Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns

Afflicting the comfortable

Michael Skube (scroll down), a rather cranky old acquaintance, reflects sadly on the (il)literacy of students with gilded high school gpa’s. Given how coachable the SAT is, I’m not sure I’m with him in trusting the SAT more than the gpa. But I do agree that a substantial part of the problem is that too many kids--even relatively bright ones--don’t read for pleasure.

Discussions - 10 Comments

He’s right. Today’s kids are unread, culturally illiterate, and not classically educated in the great books or great ideas/conversation. They are technologically-saavy, activity-ridden, and media-saturated - most of them attending elite prep and public schools have mastered the art of spewing back multicultural drivel in group projects and knowing how to ace every class with hours of meaningless homework to get an "A" in as many "AP" classes as possible so they can graduate with a 6.7 average and get into the "right" college to make millions of dollars. If only we could force these kids to slow down and read & discuss a pile of classics under a tree for the summer, they might actually be challenged and use their brains a little bit. For now, the "organization kid" will continue to reign.

Liberalism is fundamentally at odds with educational excellence -- which is not to say that liberals can’t be good teachers or administrators, but they are such in spite of, not because of, their ideology. Liberalism is comfortable rewarding hard work, which anyone can do, resulting in strong GPA’s. It is not comfortable rewarding intellectual superiority and superior cultural capital, as crudely measured by the verbal SAT. And this is true to an extent of classical liberalism, not only collectivistic liberalism. True scholastic aptitude is partly about hard work, but even more so about what’s in your head. And that, sadly, tends to correlate with who your parents were and what they gave you, genetically, financially, and otherwise. Nails on the blackboard to liberals of both kinds.

When admissions officers denigrate the SAT and elevate the GPA in importance, they are to some extent following ideology. In so doing, they punish the truly bright student who needs more motivation or discipline, in favor of many intellectually mediocre drudges.
They are also reducing the incentive to true literacy.

When I home schooled my kids, I never taught them, not really knowing, what was on the standardized tests they took at the end of the school year. We spent lots of time in the read & discuss a pile of classics under a tree mode, though it was usually on the living room floor or on our bed. They had workbooks for math and even for grammar and spelling, but that was the tedium we got through to meet state expectations, till we could get to the real scholastic part of the day. Even in those workbooks, the child did not move on until he understood the given step in the process. It is a luxury of home education that we could do this, to slow down, as Tony puts it.

They always did amazingly well on those tests, except for certain areas. Well, it would be spelling, because some had dyslexia of some sort. It was always funny to see their typical 99 percentile score in vocabulary and a 45 percentile score in spelling, which you would think were more closely related than they are. I thought that was a beauty of the standardized test, that the distinction could be made there.

The problem of the GPA is not just limited to the liberal public schools. I found working in a small Christian school awkward because of my inclination was to reward creativity over diligence. In my English class, written work that was grammatically well done could get a good or a very good grade, but without some spark, some thought, some original and creative effort, it could not be excellent. After the first semester, I was taken to task for this. The parents of a diligent student who had always received A’s, complained at her B+’s. Perhaps, as David puts it, this is collectivist liberalism, but none of the people involved, except me, would have considered it that. They saw a Christian virtue in diligence and thought I was being "liberal" in prizing creativity.

Lastly, I had some complaints that my reading list, all classics, was too difficult and had no "Christian" literature that the parents recognized as such from the shelves of the Christian bookstore. I was requiring one of those books to be read every month, with a written review of the book precisely because I found that students never read books for pleasure. These books came to be a pleasure for them, mostly because we spent days after the essays came in, discussing the books they had read. For me, this was reproducing as closely as I could, my own childrens’ homeschooled experience of literary discussion. For my students, it became an incentive to true literacy.

Brilliant post, Kate (mainly because i agreed with every word - although I would drill more on spelling). I especially liked your toeing the line about diligence and correctness get a superior grade, but insight (originality/creativity) receive excellent, because they are elements of excellence. And discussing what students write and what they write about are sure-fire ways to corroborate interest in reading-and-writing. Having to voice one’s view(s) in public helps (little) people take what they think and say more seriously - because others are!

Kate, I agree w Paul and think you should turn this post into an article and maybe begin by having Peter Schramm post it.

Walking into our kitchen this Sunday morning, I found my wife drilling our 8 yr-old son on spelling. He’s not yet even a "45%" speller. :-)

Oh my. I come back from a too-busy day to find this! I have more busy days ahead getting kids off to various schools, but then I’ll see what I can do. Thank you.

But about spelling, Gary. Some people see it and some people do not. Or, as my son, just 17, who suffered through my spelling drills, quotes from Andrew Jackson, "It’s a damn poor mind that can only think of one way to spell a word."

Although it’s been many years since I was a university, ahem, student, I doubt that many things have changed.

Perhaps the largest shortcoming I saw from my fellow students, regardless of SAT score, or High School (or even College) GPA’s, was the ability to think logically. Unfortunately, in many university classes, the coursework was "dumbed down" to accomodate this shortage of deductive reasoning.

Being able to quote the classics, identify a particular style of art, recite historical dates from memory, integrate standard differential equations by rote - while these offer some good to the student, I repeatedly ask myself: What good is having a headfull of facts, if the holder of said facts is unable to garner more from those facts, beyond the facts themselves.

And I completely with Andrew Jackson on spelling, although not so much on grammar. Home schoolers: Don’t get your kids in spelling bees, but teach them how diagram sentences.

how TO diagram sentences in the previous post, teach your kids proofreading too.

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