Our Broken Schools

by Steve Mason

We keep hearing about school grades going down and students dropping out. America is falling behind. Since we already rank below most industrialized countries in terms of academic achievement, why don't we just make paying our teachers higher salaries a national priority?

Many Americans see paying teachers higher salaries as the surest cure for all our educational ills. But as much as we love to throw money at problems, it may not be the answer. In a now classic experiment, two groups of subjects were paid to tell a lie. One group was paid a lot while the other was paid a little. Interestingly enough, less cash led to better results. Those paid a pittance came to actually believe the lie. Why else would they willingly deceive others for so little? Those subjects making a bundle found it unnecessary to believe the lie. The payoff was all that mattered. This is why volunteers are often the best workers. They talk themselves into their commitment. It's why political canvassers and cult followers can be duped into giving so much for so little - or for nothing at all. In short, money is not the perfect motivator that people think it is. After all, the more you pay someone, the less they have to like the job.

So what should be done about our broken educational system? In one study of 1000 California high school kids, only 30 were deemed competent to enter freshman year in the state university system. But perhaps the time has come to look more at the kids and less at the schools. Minorities are now the majority in most of the nation's largest school districts. They make up 91% in Detroit and 73% in Los Angeles. Is it possible that this demographic shift may somehow be the cause of declining standards?

But one must be very careful even suggesting that the students themselves might be responsible for their grades. In the earlier part of the last century, there were many journal articles that related human traits to geographic origins. It was just naturally accepted that people from different parts of the planet tended to be different. Everything from emotional tendencies to intellectual capacities was thought to be characteristic of certain populations. Then, in the latter part of the last century, the ideology changed.

Ethnic jokes were no longer PC and a new world view - one that better fit contemporary beliefs - became the standard model. Researchers such as Charles Murray, William Shockley and Arthur Jensen were all but tarred and feathered by both the general public and the academic establishment for questioning this feel-good philosophy. Some schools went so far as to eliminate testing because two plus two equals five might make sense to some pupils and who can say they're wrong?

Although Americans are perfectly willing to accept the fact that some youngsters excel at putting balls through hoops, the notion that others may excel at solving math problems is taken as the worst kind of slur. Applauding physical prowess is perfectly acceptable but speaking of mental superiority brings you face to face with the Spanish Inquisition.

Yet our current love affair with diversity all but guarantees that differences based on genetic and environmental factors will become more and more apparent over time. Indeed, after considering widespread immigration and prevailing birth rates, today's majority will be tomorrow's minority. The Census Bureau now predicts this will occur by 2042 - almost a decade sooner than their previous projection. And just in case the happy fiction of dear old golden school days starts to cloud your mind, consider the stark reality of a north Texas town where teachers are now permitted to carry concealed handguns.

The truth is not so much that grades are going down as that they're becoming increasingly irrelevant. Our educational system was established at a different time for a different culture - a culture soon to be replaced. Public schools aren't broken. The changing demographic has simply made them obsolete.

Send your questions and comments to: DrSBMason (at) aol (dot) com

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