|It's Common Sense: The Experts are to Blame||US Life in 1842|
by Christopher Chantrill
October 15, 2008 at 9:48 pm
LAST WEEK Times Higher Education published the world university rankings. The rankings are available here. Harvard came in first, again, and the US, with 58, had the most universities in the Top 200. The Brits came in second with 29. But if you rank the nations by number of top universities per million population, then the US slips to 15th. Who comes out on top? The sensible Swiss who support seven top universities with a population of 7.3 million. Heres the ranking by population:
Number 15 doesnt look quite as grand as No. 1. What should we do about it?
Charles Murray has taken a look at education in the United States in his new book Real Education and he thinks we have a problem. But he does not seem to care whether we are No. 1 or not in the Top 200 university rankings. The bigger problem with universities is that we seem to be convinced that everyone ought to go. That makes second-class citizens of everyone that doesnt get in, and makes fools out of young people that go and then drop out, or that graduate and then find out that their degree doesnt really buy them anything.
The political and cultural insistence on a college degree for everyone is at the bottom of the dumbing down of college courses. Murray reckons that only about 10 percent of each age cohort has the ability to master a real college education (i.e., a rigorous liberal arts or technical degree course). If about 50 percent of high school graduates enter college each year that means that something has to give, and it does.
The fact is that half of the nations children are below average.
We dont like to admit it. Thats why we pass laws called No Child Left Behind. We think that, with proper application of money and effort, we can bring all of our children along in a single cohort.
No we cant, writes Murray, and pulls out the data about IQ (lets just call it ability, he suggests) that got him into so much trouble fourteen years ago in The Bell Curve.
Children in the lower half of the [ability] distribution are just not smart enough to read or calculate at a level of fluency that most of us take for granted. Children still lower in the distribution of linguistic and logico-mathematical ability... are just not smart enough to become literate or numerate in more than a rudimentary sense.
For generations we have argued about streaming in schools, and the left has usually had the best of the argument. It is inequitable, they argue, to brand children as dumb or unintelligent. Thats why they developed magical notions like positive self-esteem. If children think they can do it, then maybe they really can if they try.
Murray makes the opposite argument. If you mix everyone together and put children with below-average ability into classes with children with above-average ability then the below-average will start out school as failures. Theres nothing worse that telling a child to try somethinggo on, you can do itwhen he really cannot. We cannot start to help the below-average children until we recognize that we do not know how to make more than modest improvements in their math and reading performance.
Charles Murray is on firm ground when he is showing us where we have gone wrong, and telling us what we should not do. But Americas future depends on how we educate the academically gifted, he suggests. They are the folks that form our unelected elite and they have a huge effect on our future. It is vital for everyone that they become not just knowledgeable but wise. Rigor is what is needed, he argues: rigor in verbal expression, in forming judgments, and in thinking about virtue and the good. Its the Aristotelian program of cultivating the four cardinal virtues.
There may come a day when conservatives and libertarians can design college curricula, but that time is not yet. In fact, after 25 years of the Reagan era it feels like conservatives have less influence on campus than ever.
Nor should conservatives expect much progress on the rest of the education front.
If children with low IQ are badly served by the current system and young people feel forced to go to college to get that job-opening BA its no skin off the nose of our liberal friends. If our schools fail to educate then they need more money. If every high school graduate goes to college then colleges need more money.
But maybe with another ten or twenty billion dollars a year we can get more universities into the worlds Top 200. That would be something.
Buy his Road to the Middle Class.
[W]hen I asked a liberal longtime editor I know with a mainstream [publishing] house for a candid, shorthand version of the assumptions she and her colleagues make about conservatives, she didn't hesitate. Racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-choice fascists, she offered, smiling but meaning it.
Harry Stein, I Can't Believe I'm Sitting Next to a Republican
[T]he way to achieve a system of determining admission to the public schools on a nonracial basis,
Brown II, 349 U. S., at 300–301, is to stop assigning students on a racial basis. The way to stop
discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.
Roberts, C.J., Parents Involved in Community Schools vs. Seattle School District
[T]he Liberal, and still more the subspecies Radical... more than any other in these latter days seems under the impression that so long as he has a good end in view he is warranted in exercising over men all the coercion he is able[.]
Herbert Spencer, The Man Versus the State
[To make] of each individual member of the army a soldier who, in character, capability, and knowledge, is self-reliant, self-confident, dedicated, and joyful in taking responsibility [verantwortungsfreudig] as a man and a soldier. — Gen. Hans von Seeckt
MacGregor Knox, Williamson Murray, ed., The dynamics of military revolution, 1300-2050
[The Axial Age] highlights the conception of a responsible self... [that] promise[s] man for the first time that he can understand the fundamental structure of reality and through salvation participate actively in it.
Robert N Bellah, "Religious Evolution", American Sociological Review, Vol. 29, No. 3.
[In the] higher Christian churches... they saunter through the liturgy like Mohawks along a string of scaffolding who have long since forgotten their danger. If God were to blast such a service to bits, the congregation would be, I believe, genuinely shocked. But in the low churches you expect it every minute.
Annie Dillard, Holy the Firm
[Every] sacrifice is an act of impurity that pays for a prior act of greater impurity... without its participants having to suffer the full consequences incurred by its predecessor. The punishment is commuted in a process that strangely combines and finesses the deep contradiction between justice and mercy.
Frederick Turner, Beauty: The Value of Values
Within Pentecostalism the injurious hierarchies of the wider world are abrogated and replaced by a single hierarchy of faith, grace, and the empowerments of the spirit... where groups gather on rafts to take them through the turbulence of the great journey from extensive rural networks to the mega-city and the nuclear family...
David Martin, On Secularization
What distinguishes true Conservatism from the rest, and from the Blair project, is the belief in more personal freedom and more market freedom, along with less state intervention... The true Third Way is the Holy Grail of Tory politics today - compassion and community without compulsion.
Minette Marrin, The Daily Telegraph
These emerge out of long-standing moral notions of freedom, benevolence, and the affirmation of ordinary life... I have been sketching a schematic map... [of] the moral sources [of these notions]... the original theistic grounding for these standards... a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our day takes scientistic forms, and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism, or in one of the modernist successor visions.
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self
There was nothing new about the Frankish drive to the east... [let] us recall that the continuance of their rule depended upon regular, successful, predatory warfare.
Richard Fletcher, The Barbarian Conversion
The Union publishes an exact return of the amount of its taxes; I can get copies of the budgets of the four and twenty component states; but who can tell me what the citizens spend in the administration of county and township?
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America