UNEDUCATIONAL EDUCATION                                    2 Jan 1998

by Robert Frenz

(Originally published in September 1983.)

We hear a lot these days about the degradation of our educational system and how it is turning out an inferior product, namely our children. In the welter of criticism, the critics seem to forget that the best pie-maker in the world can do nothing with mud except produce mud pies. After years of working in the aerospace industry as a chemist, I know of no instance where a product is independent of the material of which it is formed. American education is a mirror of the values of the population as a whole. Educational standards have fallen so low because society wants every student to pass. The cold reality is that high standards necessitate high failure rates. No gadget, no film strip, no computer software will ever catapult a simian brain out of the realm of thinking about climbing trees.

The sad truth is that many of our best teachers have lost their jobs simply because they insisted upon maintaining high standards. New York State once boasted of having the highest standards of any state in the country. Today, some schools in our second most populated state refuse to give any grades lower than 60. I personally know of situations where teachers were told that a "relevant" algebra course consisted of the first four chapters in a 22-chapter book. I do not wish to belabor the point, but our school systems, like our politicians, are exactly what the public demands. When present-day teachers adhere to standards, they will soon be looking for a job. Tell the truth, and you'll never make it in politics either.

American education has a steadily increasing supply of inferior raw material to work with. In this regard it is unfair to compare "average" American students with those of Germany, Japan or Russia. In Germany and Japan, I strongly suspect the standard IQ deviation is much smaller than in the U.S. Even though the U.S.S.R. is quite racially diversified, the commissars are practical enough to keep the potatoes separate from the carrots. I am sure that Russian performance data represents a select group.

I have mentioned the dirty word "IQ." For the sake of argument, let's assume that a score on a IQ test has no correlation to the "actual" mental acumen and reasoning power of the youthful individual. It would follow that a group of students scoring 80 would demonstrate the same random distribution of "brains" as a group scoring 120. This corollary would give the maximum latitude to the myth believers. Therefore I make this challenge. Name your own high-school mathematics course. Give me one school year with nothing more than a textbook and chalkboard. Since IQ scores are not supposed to mean much, no one should object if I selected the 120 score group to work with. My opponent has the liberty of utilizing any conceivable collection of computer hardware, software, mushware and fanfare together with Sesame Street decimals, padded chairs, metrics and any other fluff available. After the instruction is over, let's allow the passage of six-months for digestion of the newly accumulated knowledge, creativity, decision-making, problem-solving, critical thinking, synthesis, evaluation and communications or whatever. Pick your SAT tests, closed- or open-book exams, surprise quizzes, essays, research projects or any other criteria for performance evaluation. Anyone care to bet that my group won't win hands down?

A longer academic year? Many of our inner-city pupils are wiped out after the second week in September. Closer cooperation with industry? Certainly. No one should teach chemistry unless he has been formally employed by industry as a chemist for at least two years. Most science teachers haven't the faintest idea of the practical applications of their favorite subject. In education, as in life, to enjoy milk and cream one must first get used to shoveling a little manure. How much can be learned about cows by sipping from a milk carton?

In a society which stampedes to a stadium to witness one bunch of morons chase the other's balls (or a "concert" where the lunatics on the stage are out screamed by the collective convulsions of the audience), I can only predict a steady diminution of academic performance. Illiterates are being granted huge "scholarships" for atavistic excellence. Passing grades become items of charity. As the unrestricted breeding of the dumber dumbbells increases and the performance requirements of an advancing technological society increase, one can easily extrapolate massive social upheavals. Out of expedience alone, the educational product will become inexorably inferior. Our equality-obsessed society will not tolerate a change in educational direction any more than it will tolerate a change to economic belt-tightening.

American education has suffered grievously from the Spock and Company jew-brand of "new think." The fact is that our contemporary educationists make Spock look rather sane. I witnessed a TV program a short time ago that featured a jewish professor of something or other who claimed that African termites would be building radio telescopes after 20,000 more years of evolution. This welcome prediction was based upon the "fact" that these termites build their mounds in the form of Gothic arches. Academia reeks with such professors.

