What Are They Teaching Our Children?

A recent issue of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal offers several excellent articles on the state of public education today, three of which are condensed below.

A is for Amorality

"Sex has become nearly ubiquitous," reports Wendy Shalit, "and almost always conveys the same reductive story: six is all about physical pleasure - and preventing the unwanted effects of pursuing it." Shalit points out that "37 states and the District of Columbia require schools to provide STD/HIV/AIDS education, and 23 states require comprehensive sex education. The basis for many of the current comprehensive programs nationwide," she notes, "is a publication issued by SIECUS, the Sex Information and Education Council of the United States, Guidelines for Comprehensive Sexuality Education: Kindergarten - 12"’ Grade. " Shalit claims that "the natural embarrassment sex education seeks so prissily to erode points to a far richer understanding of sex than do our most explicit sex manuals. Today" she observes, "those in kindergarten are urged to overcome their ’inhibitions’ before they have a clue what an inhibition means. Yet embarrassment is actually a wonderful thing, signaling that something very strange or very significant is going on. Without embarrassment, kids are weaker: more vulnerable to pregnancy, disease, and heartbreak." Shalit insists that sex education has merely exacerbated the problems it was supposed to correct. "Most studies find that knowledge about AIDS or HIV does not decrease risky behavior," she report. ’The few studies that do demonstrate that sex education changes the behavior of students conclude it is only likely to make them more sexually active." Shalit suggests an explanation for "why so many kids are getting pregnant these days, now that we have so much sex education on top of a wholly sexualized culture. It’s because sex is not a big deal to them," she contends, "and because they think this is what they are expected to do." It’s not information that children need, but guidance. "Sex education failed," says Shalit, "because it got the reality exactly backward: in fact, students are smart and already know how it’s done. When young, they look to adults... to know what it all means, where it all is leading: that is, they want to know from adults how not to do it"

B is for Banality

"Many of the nation’s middle schools and high schools no longer offer American history," says Sol Stern. "The majority of American students leave high school historically illiterate," he laments. "The little that high school students do learn about our past is largely a swamp of error and special-pleading," Stern complains. "Government standards of what kids should know are part of the problem."

If students are not learning history, what are they learning? Stern points out that "what most school children get is an unwholesome brew called social studies... which present all cultures and civilizations as equal in value. A dash of therapeutic programs, from self-esteem to conflict resolution to AIDS awareness, completes the social studies mix. These topics make at least a smattering of history inescapable," he concedes, "but most high school social studies teachers are ill-equipped to teach even that fragment."

The history that is available to students is neither inspiring, nor accurate. "Those students who do study history usually study it out of textbooks that are, in about equal measure, mendacious and dull," Stern observes. "Today’s history (and social studies) textbooks are unreadably dull because, in addition to multiculturalism in content, they also reflect an affirmative-action approach to authorship. The authors are not individuals but committees, backed up by consultants and teacher-reviewers, all chosen according to the textbook industry’s diversity requirements."

Stern sees a "resurgence" in the study of history among young students, thanks to "grassroots movements of dissident parents, teachers, and concerned citizens." Grassroots efforts are just what is needed "to extricate the public schools from the wasteland professional educators created when they expelled American history," says Stern. "The multiculturalism that replaced it now seems to have no other purpose but to demoralize our children about the country they live in, while keeping them ignorant about the glorious past that gives them so promising a future."

C is for Conditioning

"However easygoing the education establishment is regarding future teachers’ knowledge of history, literature, and science, there is one topic that it assiduously monitors," notes Heather Mac Donald, and that is "their awareness of racism. To many teacher educators," she observes, "such an awareness is the most important tool a young teacher can bring to the classroom. It cannot be developed too early."

Mac Donald dismisses this race obsession as the latest manifestation of a decades-long trend in teacher education. "The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools," she contends. "For over 80 years, teacher education in ’America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense." Mac Donald calls this dogma "Anything But Knowledge" and cites "self-actualization" and "multicultural sensitivity" as examples of the touchy-feely outcomes now pursued by certified teachers.

These rabid anti-intellectuals are determined to extend their pernicious influence. "The education profession," Mac Donald observes, "stands ready to tighten its already vise-like grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to ’professionalize’ teaching further." Professionalizing, of course, is a euphemism for "closing off any routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school."

Mac Donald traces the development of the Anything But Knowledge doctrine to the aftermath of World War I: "Educators within the federal government and at Columbia’s Teachers College issued a clarion call to schools: ’Cast off the traditional academic curriculum and start preparing young people for the demands of modern life. America is a forward-looking country, they boasted: what need have we for such impractical disciplines as Greek. Latin. and higher math? Instead, let the students... take such useful courses as family membership, hygiene, and the worthy use of’ leisure time.’ ’Life adjustment,’ not wisdom or learning. was to be the goal of education." Mac Donald declares that "today’s schools lovingly guard the ancient flame of progressivism. Since the 1920s," she concludes. "they have not had a single new idea; they have merely gussied up old concepts in new rhetoric."