Tuesday, April 12, 2011


The message and impact of the title of this post tends to be what echos in my head when I hear people complain about how our education system is a failure.  What is it that makes everyone see failure?  As far as I can tell, most of such conclusions are the resulting stew of this recipe:

Perception of S****y Education
Prep time: 18-40 years.

2 cups imperfect memory
1 cup nostalgia
1 carcass of media criticism
1/2 tablespoon observation of current trends
(optional) A dash of self-importance
(optional) Children

Boil water and the carcass of media criticism in a large pot.  Place imperfect memory in a bowl and slowly stir in nostalgia.  When properly mixed, this combination will taste bitterly of "kids have it easy these days."  Add this mixture to the stew and spice with observation of current trends.  For an extra kick, add self-importance and...wait...don't eat the children.  But I'm told that if you have some, people will take your stew more seriously.  Simmer until done.

(I should elaborate on "media criticism."  I mean criticism by the media of education, not criticism of the media from anywhere.  Reports on education are overwhelmingly negative because that is the material that newspeople can best use to get attention.  The effect of this is demonstrated by the results of the PDK/Gallup poll which support the conclusion that, "Differences between how Americans view their local schools versus the nation’s schools suggests that Americans like the schools they know but are much less positive about public education in general.")

The difficult part of having the distaste for this stew that I do is that I tend to agree with the conclusion — just virtually none of the premises.  Education should be improved and thus requires reform.  My road to that conclusion is based first on the never-ending desire to improve learning and thereby society, second on the idea that everyone is capable of great achievement, and third on observation that an inadequate number of people gain contribution toward achievement by current schooling.

If you've read old posts of mine, you are likely familiar with my struggle about how students are marched through schooling (see 9/17, 10/1311/24, and especially 12/2).  I don't have all the answers, but I do know a couple of things:

1) The U.S. education system is not in a dire state of apocalyptic failure relative to other countries.  This article defends against such alarmism quite well.
2) Raising standards and standardly testing standards with standardized tests is an abominable excuse for "reform."  Legitimate ideas truly cut down to the core.  A friend just shared with me this video featuring Sir Ken Robinson (and if you click that link you'll know exactly as much about him as I do now), and I think it's a fantastic example of what real reform means.  He says a lot of the same things that I would, so I'll let him do the talking:


  1. The mistaken notion that education in America is horribly broken is, ironically, one of the largest problems we educators face. Because education is "broken," it needs to be fixed, and when things need to be fixed, he who has the gold does the fixing (read: privatize everything, replace public schools with charters run by for-profit management companies!).

    It bears remembering that, while the USA has "fallen behind" in the number of students granted degrees of any kind, we're still the world leader (by far) in bachelor's degrees per capita. We don't do as much vocational training, but we do more training-to-think than anywhere else in the world.

    Thanks for the post, Luc.

  2. Well put, sir. You're quite welcome, and thanks for the comment.

  3. We may be the leader in bachelor's degrees but what does that even mean? Does it mean you skipped a lot of classes and still managed to get the piece of paper? Or does it mean you worked hard for all those years and attended every class and grew intellectually? Or does it mean you went to class every day and then got wasted every night? The number of bachelors degrees we give away has nothing to do with the actual intelligence of our students. Just as grades really don't measure intelligence.

    It's not that I feel that kids have it easy these days, it's quite the opposite actually. A few of the teens I work with have 5-6 hours of homework each night. This is just completely unnecessary for a high school student. What I hear from them directly is that they have so much work to do, they can't possibly remember it all, much less retain that (mostly useless) knowledge for years to come. What I'm scared of is when critical thinking skills are completely eradicated, because students are spending all their time doing homework, and not enough time applying their knowledge to the actual world.

  4. Kayley,

    Does the quantity of bachelor's degrees indicate intelligence? No. Alas, do the standardized tests by which we compare ourselves to the rest of the world actually measure the capability in critical thinking of the students of a country? Nope. However, it seems common sense that the U.S. does have a plentiful number of high-quality higher education institutions that yield a plentiful number of intellectually successful people (who may leave the U.S. after their studies), which strongly suggests that we are not failing as dramatically as the rest of the above-described stew makes people think.

    I'm glad you don't think that kids have it easy these days, and I agree with the conclusion of your second paragraph. Also, recall my original statement that, "I tend to agree with the conclusion — just virtually none of the premises. Education should be improved and thus requires reform." The point that you make is an important one.