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Jewish World Review March 29, 2001 / 5 Nissan, 5761

Thomas Sowell

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Education or incitement?

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- WHAT would you do if you had just three days to live?

That was the question for an essay-writing assignment in an elementary school in Menlo Park, California. One 11-year-old boy apparently felt that he had some scores to settle, for he wrote about people he would kill during those hypothetical three days. He was then arrested and taken into custody.

The threat of violence is itself a crime but, even for a hardened adult criminal, this situation could be considered "entrapment" -- the authorities' leading someone to commit a crime that otherwise might never have taken place. Locking up this student is part of a whole mindset about "prevention" -- the notion that we can foresee and forestall school violence. This conceit has been spread throughout the media and academia by shrinks, despite a lack of any hard evidence that they can actually do it, as distinguished from talking a great game.

Indeed, there is considerable hard evidence that they cannot do any such thing, for some of the young killers who have opened fire in various schools had been given a clean bill of health by shrinks before unleashing lethal violence against those around them.

Leaving the legal issue aside, what was this teacher doing giving such an assignment?

Unfortunately, she was doing what all too many teachers in schools across the country are doing -- playing games with children's minds, instead of educating them. Nor are these mere aberrations of particular teachers. There are whole mind-game programs mass produced and mass marketed coast to coast.

Largely unknown to the public, the whole notion of education has been radically transformed over the years, so that it no longer means conveying the accumulated knowledge and understanding of a civilization, but shaping children's psyches and indoctrinating their minds with politically correct ideologies.

Not only are there individual education gurus and ideological movements which promote the intrusion of such activities into the schools, the educators themselves are apostles of this new mission and the nationwide teachers' union -- the National Education Association -- is pushing the same agenda.

The February issue of "NEA Today," the union's own publication, featured an Oregon teacher who created "a social justice curriculum" that teaches her predominantly minority students to focus on how "life is pretty unfair" and how "oppressed peoples" have been treated. She is not only a teacher but also one of the education gurus, since she has written a book titled "Reading, Writing and Rising Up."

Even the use of standard English is presented as a form of oppression. "Standard language," she says, "is about power -- who has it and who doesn't."

It is much the same story on the other side of the country, where a Brooklyn public high school called the El Puente Academy for Peace and Justice pursued its ideological agenda by teaching the students how to spray-paint graffiti. Its students' test scores are even lower than the below-normal scores for the city as a whole. But they had time to spare for graffiti classes.

Considering the severe academic deficiencies in too many minority schools -- and the lifelong handicap that inadequate education will be for these children -- one has to wonder what good it is going to do them to have school time used to make them resentful of society, rather than educated enough to function in it. No doubt it may do teachers and education gurus a lot of good, if only by giving them a feeling of being morally superior and "agents of change."

Moreover, mind games and ideological indoctrination are a lot easier and more "exciting" than providing students with a foundation in math, science and English.

It is easy to understand why the education establishment has gone off on such tangents. What is harder to understand is why parents and voters stand for it. With the future of your children at stake, why would you allow yourself to be snowed by pious self-serving talk from people who call themselves "educators" but who are in fact not doing much educating?

With American school children repeatedly coming in at or near the bottom in international tests, why do elected officials act as if what the schools need is more money and more time -- especially after ever-increasing amounts of money have already been poured down a bottomless pit over the years, with no visible educational results, and with so much time currently being squandered on "projects" and "activities" rather than education?

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author of several books, including his latest, Basic Economics: A Citizen's Guide to the Economy.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate