Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America’s Schools Back to Reality-Charles Murray

In Book Reviews, education, social science on August 30, 2010 at 12:12 am

Straight Talk About The Failure of The American Educational System

Charles Murray’s Real Education is a book that’s been long overdue.  The author’s core argument is that the American educational system is no longer based in reality.  Children who obviously are unable to achieve top grades are told that they can be anything, do anything. What Murray calls “educational romanticism” has caused education in this country to be geared toward making everyone feel good.  Students feel good because they are told they can do anything; parents feel good because they are told their child is bright, even when he or she is not; and teachers feel good because they don’t have to be the heavies, telling students they aren’t truly able to handle certain subject areas and levels.  But this romanticism has as one of its worst consequences that education has become an activity geared toward happiness, not actual learning. But feeling good and hope do not make for a good education.  They make for advertising and political slogans.

Murray provides four areas of discussion:  ability varies, half of all children are below average, too many people are going to college, and America’s future depends on how we educate the gifted. The first topic, ability varies, is tremendously important and generally overlooked.  While its expected that all children will be able to excel in language arts and math, it is never expected that all children will excel in athletics and arts.  Why?  All four areas are of distinct areas of ability.  The problem is that some areas of ability tend to be more specialized, such as athletics and arts, while others are seen as integral to daily life.  Be this as it may, they are all simply areas of ability, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone who is willing to investigate education in this country that the idea that all children can do well in language arts and math is a fallacy.  Those who want to believe that dream claim that comparing abilities is like comparing apples and oranges.  But it simply isn’t the case.  Some people will never read above a grade school level because they can’t.  If they are lucky, they can play a sport or an instrument, but not everyone is lucky.  Genetics is a dicey gamble, and some people lose.   But this goes against every fiber in the educational romantic’s being.  All children can succeed, they say.  Unfortunately, this is not the case if succeeding means excelling, which is how the romantic defines succeeding.

The second area of discussion, half of all children are below average, is on its face a jarring claim.  It is in this second area that he really hammers away at educational romanticism.  The reality is that it has never been proven by any study that the amount of money spent per child on education, better teacher training, newer schools, or newer books have any real effect on those with low ability.  But despite being faced with overwhelming facts that show low ability students will be just that because that’s who they are, not because of outside forces, those who direct education in this country are addicted to the mantra of “Everyone can excel.”

His third area is too many people are going to college.  This stems from the fact that post secondary education is a business, and businesses need customers.  If college education wasn’t a business, then many of the students who go to college each year wouldn’t be allowed in because standards would be imposed.  As it is now, college is an expectation of far too many people, despite the fact that they barely made it through a watered down education in high school. The result has been that a 4 year bachelor’s degree means much less today than it did a generation or two ago.  By necessity, colleges have been forced to water down the post-secondary education to accommodate all those students who truly cannot handle the level of study after high school.  If you doubt this, go to any college in the country and ask about help for those with learning disabilities.  It is readily available and becoming more and more common at the purely voluntary level of college.

Murray’s fourth area of discussion is that America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.  If you’re looking for a forgotten group in American education today, look no further than gifted students.  Far too often, gifted students are met with the idea that they can succeed in any educational environment, so their needs go unseen.  But it is the academically gifted student who needs an education the most.  Those who are gifted will be in positions of power, and Murray argues that they need to be offered the best education possible to provide them with the foundations they will need to deal with the challenges of leadership.  This is seen as a uniquely elitist idea, however, and many argue that this will create a mindset in education that those who cannot do as well as the gifted students will be herded into technical education.  Murray argues in rebuttal to that idea–by Jove!  I think they got it!  Students who are gifted deserve the best education possible.  Students who aren’t also deserve the best education they can benefit the most from, and it is about time technical education was seen as the valuable resource it is.  Academically low level students don’t need or want advanced academics.  They need to learn a skill which will help them live productive lives.  What good is a college degree to a person who learned little while there, understood less, and now has no chance in a job market which wants the best for the least amount of money?

Real Education is an important book about the most important challenge this country faces: what do we give our children to prepare them for the future?  Do we continue with the watered down, politically correct pablum that passes for a public school education, or do we begin to deal with the reality that resources must be allocated to provide the best education for all levels, but without the pie-in-the-sky and patently false goal of making everyone an A student?  We can’t continue on the road we’ve been on in education.  The feel good ideas of the 60s and 70s have proven to be incorrect, and in fact, more children than we’d like to admit have been left behind by a system that’s broken.  Fixing it will mean hard choices, and Murray’s book begins to show readers the map we need to take.

  1. […] Schools Back To Reality written by Charles Murray.  I reviewed this book in August (see the review here).  As an educator who sees everyday how high schools are truly failing our students, I think this […]

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