Hoisted From Comments: American Education, Then and Now

From a book I’ve started reading, American Amnesia: How the War on Government Led Us to Forget What Made Us Prosper, by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, has an important tidbit on our deteriorating educational outcomes:

The United States is now a mediocre performer in international education rankings. And we would look a lot worse if we had not done so well in the past. The share of Americans that have completed high school, for instance, remains impressive. Yet this high average reflects our big early lead. Among young adults, high school education rates are subpar (although they have risen in the past decade). The United States now ranks twentieth out of twenty-seven OECD nations in the share of young people expected to finish high school.

This isn’t just a case of other countries racing ahead; it’s also a story of American stagnation. Graduation rates in the US have barely budged since the early 1970s….At the same time, more and more kids who are counted as having finished high school actually receive a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Yet GEDs confer little of the economic and social benefits of graduating from high school….

The big story, however, is our relative decline in higher education….Older Americans are among the most educated in the world. Younger Americans, not even close….

America’s youth fare particularly poorly when it comes to reading and technological skills…In all countries, the young are better at math and working with technology. Older Americans are close to international average for older adults. Younger Americans, while scoring slightly higher, are years behind their international peers….The same is true of the other skills measured by the OECD: The US falls further and further behind as you move down the age ladder.

Inequality is part of this story:

As one OECD researcher put it: “The vast majority of OECD countries either invest equally in every student or disproportionately more in disadvantaged students. The US is one of the few countries doing the opposite.

However, when I went to college (late 1970s) at Harvard, it was widely believed that kids who had attended public schools in Europ were much better educated than their peers in American public schools (in other words, that part of the purpose of college was to bring American students up to the level of education of European secondary schools).

And if Austin-based reader GlobalMisanthrope’s experience is representative, it’s much worse out there in the field that Hacker and Pierson realize. As he wrote yesterday:

I grew up in Houston in the ’60s and ’70s. It was not what anyone would call an intellectual hub.

Nevertheless, in 4th grade we learned about the Boston Tea Party and Paul Revere’s ride and in 5th grade we were required to read a book every two weeks and write and present a book report.

In junior high (middle school) band we were taught music theory. In junior high English we were introduced to poetry and prose as concepts and had to write both. We learned how a bill becomes a law. (Schoolhouse Rock!, baby.) We ran mock political campaigns for the ’72 Presidential election.

In high school my World History teacher dressed in ethnic and period costumes (!) that corresponded to what we were learning and held a mock UN summit. My Government teacher had us compare and contrast capitalism, socialism and communism; and she explained the Texas caucus system to us, saying that if we weren’t going to show up at our precinct conventions, then we might as well not vote in the primaries.

True that my high school American History teacher portrayed unions as being a good idea when they started but unnecessary and corrupt in the end and the ERA (it was 1976) as ridiculous, but he nevertheless covered both subjects in detail.

By contrast, my son, who is graduating from a competitive public high school in May—meaning he had to apply, have the grades, write an essay and audition to get in—can’t tell me how a bill becomes a law. I just asked him. He knows some of it, but only has a vague idea about the process over all and really no idea about the relationships between the different branches of government. He’s a music major and they have only one semester of theory.

His middle school Intro to Algebra teacher knew so little English and spoke with such a thick Thai accent that I could barely understand her. How were all those kids supposed to learn anything? I complained to the Principal and was told that the teacher had a Masters in math and that it wasn’t a “lecture class.”

He can name the presidents back to FDR, but he asked the other day what’s considered the Middle East. The other night he was working on his Astronomy homework when I got home. It was connecting stars to form constellations and coloring them. He’s a Senior. I voiced my shock at the elementary-school level of the work.

He said, “I know. They’re not even preparing us for college. Everybody I know is going to have to take prep classes at community college before they can even start college level work. High school is just a waste of time.” As Lambert would say, ka-ching.

Reader Richard Kline discussed historical examples of educational decline in 2012:

A better comparable might be The Dumbing of Hispania. In c. 1250, the Iberian Peninsula had a culturally diverse (if frequently warring) mosaic of ethnically distinct states, some of them with the best educational and literary cultures in Western Europe. By 1650, Hispania was an intellectually backward, econonmically pallid backwater, living off imperial rents and colonial slavery. That happened when rascist, ultra-conservative, aristocratically choked Castile conquered the rest, expelled or ‘converted’ those different (when not massacring them outright), eliminated any but the most rigidly orthodox education, neutered (and rapidly snuffed) such quasi-democratic institutions as had sprung up, and founded a military conquest state off whose extractions overseas the domestic state lived wildly beyond its means in a zombie-like fashion with utter disregard of the domestic economy. The same trajectory could be argued for several of the all-China imperial aggregations there, or the Persian Empire for instance.

That is what ‘decline’ really looks like in the historical record, folks: ultra-conservative, think-not empires run for the benefit of a tiny, parasitic elite. Historically, the process hasn’t been quick, taking numbers of generations. Whether those trajectories are accelerated int he modern age (since 1600 in most of the world) is debatable, if quite possible. It is a joke of the universe or some gods in it that ‘conservatives’ of the rejectionist sort are literally their own worst enemies in the long run—but they don’t care about the long run, only about staying rich and in power till they, personally, die in any given generation.

So a query to readers with children in or who have very recently graduated from public school: Hacker and Pierson suggest that American education has stagnated. GlobalMisanthrope’s personal data points say it has gotten a lot worse. What do you see?

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Doug

    And the cost of education keeps increasing as the standards decrease. Certainly doesn’t bode well for the future. What does the Department of Education have to say about this?

    1. willf

      What does the Department of Education have to say about this?

      Well, under its current head (John King) and former head (Arne Duncan) what they would say is something like:

      We need more private religious and charter schools, and we need them funded with taxpayer dollars, and soonest, if you please. Also we need more high-stakes testing, and we need to crush the teacher’s unions“.

      The DOE is part of the problem.

      Interested readers who wish to know more about the horrible state of education in America would be well advised to go read everything that Diane Ravitch has to say on the subject, at her wonderful education blog, http://dianeravitch.net/.

    2. Adam Eran

      The “cost” of education has been shortchanged because Fiscal Responsibility(tm). Federal funding for higher education has declined 55% since 1972. (Not that one can blame the mandarins in Washington for trying to discourage the peasants from their 1960’s protests)

      Gosh, I wonder why tuition keeps rising? (It’s a feature, not a bug, since student loans are now second only to mortgages)

      One other education event seldom mentioned: Womens’ liberation came along at a time when competent, smart women had little but school teaching as an outlet. Carly Fiorina might have been a high school teacher (oh! the humanity!) if that hadn’t happened.

      1. Robert Dudek

        They had women’s lib in Europe too.

        Part of it is that the teaching profession is still highly respected in most European countries.

    3. G3

      I would think they (and the elites) are OK with it. Student loans => profits for the government and the lenders and indebted student serfs don’t revolt (though they could if they reach a saturation point). It is for a reason that students in Western Europe are more militant.

  2. For The Win

    From my comment in “ObamaCare and the Crapification of Health Care: A Case Study, and a Growing Collection of Horror Stories”

    Agreed. Beyond the general decline, what struck me most on my return visits to the USA is that the disparity in the quality of education has spread beyond the ghetto and into large swaths of middle class, often with the cooperation of the Middle Class**.

    Even Public school systems now actively promote “magnet schools” which suck the best and the brightest out of community schools, so that teachers in the later can teach down, students are deprived of a chance to self-check and emulate better performing students, etc.

    The end result may well be that the brightest do just that tab bit better, but it also drives way down the performance of the average students, it also destroys the commons, where students of all levels of talent and background learn not only how to get along, but how to appreciate and love their fellow citizens. This exclusion from shared experience, this ability to rig the game even before the rider is old enough to know they ares on the ride of one’s life is scary stuff that Michael Sandel addressed in this talk.

    **ie: Integration academies, which sprung up across the south and even parts of the Middle and North. where parents willingly pay for a sub-standard education as long as it keeps their child away from blacks and dark-skinned Hispanics.

    Now it seems based on the above article, that even those brightest and best at magnet schools may be getting a cracker jack education in maths and how to generate reports, But not how to think independently and challenge the status quo, nor how to participate in a wider society, to be capable of self-government – to know when and when not to compromise, when and when not to organise.

    Public education has gone full circle and reverted to it’s original function is to turn out factory workers. Here the factory requires a good technical slave punching keyboards rather than rivets. As in the past, only a few very elite private schools, along the lines of a Cranbrook, Phillips, or a Sidwell teach more completely, and in a very uncaring isolated way that Sandell warns against, not unlike the public school systems of the UK, particularly the notorious Rugby, which were anything but open to the public.

  3. jgordon

    I don’t know about students recently graduating, but when I was studying English at university I’d frequently have to read essays from junior and senior English education majors who would soon be teaching classes of their own. They usually were barely literate–as in, the short five paragraph essays they wrote were cringe-worthy. Also from what I gathered of their curriculum, it was mostly about doing an extremely large number of meaningless busy work assignments. I felt pity for their future students.

    Here is a serious question: if we are already at the point where most of our teachers have been functionally lobotomized, how will the new generation of students ever exceed that level? Perhaps we’ll have to start importing teachers from India on H1B visas if America suddenly got the desire to improve its education system.

    1. john bougearel

      In the late 1980s, after graduating with my B.A. from St. Olaf, in Northfield MN, I went back to get a teacher’s degree at Northeastern College out of Chicago. The experience was both stunning and alarming. Cringeworthy is an apt description.

      Listening to questions from fellow students directed to the teachers, I found that the majority of my student teacher peers were already sorely lacking in intelligence. Another faction of my student body peers were of a foreign persuasion with poor English and accents so twisted as to be almost as unintelligible as the former. A handful of my peers would of course go on to be fine teachers. I suppose. But they were clearly a majority.

      Yes, I suppose I could have taught at privileged schools thereafter and insulated myself the bad vibes reverberating throughout the rest of the American school system….But after three semesters and one to go, I opted out of the program/system.

