Book Review

by W. Brewster Gillett

Inside American Education

The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas

Thomas Sowell

The Free Press (MacMillan, Inc.)
1993 368 pages

Few writers have been as successful as Dr. Sowell in shining light on the state of the American educational system. Sowell, trained in economics, is a member of that all-too-exclusive fraternity of black conservatives. He is currently a Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford. His singular gift, apparent in all his writings (Sowell also pens a regular column for Forbes magazine) is his ability to powerfully express complex ideas in a few words, and comparatively simple words at that. His effortless and readable prose style makes him worth reading almost regardless of the subject matter.

In this exhaustively researched book (51 pages of footnotes) Dr. Sowell takes on the institutional structure of primary, secondary and higher education in the United States. The subtitle sums it up rather neatly; The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas - probably the most infuriating, and arguably the most illuminating element for most readers will be the deceptions. Few of us realize the lengths to which the educational establishment will go to conceal, distort, and misdirect in order to keep the general public from catching on to some of their more obviously questionable strategies. It's a real eye-opener. An example is the great number of programs in which the teachers' instructions specifically warn against letting parents know the specifics of the materials being used.

Many thoughtful people have begun to sense that American schools have turned away, and not by accident, from education to what can only be called indoctrination. Professor Sowell illuminates specific case examples as well as historical trends and fashions to substantiate this change. It's real, it's scary, and it's not going to go away any time soon. If you get the impression that your kids are spending more time in school learning how to feel than being trained to think, you're right on the mark. Sowell has brilliantly and comprehensively documented your worst suspicions.

Do not fall into the error of supposing that, because Dr. Sowell comes from a conservative perspective, we can dismiss his views as typical left-bashing. As he says in his book:

"Much of the politicizing of education during the current era happens to have been done by the political left, and much of the exposure and criticism of it has therefore come from conservatives, but it would be a very serious mistake to think that this issue is basically political. Increasing numbers of honest people of liberal, and even radical, views have likewise been appalled at the prostitution of education for ideological ends. The liberal Washington Post, for example, has criticized one of the widely-used curriculum guides by saying that it ' is not education, it is political indoctrination. ' The liberal New Republic has denounced the ideological version of 'multiculturalism' as being ' neither multi nor cultural ', but instead an attempt to impose ' a unanimity of thought on campus.' Marxist scholar Eugene Genovese has urged ' honest people across the spectrum ' to stand up for academic principles and to oppose ' the new wave of campus barbarism. ' In short, the politicization of education is not fundamentally a political issue, but an educational issue."

Sowell goes on to say, " The real issue is not 'political' imbalance, as some conservative critics have claimed, for adding more teachers and professors from the political right, doing what those on the left are doing, would not solve the educational problem. " (his emphasis)

Of particular interest to a high-IQ audience is Sowell's lengthy discussion of the structure, results, and claimed bias of the various forms of aptitude testing, including standardized IQ tests and the earlier incarnation of the SAT. He convincingly demonstrates that much of what we are told about racial and cultural test result differences, and indeed the worth of such tests themselves, is motivated by political bias and has little empirical grounding.

If you wonder why you have to restate your request two or three times to some of the clerks you encounter; if you've had your fill of cashiers who can't make the simplest sort of change; if you despair that the lowest sort of groupthink seems to be the dominant intellectual style of boomer and X-er alike, read Thomas Sowell's critically acclaimed treatment and gain a fuller understanding. Few books which will educate you are also as entertainingly readable as Sowell's Inside American Education.

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