Too Cool for School

I’m not sure where I fall on this matter:

When the Indiana Education Roundtable met last month, Gov. Mitch Daniels had recommended reading for its members. He gave each a copy of Charles Murray’s “Real Education.”

“Provocative,” the governor told the Roundtable at the meeting’s end, and the author’s views have “changed the way I think about education.”

A few of Murray’s primary assertions:

•“There’s not much that even the best schools can do to raise the reading and math achievement of low-ability children.”

•“One of the most damaging messages of educational romanticism has been that everyone should go to college.”

•“The proposition is not that America’s future should depend on an elite that is educated to run the country, but that whether we like it or not, America’s future does depend on an elite that runs the country.”

Honestly, at first I thought, “Oh. That all makes sense. Not everyone can do everything. Some people, quite frankly are just dumb. Always were and always will be.” Then, I kept reading and it turns out my initial thought makes me racist and terrible. Turns out, educators on an education roundtable don’t like it when someone tells them that what they’re doing might not be that great.

On one hand, I don’t doubt that some geneticist could come along and say, “Look at this, I found the “smart” gene” that proves people are capable of scoring well on some standardized test that doesn’t mean much anyway.

On the other hand, I don’t doubt you could find a “dumb gene” that makes you do one piss poor job on a test like ISTEP or the SAT, either. Thus, why can’t we just realize that some people do better at some things than others? Why can’t schools just try to give people a decent chance to dabble in lots of different things until people find a niche? We can all agree that everyone has a niche in life, right?

Frankly, you can’t easily write off children when they’re 8 and plop them into some sort of tiered educational system like the article suggests. BUT, speaking from my own experience, I know what I’m good at and what I’m not. Here is a list of things I can’t do:

  • Math
  • Car repair
  • Sports

I’ve never been any good at any of those things. Ever. And I never will be. I don’t have the body for sports. I don’t have the patience or desire to get dirty enough to work on a car (I get mad when I have to get out of my car at the gas station because it smells bad). And I don’t have the ability to do math.

Some would say, “Sure, but you can learn math.” Um, no. Actually, I can’t. It’s been 22 years and I still do basic math on a calculator. Ask me to subtract 23 from 402 and I’m flustered. So, why do we keep wasting money trying to teach me something I clearly can’t do? Beyond basic arithmetic and financial stuff, leave it at that.

I’m not ready to write off Daniels’ or Murray’s opinion. They might be on to something. I’m not, however, ready to slice up kids into class systems that will still favor the wealthy. In my dictatorship everyone gets a chance to dabble in everything — from engineering to dance. Help people find what they can naturally do best and make them great at doing just that.

UPDATE: Abdul over at RTV6 has similar commentary posted on the Capitol WatchBlog.

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