Walter E. Williams

What passes for educational enlightenment these days boggles the mind. Matt Gouras, of The Associated Press, writing in the Jan. 5 Seattle Times tells a story about Tennessee schools. The success of some students has made other students feel badly about themselves.

What're the schools' responses? Public schools in Nashville have stopped posting honor rolls. Some are considering a ban on posting exemplary schoolwork on bulletin boards. Others have canceled academic pep rallies, while others might eliminate spelling bees. Nashville's Julia Green Elementary School principal, Steven Baum, agrees, thinking that spelling bees and publicly graded events are leftovers from the days of ranking and sorting students. He says: "I discourage competitive games at school. They just don't fit my worldview of what a school should be."

This is a vision all too common among today's educationists, but there's a good reason for it: too large a percentage of teachers represent the very bottom of the academic achievement barrel and as such fall easy prey to mindless and destructive fads.

Retired Indiana University (of Pennsylvania) physics professor Donald E. Simanek has assembled considerable data on just who becomes a teacher. Freshman college students who choose education as a major "are on the average, one of the academically weakest groups. Those choosing non-teaching physics and math are one of the academically strongest groups. Some of the more capable who initially chose teaching will find the teacher-preparation curriculum to be boring and intellectually empty, and shift to curricula that are academically more challenging and rewarding." Simanek adds: "On tests such as the Wessman Personnel Classification Test of verbal analogy and elementary arithmetical computations, the teachers scored, on average, only slightly better than clerical workers. A rather low score was enough to pass. Yet half the teachers failed."

There are other causes for the sorry state of today's primary and secondary education. There's been the politicizing of education. Teachers have recruited students to write letters to the president protesting the war and participate in demonstrations against school budget cuts. Very often, good teachers and principal are faced with the impossible task of having to deal with administrators and school boards who are intellectual inferiors and motivated by political considerations rather than what's best for children.

Walter E. Williams

Dr. Williams serves on the faculty of George Mason University as John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics and is the author of 'Race and Economics: How Much Can Be Blamed on Discrimination?' and 'Up from the Projects: An Autobiography.'
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