Thomas Sowell

MANY PEOPLE hear only one side of the story of our public schools, because only the teachers' unions have both the incentives and the millions of dollars required to produce sustained advertising campaigns about education. These campaigns intensify during an election year, so you can expect to hear more slick propaganda than usual from the unions this year.

These unions have fought bitterly against the testing of teachers or students to assess how the public schools are doing. The reason is simple: Such tests have repeatedly revealed the gross ignorance and incompetence of many teachers and the resulting failure of American students to come up to the standards in other countries, including some Third World countries.

However, now that tests have been mandated by law in many states and are strongly supported by public opinion, the teachers' unions have come up with a new spin. They claim that they have no objections to testing students, but just want to have "standards" worked out first. What are these mysterious "standards" that have yet to be developed? People have been testing math and English for centuries.

What the teachers' unions really want is to be able to put all sorts of non-academic mush into the tests, so as to reduce the failure rate and evade the need to teach academic skills.

Instead, they want to be able to continue using the students as guinea pigs for social engineering fads and using classrooms as indoctrination centers for political correctness.

A recent statistic in Time magazine showed that American students spend about as many hours in school annually as students in England, France and Germany. But the number of hours that American students spend on serious subjects like history, science and math is only about half what the students in these other countries spend on these kinds of subjects.

Is it any wonder that our students have consistently been outperformed on international tests, not only by students in these three countries, but even by students from poor countries like Slovenia and Thailand? When teachers' union ads come on the TV screen, with some saccharine-sweet spokesperson emoting about how much they are "concerned" about children and about education, ask yourself: Where were all these concerned people when our schools were being systematically dumbed down over the past generation?

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate