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Jewish World Review June 20, 2000 / 17 Sivan, 5760

Thomas Sowell

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Consumer Reports

A Reply to teachers -- OVER THE YEARS, the shallowest and silliest letters that have arrived in the mail have usually come from school teachers. In order to lessen a needless burden on the post office, let me answer those letters -- past, present and future -- once and for all, so that both the senders and the recipient can save themselves a lot of time.

What teachers object to most often is my pointing out that the people who teach in our public schools are drawn overwhelmingly from the bottom half of college students. A recent book -- "The Conspiracy of Ignorance" by Martin Gross -- says the bottom third but, in any case, we are talking about having our children taught by the dregs of the college-educated population.

Outraged teachers seem to think that this is some sort of personal opinion or bias on my part, based on some inexplicable desire to "bash" teachers.

Various kinds of psychobabble reasons have been suggested for such malign intentions. It never seems to occur to them that the reason I say it is because it is true.

For decades, innumerable empirical studies of test score results and academic standings have shown people who go into teaching to be at or near the bottom among people in a wide range of fields. If teachers are blissfully unaware of these studies, that is their problem. But it is an even bigger problem for the tens of millions of students they are supposed to be educating and for American society. Should we be more concerned about teachers' "self-esteem" or about the future of our nation?

Many of the problems of our schools derive from the kind of people who are teaching in them. Throughout the 20th century, there has been a tug of war between the public, who want their children taught intellectual skills, and "educators" who want to do fun things, manipulate children's emotions, indoctrinate them with political correctness or do other things that make the teachers' job easier and make them feel important in saving the world or shaping society.

The other great objection of teachers to any criticism is that the critics cannot possibly know what they are talking about because they have not been in the schools and classrooms. All the postage that has been wasted telling me this could have paid for a lot of chalk or other school supplies.

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Dear ladies and gentlemen, I have been in schools -- more schools than I can possibly remember. These include schools from coast to coast -- black schools, white schools, public schools, private schools, rich schools, poor schools, successful schools, failing schools, all-boys schools, all-girls schools, coed schools, religious schools and secular schools. I have even visited schools of education and have seen first-hand the stupidity behind the miserable test scores and substandard academic performances.

What teachers are really saying is that they cannot understand how anyone can possibly disagree with their views. Such blind dogmatism is especially dangerous in people who are supposed to be teaching young people how to think.

When all else fails, the teachers' party line is: Why don't you say or do something positive, instead of just criticizing? One teacher said that, if I am so smart, why don't I tell her what to do in the classroom?

The most positive thing we can do for American education is to replace the kinds of teachers we have with better educated and more intelligent people. Private schools have no problem doing that because they are not tied up in red tape or in laws that enable teachers' unions and the schools and departments of education to keep out people who have not jumped through their hoops.

One of the biggest frauds in American education is the notion that people who have jumped through those hoops -- "certified" teachers -- can teach better than those who haven't. Studies show no correlation between education courses and teaching success. Many private schools don't require such courses and some don't even want to hire people who have been through such drivel.

As for the teacher who wanted me to tell her what to do in the classroom, that is not my job. My job is to try to help inform the public, so that they get teachers like her out of the classroom. Nor is more money either necessary or sufficient to attract better people. Private schools get better people while paying lower salaries than the public schools. So long as education courses drive away intelligent people, more money will just mean more expensive incompetents in the schools.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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