Tuesday, May 06, 2008

In Reality, All Can't Be Above Average

Charles Murray argues that educational policies originating from both the political left and right have been characterized by a Utopian "educational romanticism" that has harmed students at all ability levels. He concludes his article:

For the good of our children, educational romanticism needs to collapse, and quickly. Its effects play out in the lives of young people in devastating ways. The fourth-grader who has trouble sounding out simple words and his classmate who is reading A Tale of Two Cities for fun sit in the same classroom day after miserable day, the one so frustrated by tasks he cannot do and the other so bored that both are near tears. The eighth-grader who cannot make sense of algebra but has an almost mystical knack with machines is told to stick with the college prep track, because to be a success in life he must go to college and get a B.A. The senior with terrific SAT scores gets away with turning in rubbish on his term papers because to make special demands on the gifted would be elitist. They are all products of an educational system that cannot make itself talk openly about the implications of diverse educational limits.

There is much more to be said about these harms (and I have said it, in a book that will appear in a few months). For now, it is enough to recognize that educational romanticism asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top. It short-changes all of them.

While I would argue that some of Mr. Murray's arguments are too sweeping, he nonetheless makes a number of valid points that should be engaged by those all along the political spectrum concerned about education policy.

Hat Tip: Harrison Scott Key

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