  4. cwaltz

    This isn’t just a case of other countries racing ahead; it’s also a story of American stagnation. Graduation rates in the US have barely budged since the early 1970s….At the same time, more and more kids who are counted as having finished high school actually receive a General Educational Development (GED) certificate. Yet GEDs confer little of the economic and social benefits of graduating from high school….

    This statement doesn’t jibe with this-

    The GED Testing Service has decided to lower the passing score for its high-school-equivalency exam, a move brought on by data showing that students who passed the latest, tougher version of the test were doing better in college than high school graduates.

    The decision to lower the passing score came from analyzing longitudinal data, Turner said. Tracking student performance into college, the company noticed that in several states, fewer students who passed the GED needed remedial coursework than did those who earned high school diplomas.

    In Oregon’s community colleges, for example, 15 percent of GED-passers needed remediation in reading or writing in 2014-15, compared with 47.5 percent of those who earned high school diplomas. Thirty-nine percent of GED-passers needed remedial work in math, compared with 62 percent of recent high school graduates. The GED Testing Service noted a similar pattern in Rhode Island and in North Dakota.

    1. For The Win

      It would not surprise me that GED exams holders prove more rigorous and capable in academics over high school graduates. (Some GED’s are immigrants who find the exam easier than transferring a transcript) The point in the article was which one confers economic and social benefits. I’d prefer to see data to gut feelings here. However If I had to hazard a bet on the averages, then I know where my bias about how society works would lead me to place my money.

      Curse you, Sky-net. I bet this will go up faster than my comment 2-3 hours ago.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Nobel Prize winner James Heckman has done extensive empirical work on students who get GEDs versus high school diplomas. While initially both get jobs of roughy the same caliber and pay, if you track their work histories, the GED graduates quickly fall behind and earn markedly less. Heckman thinks the socialization (such as it is ) in high school is far more important in workplace and life success than is widely acknowledged.

      Of course, the causality could be reversed: the people who get GEDs have disproportionate levels of individuals who could not accept the institutional discipline (showing up every day, putting up with other BS) and that led them to get a GED rather than graduate, but that resistance to authority undermined their ability to hold and succeed in jobs.

    3. Larry Y

      wonder why they just don’t use the GED as a the final exam to get your high school diploma? I figure many of the students of private, elite institutions may not fare as well…

  5. Tom

    I run extended wilderness trips in Central Asia. Probably half my clients are teachers from the world over. British, German, American, Canadian. As these are people ready to spent 2 weeks in a tent you can guess that these are not your run of the mill tourists. In fact they are usually socially engaged teachers who really care about their profession. I heard heart rending tales of changes in the way kids grow up. The world over. TV dinner instead of real food; no more playing outside and the biggest problem of them all: smart phones. I am 100% sure that the worldwide ADHS problem is closely connected to the use of electronic media. America is the vanguard and therefore suffers more than anybody else. On top there is the intrusion of corporations into the classroom. The last one being much the worst in the US. Schools are being turned into money machines for unscrupulous corporations who also profit from the damage they do. Unforgettable the teacher from Colorado who had to change his school. He first got into trouble when he persisted in telling parents that pills aren´t the answer to ADHS. He told them to restrict electronic media and let the kids play outside. What though totally enraged his superiors was his campaign against vending machines (evidently a source of income for the school) and corporate sponsored computers and software. I remember the nurse from London, who told how there are now households without dinner tables. In the same households you find the kids with diabetes. The phys ed teacher from Germany whose students can´t do push ups anymore. And so on. And so on. I have seen it among the kids as well. They start to kick and scream when told that they will be without electricity and coverage for even a few days. They can´t be without electronic distraction anyymore. I believe we are confronted with a worldwide crisis with America being the most affected.

    1. DanielDeParis

      Thanks for mentioning this “electronic device for the kids” issue.

      As I am a bit on the “right side” of most NC readers, I’ll add that this smartphone+PC+TV problem is a massive one. It is of course worsened when kids have no father-or-mother at home to tackle the it.

      Parents on NC, be aware of it!! This is not a general remark but one of a parent of four kids:(

      1. polecat

        We,as parents, chose not to allow our child to have a cell phone until 11th grade, being concurrently enrolled in high school/community college at the time …..all other kids had phones from at least middle school on. We also limited computer use too. These limitations, I think, along with reading (and encouraging such outside of school) at a very young age helped our child mature better than many of her contemporaries…….

        She is not what I would consider ‘gifted’ in the learning sense,….but she has grown into a relatively well-adjusted and caring person, and for that my wife and I are indeed grateful !

        1. polecat

          I should note that, had I to do things over again, I would have afforded to home-school her. The mostly ‘common core’ dreck & teaching to the ‘test’, instead of a more well- rounded education, was I believe, to her detriment!

    2. john bougearel

      Recent “cold turkey” studies have been done on 1000 college students that deprived them of their electronic devices for a day. I don’t remember the exact results, but only a minority made it through the day without their devices. Some became physically ill, nauseous only a few hours after being unplugged and disconnected from their internet addictions. “One unnamed American college student told of their overwhelming cravings, which they confessed was similar to “itching like a crackhead (crack cocaine addict)”.

        1. different clue

          But reading posts and then comment threads of this length and demandingness-of-prolonged-focused-thought is different than the various digital Personal Distraction Devices referrenced just above. Those ( and media entertainment input) are designed to move the user’s attention from thing to thing to thing with attention on any one thing lasting 3-7 seconds before cutting to the next thing.
          This-here internet thread is not designed to destroy attention span and carefully prevent the users’ brains from developing attention-span-capacity the way the new handheld digital devices and modern entertainment inputs are carefully and on purpose designed to do. On purpose. And with malice aforethought.

      1. aronj

        Perhaps, like alcohol, the use of these phones should have an age restriction since it promotes such addictive behavior. We need a new version of AA.

        1. Gio Bruno

          The danger of smart phones is greater and more existential than you may imagine. Pedestrian fatalities from automobile collisions has spiked in California. The cause?: distracted drivers AND distracted pedestrians. Both placing more attention on their smart phones than the risks at hand.

          1. different clue

            I have been almost-walked-into by smartphoners walking ahead and not seeing me standing motionless ” in their oncoming path”. I shouted “EXCUSE ME” loud enought to startle them into looking up and giving me time to half-sidestep them as they adjusted their forward path.

      2. jsn

        It’s complicated, part of the strength of the withdrawal reaction is likely the connectedness kids are getting digitally rather than through “communities” that have all been extinguished: if you want people off their devices, rebuilding real communities with the support and identification necessary for human grounding comes with the problem.

    3. Ivy

      ADHS made me think of Attention Deficit High School, which seems to be a reasonable description to help address the issues.

      Global Misanthrope’s experiences mirror mine.

      I spent a lot of time with Europeans and heard about the declining rigor of their programs. At one time, getting one’s Bac, Abitur or similar achievement was an indicator of more significant distinction and likelihood of greater success at Uni and beyond. Those Europeans going on to become primary primary or, to cite the upper end, secondary teachers (with higher status than in the US, which isn’t that difficult) found that they had to cope with many of the same mandates that permeated US schools, all of which took time away from conventional teaching, and learning.

    4. lightningclap

      +++ Well said. I would add to the list of problems an increasingly violent environment. The ex-partner is an educator in a gang-infested town where young people stab each other on an almost daily basis, but recently a first grader was shot (he’s ok) sleeping in his bed. The cops there are overwhelmed.

      It is extremely difficult to find voices questioning our acceptance of this technology and its possible side effects.

    5. JPT

      I’ll admit that early introduction and dependence on electronics is a problem, but I think it is a massive oversimplification to paint them as “the biggest problem of them all”. At their core, electronic devices like smartphones are tools, and any tool can be misused, the real problem is expecting kids to work out for themselves how to use these tools correctly. These kinds of electronics aren’t going anywhere, and what kids really need is guidance on how to use them responsibly (tame your tools, lest they tame you) rather than simple limits on usage. Lots of adults could likely benefit from similar guidance.

      As for the ADHD (ADHS?) connection, I think the big issue there is over-diagnosis. It’s an easy out for parents and doctors who don’t want to have to think too hard about difficult behavioral questions. But, as someone who’s struggled with a non-hyperactive variant of the condition since childhood, I can tell you with certainty that it is very real and potentially debilitating. (Just for the record, I grew up on a farm, had tons of time outdoors, and didn’t have a computer in the house until I was 14.) Medication is not the easy and total solution that doctors would like you to think it is, but it can be helpful in certain situations. Usually, behavioral therapy and self-management training is more effective and sustainable, and non-pharmaceutical treatment has progressed enormously in the last 10-15 years.

      Ultimately, kids need time and attention from both parents and teachers, but the “modern” economy allows for less and less of both. The most glaring problem, which always seems to be ignored, is the fact that we keep expecting kids to learn more skill and more information in the same amount of time. Teachers are stressed, and have to tear through lessons at breakneck pace. If a student has trouble keeping up, they are likely to receive ridicule rather than extra help. There is no quick or easy solution here, it requires a complete rethinking of the value of education, and how to approach it.

  6. Ven

    Isn’t the whole point of education to constrain children and young adults in the breadth of their thinking, and rather prepare them for jobs, as obedient automatons? The more independent and thoughtful the citizenry, the more challenge to the reigning plutocracy.

    Remember the reaction of universities to Occupy? And with university ‘leaders’ rushing to cash in on soaring executive pay levels and filling their board with the ‘great and good’ of business and politics, not much hope for change.

    As Richard Kline noted, just another symptom of corruption and decline.

    1. polecat

      Just like the book/magazine vender in the movie ‘They Live’………clutching that wad of ghouls’ money labeled “THIS IS YOUR GOD”……………our entire culture is permeated by neo-liberal ‘ghoulism’

      It won’t end until things crater…..and society has to pick up the pieces and start over…….IMNSHO !!

  7. Phil

    Public schooling, after years of being treated like a political football; after years of being under attack by the right; after years of meddling by ‘curriculum experts’ (like the Gates Foundation); after years of not paying teachers what they’re worth, and ceaseless attacks on their unions; after years of letting physical school infrastructure (including tech) go to hell; after years of “teaching to the test”; after years of having to absorb (especially in states like California) massive numbers of non-English-speaking students with little increase in budgets; after years of taking classroom authority away from teachers; after years of helicopter parenting; after years of attempt to privatize education; after all this and after so much more, is still functioning, but nearing a critical phase.

