Gimme That Old-Time Education

The strength of American education is that for 400 years we have allowed and encouraged people to self-educate. That doesn’t mean the schools are the cause. However, neither did they fully ruin that, and bad as they were and are, they seem to be better than everyone else’s right up to the present day. Most places in the world, even now, discourage or even forbid many children from rising above their station with either formal or informal education. Just having a good attitude about that has probably helped America a lot.

Let me talk out of both sides of my mouth again.

Black education today is terrible in some places. I’m not sure many African-Americans would maintain that it was better 50 or 100 years ago.

Anyone with an educational difficulty of any kind might also have complaints about current school offerings, but compared to 1932 or 1952? Please. My younger brother had a special program in elementary school – they put his desk in the hall. In the tracked classes he was put in the bottom track of 17. He wasn’t badly ADD, but it was compounded by being only three weeks short of the age cutoff for his class, and his poor fine-motor skills. He went on to teach college, after a long and winding road. Schools missed a lot of kids then. They missed bad hearing and bad eyesight. They missed identifying any spatial skills until well into high school. The escape route was often that people, especially boys, figured out that there were other ways to get ahead, before “To get a good job, get a good education” became a perpetual, and misleading, public service announcement. Also people were more used to careers being built outside of school and so accepted it more. In contrast, a young friend who teaches English at a suburban high school brought in a speaker to encourage consideration of trades. She was told by her principal to never do that again.

Still, I don’t know that’s the fault of the schools precisely, though they contributed to it.

Then there’s the corporal punishment – some of it relatively mild and merely uncomfortable and perhaps not very damaging, some of it assault and abuse.

Plus! Public shaming as a primary tool for encouraging children to work harder and do better. Because mild embarrassment motivates some of the better students, significant humiliation must work on the others. Now that makes sense. That was one of the brilliant pedagogical techniques of earlier eras. It is largely the people who were not abused and shamed who remember education so fondly now. Myself, I remember that they didn’t like boys very much.

I mentioned in the previous posts the lack of educative bang for the buck we got from many of the extras in the old days, such as penmanship, and coloring as the default geography activity.

That’s a lot for Old-Timey Education to overcome if it wants to be considered superior to the current model.

As long as I can remember, we have been subjected to news stories every year of how American students only rank 20th in the world, or 13th out of 15 wealthy countries in math, reading, and science. We then have a collective moaning about how far we are falling behind the world, with every interest group insisting they know how to fix it: by hiring more of their interest group, be they aromatherapists or small-business owners to fix the classroom. Alternatively, people tout their various theories. The Finns and Estonians do so well because they are so laid-back and permissive. But The South Koreans and Chinese do so well because they drill their kids so hard. It seems we are hard to please. The breathless media accounts are usually based on the Programme for International Student Assessment, given to 15 y/o’s every year. It’s a good test, but if you don’t break it down by race it greatly deceives. If you scroll to the bottom of that Wikipedia article, you will see that American results are broken out by race. Do not be amazed that this is allowed. It’s a big deal in educational circles, trying to “close the testing gap.” They have to advertise this to get more money. Everyone else wants to cover it up to have less argument. I think the tension between highlighting and covering up is worsening, BTW.

It’s just a little dated, but Steve Sailer put the list in more simplified form a few years ago, so you don’t have to keep scrolling back and forth between charts. It appears that Americans do very well indeed. Asian-Americans outscore Asians, except for magnet cities. European-Americans outscore Europeans, with few exceptions. The lower numbers for Hispanic-Americans would be discouraging, except that one sees they far outscore all Latin-American countries. We have almost no data for Africa and the Caribbean, but what we have shows all of them far, far behind African-Americans. The theory that environment in general, and schools in specific, matter more at the tail end of ability than at the top seems to bear out.

It is unlikely to be primarily schools creating the advantage. The American belief in self-education, in-school or out, is likely the driver. Yet the schools are at least not destroying that advantage. I worry about attention spans – yet that is not the fault of the schools. I worry about much of the content being taught – until I remember that students seldom buy what the adults are selling anyway. I worry about the butchery of boys, especially now that the non-school escape routes have less status. That is on the schools more, but generally they are only echoing the values we insist on, overvaluing conscientiousness, over-reliance on credentialing, over-emphasis on sports and entertainment.

