Magazine article Insight on the News

A Prescription for Educational Malaise

Magazine article Insight on the News

A Prescription for Educational Malaise

Article excerpt

One of the very few engaging moments in the film based on the tawdry (not to say decadent) animated TV series South Park is the "Blame Canada" number. Everyone can use an all-purpose scapegoat, and that stolid land to the north is convenient to indict as responsible for our troubles and travails. So, in the spirit of "Blame Canada" it is hereby proposed to "blame teachers" for the degradation of American public education.

That is neither fair nor accurate, of course. Despite the leaden power of teachers' unions -- and the alacrity with which educrats embrace new pedagogical fashions, often based on a liberal agenda -- despite these and other feasible assignments of blame, there remain many thousands of men and women dedicated to furnishing empty young noggins.

Such teachers in elementary and secondary schools are handicapped by the indifference of many parents -- indeed, of parental antagonism toward enforcement of civil and mental discipline. A corollary is that the cubs in the classrooms are more and more contemptuous of authority in any form. These factors and others contribute to the despond that seems to be as common in public schools as safe-sex lectures.

If government schools are unable or unwilling to teach their inmates to read competently, then let's hear it for charter schools and school vouchers. The lost art of reading, the key that opens the doors to achievement, partially is due to one of those fads -- the "whole-word" method. Phonics, tried and true but junked long ago by "progressive" educationists, does seem to be making a modest revival.

Teachers must take substantial responsibility, however, for the rampant "dumbing down" of curriculum. This destructive trend is conspicuous in the teaching of language and literature. The intellectual pap that now is increasingly on the reading menu is awful. The classics are vanishing. They are being replaced by books that are "easier" to read; more fun.

Youngsters often are being guided to reading about issues that immediately are intriguing, writes syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, about "teen angst, teen love ... rather than the themes and characters that illuminate the larger human condition." If education, as opposed to training, is to accomplish anything vital, it must be to guide the budding egos in that precise direction, an understanding of the universal human condition.

Part of the reason for this dumbing down, and it is a hard heart that cannot sympathize with teachers, is that these kids now are the product of multiple TV generations. …

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