Johnny Jones gets a low grade. Since the grade is obviously "unfair," the irate parent descends upon the school board, school administrator or both. It doesn't take more than 15 minutes for the buck to be passed to the teacher. If teacher wishes to keep his or her job, then the grades must come up. So teacher lowers ("curving") the standards. Now Johnny gets a higher grade and knows less.

In some schools, attendance counts for 40% of the grade. In some schools, students are given extra points just for remaining silent and super-points for not trashing the room. Any wonder that many teachers describe their jobs as "baby-sitting" and refer to themselves as "wardens?" Recently a new teacher in our local high school complained that the chemistry course was not adhering to New York State requirements for laboratory work. He was fired. If anyone thinks these episodes are rare, I suggest that reality is out of his ken. We are still free to prate, but woe to us if we try to implement.

Afloat in their isolated ship, educators twaddle about correcting the presence of water in the hold. Following hours of role playing, committee-forming and "interaction encounters," they come to a conclusion. The water is there because there is no path for egress. Solution? Drill a hole in the bottom. When that doesn't work, form another committee. By popular vote it is then decided that the principle of drilling a hole to let the water out was sound, but the hole wasn't large enough. Since the ship of education is now barely afloat, I'm waiting for the next round of hole-boring to commence.

I hate to end this little essay on another sour note, but our current crop of education "experts" remind me of backward-mounted jockeys who, after getting the horse to gallop in reverse, seem puzzled as to why the horses have their heads on the wrong end.


Thomas Sowell, the black economist, has made a great point of showing that West Indian Negroes in the U.S. do much better than American-born Negroes. He relies on this idea to "prove" that Negroes do not suffer from any genetic handicaps. West Indians, he tells us, hail from lands with less racial discrimination and are therefore culturally conditioned to outdo American blacks who only recently have enjoyed equal opportunity under the law. If our Negroes came from the Lesser or Greater Antilles, then they too would "make it" in America.

Sowell's thesis doesn't jibe too well with a recent study of West Indians in Britain, whose results, "based on the most extensive battery of tests ever given to ethnic minority children in this country," have been published in the British Journal of Development Psychology.

When West Indians begin school at five in Britain, they do as well as other racial groups and read slightly ahead of white working-class children and almost as well as white middle-class children. By age seven, however, all whites pull ahead. By age 10, blacks are a year behind lower-class whites and two years behind middle-class whites. At the same time, white IQs hold steady while black IQs decline 4.6 points (Indian IQs go up 4.4 points in the same period). Finally, only 2% of the blacks manage to get into the higher-school curriculum which is composed of the top 25% of the students. By age 16, West Indians are generally ineligible for higher education and professional training.

Sandra Scarr, the Yale psychologist who headed the testing team, dealt Sowell a mortal blow when she made the obligatory disclaimer, "Genetics explain nothing." If genes have nothing to do with the West Indians' poor educational record, then the causes must be environmental. Yet Sowell's case rests entirely on the proposition that environment is the sole reason for the West Indians' economic success in the U.S. His argument now falls flat – unless he can show that the underachieving West Indians in Britain come from a different environment than the allegedly overachieving West Indians in the U.S.

Despite Ms. Scarr, genetics seem to explain quite a lot. Blacks cannot match white performance wherever and whenever the two races meet in industrialized societies. Perhaps the West Indians' cultural environment is better for blacks because of the black preponderance in the Islands. Perhaps this does give them a slight cultural or psychological edge over American-born blacks. But both in Britain and in the U.S. most blacks, whatever their origins, do worse than whites in and out of school. And how does Sowell's environmental hypothesis account for the fact that West Indian blacks in Britain have the same propensity for rioting and crime as blacks everywhere, including their kinfolk in Africa?