6 thoughts on “Gimme That Old-Time Education”

  1. Another anecdote. I examined military recruits for about 7 years. I have several stories but one was about a Nigerian immigrant who was joining the Army Reserve, as I recall. He had a BS in Mechanical Engineering and an MS in Industrial Engineering. I asked him if he was an Ibo (more recently Igbo) and he was pleased I knew. He told me that, in Nigeria, he was given the choice of Engineering or Optometry. Those were two fields that were needed.

    No “Gender Studies” for Nigeria. Also Ibos are apparently gifted in Mathematics.

  2. Maybe the environment in US schools is better, but the subject matter recently is crap. No real history (except grievance studies), no classical literature, etc., etc. Heck, in several US colleges you can get a bachelor’s in history without taking US history or any western civilization.

    So, tell me again how US schools are better today, when they’re busy making sure they don’t pass on western culture, or otherwise prepare today’s youth for functioning in the real world?

  3. @ Mike K – you got that right. The Ibo were a very high percentage of the Middle Atlantic slave population, which may be part of how American blacks are so far ahead of Africans. Whenever you see one of those “This black girl was accepted all all seven Ivvies” news articles, look immediately for the word “Ibo” in about the third paragraph. (Processing speed from wide interacting likely also brings out full potential.)

    @ Occasional Commenter – While I agree with your deploring of the content*, there are hard facts that prevent the proof. We still rule the world, so at minimum our schools don’t destroy our children. We still test at the top, even with device-addled knuckleheads populating the schools.

    We pulled up the bottom in American schools, not brilliantly, but I think better than other places. Letting the best students, especially the boys, learn on their own may be the single best strategy. Get them together with other bright students and then leave them alone. Take comfort in the fact that just as no one in your school learned what the teachers wanted them to, neither do kids today. They hold those ideas for a while, but then either keep or abandon them on their own when they hit their twenties. The children who went PC would probably have gone there anyway. I am not saying “all is well with the schools,” but neither do I think there is some sudden crisis that is any different from what we have always faced. There is a lot to get across to bring children to adulthood, and the schools do only a part of that at all well. They mostly suck at it, but were worse in the old days, with more children excluded, beaten, unrecognised, shamed.

    *The false quote from Chief Seattle can make me homicidal.

  4. Schools always have been and always be primarily indoctrination centers and today they are anti-human and anti-child because our society is anti-human and anti-child.

  5. AVI: “They [schools] mostly suck at it, but were worse in the old days …”

    With all due respect, AVI, I do not think you have made that case. Before we can say better or worse, we have to address the fundamental question — What are we trying to accomplish with the huge investment of time & money in schools?

    Certain objectives of schooling change over time — as we move from a world in which most of the students were going to work on farms, to a world where most were going to work in manufacturing, to a world in which most are … going to do what?

    Other objectives do not change — teaching Reading, Writing, Arithmetic; instilling a knowledge of history and culture; helping to prepare young people to become functioning citizens in a republic; ideally, giving young people the tools (and the humility) to be able to analyze situations and think critically.

    Schools certainly did some of those functions much better in the past, at least for many of the students. And it is not really a problem that schools in bygone times failed to teach Political Correctness, race hatred, or how to put a condom on a banana. But what schools did in the past is mainly of historical interest — we can’t change anything in the past. The only thing we can change is what schools do now and in the future. Even if we want to argue that schools are better today than in the past, we still have to face the reality that schools today are not good enough.

  6. Other objectives do not change — teaching Reading, Writing, Arithmetic; instilling a knowledge of history and culture; helping to prepare young people to become functioning citizens in a republic; ideally, giving young people the tools (and the humility) to be able to analyze situations and think critically.

    I have to agree. Abraham Lincoln did pretty well with the equivalent of second grade and self education.

    Thomas J Watson, whose biography I’ve been reading, did pretty well with a high school education. His son was a poor student but brought about the computer revolution at IBM

    Aside from engineers and physicians, higher education does little that cannot be done with self education.

    In fact, French physicians are not required to attend college.

    Fine Arts and English Literature are good examples of education that is probably better done outside brick and mortar colleges and may be soon.

Comments are closed.