DECLINE OF
AMERICAN
EDUCATION

 

 

Excerpts from
INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION:
The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas.

By THOMAS SOWELL,
The Free Press, 1993
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For the first time in the history of our country

the educational skills of one generation

will not surpase,
will not equal,
will not even approach
those of their parents
John Copperman

 

Like many other people, I have long been appalled by the low quality and continuing deterioration of American education


 

The incredibly counterproductive fads, fashions, and dogmas of American education-from the kindergarten to the colleges-have yet to take their full toll, in part because all the standards of earlier times have not yet been completely eroded away. But the inevitable retirement of an older generation of teachers and professors must leave the new trends (and their accompanying Newspeak) as the dominant influence on the shaping of education in the generations to come.

All across this country, the school curriculum has been invaded by psychological - conditioning programs which not only take up time sorely needed for intellectual development, but also promote an emotionalized and anti-intellectual way of responding to the challenges facing every individual and every society.

...too many American schools are turning out students who are ... intellectually incompetent morally confused, emotionally alienated, socially maladjusted.


 

VIRTUALLY EVERYONE has heard how poorly American students perform whether compared tof oreign students or to American students of a generation ago. What everyone may not know are the specifics of how bad the situation has become, how and why the public has been deceived, or the dogmas and hidden agendas behind it all.

As of 1991, only 11 percent of the eighth-grade students in California's public schools could solve seventh-grade math....this era of declining academic performance has also been a period of rising grades. American high schools gave out approximately twice as many C's as A's in 1966, but by 1978 the A's actually exceeded the C's . By 1990, more than one-fifth of all entering freshmen in college averaged A minus or above for their entire high school careers... At private universities, entering freshmen with averages of A minus or above were an absolute  majority - 54 percent.


 

Similar grade inflation has become common at the college level ....Between 1958 and 1988, the average grade at Dartmouth rose from C to B...At the University of Chicago, the once common grade of C constituted only 15 percent of all grades by 1988...At Yale... the proportion of grades that were A's never fell below 40 percent during the entire decade of the 1980s..

Among the factors behind nationwide rises in college grades, in addition to more lenient grading by professors, have been such widespread practices as not recording failing grades on the student's records, allowing students to withdraw from class when a failing grade is impending, and ordinary cheating. Between 1966 and 1988, the proportion of students cheating increased by 78 percent, according to a national survey. These two trends-grade inflation and declining test scores-are by no means unconnected.

Without the systematic deception of parents and the public by rising grades, it is highly unlikely that the decline in performance could have continued so long.


 

Perhaps nothing so captures what is wrong with American schools as the results of an international study of 13-year-olds which found that Koreans ranked first in mathematics and Americans last. When asked if they thought they were "good at mathematics," only 23 percent of the Korean youngsters said "yes" compared to 68 percent of American 13-year-olds. The American educational dogma that students should "feel good about themselves" was a success in its own terms-though not in any other terms.

When nearly one-third of American 17-year-olds do not know that Abraham Lincoln wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, when nearly half do not know who Josef Stalin was, and when about 30 percent could not locate Britain on a map of Europe, then it is clear that  American educational deficiencies extend far beyond mathematics.


 

Members of the educational establishment often try to downplay such evidence by dismissing the importance of mere "facts" acquired by "rote memory.'
Unfortunately, as we turn from simple knowledge to more complex abilities in reasoning, the full debacle of American education becomes even more painfully clear.

An international study of thirteen-year-olds showed that American youngsters fell further and further behind, the
more they were required to think.

When given science questions on "everyday facts" American youngsters did almost as well as Korean youngsters, answering correctly 96 percent of the time, as compared to 100 percent among the Koreans. But when required to "apply simple principles," a significant gap opened up, as Koreans answered correctly 93 percent of the time and Americans only 78 percent of the time. Going on to a higher level, requiring students to analyze experiments," Korean youngsters answered correctly 73 percent of the time, while Americans answered correctly only 42 percent of the time. At a still higher level of analysis, where only 33 percent of Korean students could answer correctly, only 12 percent of Americans could answer correctly.' In short, while American youngsters could pretty much hold their own at the level of simple facts, the advantage shifted decisively in favor of the Korean youngsters when thinking was involved, becoming more than a two-to-one advantage when more sophisticated levels of reasoning were reached.


 

American students are lacking in knowledge and-more importantly-in the ability to tie what they know together to form a coherent chain of reasoning. Many American students seem unaware of even the need for such a process. ....
Professor Diane Ravish, a scholar specializing in the study of American education, reports that 
"professors complain about students
who arrive at college with strong convictions but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their beliefs."
As Professor Ravitch concludes: "Raving opinions without knowledge is not of much value; not knowing the difference between them is a positive indicator of ignorance."'

 

In short, it is not merely that
Johnny can't read
or even that
Johnny can't think.
Johnny doesn't know
what thinking is,

because
thinking is so often confused with feeling
in many public schools.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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