An 'adequate' education

Rural Georgia districts have filed suit claiming the state isn’t giving them enough money to provide an “adequate education” including science and social studies. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reprinted part of the deposition of Joanne Leonard, director of accountability for the state education department. She was asked whether she believes, as a matter of personal opinion, that science and social studies are “part of an adequate education.”

Leonard: Yes, I think you can do without science.

Attorney: You think you can have an adequate education without any science education whatsoever?

Leonard: My opinion is that I can — I personally can live without science.

Attorney: My question is, do you believe that social studies is necessary for an adequate education in Georgia?

. . . Leonard: Yes, I think you can fail social studies and get an adequate education.

Attorney: And, in fact, you believe that you can get an adequate education even if social studies isn’t provided, right?

Leonard: I would want children exposed to social studies.

Attorney: Now, you would want them exposed, but you don’t think it’s necessary?

Leonard: I would want them exposed to social studies, but I think they can succeed in the world without social studies, and that is my opinion, my personal opinion.

Georgians are not pleased.

An education official defends Leonard, claiming the portion of the transcript was taken out of context and is “distracting.” “Distracting” seems to be the hot new defense.

About Joanne


  1. My biggest dissapointment with elementary education in California is the lack of science and social studies curriculum. But I guess as long as we don’t test those subjects with the same rigor as language arts and mathematics, that’s the result we’ll get. This is the main reason NCLB should be named ECLB.

  2. Social studies I can see, but science? Really? Understanding how the physical world works isn’t necessary to an adequate education? I’m an *English* professor, and I think that’s bull.

    Honestly, I think NCLB isn’t part of this discussion so much as people who have a pathological fear of intellectualism. Seriously, people, science?

  3. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Social studies (I always hated that term) is not necessary? Maybe once upon a time, but now, an in-depth knowledge of geography, the world, and its people, is indispensable. The United States is not the only game in town, and does not exist in a vacuum. For Joanne Leonard to say otherwise is indicative of her incompetency.

  4. From the truth is stranger than fiction category. I’m sure the rural Georgia school districts didn’t realize how easy it would be to portray this women as incompetent or they would have done this years ago.

  5. According to Neil Postman in The End of Education, social studies was kind of the whole point of public education. Rading and math were fundamental of course, but the point of public education was to create a public – taking people (a lot of people from other lands in particular) and instilling in them an understanding of our democratic ideals and what it means to be an American. Shocking to see that’s now optional, at least in Georgia.

  6. Surely no one is naive enough to think this woman was expressing her own honest opinions. I’d be willing to bet that she was giving the answers which were necessary to her employer’s legal position, based on the instructions that she had been given by her attorneys. If she were to agree that science and social studies were necessary, then the plaintiffs could use her words in support of their own position. So all she’s doing is going around the world not to agree with them. She might not have evaded answering the questions properly, but I think it’s reasonable to assume that she doesn’t really think science and social studies are unnecessary.

    Without knowing more about why these two subjects are singled out for the questioning, it’s hard to know the actual situation. (Yes, I could go read stories about it, but I’m too lazy to do anything except follow the link here. 🙂 ) IF the plaintiff’s lawyers are taking low test scores in those subjects (as compared to the rest of the state) as evidence that the state isn’t providing an “adequate” education, it would make sense that they’d try to find evidence that it’s necessary to have “adequate” scores in those subjects. The other side would argue (as a legal point, not a practical point) that it’s ADEQUATE to have an education that doesn’t get those scores up to a higher level.

    Of course, if I’m wrong in my assumptions about the legal strategy the plaintiff is using, it might be something entirely different. My primary point, though, is that it’s probably not reasonable to judge this woman’s true thoughts about these subjects from what she said in this deposition. Instead, it probably reflects her willingness to lie to help her employer’s case. 🙂

  7. Andy Freeman says:

    > the point of public education was to create a public – taking people (a lot of people from other lands in particular) and instilling in them an understanding of our democratic ideals and what it means to be an American.

    While that sounds like a good goal, is it what social studies actually does these days?

    Which reminds me – what do these schools teach now if they’re not teaching science and social studies? Is there something that should be cut to make way for science and social studies?

  8. Roger Sweeny says:

    David McElroy,

    Very diplomatic. It brings to mind the old definition of a diplomat, “an honorable man sent abroad to lie for his country.”

  9. Don’t know if Georgia has an income tax, if they don’t they will, if they do, it will be going up.

  10. I would want them exposed to social studies, but I think they can succeed in the world without social studies, and that is my opinion, my personal opinion.

    And it sounds reasonably plausible that you could succeed in the world without being exposed to social studies or science. I wonder, if you went around the big stars of Hollywood, asking them science and social studies questions, how many would they get right?

    Catch thirty-three: Maybe once upon a time, but now, an in-depth knowledge of geography, the world, and its people, is indispensable.

    An in-depth knowledge of the world and its people is impossible. We don’t live long enough. The world is way too complicated, and its people way too numerous and too culturally diverse. Therefore, how can it be indispensable to know that?