    What I see are savvy students who are not as engaged as they once were; who have just as much, or more potential as prior generations,not as engaged with school as prior generations.

    This is slightly off topic from the schools themselves, but it appears that America has taken its schools for granted, like so many other uniquely wonderful American institutions that have been run into the ground via politicizing or outright attempt to undermine them (look at the Post Office, as another example).

    The one saving grace for American education seems to be immigrant – especially Asian immigrant – children whose parents know the value of education, and who are motivated to make sure their children succeed. In California, we have a huge problem with Latino and black kids – they are just as natively smart as white kids, but so many come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Where are the resources for these kids. About five years ago someone told me that roughly half the kids born in California were Latino, and half of the mothers of those kids had the equivalent of an 8th grade education. How do we get to those mothers?

    We have failed the less-well-off children of our nation, as well as their parents. Massive social problems in some socioeconomic sectors prevent even kids who *want* to excel, from excelling.

    I don’t know what the answer is. I’m a senior citizen, a baby boomer; I think what happened to schooling in America – and many other institutions – is that we got too complacent, starting with the post WWII era when we had no competition. Asia and Europe had been crushed. America went unchallenged for roughly three decades after the war – we got rich (relative to everyone else). Then, Asia and Europe came back. We didn’t notice and we didn’t care. We were too busy becoming “consumers”. We stopped paying attention to essentials; we took our voting privileges for granted. We let ourselves start to run on automatic – occasionally lifted from our daze by this or that war, or this or that economic crisis.

    Last,name just ONE occupation – like teaching – where one’s profession is largely controlled by people who come from OUTSIDE your profession. Look at the obscenity called “Boards of Education”. What good are these institutions? They are mostly populated by non-educators with one or another political axe to grind, or who have a “better way” to run the schools. Teachers have to listen to and kowtow to policies made by these mostly know-nothing institutions. Why? Imagine if an engineer had to do that, or a physician.

    California: 1000 school districts – *every one* of them with a six-figure salary Superintendent of Education. It’s a job-hopping profession – nice! I know a Palo Alto SoE who retired on well over a $200K pension. Sweet. Why? How many of these SoE’s work to collaborate with neighboring districts, to create true large scale efficiency? Maybe 1% of them. How and why do policy makers let that happen? In California we have a State Board of Education, County Boards of Education, and local Boards of Education. Imagine trying to navigate change through something like that. It’s a top-down copy of authoritarian management that went out with Henry Ford (Scientific Management); it’s NOT a model for knowledge workers. Why do we still use it?

    In spite of all, I’m optimistic. America is an innovative place, and we have a lot of talent. Here’s hoping!

    1. Sam Adams

      Sadly you’re correct until the last paragraph and then you’ve negated your thesis. I suggest You’ve stared into the Heart of Darkness and turned away….

    2. jgordon

      Americans do not even have the cultural mental framework to create an education system that the American people need today. In that sense, even if we invested 100% of the federal budget into education, the end result would still be functionally useless students ill equipped to deal with reality.

      Examples: appreciation for the interlocking nature of all life on the planet and a deep knowledge of the natural world will absolutely, fundamentally be required for people to prosper in the future. Or even survive for that matter. Yet instead all our educational efforts are, and will be, spent on fostering low level math skills and inculcating an empty corporate consumerist ideology in students. Our culture is sleep walking towards suicide, and we’re taking the planet with us.

    3. different clue

      Your “compacency” theory does not fit your own observed-evidence of a vast and massive social project to degrade and attrit and destroy the public schools over time. Perhaps as commenter Sam Adams suggests, your observations on the trail of footprints are valuable, but speculating on what creatures leave these footprints is too horrible to consider?

  8. PlutoniumKun

    Back in the 1970’s, when I was 12 years old I went to a second level school (all boys) in Ireland which had an arrangement with a California teacher training college which meant we had regular classes taught by young eager Californians. Even at 12, we found the difference between them and our own teachers fascinating. My school was typical in Ireland – heavy on discipline and focused learning, especially on weaker kids (it was generally assumed that smart kids would look after themselves), but little room for imagination. We we astonished at some of the Cali teachers trying to engage us in games and conversations – this simply didn’t happen with Irish teachers. Some tried to set up pen pal exchanges with pupils in California. We would swap their letters commenting that ‘they write just like they speak’ (we all wrote formal letters, like junior bureaucrats), and pointing out the spelling and grammar mistakes that we thought made them sound like 8 year olds.

    As Yves says, my perception of European education in general is that it is focused more strongly than US education on weaker and ‘average’ students, although of course there are huge variations. I’ve always attributed this to a class thing – the origin of many education systems in Europe, especially religious schools, was always focused on turning working class kids into lower middle class kids, and so on. While in the US there seems more of a focus on turning everyone into a good little American, while particularly nurturing the talented. I know many Irish people who emigrated to the US who simultaneously were horrified at what they saw as the poor teaching of ‘basics’, to their kids, while admiring the way the US system produced very confident, articulate young adults.

    When I briefly lived in NY, another thing that struck me (and most other Irish people I know who went to the US), was how low status teachers are. In almost all of Europe, teachers are considered, if not an elite, then certainly a very respected middle class profession, mostly well paid, mostly considered in any community close to, if not on a level with, the local doctor. The notion of meeting teachers spending their summers house painting or plumbing in the summer to boost their terrible wages is simply unthinkable to most Europeans, yet I met many doing this as I was doing the same (as a student) in New York. On an anecdotal basis, this has one advantage of attracting only people with a genuine calling to be teachers (unlike many time servers I’ve met in Ireland and elsewhere), but there seems little doubt that this greatly reduces the intellectual calibre of teachers. In Finland, for example, you must have a Masters degree to be a teacher. Having said that, over the summer this year I met two highly educated young women with doctorates who were teaching maths and science to Native American kids in Oregon – they were very inspiring, and they loved their work, although I suspect they would both surrender in time to economic reality and go for jobs that would pay them decently.

    So while I think many of the differences in teaching are cultural, it seems to me that the system in the US is almost designed to degrade. you simply cannot build a long term education system on enthusiastic poorly paid people who are doing part time work to pay their bills. And you have to accept that a system which focuses on the particularly bright (which inevitably, means for the most part kids with pushy, wealthy parents), will mean a gradual degradation in the teaching of basics to those kids who are struggling a little.

    1. Carolinian

      Great comment. American education has always been more about socialization than academic rigor thereby producing an endless stream of Hollywood movies where high school becomes a stand in for life itself. But I’m not sure that’s such a terrible thing. Here also the smart ones are autodidacts who are going to teach themselves while the rest go onto ordinary lives where much of what they are taught probably isn’t going to matter much anyway. If the larger context is about how this affects politics and the way we run out societies then you can’t really say that Europe and European leaders like Cameron or Hollande are much of an improvement on our local crop of bozos and schemers.

      1. jrs

        Those who were successful at socializing in high school I have no doubt end up more financially successful than those who weren’t, provided they have some minimal intelligence and factors like class are held constant. I wish they did studies on this, as as it is I merely have every suspicion it’s true. Because the vast majority of workplaces are much more like a high school pecking order than some intellectual meritocracy (not that I favor meritocracy, but the workplace is clearly not one). So it actually does probably determine your place in the world.

    2. diptherio

      you simply cannot build a long term education system on enthusiastic poorly paid people who are doing part time work to pay their bills

      Ding, ding, ding!

      On a side note, I’m reminded of a little piece of Montana history that has stuck with me. Before MT was a state, we had already organized a public school system. As territorial Governor Sidney Edgerton wrote in 1864:

      “Hundreds of children are now in the territory, which a wise legislation will not permit to grow up in ignorance; for, in a free government like ours, where public measures are submitted to the judgment of the people, it is of the highest importance that the people should be so educated as to understand the bearing of public measures. A self-ruling people must be an educated people, or prejudice and passion will assume the power and anarchy will soon usurp the authority of government. Children are in one sense the property of the public, and it is one of the highest and most solemn duties of the state to furnish ample provision for their education. It has been well said by a distinguished jurist that it is cheaper to educate the boy than to punish the man, and if the education of the boy is neglected the punishment of the man may become a necessity, for crime and ignorance go hand in hand.”

      1. optimader

        For all the whining I hear about teacher salaries, as a metric Chicago public school teachers have 170 school days and 178 school day work year, less 15 days discretionary sick leave. That works out to less than 33 weeks a year. They would be idiots not to have side jobs just like Chicago Firemen and Police.

        Name another job that has tenure after 4 years , benefits , retirement plan, starts at over $50k , caps at $95K with out having to go into management and has ~4.5 months a year off, no less allowing a low hanging fruit passive job search if you want to earn more ( summer school/tutoring)

        In my suburbs HS school district, two years ago the deal was same school year basis $52K start $127K top w/ the standard 80% retirement plan. Then add on the ubiquitous average 6% end of career salary spike to juice the retirement plan.

        So if you run out the career, that works out to $107K/year in perpetuity. Where else are you going to find that for a very average education/skillset?

        Think about it this way, if you were doing very well actively managing you uninsured investment nut, and accruing 3% annually (rather than doing a cash burn like most/many(?) retirees) that would be ~$3,5000,000 of capital to support that annual pin-money slipstream. Not bad, w/ this perspective most people are nuts not to get a teaching certificate.

        Not only do I see too much to wring my hands about, I am certain the contemporary education is not as deep as what my parents received in Chicago under time of incomparably more financial distress.

        1. neo-realist

          From anecdotal information I gleaned from people that were in teaching and left, the kids burned them out. The behavioral issues were more than a handful. Not enough combat pay?

          My mother retired from teaching in the NYC public school system in the early 90’s after having taught for over 3 decades. She said the school system at that point was starting to get the first wave of kids born to crack addicted parents. These kids for the most part had learning and behavioral problems seriously out of bonds.

