Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Stupid in America: Blame the Liberals

The severe deterioration of public education began in the late 1960s when the National Education Association converted from a teacher’s professional association into a trade union. At the same time the emphasis on academic achievement was “reformed” by pedagogues to de-emphasize competition, stress self-esteem and make schools more relevant, fun and like real life. This has led to what President Bush calls the “soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Liberal views of education policy were evangelically egalitarian, opposed to the traditional meritocracy, and radically self-indulgent. The trend was decidedly anti-intellectual due to the barrier that rationality places in the way of politicization. School policy came to rest on the assumptions that kids are responsible enough to choose their own courses from a smorgasbord loaded with irrelevancy, yet should not be responsible for their performance. Testing expectations should be minimal and graduation requirements easily achieved.

A good example of this politically correct, educationally inferior thinking is found in the National History Standards published by UCLA in 1994. In keeping with the liberal bias, the multicultural curriculum minimized the achievements of Europeans and their descendents in America in order to focus attention on blacks and American Indians. Fifth graders were told to “Draw upon stories of Mansa Musa and his pilgrimage to Mecca in order to analyze the great wealth of the kingdom of Mali.” Students were asked how “Columbus’s description of the peaceful and pleasant nature of the Carib Indians contrasted with his treatment of them.” European’s views of land ownership were contrasted with “Native American belief that land was not property but was entrusted by the Creator to all living creatures for their common benefit and shared use.” (I wonder if that reference to the Creator is still allowed.)

Students are told to conduct a trial of John D. Rockefeller for his “unethical and amoral business practices in direct violation of the common welfare.” The Constitution was not mentioned, even once, and great Americans, including Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk and the Wright brothers were ignored. Meanwhile the evil of McCarthyism gets nineteen mentions.

The US Congress was so repulsed by this intellectual garbage that the Senate condemned it by a vote of 99-1. Revised history standards were issued in 1995 but bias is still prominent.

Another beauty is the standards issued in the early 1990s by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics that disparaged basic skills like addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, since all of these could be easily performed on a calculator. The council preferred real-life problem solving, using everyday situations, an approach that some critics have called "rainforest algebra."

This dumbing-down of mathematics was nudged into a political direction by educators who call themselves "critical theorists." They advocate using mathematics as a tool to advance social justice in a curriculum called "ethno-mathematics." Topics include "Sweatshop Accounting," with units on poverty, globalization and the unequal distribution of wealth; "Multicultural Math," and "Home Buying While Brown or Black." Meanwhile countries that regularly beat our students in international tests of mathematics do not use the subject to steer students into political action.

There is a modest backlash underway in what are called “character education” courses in some public schools. The liberal viewpoint is stated by Alfie Kohn in an issue of Phi Delta Kappan, a journal for professional educators. Kohn claims that “These programs are designed to make children work harder and do what they are told. The point is to drill students in specific behaviors rather than to engage them in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.” Richard John Neuhaus notes in The Best of The Public Square: “No wonder Mr. Kohn is upset. There are few things more creative than a fourth grader engaged in deep, critical reflection about certain ways of being.”

John Stossel’s ABC-TV special report "Stupid in America" noted that at age ten American students score well above the international average. But by age fifteen Americans place twenty-fifth out of forty countries. “The longer kids stay in American schools, the worse they do in international competition. They do worse than kids from countries that spend much less money on education.” Stossel asks why we are surprised when public education in the USA is a government monopoly. “Don't like your public school? Tough. The school is terrible? Tough. That's why government monopolies routinely fail their customers and union-dominated monopolies are even worse.”

