Dumb and dumber

In Back to School Blues, Victor Davis Hanson complains that the public schools that served six generations of his families are turning out young people who can’t read a warranty or calculate the price per pound of a tri-tip roast. He has some suggestions for coping with an “epidemic of ignorance.”

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  1. Hanson sounds like the proverbial broken record, crying that a few poorly-educated people are victims of unions that protect bad teachers. A classic conservative, Hanson wants teachers to be brooding, calculating schoolmarms, who have no people skills at all. We live in a different world from Victor’s grandmother, and the style of teaching he desires just doesn’t work.

  2. Er, BWO, how dost thou spell “ad hominem”?

  3. Stacy in NJ says:

    Hmm, Bell, we musta read different articles. Did you read the one Joanne linked to? His comments about unions were only one part of a larger argument. How do we know that the style of teaching he desires just doesn’t work? Because you say so, therefore, it must be true? And, because we live in a different world.

  4. We also have to factor in the inclusion of more types of students, the higher standards, and fact that failure is not tolerated. Years ago schools were very different places than they are now. Every student, second language learners and special ed students included, must be educated in the schools now. Higher standards and expectations mean a potentially higher number of failures and lower passing scores. Failures are now unacceptable when all students must pass state tests by 2014.

    Students were once tracked from early on, which is not allowed to happen now as well. Schools have changed with the times.

    The problem is social as well as educationally systemic. Families need more assistance than ever before, including health services, housing, and early educational support.

  5. “Students were once tracked from early on, which is not allowed to happen now as well”…is this really true? Are there lots of places in the U.S. where tracking was done prior to 7th or 8th grade?

  6. Absolutely. I remember being in group A, which meant I went to classes with higher level kids in another classroom. Soon, I went to all of my classes with these kids in advanced classes across the board. We were separate from everyone else up through 5th grade.

    Apparently there were 3 levels back then. Looking back I see it, though I didn’t really get it then.

  7. Foster – My schools had different programs for students all the way back to 3rd grade.

  8. This problem is simple to define, just impossible to solve. As a society, we have to value education. It has to be one of our top values, but it’s not. It’s not even in the top ten.

    I got to first grade in 1963, right after Sputnik scared the hell out of the US and lead to a massive reform of educational systems. Education suddenly had become a national priority and it showed not just in the schools, but in all aspects of society. Back then, everyone knew that education was the key to the future.

    That all started into decline by the late 1960’s and has completely disappeared today. I’ll bet you couldn’t find even ten percent of parents who would now list “education” as the most important ingredient for their child’s life-long welfare.

    All of us are collectively at fault. Sure, there are lots of problems with idiotic schools and teachers, but those problems wouldn’t be allowed to continue if eduction really had the value in our society that it’s supposed to. In the old days, they would have tarred and feathered a dunderhead school administrator who put “zero tolerance” ahead of education. Now, we just say, “tsk, tsk.”

  9. BWO,

    I don’t think Hanson’s argument is about teachers’ unions specifically, although it is difficult to see how significant educational reform is going to work with out the active and full cooperation of the unions. The political agenda of the unions however, often dispaces the needs both of teachers to be treated as actual professional workers and certainly supresedes the needs of the unions self-professed group of interest–the kids.

    The fault in Hanson’s argument, if there is one, is that he pines nostagliacly for a world that may not have existed everywhere. Sure, his tiny little town may have done well by its students, but his later argument undermines his earlier recollections. The destruction of the nuclear family, the disintegration of our society and the proseltyization of “social justice” has undermined education in ways that Hanson’s small town problably never realized until recently. In his town, everyone problaby knew everyone and woe unto the child who thought he could get away with something is school or in town and get home without his parents already knowing what happened. Today, such an environment no longer exists, I don’t even know everyone on my court, let alone in my town.

    It is not schools that have failed society, is it society that has failed our schools. That is the thrust of the argument.

  10. Andy Freeman says:

    > I’ll bet you couldn’t find even ten percent of parents who would now list “education” as the most important ingredient for their child’s life-long welfare.

    Actually you can. What’s hard is for them to do anything about that priority.

    The ones who can afford to take their kids out of failing public schools do so. Almost all of the rest are told that their kids have to stay in failing public schools. In some cases the argument is that those parents are somehow obligated to fix the schools and that their kids should suffer for their failure to do so. In other cases, the argument is that it’s unfair to let their preference for better schools for their kids give said kids an advantage.

  11. Mike Pearson says:

    I wonder if people who can’t make change are simply more visible to shoppers because the ability to make change is not required to run a register any more. It’s far more of a physical task (find the bar code, align it with the scanner) than an arithmatic one. People who can spin an item till the laser beams read the item number will work registers. People who can read will stock shelves. People who can actually do arithmetic may be out of sight in the stock room managing inventory.

    That doesn’t change the fact that we don’t do a thorough job of teaching basic calculations to students, I’m just skeptical that innumerate cashiers are a telling observation. I think placing them at registers is just a response to technology, skill sets, and economics.

  12. I think the issue of making change is, simply, that people are not taught how to count out change backwards. When I worked retail, it was a requirement. Later on, when I noticed that change wasn’t being counted back, I asked about it (of a knowledgeable retailer) and the word was, management had told them not to do that, but to always use the cash register to calculate the change. A management decision, in other words. Time management apparently was the issue. Part of this has to do with closing out computerized tills at night as well–the correct change was always allegedly listed on the tape. Now, of course, it’s computerized.

    I encounter older people in the workforce who also haven’t a clue how to count out change correctly, so it’s not just an issue of the young and innumerate.

    As for the rest of VDH’s argument–the work he dreams of never existed, and in that world special ed kids, minorities, and the poor might not have much of a chance for an education.

  13. No, joycem, it’s a matter of schools not teaching kids simple arithmetic, not to mention reading and writing.