      2. Ivy

        Semi-O/T re Montana: you and others may enjoy reading The Generous Years, by Chet Huntley, another son of the Big Sky Country.

    3. neo-realist

      And you have to accept that a system which focuses on the particularly bright (which inevitably, means for the most part kids with pushy, wealthy parents), will mean a gradual degradation in the teaching of basics to those kids who are struggling a little.

      Not just merely bright kids, but kids who may be average or less than average in academic ability that lucked out in the parent sweepstakes by inheriting wealthy ones (with white skin) who live in a good neighborhood and were able to plant them in a really good school in that neighborhood subsidized by a bounty of property taxes.

  9. Another Anon

    About five years ago when I lived in Australia, I was a volunteer in a program
    called “The Scientist in the Classroom” where scientists would be matched up with
    a primary or secondary school class and would give classes on their specialty which for me was astronomy. Before I started, I had a long chat with the teacher of the year five class that I was matched with to go over what material she thought would be appropriate. She thought it would be great if my classes had a math component so it would show the students that math was useful as well as give them additional practice.

    I was very surprised to hear that her students understood simple geometry and trigonometry, material which I did not learn until grade eight. So I included
    math at this level in my weekly hour classes and I was stunned that they understood it. For example, I described how Galileo in 1609 was able to measure the heights
    of mountains on the Moon from the length of their shadows. I gave the students
    pictures of lunar mountains where they had to repeat what Galileo did. Most of the students got it right and we were almost able to get it all done in one class. I once
    came a bit early and found that the students were reading “A Midsummer’s Night Dream”.

    I have since then taught astronomy at community colleges in New York and I would
    not do this kind of exercise with my students as the math would be beyond many, if not most of them. The school I did my volunteer work in was in a nice middle class part of Sydney, but it was not particularly special. It was not in the North Shore or Eastern Suburbs where most of the wealthy live. The students came from local families which mostly were of immigrant background and no tests were needed in order to enroll.

  10. Savonarola

    It is no longer sufficient to turn up in class and do what they tell you to get a mediocre education. In particular, things are about to take an epic dive in the U.S. because they have shoved the curriculum down to the point where kindergarteners no longer play in school basically at all: children from the age of 4 are required to sit for hours at a time doing rote tasks that are supposed to prepare them for more cramming along the way. Because it is so developmentally inappropriate, there will be serious problems with those kids as they move through school.

    My own children are in high school and middle school. We are insanely lucky to live in an area with extraordinary public schools. They are genuinely getting an interesting and challenging set of lessons in most classes most of the time. Bad teachers stand out rather than being the rule. However, I do not leave such matters to chance. I undertake to educate my children on the side, probing and pushing to hear what they are learning and what they think about it from the beginning. Often the values imparted are different than mine: I say how, and why I believe how I do. I’m not threatened by them learning things I don’t agree with, because my end goal is for them to pick values for themselves and stick with them. Part of that is examining what I think against other options. That skill of comparing things, considering them, and explaining the differences is critical to what I consider to be “education.” Pattern recognition, critical evaluation, seeing where disciplines and ideas interconnect into a culture and a time. . .we’re getting it. We aren’t getting it entirely at school, however.

    I would say that the schools are dumbed down, yes. But they are also cowed: they have been definitely overrun by corporations, and they are also terrified of radical parents who wreak havoc if anything out of their particular belief system creeps in.

    I’m a weirdo. My kids spent hours playing outside as children. Our vacations almost never involve a stable wifi connection (on purpose). We hang in museums hard core, and pass books back and forth to each other to read. We have season tickets to the theater. I taught them music theory, because they weren’t getting it in school. It is just like anything else in this life: you want a good education, it is necessary to work for it. Even at our good schools, they are fond of reminding me that a “C” is average! Taking what they give you uncritically is a good way to wind up average.

    But it was always thus. I have an excellent public/private education, my husband has a terrible one (and he’s the product of the vaunted U Cal system). I was educated in one of the poorest parts of the country, but there was a hunger to know where I lived because it was the gateway to a better life. What worries me most is how awful the job of teacher is now: they will drive away the best people in no time. It’s already happening. From there things get much worse. Combined with the cramming down of the curriculum, I genuinely expect growing problems. My crew might be the last generation to get out of the U.S. system relatively unscathed.

    1. Jerry

      I agree it was always thus. I recall having dismal teachers in some classes of my rural Iowa school but a really good math teacher who also taught physics. When I got to college I realized how inadequate my education would have been had I not gone beyond high school.

      Yet those were the good old days when Iowa claimed to have above average schools. We cited the ACT scores, not realizing the cultural bias of a test written right here in Iowa.

      When my youngest went to the same public school 40 years later the situation was similar. His math teacher was as poor as mine had been excellent. He then got an engineering degree from Iowa State while complaining the classes were very badly taught.

      1. polecat

        I attended junior high in the late 60s’/senior high in the early 70s’………. I had a few instructors who were passionate about teaching, but most of the others were either biding their time until retirement, or just became cynical toward their students. Against this background we had lots of drug use by the student bodies, as well as the occasional race-riot…….so yours truly had to endure drugged-out assholes, mendacious prepsters, thuggish sport jocks, and many of the angry minority kids…looking to thump & jump this harmless honky……..

        Let me tell you….me public school memories were anything but fulfilling !!

        When we relocated a decade ago, to a different state, in a much more rural, and I should say, conservative community, we gave our child a chance to grow up without the shit that I had to endure (which has only gotten worse in the coming decades) when I was younger. That’s not to say that this small town we live in doesn’t have its’ share of problems, but they are far more tolerable than a much larger metropolis!

  11. windsock

    Not just USA – UK too.

    A few years ago, I volunteered as a classroom assistant with children aged 6-9. I was shocked at how ill-disciplined and unenthusiastic the children were, and how lacklustre was the teaching. Compared to the education I had received at the same age in the 60s, this was like spoonfeeding infants processed food. There was no encouragement for experiment or discovery. One girl even asked me if it was OK to ask questions… What sort of school does not encourage questions?

    1. Massinissa

      I think, I think, I remember some classes where questions were not supposed to be asked. I think the reason is because they could derail the discussion.

      Im 24 and I still can barely remember the specifics of my early childhood education. I mean, what happened in the classroom and stuff. I mostly remember playing on school grounds more than I remember any classes.

  12. drugstoreblonde

    Having graduated high school in the early aughts, I’m not sure if my experiences are particularly salient. However, a good indicator of the the scale of the drift can be gleaned in the differences in college curricula, then and now. To wit, my grandfather and I were both English majors. He attended University in the 1950s, while I attended in the mid-aughts.

    Where the great bulk of my coursework was directed towards poorly-structured workshops and the latest shiny objects of critical theory, my grandfather’s was grounded in formalism (perception) and rhetoric (reason), and placed a greater emphasis on historical context then on, say, (mis)applying the concepts (and conceits) of a given critical school with little to no understanding of the work’s context, as well as the reason’s for its sustained circulation, etc.

    In other words, English majors currently don’t learn how to reason, but rather how to sound like Professors. It’s all very sad and frustrating, and I feel that it is playing into the hands of the Education Extraction Industry, which only sees value in STEM. I know that critical thinking isn’t a export unique to literary studies and the cultural artefact known as the “English Major,” but I am deeply concerned about the gradual erosion of this cultural institution, and wonder what, if anything, will replace it?

    1. weinerdog43

      I think your points are very well taken.

      I graduated from high school in 1976, but my son finished in 2007 and the differences are alarming. For example, while I took Rhetoric and Latin, those types of classes were not even available to him. Mind you, we both went to high schools in the western ‘burbs of Chicago that were (and still are) noted for their high levels of expected achievement. He complained bitterly about the mandatory testing and rote memorization inflicted upon him.

      If the crapification of the more elite public schools is noticeable, I would probably be horrified to delve into a more typical example of modern day high schoool. While the NC readership is by and large a very sharp bunch, I think more Americans pay attention to the Kardashians and the NFL than to blogs like this. I think we’re an outlier.

  13. Tom_Doak

    I attended public schools in the suburbs of NYC in the 70’s, and thought maybe I was spoiled by the quality of education there; the schools my kids attend in a small midwestern town are nowhere near as rigorous. But when I went back for my high school reunion, I was disturbed to hear that the school system where I grew up is no longer good, either. Friends reported that they had to send their kids to private schools if they wanted a decent education.

    There is no financial support for better schools at the local level. Asking the taxpayers for more money nearly always fails, because families with school-age kids are in the minority, and because incomes are stagnant; and in the places where people can afford better schools, the wealthy choose to pay for their own kids’ educations, because they don’t believe that “government” can do the job.

  14. david s

    I have three kids in the public schools in Durham NC.

    I am very impressed with what my kids are learning, and with the quality of teachers they have had. All three go to magnet schools, though, which is sort of like the all-star kids drained off of the regular pool of kids. Most parents are upper middle class white, and are sending their kids to this public school because it’s very virtuous to do so.

    My observation is that we have a top 10-20% kids in this country that is just knocking it out of the park, competitive with any students in the world. Everyone else is stagnant, or losing ground. Isn’t that what’s happening everywhere else in the US, aided by our politics?

  15. Ulysses

    “My observation is that we have a top 10-20% kids in this country that is just knocking it out of the park, competitive with any students in the world. Everyone else is stagnant, or losing ground. Isn’t that what’s happening everywhere else in the US, aided by our politics?”

    This matches my own observations. There are always at least some fantastic teachers and students in every school, but the sad reality is that the Savage Inequalities, noted by Jonathan Kozol years ago, have only become worse.

    Schools are always a reflection of the broader society. The authoritarian tendencies in today’s schools are quite alarming. One of my acquaintances– who began teaching Social Studies/Civics in the late 70s– has been forced by his administration to water down his lessons on the fourth and first amendments because they “might encourage a disrespectful attitude towards authority” on the part of his students! He is no longer allowed to teach the actual text of the Bill of Rights, just the watered down, authoritarian-friendly “summary” provided in the horrible new textbook! :(

    1. Pespi

      That’s a very good point. Through prison schooling and connected devices, we’re creating incredibly obedient, nearsighted, and short ham-stringed kids who’ll never be adults. It’s death for society.

