Instead, I replied to his parents: With American students consistently scoring near or at the bottom in international tests, I am repeatedly appalled by teachers who waste their students' time by assigning them to write to strangers, chosen only because those strangers' names have appeared in the media.
It is of course much easier-- and more "exciting," to use a word too many educators use-- to do cute little stuff like this than to take on the sober responsibility to develop in students both the knowledge and the ability to think that will enable them to form their own views on matters in both public and private life. What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with such questions that people with Ph.D.'s in economics have trouble wrestling with?
The damage does not end with wasting students' time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called "famous" people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one's own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of "leaders."
Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: "I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind."
The fad of assigning students to write to strangers is an irresponsible self-indulgence of teachers who should be teaching. But that practice will not end until enough parents complain to enough principals and enough elected officials to make it end.
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