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I have a theory: American education is great at teaching facts but not much else. What it’s not great at teaching, and what fellow Ricochet member Brandon apparently is great at teaching, is how to think critically. It is such a gift to have teachers who find ways to help students understand that critically analyzing data and rhetoric is more important than mastery of any set of tasks, or any set of skills. Knowing how the war of 1812 started is great factual information and may, at some point down the road, be important to a student. But knowing how to evaluate an author’s biases and explore the depth of his data analyses so as to formulate independent thoughts from those evaluations is far more important. But it isn’t taught. At least, not that I’ve seen. I hope I’m wrong, but I doubt it.
I believe that so many schools spend so much time teaching facts because facts can be easily mastered, easily listed, and objective scores determined from this kind of rote memorization. It makes teaching, and more importantly, grading, easier, and less subjective. It also turns students into fact repositories, not thinkers. We need more thinkers. Anyone can repeat facts. It’s the analysis of those facts that is the really important skill that must be learned to obtain success in life.
In spite of this, the job of many teachers in many systems, particularly those where the state tests student’s performance on standardized tests, is to teach the test, not the subject. That is such a disservice. Allow me to demonstrate with my own mistakes in this area.
In 2011, I became interested in Amateur radio. The FCC at one point required a person to learn and master Morse code (sometimes called CW for continuous wave) in order to get a license. When that changed, I decided to get a license. The technician exam was heavy on theory, but like all things done by the government, the evaluation of a potential licensee’s knowledge is measured against standardized tests, and the government puts out the actual test questions that will be on the test. You read that right. There are websites that will create practice tests for people getting ready to test so that they can see if they have mastered the material. And these practice tests are made from the actual questions in the question pool.
I simply studied the questions, all 300 of them, until I knew the answers to the questions and not the material that the questions were designed to test. I went from Technician to General, and on to an Amateur Extra license in six months. I passed each test with better than 95%. And there is still a great deal about radio that I do not know, I build that knowledge every day. But in terms of understanding some things (like antennas) at a deeper level, I do not. I cheated myself.
This is what high schools have become. They are institutions that teach the materials and skills to be able to score high enough on the ACT or SAT to get into college. They long ago stopped serving the idea of molding students into useful members of society. Instead, they became about teachers demonstrating that they could produce students who could pass tests. Education, then, became about pleasing instructors by passing tests, not about learning and using the knowledge so acquired. Thus, when these students reached college what they became was Jello molds for the socialist gelatin the professors poured in. There’s no need to wash a brain that’s already clean.
What high schools need badly, in fact, what all forms of education need badly, is a curriculum built around critical thinking and success-related skills. Consider just the importance of one success skill in particular: goal setting. A Harvard Business School study demonstrated that the three percent of students graduating from its MBA program who had written goals earned ten times as much as the students who graduated without specific, written goals.
The study found that only three percent of the students had written down their goals prior to entering the program, while some 13% had goals, just not written ones. Apparently 84% of the students entering had no goals whatsoever. As Yogi Beara is credited with saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, when you get there, you’ll be lost.” That study proved it. When a Harvard MBA gets you $158,000 walking in the door, a person making ten times that amount simply because of a series of written goals likely has enough to pay off his sizeable student debt.
Another problem with American education is that it puts subtle emphasis on things that do not matter. Prom Queens, class presidents and social clubs in high school all put value on the ability to be popular and well-liked. While these are important, to some people they all too quickly become ends of their own. It is more important to be popular in high school than smart. The blog piece by Peter DeWitt (no relation) sets out how quickly things that would be minor issues laughed off at 23 become suicide-inducing dramas at 15. We do not teach students the simple fact that association with smart, successful people is often the catalyst to becoming great in any endeavor. As a friend of mine put it, if you want to learn to fly, you don’t spend time hanging out at the submarine base. Yet that is exactly what high school has become for so many students who choose the easy path in high school. You do become known by the company you keep. It has the power to alter your life’s goals and choices. Yet teachers do not spend any time discussing this because there is no class called “Your Life 101.”
Values like persistence, perseverance, and the importance of a creative vision are not taught, and sometimes they’re difficult to teach. For these the great writers like Napolean Hill, Claude Bristol, Maxwell Maltz and even Zig Ziglar can provide the kind of mind-opening experiences that allow people to see beyond today and plan for a new tomorrow. For me, Think and Grow Rich made a huge difference in my life. Even though I am not a salesperson, Zig Ziglar’s See You At the Top was another eye-opener. There are so many others, like Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit that could really go a long way to making the next generation the very best generation. If only the majority of students could be exposed to these works.
Yet, my guess is that if you went to your local school board and voiced these issues you’d be met with a lot of “we’ll consider that carefully,” and then see a whole not of nothing because such education is not in the state’s curriculum. So the successful students get this at home, and they absorb it from their parents and grandparents. They see what they did to get where they are, and they internalize their stories and methods. Sometimes the best predictor of a successful person is the struggle of their parents.
When BLM and the other socialists talk about income inequality, they are never really talking about lifting everyone up, but bringing the wealthy down. That is why socialism has never worked. It has never worked because it has never made any life better. Handouts do not motivate people to be better, they motivate them to do less. Everyone understands this at a personal level, which means the socialists are lying even unto themselves.
One of these days I hope that teachers like Brandon manage to make the inroads in the education system that are needed to teach critical thinking and success philosophy to the upcoming generations. But as long as we keep education federalized, with bureaucrats making decisions in DC for people who live in Kansas City, that will never happen.Published in