The Schools Are Failing
In the United States, society fails its schools. The schools fail their students. The students fail themselves. Their parents aren’t getting straight A’s either
“I WAS cheated!” exclaims a high-school graduate who did not realize it until he had to drop out of college after two years. “What went wrong? Why wasn’t I prepared?” he asks, and continues:
“I went to high school during the progressive era, when educational philosophers were talking about ‘joyous classrooms,’ and we were all demanding courses that were ‘relevant’ (whatever that meant). The problem, as I look back now, was that the educators all gave in to us too easily. . . . They tried to give us the ‘joy’ and the ‘relevance’ we were demanding and what we really needed was sentence structure and often a swift boot in the butt.”
Another student’s complaint was reported by a columnist:
“I am in the 10th grade and can’t spell worth a darn. The high school I attend is supposed to be one of the best in the state. I haven’t had a course in spelling since Grade Five. Every year our home room teacher asks us to list the subjects we would like to see offered. I have put down ‘spelling’ and ‘grammar’ five years in a row. So what do I get? Crazy movies which are supposed to be ‘educational.’”
The nation spends more than ever on its grammar and high schools—some $75,000,000,000 a year—and those schools are failing miserably. College entrance examination scores have dropped steadily for the last 15 years.
Grades Inflated and Promotions Automatic
Experts have investigated, and report: Progressive teaching methods and meaningless elective courses have crowded out the basics—reading, writing and mathematics. Not only is Johnny unable to read, but neither can he write, nor add, nor subtract. English courses have been replaced by science fiction and films. The writing of essays is out of vogue. Textbooks are less demanding—more pictures, wider margins, simpler words and shorter sentences. Half the homework of former days is required. Absenteeism, as high as 25 percent, is condoned. Grades are inflated. Promotion to the next grade is automatic, regardless of merit. Diplomas signify 12 years of attendance, not scholastic achievement.
Because of meaningless diplomas, the courts have become involved. The Wall Street Journal of May 9, 1978, said: “If a school graduates a student without regard for what he has learned, it can also be sued. Half a dozen lawsuits have been brought against schools around the U.S. essentially charging educational malpractice.” As a result, in many states “students are being required to prove that they have learned minimum skills, usually by passing tests of competency in the three R’s. Failure may mean denial of a high-school diploma.”
However, the same experts that reported the failings of the schools spread blame beyond the campus. Broken homes, single-parent homes, homes where both parents work, permissive parents—from such homes children come to schools disturbed and undisciplined, difficult to teach.
Television makes lazy minds, and “by age 16, most children have spent between 10,000 and 15,000 hours watching television, more time than they have spent in school.” One of the experts said: “Television has become surrogate parent, substitute teacher.”
Another educator spoke bluntly: “If you feel there’s a serious problem with literacy and you want children to be more literate, I suggest you turn off the television and radio, unplug the telephones and dictaphones, provide parents who are voracious readers and prolific writers and are reasonably affluent.”
That last quote introduces another factor—economics. “Where You Live Equals How You’ll Do,” headlined the New York Daily News, March 8, 1979, and this report followed:
“PS [Public School] 131 in Jamaica Estates, Queens, is surrounded by quiet streets, expensive, one-family brick homes, and people who smile and wave to each other when they pass on the street. Its students achieved the highest scores in the citywide reading tests.
“PS 75 on Faile St. in the Bronx is smack in the middle of a slum. Teachers and students alike have to worry about muggers and heroin junkies when they leave the school grounds. Students at PS 75 scored lowest in the reading tests.
“‘It should tell you something,’ said Evelyn Leakey, whose son is in the fifth grade at PS 75. ‘There ain’t no learning going on in that school, and I can’t afford to send him anywhere else.’”
“Society Is to Blame”
A former secretary of labor, Willard Wirtz, a member of the panel studying the declining test scores, noted that blacks scored lower than whites in proportion to their disadvantaged social and economic situations. “The responsibility,” he concluded, “cannot be centered on the schools. The entire society is to blame.”
Graduates who lack basic educational skills are handicapped in the job market. Businessmen conducting a seminar for teachers made these points:
“Let’s face it, if they can’t do the work, we can’t keep them.”
“Out of one group of 180 applicants that I reviewed, approximately 20 percent had to be thrown out because I couldn’t read the writing.”
“About 80 percent of personnel fired lose their jobs because of habitual absence or tardiness.”
“We try our best not to be influenced by appearances in job applicants, but if you could see some of the people we see, you’d understand that you can’t help but be influenced.”
Business spends $40,000,000,000 a year trying to make up for the schools’ failures. One company official complained:
“We’re doing what the educators ought to be doing. College graduates can’t write reports; high-school graduates can’t read, spell or write; typists can’t type more than 30 words a minute—and they all have poor vocabularies. Twelve years is a long time to spend in school and not come away with the basics.”
It is a sad commentary that a nation that has split the atom, sent men to the moon and back, and sent a spacecraft to Jupiter that returns pictures to earth, has not yet taught all its adults how to fill out job applications or to calculate change at a supermarket check-out counter. Surely there must be a remedy!
But what is it?