Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality
by Charles Murray
This book calls for a transformation of American education—a transformation not just of means, but of ends. We need to change the way the schools do business. We also need to redefine educational success.
My targets are not the usual suspects. I do not inveigh against high dropout rates, low test scores, or obdurate teachers’ unions. My indictment is much broader: The educational system is living a lie.
The lie is that every child can be anything he or she wants to be. No one really believes it, but we approach education’s problems as if we did. We are phobic about saying out loud that children differ in their ability to learn the things that schools teach. Not only do we hate to say it, we get angry with people who do.
We insist that the emperor is wearing clothes, beautiful clothes, and that those who say otherwise are bad people.
Call it educational romanticism. We have idealized images of the potential that children bring to the classroom and of our ability to realize that potential. When the facts get in the way, we ignore them.
Try to think of the last time you saw a newspaper story about No Child Left Behind that mentioned low intellectual ability as the reason why some students don’t perform at grade level. Try to think of the last article you read about young people who do not go to college that used the intellectual demands of college-level work as an explanation.
I doubt if you can think of a single instance in either case. I certainly can’t. The silence about differences in intellectual ability on educational topics that scream for their discussion is astonishing. It amounts to living a lie.
If the system were living a kindly lie, I would not have written this book. The lie is certainly meant kindly. Everyone wants only the best for every child. But its effects play out in the lives of young people in devastating ways. The nine-year-old 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 fifteen-year-old 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 BA. The twenty-year-old who knocks the top off standardized tests is still turning in rubbish on his college term papers because no one has ever taught him how to be his own toughest critic. They are all products of an educational system that cannot make itself talk openly about the implications of diverse educational limits.
And so a fog of wishful thinking, euphemisms, and well-intended egalitarianism hangs over the discussion of education, obscuring simple truths. This book is about four of them:
• Ability varies.
• Half of the children are below average.
• Too many people are going to college.
• America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.
The unifying theme of the chapters that follow is that we are unrealistic about students at every level of academic ability—-asking too much from those at the bottom, asking the wrong things from those in the middle, and asking too little from those at the top.
The policy implications of ending educational romanticism cut in many directions. While half the children are below average, the current educational system shortchanges their ability to profit from the assets they do possess. The students on college campuses who do not belong there include many with high IQs. Those who are lucky enough to be academically gifted will play a crucial role in America’s future, but the last thing we need is an educational system that pampers them. In the final chapter, I describe an educational system that embraces the simple truths.
Real Education .pdf file