Sunday, January 21, 2007

Inside American Education

I recently finished the fascinating book Inside American Education by Thomas Sowell. Sowell is an economist at the Hoover Institution and an expert on economics, race, and education. This book is not his most current; it was published in 1993. Nonetheless, it is full of insights.

The book is incredibly well researched, with more than 1000 footnotes. I can't hope to list all of Sowell's sources, but I can summarize some of the most important and surprising facts and conclusions contained in his book.

On average, public school teachers are of poor academic quality. This is due to the requirement that they get education degrees. Education schools in American colleges are of similarly poor quality. Education classes are often busywork. Requiring teachers to take them serves to screen out good candidates.

Instead of teaching basic facts or thinking skills, schools are increasingly using brainwashing techniques to indoctrinate students. They are disguised in disparate programs like "values clarification" and "affective education." Their goal is to turn children against the values of their parents. These programs are inspired by the work of humanist psychologist Carl Rogers.

Bilingual Education programs fail in their stated goal of helping educate students whose first language is not English. A majority of Hispanic parents favor English immersion; bilingual education is supported by a few radical "leaders." Students have been placed in bilingual programs that are not even in their native languages. This includes black students whose native language in English. These programs are supported by federal subsidies.

Colleges maximize their income by charging different rates to every student through "financial aid." For many years, elite colleges formed a cartel to charge the same price to each different applicant.

Elite colleges like the Ivy League schools are not inherently "better" than other schools. Instead, they attract better students. Different schools are better for different students. There is a big difference between the quality of research at a college and the quality of its teaching.

The best predictors of a student's academic success are tests like the SAT. Deciding admissions based on factors like "leadership potential" indulges the fantasies of admissions directors.

Preferential admissions of minorities lead to the systematic mismatching of students and schools. This leads to needlessly high dropout rates of minorities at all levels, particularly at elite schools. Racial discrimination in grading is sometimes used to hide this fact. This leads to racial tensions between black and white students.

The same pattern occurs with "legacy" students. Those who are admitted outside the normal criteria have the same high dropout rates.

Demands for minority faculty similarly lead to lower quality. Self-interested minority faculty and student "leaders" promote racial segregation and paranoia to enhance their own power.

Colleges have double standards for conservatives and liberals. Leftists regularly try to silence conservative speakers. They are often left unpunished by campus administrators.

The quality of teaching varies wildly in colleges. The combination of tenure and faculty governance lead to administrative unaccountability and the indulgence of ideological fads.

Most college athletics programs actually lose money. Athletic directors would rather continue them than suffer embarrassment. They are sustained through indirect taxpayer subsidies and alumni donations.

Schools and colleges shift the blame and use rhetorical tricks to avoid accountability for their failures.

Inside American Education is an excellent look at how government involvement and liberal ideology have damaged education.

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