those who repair the buttons.

            It’s said that the human brain shrank 10% at around the time that mankind domesticated the dog. We’re not sure if this is correlation or causation, but it’s quite possible that dogs were extremely useful in doing some of the dangerous work for us, and thus they dumbed us down. I expect the socialist button-pushing state to do the same over time. We see that happening right now.

            • Kung Fu Zu says:

              Read “Brave New World”. The world is increasingly becoming a combination of Huxley’s and Orwell’s nightmares.

          • Kurt NY says:

            You know, KFZ, I think you’re right about the community college angle. And it’s also a more cost effective way of weeding out who is really college material and who isn’t. As I said, I think there is a lot to be said for pushing those kids with the aptitude and desire into the more physical trades but I worry about limiting their potential. Moving the weeding out to community college should address both issues.

    • Kung Fu Zu says:

      About thirty years ago, I recall a major discussion going on in both academia and the business world regarding the value of a “liberal arts” education. This was well before computers had become a part of everyday life. The internet was not even discussed. At the time, a survey showed that a large number of CEO’s of Fortune 500 companies had B.A.’s with majors in the humanities. The consensus seemed to be that these CEO’s had a broad vision of the world which was necessary for top jobs.

      In the ensuing years, science has made huge advances and technology has enabled us to use intellectual skills on an applied level which were not possible before. While smart mathematicians were always well regarded, the demand for their skills was not in excess of the number of good mathematicians. With the increasing sophistication in computing and communications technology, this is no longer the case. Very esoteric skills have become valuable to a large number of consumers.

      While much of this is good, I believe there are several negatives connected with this.
      1. Young people see that specialized skills are required and they have less interest in general knowledge and life lessons.
      2. The trend in point 1 is being used by the education left to cut out parts of the curriculum which have been standard for decades.
      3. The lack of context leaves young people especially susceptible to the left’s siren song of “pure reason”, that is if something is reasonable in a term paper then that is the way it should be. History and actual experience do not count for much. Understanding that everything cannot be broken down to an equation seems to be difficult for many to accept.

      I will try to develop this later, or better yet someone else can run with it.

  6. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Well, the good news is that Jeb Bush wants to “completely transform education.” Geezuz. If buzzwords could fix things, everything would be fixed by now. I’m afraid that my words were a little blunt in my reply to that article by Jeb Bush, but accurate nonetheless:

    Completely transform education? Jeb, are you an idiot? That’s precisely what Obama is trying to do with the entire country. Teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic doesn’t require exalted transformational plans. It requires simply doing it and ignoring Progressive fools such as yourself who always have some “transformational” plan. Teaching the basics requires simple and known techniques.

    This is the mindset we face. Progressive nitwits such as Jeb Bush who instead of rolling up their sleeves and doing the hard work of getting back to the basics offer us all kinds of buzzwords.

  7. the krell says:

    Kurt I read your article with great interest as I too am from NY and my wife is a NYC Dept of Ed teacher. She is a special ed teacher but is no less impacted by the state’s teach to the tests mentality. For years I have been arguing with her regarding how wrong it is for the government to control education, and she is finally starting to come around.

    That said, part of the myriad of problems destroying education in this country is who is running it. If you look at the last three chancellors/commissioners of the NYC Dept of Ed, not one was a professional educator. Joel Klein was a Clinton anti-trust attorney; Cathie Black ran newspapers and magazines; Dennis Walcott was a school counselor but his resume reads more like a professional bureaucrat, not a professional educator. While I realize this is a small sample (n=1 is hardly statistically relevant) I would hazard a guess that this is more prevalent than not. I base this assumption on the simple fact that the US education system, because of its results, was once the envy of the world. So, what changed? My hypothesis is the background of the people in charge at the various levels of the public education systems around the country.

    Staying focused on NYC the chancellor prior to Klein was Harold Levy, who had a lifetime in the education business but as an attorney not an educator. Prior to Levy was Rudy Crew who was a professional educator but he butted heads with Giuliani. Same with his predecessor Ramon Cortines who also had a lifetime in public education but it also seemed more like a bureaucrat and less like an educator.

