Education Failing Young Americans...Yet Again

It is a dismal picture.  In his 1993 book Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas, Thomas Sowell lamented that "when nearly one-third of American 17-year-olds do not know that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, when nearly half do not know who Josef Stalin was, and when about 30 percent could not locate Britain on a map of Europe, then it is clear that American educational deficiencies extend far beyond mathematics."  Yet a quarter of a century later, the 17-year-olds in my classrooms do not even know what the Emancipation Proclamation is, let alone who authored it! 

In 1998, Heather Mac Donald noted that report cards and objective tests were traded in for "overheated rhetoric about fighting institutional racism and [the redistribution of] power."

In his 2010 book Spoilt Rotten: The Toxic Cult of Sentimentality, Theodore Dalrymple aimed his pen at Great Britain, where "educational theory, subsequently provided with a patina of science by committed researchers, is full of absurdities that would be delightfully laughable had they not been taken seriously and used as the basis of educational policy to impoverish millions of lives."

Despising routine and rote ... [the] educational theorists came up with the idea that children would learn to read better if they discovered how to do so for themselves.  This is only slightly more sensible than sitting a child under an apple in the hope that it will arrive at the theory of gravity.

Thus, "romantic educational theory" is deliberately used to dummy down students, make school unbearable, and prepare these students to become useful idiots of a leftist society.  This was also documented by Dan Gagliasso in 2012.

Stumbling over words and not deciphering their meaning results in muddied comprehension.  Dalrymple writes that when asked to "put into their own words what the passage meant that they [the students] had just stumbled through," their response was "I don't know; I was only reading it."  As Robert Weissberg documents, "upping the number of diplomas [does not] equate to imparting measurable knowledge" when "lax standards" exist. 

The educational establishment banished cursive penmanship from schools.  That cursive writing helps improve neural connections, increases writing speed, and improves fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination is casually dismissed with the retort that no one will be writing anymore; they are all using computers.  Thus, American students cannot even read U.S. fundamental documents or, for that matter, their grandparents' letters.

In another collection of potent essays titled Black Rednecks and White Liberals (2005), Thomas Sowell has a chapter titled "Black Education."  It is a scathing indictment of the oft-used liberal response that economically disadvantaged minority students simply cannot succeed academically.  Sowell debunks this and describes how the Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C. consistently had results that equaled or exceeded national norms on standardized tests from the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s even though most of the students came from parents who were laborers, messengers, and janitors. 

Sowell asks, "[H]ow did an 85-year history of dramatic success abruptly turn into ... failure, virtually overnight, by the politics of education?"

Government insistence on school desegregation brought in "inadequately educated, inadequately motivated, and disruptive students," and a school once thought of as a jewel "became just another failing ghetto school."  Thus, 85 years of high achievement at Dunbar High School "vanished  into thin air."  Racial integration was the "battle cry" — results be damned.  Busing students to schools far from home for the sake of racial balance has had "no more empirical evidence to support it, unless endlessly repeating the word 'diversity' ... is considered to be evidence.  How is it, for example, that a racially homogeneous nation like Japan could have its students better educated that those in the U.S.?"  In fact, "the diversity bureaucracy has finally swallowed an entire college," as explained in 2018 by Heather Mac Donald.

Throwing more money into school districts has not changed the abysmal educational results, either.  In his July 2019 article, Max Eden discussed a study from Johns Hopkins University "describing the conditions of public schools in Providence, R.I.  The report contained a laundry list of problems ...  that plague America's public schools, such as the inability to fire bad teachers and discipline unruly students, and the need for massive reams of bureaucratic paperwork to get anything done at all.  Here's what wasn't a problem: lack of funding.  Providence spends $17,192 per pupil every year."  In fact, "America spends more on education than any other major developed nation."

Concerning Baltimore schools, in 2017, Armstrong Williams explained that "[i]ndividuals and firms that service the Baltimore school system are making off with literally billions of taxpayer dollars with nothing to show for it[.]  But in the tortured logic of Baltimore's political bureaucracy, failure is incentivized.  It is at best a massive fraud committed against students who are cheated out of a future, and taxpayers whose hard-earned money is being wasted."  According to Williams, much of the spending "goes toward the salaries and benefits of far greater numbers of bureaucrats than a school system of that size actually requires."  Political patronage rules the day.

In 2008, an Atlantic magazine article titled "In the Basement of the Ivory Tower" by  Professor X, an adjunct instructor, bemoaned the fact that nine out of the 15 students she teaches in a course fail.  Part of the reason is that "[m]any jobs that never before required college now call for at least some post-secondary course work.  Yet far too many are unfit for college; they lack the most basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; in some cases [they] are barely literate."  In fact, "they are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college."  Charles Murray documented this in 2007 when he stated that "half of all children are below average in intelligence, and teachers can do only so much for them."

Bruce Deitrick Price has written that "the first thing you notice is that educational officials relentlessly and openly undermine academics.  No direct instruction.  No memorization of facts.  No systematic mastery of any subject.  No concern for grammar, spelling, etc."  In 2014, Robert Pondiscio asserted that "reading comprehension ... is not a skill that is taught but a condition that is created by exposing children to the broadest possible knowledge of the world outside their personal experience."  But most of what used to pass for core knowledge has been abandoned.  In 2013, Barry Rubin highlighted what is now being taught in fifth grade.  It is alarming.

In the last 30 years, there has been a surfeit of the "latest" educational pedagogy.  Still popular is "whole language," which results in only fractured language and abysmal reading abilities. There is the flip classroom, where homework is to be accomplished in class and the daily lesson is to be studied by the student at home.  Similar is the inverted classroom, because it is claimed "that the traditional lecture format is incompatible with some learning styles."  Thus, "to help ensure student preparation for class, students [are] expected to complete worksheets that [are] periodically but randomly collected and graded."  Of course, this becomes problematic when the students haven't done the reading altogether, as documented in David Gooblar's article of 2014.

Then there is peer review, which asks students to evaluate other student writing.  But as one of my more astute students asked, how can a poor writer evaluate a good writer, and to what benefit?  And what of the fact that remedial courses are now de rigueur in institutions of higher learning, documented as far back as October 1977 by Art Buchwald?

In 2010, John Lemuel described how illegal alien students now feature prominently in many colleges.  Taxpayer money shores up the massive bureaucracy involved as schools knowingly break immigration law.

A computer cannot compensate for a teacher properly schooled in his discipline, who uses textbooks that are not politically skewed; avoids identity politics; and understands that students need to be trained, not coddled.  Yet most of the material that passes for "texts" comprises merely articles from left-wing outlets.  There is no actual debate on a topic; the point of view is pre-determined.

The humanities have been thoroughly contaminated, and even the field of mathematics has been infected as the social justice Left now maintains that "when paired with issues of fairness, mathematics becomes a social justice tool that empower students to mathematically recognize and address oppression they see in their own world."  In their world, "math education is biased in favor of a Western (read: white) narrative," and, this is an anathema to the Left.

What, then, does make a difference?  Sowell cites examples of schools whose principals deal with students from broken homes and are on welfare.  Yet inside these schools "they [speak] in grammatical English, in complete sentences, and to the point."  They are expected to adhere to vigorous thinking and precise language skills.  If they misbehave, there are penalties and shaming.  At Marva Collins Preparatory School in Chicago, for example, there is a "no-nonsense, back-to-basics curriculum" centered on phonics and memorization. Higher-level reasoning and literary analysis combined with weekly tests result in student success.

So how many more articles and books will be written before a sea change is made to stop the dummying down of education in this country? 

Eileen can be reached at

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