    2. ekstase

      “No longer allowed to teach the Bill of Rights.”

      Earlier generations would have called that treason. That’s not just insulting the teachers, and it’s not just dumbing down a populace, it’s an attempt to control people’s ability to question, and that is at the very core of being able to tell the difference between right and wrong.

  16. Kokuanani

    One small but significant example of the failings of American education: “civics” and history.

    How can our political discussion devolve to demands to shape “education” according to backwater religious ideas? Dinosaurs walking with Adam and Eve? No evolution? No human causes of climate change, even if allowing that it exists?

    When I was in high school, in the admittedly non-educational and quite religious hub of Houston in the 50s, we nonetheless learned about the separation of church and state, and studied about how one of the reasons the colonists came to America was to flee an established state religion.

    “How a bill becomes law” and all the other minutia of civics, including the three branches of government and the roles and limitations of each, all appear to be unknowns to today’s citizens.

    And, as I always remind myself, they can vote.

    Edited to acknowledge Ulysses’ comment above.

  17. petal

    GM’s post yesterday hit home with me. I have been noticing it, too, where I live now. I grew up in a poor, rural district in western NY in the 80s but we had an amazing crop of teachers. They did so much extra with us-science club, environmental club, language on the side when we were little, field trips, extra books, and nurturing. I would never have made it out if not for them. In social studies or history class, critical thinking was a big deal.

    Now, when I sit in class or interact with undergrads at the local Ivy, I am gobsmacked by how little history, politics, and geography they know-maybe it’s just a general lack of knowledge. Even some of the medical students can be frightening-one had to call her mum to find out how to change the 9V in a smoke detector. It truly boggles. I think school and university these days has been boiled down to nothing more than trade school. Pump and dump. I have been trying to get through to my four nieces (all in uni) to explore different subject areas and learn about stuff you never thought you might, and I have offered to help pay for study abroad, but I don’t think it is working. It’s all about getting job training in order to get a job after graduating that will pay the bills. Also, when I was an undergrad in the mid-late 90s, one summer I took a couple classes at the SUNY across town from my uni. The English Lit class was full of teaching majors. I was shocked by the low level of education/intelligence/what have you, and I swore for years I would never send my kid to a public school in NYS if this was what was being pumped out. Couldn’t understand how they had been allowed to graduate from HS. Also have a cousin that went back to become a teacher because her original criminal justice major didn’t get her anywhere. There was really nothing else for her to do. I hate saying that, because I loved and respected my own teachers so much back in the day. They were a special breed-intelligent, caring people on a mission to truly educate and teach children to think. I don’t have a kid yet, but I will do my best to stay in my current town because it has an amazing public school with teachers like I had. Pretty sure that’s the rare exception these days. Very sad.

    1. petal

      Forgot to add this-the undergrads I had class with this term couldn’t believe I don’t use a cell phone(it was as if I had told them I can fly), and that the one I do have is a dumb phone from 2002 that I only have for emergencies. Their heads exploded. They couldn’t understand it-like “how do you survive or get through the day?”. Every spare second, they are glued to their phones. I don’t even carry mine in my bag. It gets left home.

      1. jim

        In this electronic age, one gets the impression that knowing how to look up something is equivalent to knowing it. Humans evolved by being able to integrate space, time, and distance, such as where the next source of water was located and how long it takes to find it. Computers, for all their conveniences, take us away from the familiar and largely separate us from the ability to think and to remember. (Try finding again that web page you saw yesterday – the context is probably now missing) My public high school chemistry and physics teacher always challenged us to solve problems and in doing so helped us to think about what we had
        learned and to practice using the relevant concepts.

      2. EmilianoZ

        I have a primitive Nokia that looks like a slightly improved clone of the Nokia I used to have circa 2000. I also leave it at home most of the time.

  18. Steve H.

    Joe’s last year in high school, he took an economics class and I told him he wouldn’t have to study for it, since the point was to convince the kids they understoond economics. He aced it. Over half his classes were in the band room with a genuine mentor.

    We wanted him to have a stable upbringing, so one house his whole life, and one elementary school. I got to be a playground supervisor for a year, which required some inside information. It had been a diverse place, but a couple of years before he got there, a new school was built in the wealthier area, and despite the words coming out of their mouths most parents in that neighborhood moved their kids to it. (This is not conjecture, there was an academic book written on it.)

    The school had a superb corps of teachers, but it was the second most transient in the system. State standardized testing protocols demanded the results of all students be included, including the ones in wheelchairs who couldn’t even speak. This crashed, the former solid principal was moved out, a not-give-a-crap bureaucrat was moved in, teacher morale plummeted, eventually a high-end charter raided the teacher corps.

    Despite this focus on the teachers and administration, I can say the primary factor in how well the kids did was the parents. It was ridiculous to expect kids to do well in school when their parents kept switching districts, due to their own life instability. The school’s standardized grades were the second worst, and the most transient school the worst. And it pretty much laid out on income lines, people couldn’t pay the rent and had to move and the cycle continued. It wasn’t the kids, I still remember the despair on one sweet and sharp girls face when she told us she had to move.

    I’m going to rant for one sentence. IT’S NOT THE ELECTRONICS, IT’S NOT THE TEACHERS, IT’S THE UTTER DEVASTATION THAT COMES WITH BEING POOR. That’s a rant because I know there are exceptions. But the deliberate income inequality and corrosion of the public school system are the deep factors that undercut the ability and motivation of parents to create an environment where learning is rewarded.

    1. Shirley Ende-Saxe

      You nailed it. Then add predatory electronic charter schools who are public to collect tax $$$$ and unaccountable when it comes to where the money goes or how many kids graduate. But hey, they fund the legislators in the state so guess who gets a pass?
      People have been convinced that public schools are the dregs of society and everybody who ever read “uphill in the snow” is unconcerned with finding out how public policy and poverty affects children. It’s pathetic.

  19. lyman alpha blob

    In my state we are being subjected to something called ‘proficiency based’ education. If you can figure out what it is please let me know. After reading the materials touting the program, it can vary from state to state, district my district, and school to school. The methods used can be whatever the administrators want them to be which means that’s if it’s essentially whatever someone wants it be, it’s basically nothing.

    Supposedly it’s supposed to make sure every student is ‘proficient’ in every subject before they’re allowed to move on the the next level. A longtime math teacher friend told me that if I wanted to find out if it was a bunch of BS or not I should ask the administrators if they were going to hold anyone back for a lack of proficiency. I asked the superintendent exactly that and her answer after a lot of hemming and hawing was ‘no’. How this differs from our curent system I’m not exactly sure.

    This program was mandated by the state legislature but our local administrators are true believers in this nonsense. Evidently they didn’t get the joke about all the children in Lake Wobegone being above average.

    After some research I find that the board of directors for this program is peopled by a bunch of mutual fund managers and financial types. Quelle surprise!

  20. DakotabornKansan

    America’s youth fare particularly poorly when it comes to reading and technological skills

    It has been my observation, as a volunteer tutor, that many students have fractured attention spans. Many no longer have the capacity to sit in class and listen to an extended, complex argument. Nor are they capable of deep reading that requires concentration. They are adverse to anything that demands their attention over time. Many no longer bother to read books. Their emphasis is on speed rather than depth. They are easily distracted, their brains more attuned to crap.

    Many parents, tethered to their smart phones, are enablers and role models.

    Nicholas Carr on raising the realtime child:

    “Raising the realtime child is not difficult. The newborn human infant, after all, leads a purely realtime existence, immersed entirely in the “stream” of realtime alerts and stimuli. As long as the child is kept in the crosscurrents of the messaging stream from the moment of parturition – the biological womb replaced immediately with the wi-fi and/or 3G womb – adaptation to the realtime environment will likely be seamless and complete. It is only when a sense that time may consist of something other than the immediate moment is allowed to impinge on the child’s consciousness that maladaption to realtime becomes a possibility. Hence, the most pressing job for the parent is to ensure that the realtime child is kept in a device-rich networked environment at all times.” http://www.roughtype.com/?p=1343

    Just as Aldous Huxley saw it, we have come to love our oppression, to adore the technologies that are undoing our capacity to think. Huxley feared there would be no reason to ban books, for there would be no one who wanted to read them. Many are preoccupied by trivial culture, our equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy.

    1. Ulysses

      X1000!! You can get a very clear sense of the emergent dystopia by reading Huxley, Orwell, and Kafka. It seems our corporate overlords regard their works as training manuals, not desperate warnings. :(

    2. Julia

      Exactly, I couldn’t agree more with you. Huxley was able to foresee that we would become the slaves of technology. There is no motivation to read books and if they read them they can’t think for themselves. And when we express these thoughts about technology so many people get angry as if we were betraying the system. They hate to accept the truth. Technology is not addressing the main global needs: peace, justice, equality, sustainability. Technology is used to control us and it is used to allow the wealthy to have more power. But our sustainability is in question and nobody likes to address this important matter. Scapegoating and wars are the answers provided by the shortsighted leaders.

  21. Starveling

    I graduated here in Cincinnati back in 04′, and I wonder if part of what sets everyone around here off about Common Core is that it could endanger the little hack many of the schools have made– when I was in school, everything above elementary was tracked. College bound kids had courses with better lab equipment, more resources, field trips, actual literate, debates.

    Kids not so lucky, well, dittos and repeating after the teacher? Seems a recipe for dumbing.

  22. Jim Haygood

    ‘I grew up in Houston in the ’60s and ’70s. It was not what anyone would call an intellectual hub.’

    Well hell, son. Maybe it depended on what you was studying. The Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake City brought a lot of outside and even international talent to our neighborhood, with high expectations for their kids. Public schools in the area responded with solid offerings in science, math and technology, for those so inclined.

    The larger story, which deserves its own article, is how per capita student spending has climbed in real terms, while results have stagnated or declined. It’s attributable to many factors — federal mandates, administrative accretion, teachers who themselves are the product of dumbed-down schools — but the result is that the U.S. is not internationally competitive in public education.

    Not that one would expect a “single payer” school system to excel. Where’s the incentive?