    The point of all this is that when non-educators run an education system, what is the first thing to be sacrificed; education. They know numbers and how to fight for money budgets, but they don’t understand, as well and as deeply as should be required, what humans need 1) in order to learn, and 2) what should be taught to prepare the student for life in a complicated, unforgiving world.

    For me this mirrors a problem we are seeing in many aspects of US corporate life. In the early days of the American Industrial Revolution, the heads of companies and corporations were the engineers and scientists that created the product or process. Rather than that being the norm, now corporations are increasingly run by lawyers, accountants, and MBAs. For example, H-P provides a microcosm of this trend.

    From its founding until 1999 four men ran H-P; until 1977 it was ran by Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett ran the company; from 1978 – 1992 John Young a long time employee and engineer took over; then until 1999 Lew Platt another long time employee and engineer was in charge. Then with the exception of Richard Hackborn, who served as Chairman for 9 months in 2000, starting with Carly Fiorina in 1999 not one of the next 9 CEO/Presidents had an engineering or science background. All were MBAs, CFOs, and other business types. Now you can argue that H-P is the world’s number 1 seller of PCs, but it has not been without significant problems in the last decade or so.

    My point is that one of the results of this over regulated nation we live in is that those in charge of the various important entities are people who can negotiate the labyrinth of the Federal Register and politicians on Capitol Hill. No one in charge knows how to solve real problems anymore. Just create man-caused disasters.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Good points.

    • Kung Fu Zu says:

      Entrenched bureaucracies tend to be run by bureaucracies and churn out bureaucrats. I don’t know if this can be avoided.

      America has been a good place for people to create new businesses which I believe is one of the reasons the place has been so great.

    • Kurt NY says:

      Good points, Krell. Especially in the larger school systems, how many of those telling teachers how to deliver instruction and in what have had recent (or any) experience of a real classroom (and, no, structured, pre-planned inspections don’t count)? Which leads to real absurdities.

      Remember the New Math? Read an article dealing with its abandonment and one of its backers was sorrowfully complaining about how great it was but no one seemed to get it. Gee. That’s the point. In education, it is not the brilliance of the idea that matters but how effective it is in the real world imparting instruction to real kids. The job is to educate the mindless brats you despise, not to tickle your own intellect.

      Professionals of all kinds get into these group-think brilliancies that appeal to them on so many levels but do not correlate with the actual goals that profession is supposed to address, and so the system malfunctions. Which is why, no matter what profession, there has to be some input from laypeople who can tell them the emperor has no clothes.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Read an article dealing with its abandonment and one of its backers was sorrowfully complaining about how great it was but no one seemed to get it. Gee. That’s the point. In education, it is not the brilliance of the idea that matters but how effective it is in the real world imparting instruction to real kids. The job is to educate the mindless brats you despise, not to tickle your own intellect.

        I ran into some kind of “new math” in the 8th grade. I’ve always been adequate at math….more perspiration than inspiration. It doesn’t always come easy. But it did come. And I would usually get A’s. But I knew some kids who got A’s without breaking a sweat. Me, I had to study every night.

        Anyway, in the 8th grade some egghead (and I don’t know who, and I don’t know if this was part of “new math” proper) got it into his or her head to do sort of a collective math project. Instead of a classroom education of an instructor with a captive audience of students, it was all done in a very large study-hall environment. It was comprised of several classes worth of kids all in one mass group — probably at least 150 or more. Our school happened to have a fairly gym-like large open space. And so it looked more like we all were seated at our long cafeteria-like tables waiting for lunch rather than doing math.

        The premise was that everyone would work at their own pace. There was a certain amount of steps you had to do. Well, kids being kids, me and a couple of my egghead friends zipped through the entire year’s worth of requirements in about a couple months, if that. The rest of the we were free to do what we wanted. Sometimes we tutored others but sometimes we played “paper football,” if you know what that is.

        That tells you at least two things: One, the various “steps” or requirements weren’t all that challenging. We might have been good students, but there’s no way we could have truly been doing math, and have most of it be self-directed, and zoom right through it. It had to have been pretty watered-down. And, two, instead of making productive use of our time, this system led to wasting it.

