Updated January 15, 2006








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U.S. Education Gets Failing Grades

By Charley Reese


America’s public schools turn out many graduates with little chance for future

The top education bureaucrat in Florida wants to pass students who can’t meet the academic requirements.

He says this is not social promotion. He’s full of what one finds in a stable—and I don’t mean horsehair.

The fear of flunking and being held back a year was a great motivator in my short academic career, especially in the early grades. Nothing struck more fear in us recruits in Army basic training than the threat of being recycled—forced to start basic all over again in a new company.

Why do education bureaucrats believe that you can strip teachers of every tool to motivate their students and expect the teachers to educate the little savages anyway? The answer, of course, is civic cowardice. Civic cowardice, especially on the part of education bureaucrats, is a pandemic in America today.

I spent several hours one afternoon with a middle-school teacher as she poured out her frustration with the system. In her school, the rule said that if a student flunked one nine-week period and made a D the next, the D and F had to be “averaged” to a D for the semester. Now here’s the kicker.

If the student flunked both of the next nine-week periods and got an F for the semester, that F and his earlier D had to be “averaged” to a D so he would pass for the year.

How long do you think it takes kids to figure out that they only have to make one D and then can ride free for the rest of the year? Not long, and the teacher said that as soon as the kids figured it out, then any hope of motivating them was gone.

The tragedy and sin of social promotion is that it is aimed at those students who most need motivation and an education. Thus, the poorest kids from the most dysfunctional families are cheated out of an education just so the bureaucrats won’t have to put up with any complaints.

My first-grade teacher in a little Georgia school laid out the basic premises of education when she said, “I teach, but you have to learn.” Education is a two-part process. No matter how skilled the teacher, all the learning has to be done by the students. And learning is hard work. It involves memorization and drills and practice. There is no easy way to learn an academic subject. To argue that students shouldn’t have to work hard in the classroom is as stupid as telling a kid he can become a basketball star without practicing on the court.

The other damning aspect of social promotion is that it ignores the fact that education is cumulative and must be done in the proper sequence. A student who doesn’t learn to read and to do basic arithmetic in the early grades will be frustrated for the rest of his time in school. How can you learn history if you can’t read your textbook? You can’t learn algebra if you don’t know how to add, multiply, subtract and divide. You will never learn a second language without the ability to memorize. You will never learn English grammar without learning the parts of speech and diagramming sentences.

Education is a deadly serious business. I remember attending a parent-teacher association meeting at which a Pakistani gentleman complained bitterly that this expensive, well-furnished American school was far behind the shabby school in Pakistan his children had attended. His kids were already two grades ahead of American kids the same age. His plea for a tougher curriculum went unheeded, of course.

Unless Americans wish to become the servants one day of Indians, Chinese, Arabs, Pakistanis, Koreans, Japanese and Russians, we’d better fix this broken, bureaucrat-ridden public-education system or scrap it altogether.

God knows, the ignorance of many college graduates is appalling.

No nation can survive an ignorant, lazy population. We’ve been living off the seed corn of earlier generations, but the bin is about empty. The evidence of that is the across-the-board decline in the quality of all of our institutions.


(Issue #4, January 23, 2006)

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