Inside American Education
by Thomas Sowell

As usual of Sowell's books, this one is excellent. It subjects the American education system from elementary school through graduate school to devastating criticism.

SAT scores reached their peak in 1963, when I took the test, and have declined dramatically since then.

"...the problem is not that more low scores from disadvantaged children are being averaged in, thereby bringing down the national average. On the contrary, there has been a sharp decline at the top in the number of high-scoring youngsters."

"...there has been an on-going tug-of-war between educators and laymen, with the National Education Association and other establishment groups pushing for the introduction of innumerable non-academic courses and programs into the public schools, while the laymen have attempted to promote a concentration on academic subjects."

"While school children in Japan are learning science, mathematics, and a foreign language, American school children are sitting around in circles, unburdening their psyches and "expressing themselves" on scientific, economic and military issues for which they lack even the rudiments of competence. Worse than what they are not learning is what they are learning--presumptuous superficiality, taught by practitioners of it."

"In elementary and secondary education, the lag of American school children behind their counterparts in other countries has become a widely known disgrace. What is not so widely understood is that this lag is greatest in thinking skills, rather than in mere information or even in the application of mathematical recipes, as distinguished from multi-step analysis...This is the bottom line that makes American education bankrupt."

"The heavy dependence of many colleges and universities on federal research money...makes minority youngsters valuable as bodies and expendable as students. Their large numbers on campus and small numbers on graduation platforms reflect the facts of this life. Science professors, with large research grants at stake, have especially strong incentives to vote for the admission of mismatched minority students, knowing that such youngsters are unlikely to become science students."

Although American primary, secondary, and undergraduate education is trailing the industrialized world and declining, American research universities and graduate schools are the best, and they attract the top students from around the world.
"As of 1989, just over one-fourth of all doctorates awarded at American universities were awarded to foreigners. The more difficult and demanding the academic standards of the field, generally the higher the percentage of Ph.D.s which went to foreigners. In mathematics and engineering, half or more of the Ph.D.s awarded at American universities have been earned by foreigners. In the much easier--not to say trivial--field of education, Americans have their highest representation among doctoral recipients, 83 percent."
The preferential admissions policies of American colleges not only cause resentment among white students who are not accepted so that less qualified minority students can have the opportunity to attend better colleges, but these policies actually hurt the minorities by admitting them to colleges where they are doomed to fail because they are not qualified to compete with their classmates. At M.I.T. for example, the Black students who were admitted scored in the top 10% nationwide on the quantitative part of the SAT. However, even with such good scores, they rank in the bottom 10% compared to their classmates at M.I.T. and they cannot handle the pace. Most of them don't graduate. But if they went to a less demanding school, they probably would do fine.

Sowell sums up the problem with American educators this way:

  1. They have taken our money, betrayed our trust, failed our children, and then lied about the failures with inflated grades and pretty words.
  2. They have used our children as guinea pigs for experiments, targets for propaganda, and warm bodies to be moved here and there to mix and match for better racial balance, pad enrollments in foreign-language programs mislabeled "bilingual," or just to be warehoused until labor unions are willing to let them enter the job market.
  3. They have proclaimed their special concern for minority students, while placing those students into colleges where they are most likely to fail.
  4. They have proclaimed their dedication to freedom of ideas and the quest for truth, while turning educational institutions into bastions of dogma and the most intolerant institutions in American society.
  5. They have presumed to be the conscience of society and to teach ethics to others, while shamelessly exploiting college athletes, overcharging the government, organizing price-fixing cartels, and leaving the teaching of undergraduates to graduate student assistants and junior and part-time faculty, while tenured faculty pursue research and its rewards."
Unfortunately, the University of North Carolina is no exception. It is mentioned 3 times in the book: once for being one of the universities that has frequent condom weeks; once for using teaching assistants to teach more than half the freshman courses; and once for having foreign teaching assistants who cannot speak English clearly.

N. C. State is mentioned for having basketball players grades changed under pressure from coaches.

Duke is mentioned several times: as a "big name" school whose pre-med students scored lower on the medical school test than graduates from Franklin & Marshall College and whose engineering school graduates are ranked lower by the deans of graduate schools of engineering than graduates of Rose-Hulman Institute and Harvey Mudd College; as a school that rejected 35 applicants who scored 750 and above on the verbal SAT while accepting 293 students who scored more than 200 points lower; as having incompetent professors in Asian and African Languages and computer science; as having several very good economics and mathematics professors who received rave reviews from the students; and finally for overcharging the government due to "inadvertent errors."

Year Read: 1993


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