    1. GlobalMisanthrope

      Well hell, son. Maybe it depended on what you was studying. The Johnson Space Center in Clear Lake City brought a lot of outside and even international talent to our neighborhood, with high expectations for their kids. Public schools in the area responded with solid offerings in science, math and technology, for those so inclined.

      I come from a family of readers and life-long learners and I’m sure we were far from the only ones, but the Houston I grew up in was emphatically anti-intellectual outside of the enclaves abutting its universities.

      In that time of white flight, it wasn’t what one studied that mattered, it was where. Lucky you.

      But, also and importantly, Clear Lake is not Houston. Sub- and ex-urban development in more recent decades has created a huge, seamless metropolis that can confuse people on this point. But if you’re my peer, you know that Clear Lake was a city completely apart in the era I refer to. Nobody was confused on that point. It was a road trip.

      1. optimader

        I come from a family of readers and life-long learners

        You took some ownership in your education, which is a lifelong process.

        I was is good public schools, A solid State University, but I can say without a doubt my education was school of hardknocks working and the time I spent in the libraries, or at home reading what I picked up that week at the library.

        When I found out that the local library, as well the University Llibray would source any book I asked for, the world was my oyster.
        Ultimately classes set a structure for topics and tempo with confirmation testing, but I can say much of my real education was self actualized

        Those libraries still exist with all the resources and more.

        As I ‘ve said before, I am of the opinion that young people have a challenge focusing because of the distractions available and technology shortcuts have toxic effect on creativity when the basics haven’t been adsorbed. .

  23. gardener1

    I too went to high school in Houston Tx. in the 1960’s. Never graduated. Got a GED in California and then went to college on and off for the next 20 years. Never graduated.

    Moved away from Tx., came back, my kids went to school in Texas. My daughter did very well in a backwater school district, graduated, went on to college, graduated.

    My son failed from the first day of kindergarten. I filed an application to move him to a different school district and won. He did ok in elementary school, struggled in middle school, did one year of high school which was a disaster – and then we moved to Russia (work related). Took the 15 year old son with us.

    For two years he wandered Moscow. Then I enrolled him in the best high school in Moscow by negotiating with the administrator. All Russian speaking, totally Russian high school. Russian textbooks, Russian teachers, rundown Russian 19th century building. His Russian language skills picked up very quickly ;-/ He drifted in and out of the Russian high school for several years, never graduated.

    We returned to the US. He had virtually nothing in the way of school records, he was 20 years old. He passed the GED. He enrolled in the community college (which we paid for, cash). It took him 5 years to get his AA.

    My son is savvier and a much more engaged thinker than is my daughter, who is a product of ‘the system’. They are both very literate although they arrived there by different paths.

    I credit the schools with very little regarding the ‘education’ of either of my children. I taught them to love books, I love books. Russian books, poetry books, other people who love books, story books, Dr. Suess books; newspapers, magazines, dictionaries, reference books, maps –

    Education is not necessarily a product of schooling, education begins in the home. One can be well educated without being a cog in the system, even today.

    My kids are now 33 & 28. With and without formal educational pedigrees, they have both struggled to make a living. I can only hope that they each find their place in the world somehow.

    The ‘system’ is not the solution, it is the problem.

    1. Gio Bruno

      In some case, that is true. But I never would have understood the full impact of the Calculus without a brilliant Physics professor at university. Having a basic grounding in several sciences and having read widely and traveled the western hemisphere allowed me to recognize Trump was full of it.

  24. Bubba_Gump

    We have a hard time recruiting fresh staff who can write a coherent sentence. It’s truly awful – we can’t let them send out project documents without a review from one of the few more senior people here who can actually write. I just don’t understand it. They may know how to code but they sure as hell can’t communicate clearly.

    A brief anecdote: About ten years ago I enrolled as an older student in a part-time technical management program at UMUC. It was interesting to see how much focus was being given to written work and grammar. But the professor clearly had low expectations of the incoming students. I remember turning in one of the first assignments, which was to do a little research and write up a summary. The prof asked me, “Did you write this?” in a skeptical tone. It was an insulting revelation. I can only suppose they’d been conditioned to it, especially what what I’ve seen from our junior staff at work.

    We have done technical work in school buildings, and recently I was able to read through a public middle school teacher manual. This was put out by Scholastic and adhered to the Common Core. I’ve never seen something so shocking. The teacher is given a detailed script for each day of class, which includes word for word what they are instructed to tell the students and what direction they are supposed to guide the discussions. There was clearly no policy for the teacher to use their own judgement or interpretation. No wonder teachers are brain-dead — they either started that way and are happy to read the script, or they have had to turn their minds off in order to remain sane in this environment.

  25. GlobalMisanthrope

    Thank you, Yves, for sharing my comment. When I talk to people, including my own parents, I find that they have no idea what’s going on in the schools.

    We have a manual typewriter. My son and a friend he brought home from school were typing on it one day back in his second year of school. When they went outside to play, I was curious to see what they had typed, since they could barely read or write. Along with his name and his friend’s and mine, my son had typed “i love school.”

    I reminded him of that yesterday and he told me that school had been exciting at first, but that with every passing year it became more and more of a disappointment. And then he reminded me of the time in 5th grade when he had been working on his math homework forever so I went in to check on him. I asked him how it was going and he started crying out of frustration. He was trying to do a word problem, so I took a look. It was nonsensical. I read it over and over and then finally realized that an entire sentence had been left out!

    I tell this story because, as a result of that experience, I started paying close attention and found that typos and errors of all kinds were common in the worksheets he was given to complete at home.

    Since we’re in Texas, many schools observe Mexican Independence Day, el dieciséis de septiembre. One year the kids were going to sing some songs in Spanish at a lunchtime performance for parents. My son brought home the songs to practice. At the top of the sheet it read “El diez y seis de Deciembre.”

    I share these anecdotes in an attempt to convey the depth of the rot in the system. What we have is an intense system of micromanagement without any actual rigor. It’s an authoritarian regime that infantilizes everyone within it. And it bends all endeavor toward a set of measures that objectify teachers and students alike.

    But how did this happen? I have a theory. But since this comment is already getting overly long, I’ll come back with it later in a separate comment.

    1. drugstoreblonde

      This line deserves a medal:

      What we have is an intense system of micromanagement without any actual rigor. It’s an authoritarian regime that infantilizes everyone within it.

      This most closely reflects my own experience of education.

    2. habenicht

      My oldest daughter is in public grade school in NYC. Its a bit too early for me to tell how appropriate the content of class matches the kids’ ability to learn.

      That said, we are also approaching this from a vigilant perspective. We review the homework and on occasion even assign more than she brings home. I try to challenge her (and sometimes even try to trick her) on what she learns to see what kind of perspectives she picks up and try to get her to think critically when appropriate. I may have to teach her how to write in cursive as she was interested in it and I am not sure if it is on the school syllabus. (She learned to spell when my wife and I would spell things we didn’t want her to hear. More recently when we make our shopping lists in cursive, she wants to know what we are writing – this kid is trying to crack all our codes!)

      I don’t know if our approach is warranted or over-reacting, but the tone of this thread appears to affirm what we are doing.

  26. Alejandro

    Excerpt from “Dumbing US Down” by John Taylor Gatto:
    “I’ve noticed a fascinating phenomenon in my thirty years of teaching: schools and schooling are increasingly irrelevant to the great enterprises of the planet. No one believes anymore that scientists are trained in science classes or politicians in civics classes or poets in English classes. The truth is that schools don’t really teach anything except how to obey orders. This is a great mystery to me because thousands of humane, caring people work in schools as teachers and aides and administrators, but the abstract logic of the institution overwhelms their individual contributions. Although teachers do care and do work very, very hard, the institution is psychopathic — it has no conscience. It rings a bell and the young man in the middle of writing a poem must close his notebook and move to a different cell where he must memorize that humans and monkeys derive from a common ancestor.”

    1. G3

      That is an interesting book – I read an excerpt but couldn’t get hold of it in the library whenever I looked for it because the very few copies are in heavy demand, as are his other books.

        1. g3

          ohhhhh…… Thanks!

          I had saved a link to his book “The underground history of American education” but it is now invalid.

  27. perpetualWAR

    It’s the dumbing down of America. I see it wvery day.

    I have been a foreclosure fighter for the last decade. I had to learn civics from actually doing volunteer lobbying within my state capitol, as we weren’t taught it in school.

    I graduated from what was considered a very good high school. Now, granted, I took Calculus and Physics, but we were never taught Civics.

    And I can tell you that MANY other of my peers also were never taught how a bill gets passed. Because other foreclosure fighters are clueless regarding who is their State legislators. When I ask, they quite possibly can rattle off our federal Senators, but many dont realize what happens in DC, happens at their state capitols too. Bills get passed. And sadly, most cannot quote any case laws decisions relating to foreclosure either.

  28. Rich

    Of course you can take an anecdote any way you want, but I recently worked with a bright 30 year old history graduate, from UIC, a sales director, who could not name all the presidents since JFK in order.

  29. so

    Every child has a gift. Its up to all of us to find and nurture it. Our education system has always failed our children. There’s no such thing as dumb.

  30. drugstoreblonde

    Another thought that occurred to me:

    My mother has been a high school biology (and AP biology) teacher for nearly 33 years. The class size has increased from an averge of 24 when she began, to well in the 30s for most of her classes. More to the point, in the last 14 years, more and more of her time has been consumed by administration creep. She now spends more and more of her prep periods answering emails from parents of chronic-absentee students than in preparing lessons for the students that do show up. Her school district has also introduced a suite of software programs (the backdoor means by which education is being privatized) that add no value, take up precious time, do not increase teacher production or (god forbid) satisfaction, and whose costs would have been better used in reducing classroom size or (god forbid) teacher compensation.

    Thankfully, she is retiring at the end of this year. She was a fourth generation teacher. For a time, I had considered becoming an educator. She made it very clear to me that I would have to give up my gag reflex to even last through my first 3-year contract.

