Improve Education: Fire The Experts

The best thing we can do for American education is to abolish university education departments, abolish the U.S. Department of Education and fire education "experts." You say, "Williams, have you gone mad?" Let's look at it.

Over the last 30 years, achievement test scores have been in free fall as demonstrated both by SAT scores and the government's National Assessment of Educational Progress that measures the achievement of 17-year-olds. On a recent test, one-third of high school seniors couldn't identify Abraham Lincoln nor the countries we fought during WWII. Only 6 percent could solve the following math problem: "Christine borrows $850 for one year and pays a simple interest rate of 12 percent. What will be the total amount of money she repays?" A major insurance company reports that 44 percent of its applicants couldn't read at the ninth grade level. Eighty percent of a major manufacturer's applicants flunked its fifth-grade math and seventh grade English competency tests. Few Americans need more proof that our education system is in shambles but why it's in shambles is important for the cure.

Writing in American Enterprise (May/June 1997), in an article, "The 60s Rules in Public Schools," Karl Zinmeister says that the widely used book, Secondary Math: An Integrated Approach, features color photos and essays on the Dogon tribe of Africa, pictures of Maya Angelou, and Bill Clinton and asks questions such as, "What role should zoos play in today's society?" In a kindergarten class, kids spend weeks "exploring gender bias." Early education classes teach kids about a variety of family structures, emphasizing families with gay and lesbian parents. At one school, a teacher described Longfellow as British while explaining why it wouldn't be relevant for her students to study him. Reporters from the Los Angeles Times visited a Northridge middle school and found classes in "baseball-card collecting, jigsaw puzzles and crocheting." A teacher at the school volunteered, "the most important job in junior high is not subject matter, but morale."

Much of the explanation for educational rot is connected to the fact that 1960s hippies have taken over colleges of education and they dominate the education establishment. Their vision is that high academic standards are elitist. To discriminate among students, based on academic excellence, risks injuring student self-esteem; failure must be defined out of existence. For them schooling is for building habits of social cooperation and equality rather than rigorous training of the mind. For many teachers, schooling must undermine parents and traditional values. The liberal education agenda is no better stated than in the words of Middlebury College English professor, Jay Parini, "After the Vietnam War, a lot of us didn't just crawl back into our literary cubicles; we stepped into academic positions. With the war over, our visibility was lost, and it seemed for a while - to the unobservant - that we had disappeared. Now we have tenure, and the work of reshaping the universities has begun in earnest."

Unfortunately, Professor Parini's vision of what college education should be has percolated throughout entire college curricula. Nowhere are half-witted education ideas given greater currency than in education departments, and for good reason. By and large education departments represent the academic slums of any university. Education majors tend to have the lowest SAT scores and their professors tend to have the least academic respectability, making both easy prey to fads and half-baked ideas.

Educational reform measures that do not address methodological rot, teacher incompetency and leftist indoctrination will bring disappointing results, regardless of the amount of money spent.

Walter E. Williams

April 28, 1997
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