(2009-01-14) Murray Real Education

Charles Murray wrote Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality ISBN:0307405389 about Educating Kids.

His 4 truths:

  • Ability varies. Children differ in their ability to learn academic material.

  • Half of the children are below average. Many children cannot learn more than rudimentary reading and math. Real Education reviews what we know about the limits of what schools can do and the results of four decades of policies that require schools to divert huge resources to unattainable goals.

  • Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. (College Education, Credentialism)

  • America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. (TAG)

Interview - Of all the possible contributions that Real Education might make, the one that would please me most is if the BA were recognized for the divisive and punishing fraud that it is... My take on the education of the gifted (TAG) is somewhat different than people might expect. In K-12, the gifted do in fact need classes that are appropriate to their ability. But the more serious problem arises in college. I encourage you to read chapter 4 in full, but I can give you the bottom line: The problem in college is not that the gifted are being neglected, but that they are pampered. I want the smug and the overprivileged to have their feet held to the fire.

Another interview: So you end up with students whose counselors encourage them to go to college regardless of their abilities, who have never been told about the myriad technical and crafts jobs that are challenging, fun, and pay well. So they try to go to college, fail, and too often seem to think that their only alternative is being a checkout clerk at Wal-Mart.... The academically gifted (TAG)--which I define a lot more loosely than others as the top 10 percent in academic ability--almost all go to college. They need to have their feet held to the fire. They need to have term papers graded by professors who automatically cut the grade for grammatical errors, and who demand precise logic and coherent prose. They need to acquire the tools for forming accurate judgments--which means among other things lots of history, because Santayana was right about those who are ignorant of history, and a thorough grounding in probability, because there is hardly any difficult issue in public policy or, for that matter, in the governance of a corporation, that does not involve probabilistic alternatives. And they need to get a thorough grounding in the great issues of ethics and what it means to live a good life--and by that I don't mean a one-semester course in philosophy. I mean the many courses that call upon the best that human beings have produced on these issues in philosophy, literature, and the arts. And finally, the brightest-of-the-brightest need to learn that they aren't as smart as they think they are. They need to know what it feels like to be unable to do some intellectual task. They need to learn intellectual humility the hard way.

The book makes a big pitch for E D Hirsch's Core Knowledge Curriculum.

Related: anonymous Professor X on trying to teach college-level Reading And Writing to people who aren't qualified. (Really more Night School for Educating Adults because of their job Certification needs.)

  • Apr'2011 update: a follow-up piece, promoting the book version of his thinking.
  • Jun'2011: Louis Menand sees 3 different theories (Model-s) of why to get a College Education. His personal favorite is number 2: In a society that encourages its members to pursue the Career paths that promise the greatest personal or financial rewards, people will, given a choice, learn only what they need to know for success. They will have no incentive to acquire the knowledge and skills important for life as an informed citizen, or as a reflective and culturally literate human being. College exposes future citizens to material that enlightens and empowers them, whatever careers they end up choosing.

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