23 Aug 2007

Why America Commonly Doesn’t Educate

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Curmudgeon Victor Davis Hanson is appalled at the failures of contemporary American education, and thinks he can identify some of its problems.

Last week I went shopping in our small rural hometown, where my family has attended the same public schools since 1896. Without exception, all six generations of us — whether farmers, housewives, day laborers, business people, writers, lawyers or educators — were given a good, competitive K-12 education.

But after a haircut, I noticed that the 20-something cashier could not count out change. The next day, at the electronic outlet store, another young clerk could not read — much less explain — the basic English of the buyer’s warranty. At the food market, I listened as a young couple argued over the price of a cut of tri-tip — unable to calculate the meat’s real value from its price per pound.

As another school year is set to get under way, it’s worth pondering where this epidemic of ignorance came from. …

Our present ambition to make every American youth college material — in a way our forefathers would have thought ludicrous — ensures that we will both fail in that utopian goal and lack enough literate Americans with critical vocational skills.

The disintegration of the American nuclear family is also at fault. Too many students don’t have two parents reminding them of the value of both abstract and practical learning.

What then can our elementary and secondary schools do, when many of their students’ problems begin at home or arise from our warped popular culture?

We should first scrap the popular therapeutic curriculum that in the scarce hours of the school day crams in sermons on race, class, gender, drugs, sex, self-esteem or environmentalism. These are well-intentioned efforts to make a kinder and gentler generation more sensitive to our nation’s supposed past and present sins. But they only squeeze out far more important subjects.

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