Our Failing Public Schools
By Hans Zeiger
men by nature desire to know," said Aristotle. Either Aristotle was wrong,
or public education is failing to awaken the academic desires of American
to a new Manhattan Institute for Policy Research study funded
years, American education experts have been alarmed at the growing inability of
public school students and graduates to compete academically with peers in other
industrialized democratic countries. As Charles Sykes wrote in his revolutionary
1990s book Dumbing Down our Kids: Why America's Children Feel Good about
Can't Read, Write, or Add, "When the very best American students - the top
one percent - are measured against the best students of other countries,
America's best and brightest finished at the bottom." While Sykes may have
exaggerated the problem, it is true that America's students are average at best.
to the most recent academic comparison study by the Program for International
Student Assessment, of students in 32 developed countries, 14 countries score
higher than the U.S. in reading, 13 have better results in science, and 17 score
above America in mathematics.
isn't as though American students aren't scoring first places any more. A survey
by the Princeton Testing Service shows that American students rank highest
amongst industrialized democracies for amount of time spent watching videos in
class. And William Moloney, chairman of the Washington, D.C. based Education
Leaders Council, an coalition of reform minded political and educational
leaders, writes that American students feel better about their math skills that
any other country in the free world, while Korean students who feel worst about
their math skills outscore everyone else in math.
characteristics of self-esteem-obsessed, video-watching schools are manifested
in the frustrations of America's higher education system.
to the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Olympia, more than 40 percent of recent
Washington State high school graduates attending community college enrolled in
remedial courses to prepare them for college-level work. A public school system
that transfers responsibility for learning basic knowledge to higher education
isn't giving taxpayers and parents a return for their money. More damaging, the
failure of schools to prepare students for their future hurts America
economically, socially, and intellectually.
the past century, public education has devolved from the classical approach of
character plus basics (reading, writing, arithmetic, respect, and
responsibility), to skills, to psychological-social engineering.
education "experts" celebrate their revolutionary doctrines of
multiculturalism and values clarification. Sadly, the experts have been too
preoccupied with experimental education, diversity training,
evolution-instruction, and sex education to realize that 68 percent of students
are unprepared for college. Last year for example, the Seattle Public Schools
required hundreds of middle school students to participate in costly three-day
long "Challenge Day" sensitivity seminars at which crying was
encouraged and self-esteem was preached. One student called the seminars a
money!" the educrats scream from their offices in state capitols and
Washington, D.C., their purse already bursting at the seams with administrative
apparatuses and teacher union perks. Yet as long as money for experimental
education is viewed as the only answer to failing students, schools will
continue to disappoint.
was correct: students can learn and in fact want to learn.
to Moloney, "All children can learn because all children can work. No
learning occurs without work, and no work occurs without learning." The
problem is that the public schools have minimized the value of work and
maximized the tolerance of laziness.
arose in the 1990s when many school districts decided to abandon traditional
report cards for alternative "student-friendly course grading."
According to Dr. Dorothy C. Mollise and Dr. Charlotte T. Matthews of the
University of Southern Alabama, student-friendly grading is good for GPAs and
self-esteem, but it doesn't equate to better academics. Academic accountability
is not enhanced when the incentive for students to work hard is destroyed.
decline of the work ethic and character of students is the most significant
plague on America's academic outcome. A 2002 report by the Josephson Institute
of Ethics, a Los Angeles based non-profit ethics research organization, reveals
that "cheating, stealing, and lying by high school students have continued
their alarming, decade-long upward spiral." 74 percent of students admit to
cheating on an exam in the past year and 63 percent admit to lying to teachers
at least twice in the past year.
without character have no need for intellect. After all, if there are other ways
to make the grade or complete the assignment without actually learning, why not
take the shortcuts? Why not cheat, lie, and steal if the teacher says that all
morality is relative, that virtue is an oppressive old weapon of Puritans and
is a school system managed largely on the rejection of character and academic
basics that fails to produce world-class graduates. Maintaining America's
position as leader of the free world requires us to restore the work ethic and
demand moral and educational excellence in our schools.
Zeiger is a columnist and conservative activist, president of the
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