He relates the egregious case of the NYC school system. In the words of Chancellor Joel Klein: “In New York City, it's just about impossible to fire a bad teacher. We tolerate mediocrity because people get paid the same, whether they're outstanding, average, or way below average." One teacher sent sexually oriented emails to "Cutie 101," his sixteen year old student. Klein couldn't fire him for years. Klein employs dozens of teachers who he's afraid to let near the kids, so he has them sit in what they call "rubber rooms." This year he will spend twenty million dollars to warehouse teachers in five rubber rooms. It's an alternative to firing them, that is nearly impossible. In the last four years, only two teachers out of 80,000 were fired for incompetence. Still NYC spends an extraordinary $11,000 per student. “Only a monopoly can spend that much money and still fail the kids.”

Lest you think that the problems are confined to K-12 education, recall that over half of incoming college freshmen are in need of remedial courses. Furthermore, the 60s radical liberals are now ensconced on college faculties and administrations, with their mush-headed feelings about egalitarianism and radical individualism. The 1993 report of the National Association of Scholars eighty year study of highly selective institutions is chock full of devastating findings. By 1993 only 29% of these universities retained general education requirements; only 14% had a literature requirement, with similar results in science and mathematics; rigor is diminishing precipitously; and the number of days in class dropped from 191 in 1964 to 156 in 1993.

Robert Bork in Slouching Towards Gomorrah notes that “Decreasing competence is only the beginning of the story. Intellect loses its virtue when it ceases to seek truth and turns to the pursuit of political ends.”

Brigette Berger wrote that “the fate of the modern university and the fate of Western Civilization are inextricably intertwined.” (“Multiculturalism and the Modern University” in Partisan Review, 1993) We’d better fix those universities as well as K-12. See the next post.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, the liberals have really started to dumb down education in America. I mean, why should we believe these liberal "scientists" when they preach about "global warming". Also, their refusal to accept intelligent design just goes to show how these "scientists" are destroying our future.

8:58 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bork is spot on. First he equates modern day liberals with fascists. The pursuit of equal individual rights for all people is really fascism. What he and people like Bill want is to go back to a time when blacks knew their place, women stayed pregnant and silent, the average life span was 50 years, and the police ( J. Edgar Hoover was the worst one of the bunch)could spy on an unsuspecting public with impunity.

9:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bill - Here are a few points to consider: schools overseas go much longer than we do, they respect their teachers and pay them well, and they don't have the same restrictions as we do. Foreign Parents are also much more involved as they have to pay for K-12 schooling unlike our education which is free.

Teachers abroad also get respect - students overseas would not think of going to classes with their homework undone or cursing at the teacher when he or she tries to correct behavior!! Over 50% of students in American schools DON'T DO HOMEWORK and many threaten their teachers with law suits or bodily harm.

Teachers today cannot fail a student for not doing homework as they get sued by parents and fired by administrators. I was in one classroom, observing, and 4 little 7 grade boys acted up so much that the assistant principal and two HUGE security guards were in the class to make them behave and the kids told them to get F-----!!

Respect for teachers is also missing in the U.S. Look at the salaries that a teacher with 8 years experience and a master's degree gets: in PV about 50,000 a year. A college graduate gets that and more today to be a salesman in a computer store!!
I agree that American education needs to be competitive to the rest of the world, but are you willing to pay for extra time and for raising teacher salaries and for building infrastrstructure? Are most Americans? I don't think so! Also take a look at parental involvement - in LA Schools, most parents are absent and not involved as they are illegal and don't value education!

I could go on and on....don't get me started! Your blog will open some eyes but you need to raise ALL the issues that are plaguing schools today!


12:27 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

Thank you for the great feedback. Your points are excellent and spot on! I've tried to address how we got into this mess. Today I'll propose how to get out of it. Won't be easy, but we had better try.

12:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, Bill, thanks for tackling these issues. I'm sure your blog has the ear of our top policy makers.

4:12 PM  
Blogger Bill Lama said...

It would be neat if you would actually address what I say. But your remarks merely exemplify the fear that liberals have of rationality.

As for my attacking these issues, I prefer to write about things that matter. And the truth, when heard, can be a powerful thing.

So how about it, crawl out of the fever swamp, open your eyes and try to think logically. Hard, yes, but it's what makes one human.

9:59 AM  

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