  31. Amelia Peabody

    “The wisdom of our ancestors (which I admire more and more every day) seemed to have determined that the education of youth was so paltry and unimportant a matter, that almost any man, armed with a birch and a regulation cassock and degree, might undertake the charge…” –Thackeray, Book of Snobs, 1848

  32. Pogonip

    Several people mentioned college graduates being unable to write coherently; this, at least, is not new. I noticed it when I entered the workforce in 1989.

    1. drugstoreblonde

      Being able to produce good writing is one thing–being able to recognize (and understand) it, is another.

      The fact that–acid-reflux at the thought–Jonathan Franzen is the most *important* person in American Letters today should give us all cause for concern.

      Granted, I understand that you are referring to ostensibly-educated people organizing and articulating their thoughts in writing always having been a challenge.

      1. bob

        Another classic of his-


        “Franzen himself seems to know his attempt to depict Midwestern life is weak. He makes up for it with lots of “writerly writing.” Franzen, you see, wrote a bold manifesto a few years ago, in favor of “writerly” writers like himself. As opposed, I gather, to un-writerly writers. Well, who can disagree with the man? I myself am in favor not only of writerly writers but hit-manly hit men, whorish whores, and bakerly bakers. In fact, perhaps the hit-manly hit men could be persuaded to do something about the whorish whores, especially those posing as writers. Bake them in a pie with the help of the bakerly bakers…”

  33. Elizabeth Burton

    Welcome to the end result of thirty years of “education reform,” otherwise known as the neoliberal plot to privatize public education. Starting in the ’80s with “A Nation At Risk,” the corporatocracy has been systematically working to terrify US parents into believing the only way to keep the US competitive is to ensure educational outcomes can be properly measured. No Child Left Behind introduced the concept of compulsory standardized tests, which allegedly would reveal bad schools (and, by extension, bad (read: “union”) teachers.

    Then the hedge fund managers and the educational materials publishers and the rich folks realized there were billions to be made, so the push to “argument” (read: replace) public schools with charter unaccountable to the taxpayers paying for them and “school choice” vouchers that, again, were distributed without accountability and with utter disregard for the separation of church and state began.


    <a href="https://norinrad10.wordpress.com/2016/02/16/tn-not-ready/&quot; rel="nofollow"

    <a href="http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/35144-cashing-in-on-kids-172-alec-education-bills-push-privatization-in-2015&quot; rel="nofollow"

  34. Linwood Tauheed

    In Robert Briffault’s 1933 “Breakdown: The Collapse of Traditional Civilization” – (“traditional civilization” defined as one with a ruling class/working class structure) – he theorizes that traditionally, improvement in the quality of life of the ruling class required an educated working class. While the educational system (formal or informal) starts out as vocational (only enough knowledge for the job) it must advance this knowledge if the ruling class is to have luxury R&D developed products and services (yachts, jets, NSA spying, etc.).

    But, as the educational system advances, and the working class becomes more able to think critically, it is more likely to become critical of the growing inequality between itself and the elite and of the draconian practices the elite must employ to maintain control.

    At this point the elite must begin to eliminate the critical thinking ability of the working class and return the educational system to its primarily vocational role. It is at this point that Briffault theorizes that “traditional civilization” begins to breakdown since a high level of advanced production is no longer possible without widespread advanced knowledge. Thus, Briffault explains the rise and fall of empires (he also wrote the Decline and Fall of the British Empire)

    It occurs to me that in modern international capitalism elites can move from nation to nation which are at different stages in Briffault’s scenario maintaining a knowledgeable but uncritical workforce. This would mean that US elites can reduce the educational level of the US workforce back to a vocational level while still benefiting from an advanced knowledge base elsewhere that has not yet become critical of its class structure, and/or is too controlled to do anything about it (an emerging China).

    A reduction in advanced knowledge in the US allows disaster capitalism to benefit financially from crisis (bailouts), with little pushback while maintaining a high quality of life for elites

  35. dcblogger

    I don’t have children, so have no direct contact w/ public schools, but I must say that there has been a concerted effort to demonize public schools as part of an effort to destroy and privatize them.

  36. Nick

    The debates about the education system are rooted in the basic conflict in American society: assessment, which is a proxy for power relations. Will the teacher be an autonomous professional who is considered able to make her own decisions about what to teach, how to grade, etc? Or will the teacher be a functionary who serves as the point-of-force of a giant bureaucracy that makes these decisions, and assesses their results, itself? Obviously the latter model is in ascendance, and it will produce and hire teachers who can function in that system.

    I think a good comparison is the medical system. Doctors are still considered professionals by most Americans, and the complaint of the insurance company ‘coming between you and your doctor’ is one that people listen to. Teachers aren’t given that same respect, and there isn’t any reason why America would have an educational system that is staffed by skilled professionals or administrators.

  37. mdh

    I moved to Oregon from the east coast in the early 90’s and spent some time teaching HIV medicine at the regional university hospital. Compared to Philadelphia, expectations were lax, aspiration to excellence was not the cultural norm and student and house staff mistakes could not be firmly addressed and plans for improvement put in force. This was a part of the local medical culture. It also suffered from the NIH syndrome-“Not Invented Here.” Later, I was informally approached by a large staff of nurse practitioners in a poverty clinic to do bedside consultation and teaching with them. To my horror I discovered that they had virtually no training in competent history taking, physical examination, differential diagnose and forming a therapeutic plan. Yet, they had been bulshitted into thinking they possessed a unique clinical mojo by virtue of being NPs. Things are now markedly worse. “Treat and Street-em” is now the norm due to management imperatives and top-down coercion. Virtually no younger physicians can do the refined history taking that was always the backbone of diagnosis. Over-testing is normative. The subculture of medicine at the primary care level is dying. I am sure this is true in most other fields. Yet we are atomized, ignorant of necessity arising from an excess of complexity and deliberate misdirection. Everywhere the secret “inside baseball” reality of trades, arts and professions are only really grasped by the fading portion of earnest insiders, carriers of the order culture now “disrupted” and cast aside and replaced with the simulacrum of professionalism. I would encourage anyone to read Orwell’s prophetic writings on James Burnham and the “managerial revolution” for a prescient warning of what has come to be and will only get much, much was as time goes on.

  38. clinical wasteman

    I’m way too far away (i.e. geographically, not in terms of whether I care or not) to throw my 2 devalued NZ cents or imperial British pence into a discussion that matters this much, but just wanted to add that Global Misanthrope sure can write prose and (as seen recently on this site) poetry.

    1. Ulysses

      Yes! What a pleasure to read his well-crafted posts! I have a novelist friend who is a tad misanthropic herself. She swears that people who engage too much, with the other people they see every day, lose the detachment they need to write their chapters of the great Comédie humaine.

  39. EmilianoZ

    Today everybody needs to become an autodidact. I like to think of myself as at least partly autodidact. No teacher ever told me to read NC.

    The Khmer Rouges in Cambodia tried to kill everybody with an education. The US has found a better solution. Give people an education that’s so useless they’re not even worth killing.

  40. Adam Eran

    One additional bit of business about education: The education “reformers” (e.g. Eli Broad, & Michelle Rhee) want to promote three strategies to improve educational outcomes: 1. (Union-busting) Charter schools, 2. Merit pay, and 3. Lots of testing.

    They even funded a propaganda film directed by the man who made An Inconvenient Truth called Waiting for Superman which touts the Finnish schools as the model to emulate. Oddly enough, Finnish teachers are well-paid, unionized and tenured–things not mentioned in the film.

    Actual science does not support any of the three “reform” strategies, but one thing does correlate with educational outcomes: childhood poverty rates. In Finland childhood poverty afflicts 2% of their population. In the U.S. it’s 23%.

    So…all the debates about school “reform” are really rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. The social context is as important as the school.

    Could these “reformers” be directing attention away from the plutocracy on purpose? Gosh! I wonder! (see notwaitingforsuperman.org for footnotes here)

  41. G3

    I have no kids and no connection to the school system. But want to share what Karen Lewis mentioned when she was in town few years back : Most of the future growth are in jobs which don’t require more than a high school degree. So the elites don’t want to educate people. And they do it covertly – dumbing it down etc. I want to further expand on that : the testing fundamentalism, doing away with recess, arts & physical ed, harsh discipline regimes, making schools look more like high security prisons etc are all part of the design to force kids quit school. As George Carlin said, it i for a reason that education sucks.

  42. Marbles

    To be fair, there aren’t enough “good paying” jobs for those that are bright.

    The fact that they average students can’t do math and science is fine. There are tons of above average graduate and post graduate students that cannot find work in research, academia, or industry. There has never been a STEM shortage, much less a critical thinker shortage in terms of industry.

    So when you look at it from that perspective, the system is working fine. If the system turned out truly better educated people, those who benefit from the system would then have to find use for those people, or part with some of their wealth.

  43. TomD

    I guess I had a very unusual experience with public schooling, although I was always in the honors “track”. I graduated a public highschool in 2005 in what I think of as a rather average city in central IL. I got a fairly solid introduction to math, science, history and literature. Even had about 9 credit hours going into college thanks to AP classes.

    Afterward, I went to the local community college, and I felt completely prepared for the course work. If anything I think it was easier than I was expecting. One thing HS didn’t prepare me for was the freedom and more complex schedule of college.

    So I tend to think most discussions about public schools are too negative. They’re not failing everyone, and for the most part not failing people who want to be engaged. This makes sense because the right wing wants to destroy public schooling, so the more depressing they make it sound the more it makes people want to give up.

    The main problem is that I think a lot of children have no hope. If you’re growing up in inner city Baltimore, you have 50% unemployment to look at, and whether or not you have a highschool education will make no difference. I think if students had hope you’d see even the creaky resource starved public schools suddenly performing a lot better.

