"The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be “undemocratic.” These differences between pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised. This can be done at various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing things that children used to do in their spare time. Let, them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have – I believe the English already use the phrase – “parity of esteem.” An even more drastic scheme is not possible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma -- Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT.
In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows? And anyway the teachers – or should I say, nurses? – will be far too busy reassuring the dunces and patting them on the back to waste any time on real teaching. We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us."A sobering assessment in any respect, but especially when you consider that this was written forty years ago. Here are my own thoughts on the subject, borrowed from a blackboard discussion from a couple of weeks ago for my Ed 795B class at SDSU:
"The problem with education in America is that there's no scarcity. Scarcity is why Chinese schools work, and why American Universities work. This is why if I could do just one thing for education, and only one thing, I would get rid of truancy laws. I figure if parents can't even get their kid to ATTEND school it isn't our job to do so. Attending school should be a privilege not a right, like driving a car. I know there is a societal cost to having uneducated citizens, but there is also a societal cost in trying to educate them. I totally understand being an advocate for low achieving kids who've got it rough, but we've got a responsibility to be advocates for those kids who don't. These are the kids who try hard every single day and get essentially ignored for it because they aren't dyslexic or ADD or emotionally disturbed. Imagine if we could take all the resources we spend on raising up the lowest kids who don't give a lick anyways and instead applied them to the highest of the high, making sure they were consistently challenged throughout their school day. Maybe we leave a few children behind, but at least we aren't holding anyone back either."
Until last night I thought my view was too harsh, and while I guess I still feel that way a little, it is much less so now that I read Mr. Lewis' thoughts. Even so, I've come to think that it might not be necessary to do away with truancy laws altogether, so long as that feeling of scarcity is created somehow. It could be artificially created within the schools along the lines of what Germany does now, effectively creating tiers of schooling for all pupils. Those without the grades are not permitted access to all the offerings of the school, akin to our own AP course offerings in high school. This would create a level of scarcity that I think would benefit education overall, though it would not alleviate the suffering of teachers still asked to educate the unmotivated and unsupported (and then berated for failing to do so). That may require another set of solutions I haven't yet thought of. -joe