        I’ve often thought about what a stupid waste of time that was. But I never really understand why this approach was taken. After reading Sowell’s “Inside American Education” I can understand that one of the reasons was just boredom with having to teach math. Let’s face it, it can be a somewhat grueling task. But that’s just the nature of it. You can drive to breath a little life into things, but ultimately you just have to grit your teeth and bear it.

        But apparently the call of novelty is too great. But I think there was something else going on. It certainly has become fashionable to view the traditional pedagogy process as old-fashioned, perhaps even a impediment to little Johnny’s growth and self esteem. And, after all, who is a teacher to tell anyone what to think?

        I can’t help supposing that the draw of the “new math” cafeteria-style situation was collectivism itself. There were still teachers, but they acted more “at large.” They were not central.

        I’m pretty sure they scrapped that cafeteria-style math soon after. But there will always be that temptation by the eggheads for novelty instead of just hunkering down and doing the hard work. And I think there is that vibe in some places that the idea of actually being an authority figure, as opposed to a Kumbaya-ish pal, is bad.

        • Kurt NY says:

          Your experience reminds me of a proposal put forth with great indignity by a local businessman to my board of ed. The fiscal problem with education is teacher’s salaries (a past superintendent characterized school districts as employment agencies), and to impart instruction requires paying a capable warm body to do so.

          Well, the guy cited an article he said he found on a conservative site (probably the same one that proposed the idea behind Obamacare), wherein you could save money by doing exactly what you experienced. Around 100-150 kids would be in an auditorium doing assigned school work and “facilitators” would circulate throughout keeping the kids on task and providing support to the self-directed learning students.

          Anybody who’s dealt recently with crowds of teenagers in groups (much less groups that large) knows that just ain’t gonna work no matter how much money it saves. God knows, a lot of money gets wasted in education but some things you can’t skimp on.

        • the krell says:

          “It certainly has become fashionable to view the traditional pedagogy process as old-fashioned, perhaps even a impediment to little Johnny’s growth and self esteem.”

          I know this point has been dealt with in previous posts, but for me this is the crux of the problem. While schools are an important component in the development of a child’s socialization skills, thanks to the continued encroachment of the progressive mentality, socialization and the child’s emotional well being began to slowly subplant a school’s primary function, to educate. As a parent I have always believed that my kids self-esteem and emotional well being was mine and my wife’s responsibility. Nothing robs self-esteem more than receiving accolades for non-accomplishments. How does that false sense of self-esteem help the adult that child becomes when he loses job after job because he has no idea how to truly think and solve a problem. Meaning he has no idea why he can’t maintain a job.

          Which kinda brings me to what KFZ said earlier about a traditional liberal arts education. I am a late bloomer in this area. At 57 I returned to college to finally get my BA (I had an AS in pre-engineering but my second son derailed my plans to get my EE). Anyway with any luck this May I will have a BA in political science (a month shy of 61). The point of this is that I have come to fully appreciate the importance of a liberal arts education. By studying history and the great thinkers of the past, on all sides of the spectrum, you learn how to approach a problem, you learn how to think. Such an education does more for the long term self-esteem of a person than any of the BS that goes on in primary education today.

          Ahhhh, felt good to get that out.

          • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

            Great thoughts, Krell. You are a person of depth. I hope your studies continue to go well. They certainly do seem to be paying off. I hope you will hang around here often.

          • Kung Fu Zu says:

            One of the, few, advantages of age is experience through which wisdom may arise. I am sure you appreciate your BA much more now than had you earned it as a yute. Congratulations.

      • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

        Oh, and something that Thomas Sowell would surely say about the intellectualoids who propose these “new math” things is that they rarely pay a price for being wrong. Imagine how quickly any education system would change for the better if there was real accountability instead of use “accountability” as just another buzzword?

        • Kurt NY says:

          Lots of consultants selling an awful lot of snakeoil in education. That being said, your point on accountability is entirely correct. Which is why, although the particular product may or may not work, much of PARCC as discussed in my other article you so kindly published may be key if done right. We need a solid metric with which to compare everyone’s performance without the smokescreen of horse s___ obscuring that now.

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