What’s wrong with American education?
This morning Tom Friedman quotes a salient point recently offered by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. American children do not have a work ethic; they do not want to do their schoolwork; their parents are “down” with their attitude.
Friedman thinks that President Obama should make this the theme of his State of the Union Address. Initially, the idea looks like yet another piece of Friedmanesque silliness, but when you come to think of it, President Obama could do a lot worse than exhort America’s schoolchildren to work harder at school. In fact, he will probably do a lot worse, so we will take Friedman’s point under advisement.
One might think that Duncan and Friedman are shifting the onus from the teachers’ unions to parents, but I believe that they are correct. Surely, the unions are not helping matters, but if parents really cared about the kind of education that their children were receiving they would not allow teachers unions to wield the power that they do.
Even if teachers unions bear some responsibility, there is no harm in calling out parents for their own dereliction.
Citing Amanda Ripley’s new book — “The Smartest Kids in the World, and How They Got That Way” — Duncan said, “Amanda points a finger at you and me, as parents — not because we aren’t involved in school, but because too often, we are involved in the wrong way. Parents, she says, are happy to show up at sports events, video camera in hand, and they’ll come to school to protest a bad grade. But she writes, and I quote: ‘Parents did not tend to show up at schools demanding that their kids be assigned more challenging reading or that their kindergartners learn math while they still loved numbers.’ ... To really help our kids, we have to do so much more as parents. We have to change expectations about how hard kids should work. And we have to work with teachers and leaders to create schools that demand more from our kids.”
This ought to be familiar, and not just to readers of this blog. Didn't the Tiger Mom say as much. Remember when America’s parents rose up en masse to denounce Tiger Mom Amy Chua for being an abusive parent because she forced her children to work hard at school and at their music lessons and refused to allow them to go on play dates.
I recall otherwise savvy television talk show hosts agonizing over the fact that the Tiger Mom's daughters would not have mastered the art of having fun.
Friedman is right, but he should have mentioned that when the Tiger Mom tried to show the way, America excoriated her for it.
Over the past two decades things have clearly deteriorated. Who knows how much influence political leaders have on American culture, but one cannot but notice that it was a little over twenty years ago that America elected Bill Clinton president. Didn't he bring fun back into the White House?
I got an almost identical letter last month from a high school teacher in Oregon: “Until about 1992, I would have at least one kid in every class who simply wouldn’t do anything. A bad class might have two. Today I have 10 to 15. I recently looked back at my old exams from the ’80s. These were tough, comprehensive ones without the benefit of notes. Few would pass them today. We are dumbing down our classes. It is an inexorable downward progression in which one day all a kid will need to pass is to have a blood pressure. The kids today are not different in ‘nature.’ ... The difference is that back then, although they didn’t want to, they would do the work. Today, they won’t.