Four Truths About Education in America
I just finished reading Charles Murray’s Real Education: Four simple truths for bringing America’s schools back to reality, and found it quite refreshing, and not just because I thought two of these things to be true before reading. Analyzing statistics on education, intelligence, ability, and achievement colleceted over the last hundred years, Murray says there are four things we must accept if we’re going to improve education in the US:
- Ability Varies*. This is something every one of us has known since at least the 2nd grade. Some people are smart, some are not. We’ll say that easily enough when it comes to sports or music, but not intelligence. People seem to have no trouble saying that some are gifted, but all the trouble in the world admitting what is obviously true: that others are not only ungifted, but they are far below average. Which leads us to the next point…
- Half of the children are below average. We think we know what this means, but Murray shows that we (at least I) have no idea.
“No matter where you went to school, the fact that you are reading this [blog] and grew up in the last half of the twentieth century means the chances are small that you ever had a close…relationship with someone who is below average in academic ablility. Asked to describe the things that a person with below average academic ability can do, you will probably describe a person who is actually above average.”
If you doubt that, I, actually he, will be demonstrating later.
- Too many people are going to college*. I had a friend in college. He was a nice guy, but we all knew that he just didn’t have it. He was definitely not average in academic ability, in fact, he was probably a good bit above average. But he didn’t have it. And no one pointed that out. Instead, he spent two years on campus taking remedial courses before he even got started on his basics. He wasn’t cut out for it. That’s not to say that those who aren’t cut out for college shouldn’t get advanced training, but technical schools and associate’s degrees should cover that. There’s a lot of blame to go around on this one, and none lands on the student.
- America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. This one rubbed me the wrong way at first. Mainly because it seems so unfair. This is basically saying that the academically ungifted have nothing to offer. It’s not “fair”, and it’s certainly not egalitarian. Plus the awful possibilities – this could result in some kind of academic eugenics…removing people who don’t test at a certain level from classrooms and choosing their paths for them. I don’t think that will happen, because we’ve been moving away from such possibilities. But we should consider a scarier possibility: That our education system will leave the gifted without the drive, responsibility, or humility to reach their potential and lead. Though we may have trouble admitting it, it is the gifted that will fill the offices in the white house, the supreme court, and every statehouse and governor’s mansion in the country. It is they who will innovate and invent, who will make the necessary changes to society. We need to educate them well, for the good of the rest of us.
A lot in this book is borderline offensive, but that doesn’t make it untrue, in fact, the more I think about it, the more true it is. Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to relate some of Murray’s points along with my own thoughts, and how this might affect Christian education. In the end, it’s a wash, because God is in control, and Jesus has already paid our debt. But if we’re going to be good stewards of the gifts he gave, including the natural abilities of the students in this country, we have to face the truth.
* – I believed this to be true before reading the book.