Feb 22, 2008

What a load of crap. Again with the crap.


This is a recent book review in the SF Chronicle for a book called The Age of American Unreason, by Susan Jacoby.

It starts out stoopid and gets worse fast. By the halfway point I was seeing red. You see, our education system isn't what it should be, and that's a dam shame. But it's better today than it's been before, and people are no dummer today than they've ever been. The problem is NOT that our education system is getting worse. Duh.

But there's prevailing myths that our schools are in crisis, going to hell in a handbasket, going down the toilet, falling behind Japan, or these days it'd be India, etc. These myths are fed by rightwing misinformation, false statistics, and biased reports, often based on data from standardized tests that have long been shown to be biased in favor of rich white kids anyway. It's part of their goal of defunding and privatizing schools, and of increasing the stratification of society by de-democratizing public schools. And these lies get picked up in the media echochamber and repeated until they become 'true'. 'Facts on the ground' as the Israelis say when they start a new settlement in the West Bank.

Here's some actual facts:
- IQ scores have gone up slowly but steadily since 1941 when they were first computed- standardized test scores (SAT, ACT, etc.) are would be unchanged over the decades, except that more people take them including lots more middle and lower students

- Parents of kids in public schools are actually quite satisfied with american public schools and their kids' education

- American kids' achievement is at least as high as kids from other nations like japan and germany

- Overall achievement by kids today is slightly higher today than decades ago, and has gradually increased, except that, again, a whole lot more middle and lower students fill our schools today as high school has been democratized to include all kids. (In the '40s, less than half of kids finished high school. that's obviously very different today)

This book's author claims there's an "intellectual decline" in progress, but we don't hear what that decline is. She then 'explains' that decline by claiming there's been a "degradation of the nation's educational standards." There's the load of crap right there. School standards are higher today than ever, and applied more widely to more students than ever.

This kind of crap offends me because it's taking up the flag for the rightwing hatred of poor kids and brown-skinned kids. Those groups of kids are disadvantaged enough in our society without attacking their schools more in the public discourse and by defunding them. It's anti-democratic, and it's wrong.

Don't think the rich white ruling class has been at war against kids who are poor and brown-skinned? Let's look at where all the increased funding and attention have gone since the Reagan Nation At Risk report (1983): gifted programs. And what's happened to poor schools? They've had their funding tied to standardized test scores which are biased against their students, and threatened.

It's a dam shame, and we owe it to ourselves to fight against it. Wanna learn more? You can start with Manufactured Crisis, by Berliner and Biddle. Filled with fascinating facts and analysis of the right-wing attack on public schools. It was written in the mid-90s, so they presaged the No Child Left Behind nightmare, and proved themselves all the more prescient.

1 comment:

McG said...


Your definitely right that it's not the school systems that are making us dumber. You and your readers will probably be interested in tomorrows Issue of the Day at The Issue (www.TheIssue.com) which deals with standardized testing and academic hardship. Love the blog.


Mike McGregor
The Issue|www.TheIssue.com