    As for an in-depth knowlege of geography, why is it indispensable? If you’re going to a new place, buy a map, or a navigator. I find a general knowledge of geography indispensable, but that’s because I go hiking, and the ability to read a landscape is very useful for the key goal of not getting lost. There are plenty of people who never go off the beaten track, I can’t see how they would find an in-depth knowledge of geography indispensable. (And I would hardly call my knowledge of geography “in-depth”).

  11. Margo/Mom says:

    I am with Holly. NCLB is not the root cause of every ill that befalls the education system. If not testing in science and social studies is the reason that they are seen as optional, what on earth was seen as necessary before NCLB?

  12. I love it when government officials, especially in education, are given enough rope to hang themselves.

    Many times, We the People should be offering more rope and should be helping the process along.

  13. If ever there is a case to be made that quotes taken out of context can be misleading, I expect this is it. The context in this case would have to include the legal strategies on each side, and perhaps a lot of local knowledge about Georgia law, history, and culture, that I know nothing about. The quotes are certainly interesting and relevant to discussion of education, but I would not take them at face value.

    Several thoughts come to mind that I think are a lot more important than what Joanne Leonard really thinks about science and social studies. I presume that the rural districts bringing suit are hoping to have the court throw out a funding system that was set up in the past by normal legislative means, and mandate some court designed funding system. I am not in sympathy with this goal, though I am painfully aware that a lot of my friends who consider themselves enlightened would be. My political opinion is that we are all losers in the long run when this happens. Judicial activism, I think, has done a lot of harm in the past.

    We hear a lot of criticism of American education in the ed blogs such as this, and that’s fine. I join in some of the criticism. We do not hear criticism of the American legal system. That’s not our subject. But if we fall into thinking American education is bad and the legal system is okay, I would very much disagree. There are lots of things wrong with American law and justice. I can well imagine that this case, if it has a bad ending, might be a lot more a result of mediocre and misguided justice than mediocre and misguided education. But, no, I cannot give details. That is simply my opinion.

    There are two passive assumptions I sense here that I think are really important. The first is the passive assumption that equity in education trumps everything else. Educational equity is a desirable goal. Certainly we don’t want a system that is intentionally or fundamentally inequitable to any individuals or groups, but beyond that equity is simply impossible. We should never let it divert us from other very desirable goals that are possible.

    The second passive assumption is that equal funding is necessary for equal outcomes, or that equal funding is a goal in itself, or that equal funding will even promote equal outcomes. Equal funding may be desirable to some extent, but is utterly irrelevant to many important educational questions that are very important in their own right. Would anyone argue that equal funding would help the Washington D. C. Schools?

  14. Bill Leonard says:

    The views of Ms. Joanne Leonard (no relation to yrs, truly) are perhaps marginally relevant, but the point of the exercise for the rural districts is to get more money from the state.

    Before the merits of the rural districts’ suit can be weighed, seems to me we have to know how much money the districts are getting now, and what they’re spending it on.

    As far as knowledge of science goes, I consider a basic knowledge about how things work to be crucial — but then, I have always been interested in how and why things work.

    On the other hand, I worked in public relations for a large gas and electric utility for several years, and I never ceased to be amazed at the absolute ignorance of basic elements of both science and economics displayed by most the news media folk I dealt with. With two or three specific exceptions, such understanding ranged from abysmal to non-existent — this from college-educated folk, many of them graduates of prestigious universities.


  15. Margo/Mom and Holly,

    I’ve discussed making the social studies and science curriculum more rigorous at my son’s elementary school with the teachers, principal, and district superintendent. They have all told me that they cannot focus on those subjects because they need to meet the standards for Mathematics and Language arts proscribed by NCLB. So I took that to mean that tested subjects get the necessary time and focus, and everything else is considered optional. I’m not surprised by this, because I’d call that rational behavior. And since I think NCLB has missed the mark on having complete standards I prefer to call it Every Child Left Behind. ( I probably over-spoke in my earlier post as there are other significant reasons to rename NCLB as ECLB ).

  16. Margo/Mom says:

    pm–but you beg the question. Were there rigorous science and social studies curricula BEFORE NCLB, or has this only become the excuse du jour?

  17. Margo/Mom,

    I think its reasonable to argue that NCLB standards are incomplete, even if some previous standard was incomplete as well. So if you want to say the we had ECLB before, I’d agree. And since I think NCLB is particularly incomplete in the area of science and social studies, I think that was relevant to the topic. I included my own personal story to illustrate how standards are important and get attention.

  18. Lawsuits alleging violations of a right to an “adequate” education or similar aren’t generally premised on NCLB, but on the vague language of educational guarantees in many state constitutions. The lesson here is to err on the side of not adding any new language to your state constitution: almost without exception, this meaning transferring some degree of power from the elected branches to the courts.

  19. Andy Freeman says:

    > I’ve discussed making the social studies and science curriculum more rigorous at my son’s elementary school with the teachers, principal, and district superintendent. They have all told me that they cannot focus on those subjects because they need to meet the standards for Mathematics and Language arts proscribed by NCLB.

