During a recent family gathering, I casually inquired of my 14-year-old niece, a freshman who attends a public high school in California, about her grades from last semester. I was shocked to learn that she got a "B" in math. Since our family normally considers an "A-" to be an equivalent of an "F," and she is usually pretty good in math, I had to probe her for an explanation.
She told me that before every math test began, her math teacher would divide the class into groups. All students would still take the same test. But within the group, they had to "communicate" with one another on their individual approach to solve each problem without actually showing their test paper to one another. At the end of the test, the teacher would "randomly" pick one student's test paper from each group and grade it. The score of one student from each group would become the score for everyone within the group. The math teacher claimed that this approach would encourage students to be better communicators and facilitate a team spirit. For some unknown reason, my niece's test paper wasn't selected once in the entire semester. So her grade, a "B", was not representative of how well she grasped the math knowledge she should have learned in ninth grade. Rather it was a representation of her "weak" communication skill, aka failure to convince her fellow students to adopt her answers.
Needless to say that I found the math teacher's objective and approach very troubling. First, the objective of math teaching is not to help kids improve communication skills. No doubt that communication skills are important. That's why schools have already provided children with many other ways to improve their communication skills: through subject learning such as English literature and activities such as debates. But we teach children math so they can develop other important skills, such as problem solving skills and analytical skills by using logic and reasoning. How well they can master these skills, not necessarily the number crunching itself, will not only impact whether they will lead a successful life in the future, but also shapes what kind of citizen they will be: are they going to think and analyze politicians' ideas and proposals before casting a vote, or be easily wooed by a smooth talking politician whose ideas lack substance and would vanish in the presence of logic and thought?
Second, assigning one student's score to everyone in the same group, by forcing everyone within the group to have the same outcome, diminishes personal responsibility, dis-incentivizes learning and encourages group thinking. What the math teacher was doing is a classic redistribution scheme long advocated by the founder of Communism, "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" (Karl Marx). Children who grew up with this kind of education, or really, political indoctrination, learned that there's no need to be better than the rest of the group. They learned to reject the American tradition of rugged individualism and self-reliance. They learned to say these magic words from a young age, "it's not my fault." They learned not to be responsible for their behavior and outcomes. They learned to blame anyone else except themselves for their own misfortune in lives. To them, equality can only mean everyone having the same result, even if it means everyone is equally miserable. So it's acceptable to hold back whoever is better and redistribute their talent or wealth.
This kind of so called progressive education has long existed on US college campuses and churned out voters who voted for Obama twice, and today enthusiastically embrace a self-proclaimed socialist like Bernie Sanders, who promises free college, free healthcare and a political revolution to finally make the rich pay. Unfortunately, this kind of education is no longer limited within the boundaries of college campuses. It has trickled down to K-12 education. Americans are getting politically indoctrinated younger and younger. Is it any wonder that Democrats are advocating for universal pre-K education?
While it is rightly so that most Americans are focused on the presidential election at this moment, the real battle ground to fight for America's future is in the classrooms. If we want to make America great again, we need to pay attention to what's being taught to our youth, how they are being taught and push back against the progressive indoctrination.