  44. thoughtful person

    A bit late in the day, but here are my few cents. I have two children, both attended public institutions for the most part here in Charlottesville, Virginia (university town which probably helps a bit). My daughter was a bit unusual, she was reading at 5, and had an Oct birthday so too young for kindergarten. We sent her to Montessori school for her first 2 years. Then she switched to the local public school, but at a grade ahead of where she would have been. She was mature socially, so that was not an issue. By the time she got to high school she was ready to move on, so she went to the local community college instead of 11th and 12th grades. She took 3 years and got an Associates degree, along with a GED, and did well enough to transfer to William and Mary for her last 2 years where she majored in Sociology. She had a teacher at the Community College who started her off in that field. After some international travel (she worked in Spain, doing odd jobs, was an au pair for about 6 months), she returned to work at the local preschool where our son had gone, for a year. We were lucky enough to be able to put her through school debt free, between the low tuition (relatively) of state community colleges and public university. She has epilepsy, so she wanted to try living in a place she did not have to drive – was looking at DC, SF, and NYC. She’s done well with her educational experience overall, and is, a year later, working as a recruiter for a staffing agency in Soho, and taking a class or two – she thinks about grad school possibly, and is hopefully saving a bit of money.

    My son is a bit different (and he does spend a lot of time on the computer playing games). He went to a preschool, and on to the same public schools my daughter went to. He is now in high school and will complete his H.S. degree. He then will likely follow her path to our local community college and, if he can improve his grades, go to a decent public university (or less decent) for a B.A. This will avoid a lot of the crazy expenses many face. I feel strongly that if one is not in debt, one has the freedom to make a lot of different choices, and maybe take a risk or two that would otherwise not happen. I think kids who come out of college with huge debt are really not that different from indentured servants of the colonial years.

    One thing that seems to stand out in public primary and secondary education is the tracking used in the public schools. If a child test fairly well initially, they are put in the honors track – starting all the way back in elementary school. This results in kids from less privileged backgrounds (no parent or adult around with time to read them books at night, to fund preschool classes, and so on) being separated out from the primarily relatively wealthier kids who have had financial luck and parents with time for caring. Of course there are a few exceptions, and there also seems to be a racial component to this tracking – most likely it’s structural and it’s primarily economic based.

    Overall, I agree with the statement made above, by Adam Eran, “Actual science does not support any of the three “reform” strategies, but one thing does correlate with educational outcomes: childhood poverty rates. In Finland childhood poverty afflicts 2% of their population. In the U.S. it’s 23%.” Poverty does seem to make a huge difference. As discussed above for individuals.

    It’s compounded here in the US, where much public funding of education comes from local property taxes. If a school district is in a wealthy town or suburb, there is quite a bit more resources available to fund the public schools.

    Finally, I think there is definitely a trend in growth of private education which I’ve observed for my 50 years in the US – at the primary and secondary level. Unfortunately, the way things are set up here, this only tends to increase the disparities between the classes, to exaggerate class differences – since the upper classes will have access to all the resources while the public schools in poor districts will not. If we had some sort of system where everyone had access to private schools or public schools, maybe this class differentiation would not be such a big part of education, but, we don’t. The USA has really arrived at a system of separate and not equal for education – both between public/private, but also within the public track. Equal opportunity today is mythic I’m afraid.

  45. Norb

    I have four children who have been through the public system in a prosperous town outside Chicago. The overall trend has been to move the students thru the system with as little friction as possible. Resources are focused on the most gifted and the vast majority are guided thru the system without to much regard for the quality of education imparted. Everyone passes with fairly high marks and only those who fight the system for various reasons fail or are kicked out. Drug use is a growing problem. The social aspects of the school environment are highlighted and stressed. Like any school, there is the full spectrum of exceptional and poor teachers.

    As an institution, from a purely educational standpoint, it reflects the overall society. The gifted are provided opportunity and resources, while the majority are funneled thru the system. Fees and extra costs have increased year by year and I count myself lucky to be on the tail end of this trend as all of my children have graduated- Although the trend looks bleak for my future grandchildren or property tax burden.

    There is a sense of unreality in the public school system in that students are protected from many harsh realities that await them upon graduation. This is from the middle class white perspective. Parents are caught in the false belief that the system is designed for their benefit and do whatever is necessary to keep their children moving along the educational path of preschool to college and beyond. More parents are questioning this view, but the school system itself still promotes endlessly the need for higher education.

    It does not surprise me in the least that Sanders receives so much youth support for upon graduation they realize how screwed they truly are. Poor education, large debt, and no job prospects. What is the mystery here.

    The parents financial resources and home environment play a deciding role in the quality of education that can be achieved in the current public system. Unless extremely gifted, poverty will prevent any positive outcome.

  46. Norello

    The experiences of my family members is not consistent with assumption that public education has stagnated for decades, it has been on the decline for at least thirty years. The public school district which we attended is on the north shore of Long Island. There is a large number of multi-millionaires in the district leading to an astronomical amount of money spent per pupil. The average teacher’s salary is over 100,000 dollars a year, money isn’t the problem here. Even in that setting the education provided is mediocre at best. When my brother attended public middle school thirty years ago he was smarter and knew more than some of his teachers. One of my sister’s took French in our public school over 20 years ago. Being an A student for a few years didn’t amount to much. When she took a college placement exam she did so poorly she had to take an introductory french course. A large percentage of parents that have the money send their children to private schools. I was the only one of my parents five children that did not attend a private high school, due to a learning disability and other issues.

    Many of the observations of the commenters I read are consistent with what I have seen first hand. I graduated from a public high school in 2002. The ability to write well was never emphasized or taught competently. What they called honors classes for the higher performing students were little more than teaching for the regents multiple choice tests. With the exception of mathematics, those exams tested primarily familiarity over knowledge. What I’ve been hearing from my nieces experiences, currently ten and twelve, schools are dumbing down mathematics.

    Inequality is unquestionably a major cause for the worst performing schools. An acquaintance that participated with Teach for America in a poor area informed me how the school was terrible. Her opinion on the matter was that the school couldn’t provide the resources needed to over come the negative effects of poverty. That being said inequality doesn’t explain why there is also a decline in affluent school districts.

    My opinion on the matter is the decline in public education, as with many issues in American society, stems from cultural values. As another person commented, Asian immigrants, mostly Chinese, Korean, and Indian seek out and demand quality education. When I attended school, the mostly white parents, including my own, demanded good grades for their children to help with college acceptance, the knowledge gained from school was seemingly irrelevant to them. It is hard to emphasis sufficiently how culturally different their values are. My parents are landlords of a house in a public school district with a reputation as being exceptional. Their previous tenants were Korean immigrants. The reason they rented this house is because the school found out they had lied that they were residents of the district so they had to move to keep their son attending that school. The tenant before that were Korean immigrants and the following is Chinese immigrants. All of them rented the house for the sole purpose of giving their son’s access to a good high school. As soon as they graduated they moved out, presumably to a lower rent area. Other anecdotes from people I know all tell the same story of a cultural difference in the value of education.

    Anecdotal stories I’ve heard are that many natively born Americans do not value education, and those that do value education solely for the purposes of social status and commanding a larger pay check.

  47. bob

    I think a lot of talk like this just reinforces the charter school cartels.

    It’s highly variable, depending on where a person lives in the US. The constant calls for metrics are just another source of funds for the cartels.

    Education is ruled most closely, by states. Most of the funding and planning happen at that level. This is changing, to the benefit of the cartels. Any money handed out by DC now has a monstrous agenda attached.

    To try and discuss “US schools” is like trying to discuss “Chinese food”. Where to start?

  48. Dr. William OH

    When the International Data is dis-aggregated and controlled for Socio-Economic Status, Asian Americans, if the group was considered a country, would be in 1st Place. White Americans would be in 4th place. The so-called crisis in education is not a ‘general crisis’ Students of color, mired in all of the negativities that define their general social environments, have always scored poorly, on average, to any group, in any country, with more average family income. The U.S. Corporate Thugs lost their post-W.W.II Holiday from competition. Reagan’s idiots, in their report, A Nation At Risk, and then the Business Round Table’s myopic analysis of ‘blaming import penetration’ on the lack of highly skilled workers,– a new wrinkle on blaming the victim, clearly shifted the source of the problem. In 1989, in a meeting in Charlottesville VA.,, along with conservative Governors, set in motion the “blame the teachers canard, and use these omniscient standardized tests to fix any thing that ails education. In NJ, all is fine in the upper income suburbs, and all is worsening in the decaying chocolate cities. The reserve army of the unemployed has grown to record levels, job creation is a cruel joke, and the U.S. Financial have power beyond belief, and Corporate Thugs off-shore their Grandmothers and people in Flint and Newark drink lead for breakfast. When the 1% receives 90%+ of all GDP growth, where do you think we are going? Education never lifted all boats. Only global warming/higher sea levels will do that.

  49. Dr. William OH

    Yves– Gore Vidal’s comment, that we live in the “U.S. of Amnesia” was partly aimed at the successful propaganda campaigns and successful monopolization of the ‘people’s airwaves’ to control the news and promote the world of buy and be happy, has been relevant, to varying degrees, since the 1920’s. None of my students — 16 – 18 years old, in a chocolate, low income/poverty , hyper-segregated city, have a single mental image of any atrocities from the 2 illegal wars — Afghanistan or Iraq. The Dept. of War, successfully pledged, after the exposure of the vast citizenry in the U.S. to the Slaughter in Vietnam, THE AMERICAN PEOPLE will never again see any wars up close and personal. Among other tactics, have the so-called journalists get in bed with the soldiers. Only a principled development of many socialist political parties might be able to, someday, reorient the path of the future of U.S. and the world. I will be dead.

    1. TomD

      I thought the Abu Ghraib pictures were well into public consciousness.

      Then again our leaders at home have been so focused on economically oppressing us, it’s hard to also keep atrocities abroad in one’s mind.

  50. RWood

    The decline in education will continue with force:

    In early December, Congress passed and President Obama signed a new federal law, replacing Bush’s No Child Left Behind. It is called the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, which is another way of saying “no child left behind” (why Congress feels the need to put an unrealistic prediction into the title of legislation is baffling). Like NCLB, the new law requires annual testing of students in grades three to eight in reading and mathematics, but it turns this responsibility over to the states. ESSA prohibits future secretaries of education from meddling in states’ decisions and contracts the federal role in education. It also eliminates federal punishments for schools and teachers with low test scores, leaving those decisions to the states. What is not abandoned is the core belief that standardized testing and accountability are the right levers to improve education.
    Hannah Arendt Center – Amor Mundi 3/13/16

Comments are closed.