    I’ll bet that they’re also teaching other things.

    That said, did they understand that they were saying that they’re incapable of teaching more than two subjects?

  20. Joanne Leonard is a fool – or at least, the education bureaucrats who were controlling what she said, if that was the case.

    I’d say that a basic understanding in the “Big Four” subjects – Math, Science, Social Studies, and English Language Arts – are essential for every U.S. citizen.

    Why are the “Big Four” important? Why should every U.S. citizen know these things? How is it useful in the modern world? I’ll give you two reasons: “elections” and “juries”.

    Politicans can (and do) lie to people who don’t know anything – because they won’t know they’ve been lied to. Why not raise your taxes to build fences around the edge of the flat world? For all you know, we need them! And that politican should be re-elected for having such a great idea. And why not trust the FDA head he appointed if he tells you that mercury is a good, healthy alternative to butter on your waffles? After all, you have no idea what mercury even is, but you were told it was good for you! Furthermore, lawyers can (and do) lie to people who don’t know any better on juries all the time. How many ridiculous lawsuits have come to fruition because of a jury’s lack of understanding of basic civics or science? How many legit lawsuits got dismissed for the same reasons? How many innocent people have gone to jail because the jury didn’t understand the pesudo-science behind the prosecution lawyer’s circumstantial evidence? How many guilty people have been acquitted for similar reasons? There are so many examples of both pheonmenon that I’m surprised someone hasn’t written a book about it already.

    Uneducated people are easy to manipulate. That’s why democratic republics only work correctly when its citizens are educated – and the more educated, the better. It’s also why dictators don’t want their people to be properly educated – nothing makes people angry faster than realizing they’ve been lied to and ripped off by their leaders.


    @TracyW: Replace “in depth” with “basic” if you wish… but even then the U.S. K-12 education system isn’t even providing the basic education U.S. citizens need to understand the world they live in – so that they don’t make bad decisions when voting or serving on a jury.


    P.S. – Regarding the “Big Four”… Personally, Math should cover everything from Arithmetic to at least PreCal. Science should cover the basics in Biology, Earth Science & Astronomy, Chemistry and Physics. Social Studies should cover U.S. History, World History, U.S. Government and basic Economics. English Language Arts should cover reading well (including classic American, British, and World literature translated into English) and writing well (creative writing, technical writing).

    I also think The Arts (music, theater, painting, etc.) and Atheletics (learning to exercise and stay in shape, the lessons sports teaches about working hard towards a goal and working together, etc.) are incredibly important – though compared to the “Big Four” are luxuries. Luxuries that should be implemented at every school possible once the “Big Four” are satisfied, though.

  21. Margo/Mom says:


    I am wary of the things that teachers and administrators at my child’s school tell me–they are frequently either ill-informed or deliberately false. Particularly when it comes to laying the blame for anything outside the school. I don’t find this to be rational way of operating. I find it to be disrespectful (of the parents that they are handing this stuff to) and unethical. BTW–as a parent, you might want to look into the things that they are supposed to be involving parents in–like school improvement. You might want to lay your argument in terms of the coming requirements for science testing–or looking further down the line to what your child will be required to know (don’t know what your state has in place for high school graduation requirements–but some actually have tests).

  22. Margo’s point about high school graduation requirements is a worthy one. Even before NCLB, our state required students to pass tests in four subjects to graduate from high school: Algebra I, Biology I, US History, and English II. But here’s the rub–most of the local school districts had long-standing policies in place that allowed a student to fail either social studies or science in middle school, and still be promoted to the next grade level. It was common to have students enter high school who had never really passed a social studies course or some who had never passed a science course; then the high school staff had to work with them and parents to help the students face the graduation tests. Since these two subjects are still generally not tested below the high school level, there is no checkpoint to indicate trouble ahead (this is beginning to change with science).

    One source of such misguided policy was the notion that if reading and math were emphasized and students became strong in those subjects, they would be able to “pick up” social studies and science with less instructional time. Elementary teachers were in some cases ordered (in others just highly pressured) to cut time spent on social studies and science in order to increase time spent on math and language arts (reading, writing, grammar, and spelling). This strategy has failed miserably and put many of our children at a terrible disadvantage as citizens of a democratic republic.

  23. Catch Thirty-Three says:

    Tracy W, an in-depth knowledge of the world is impossible? Well then, let’s just throw up our hands, give up, and stop teaching history geography. Why bother, right? Sorry, sweetie, but if you knew me, you would realize that what you just said was an absurdity in the extreme.

    And here is a perfect example why geographical knowledge is indispensable: you want to use it to hike, that or cede your critical thinking skills to people or machines who with think FOR you; I want to use it to make informed decision, such as who and what to vote for and support. I find it amusing that people like you who cheerfully celebrate your geographical ignorance can’t even identify what nations we get most of our oil from (for starters) and why that is critical to know.