What People Are Asking
Are Students Less Educated Today
than 50 Years Ago?
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Dear Dr. Horvat,
Allow me to make haste to say that I find your articles an indispensable addition to my own cultural "re-formation" as I try to approach the Catholic standard.
This article in particular [Decreed: The end of the high school education] caught my attention as I was thinking about, (and curious about), the history of public education. I have been told by my elders, for example, that more was required of a student working toward a Bachelor's degree in the 50's than is required of a student today. I assume, therefore, that the high school student of the 50's also had to learn more.
I am also interested in civics, logic, and rhetoric education which seems strangely absent from education.
The so-called "immigration issue" has demonstrated the lack of logical discourse and also a lack of understanding or appreciation for our sovereignty, citizenship or laws. Not too long ago, I held up a sign near Columbus Circle in New York City stating, "Citizenship is a privilege not a right". You would be surprised at the number of sneers I had gotten.
Do you have any information on this? Am I right regarding public school education?
Dr. Horvat responds:
Dear Mr. M.R.,
I believe you are correct in your suspicions that the modern public school education is producing less educated and cultured students than the graduates of 50 years ago.
It is irksome to me to hear the fawning of proud grandparents: “The children are sooo much smarter today.” I don’t agree. They are quite adept at computers - to the great detriment of their handwriting skills, I might note – but lack much basic knowledge of sentence structure, language arts, history – in effect, the basics.
A study done in 2002 confirmed that high school graduates of the 1950s did approximately the same on a general information test as college seniors did today. (Zogby Poll International conducted for the Princeton, NY-based National Association of Scholars).
In the 1950s many of the good colleges still had Latin or Greek requirements. Today, almost every college is introducing remedial English and language arts classes for incoming freshmen, who did not learn the basics of sentence structure and paragraph construction in high school. In the 1950s the normal high school graduate could parse a sentence; today’s average college English major would be hard pressed to identify a gerund or participle.
Civics, logic, rhetoric? Such classes – especially important in the formation of boys – have been replaced by social studies, revisionist history classes and “discussion classes”, during which students speak impromptu and spontaneously – in often unintelligible jargon or hip-hop talk. No matter, what is important is to be sincere, open, unprejudiced and tolerant. It is not just the university, but even today’s public primary and secondary schools that celebrate feminine, black, even homosexual history and “culture.” Yes, they are liberated - liberated from the "coercive" ideas of truth and reality.
Books have been written – Why Johnny Can’t Read, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, etc. – detailing the failure of public education in teaching the rudiments and offering numerous reasons for the dismal results - the John Dewey revolution, outcome based education, multiculturalism, and so on.
In my view, at root is the advance of the egalitarian revolution in education. In an attempt to make an equal education for all, the standards have consistently dropped to satisfy the lowest common denominator. On one hand, the liberal sentimentalist view is that no child should be allowed to suffer embarrassment for being less intelligent than another or for not applying himself properly. On the other hand, no child should enjoy the “unfair” advantage of being honored for being more intelligent than another or publicly rewarded for work well done.
I recall the beautiful custom in the Schools of the Daughters of the Sacred Heart: the most outstanding student in the class - based on both grades and deportment - was awarded a sash in a public ceremony, and then she wore it daily throughout the year as a sign of her achievement.
According to the doctrine of St. Thomas, the fact that a person possesses authentic attributes and is recognized and honored for them by society is a good that is better than health or riches, inferior only to the grace of God, which transcends every other good. You can see the modern education follows the exact opposite principles that provided the foundation for all the social institutions in a sound Catholic society.
In dealing with your last point, it seems to me the educational institution of our country achieved new levels of stupidity on the "immigration issue." Back in the 1960s, following the “civil rights” agenda, some forces in education decided that students whose native language is not English should not have to suffer the great disadvantage of being forced to spend their days in English-speaking classrooms. The experiment of “bilingual education” was born: a bill was passed in 1968 requiring bilingual teachers for Spanish–speaking students so they could be educated in their “native language.” Even more, they were supposed to be instructed about their ethnic culture so they could develop self-esteem. This was all done in the name of an equal-opportunity education.
The theory was that it would be easier for students to learn English if they were literate first in their native language. It was a bad theory, and we are reaping the results now. Children in bilingual education from kindergarten through eighth grade cannot read well in English or Spanish. Many students graduate never having fully developed their English language skills, unprepared for higher education.
Today opposition is growing to this kind of teaching, especially from Latino parents. It is a healthy reaction and I applaud it. But I don’t foresee that it will offer any grand remedy for the problem of public education in the near future.
In the meantime, the home-schooling and small private school movement continues to grow. It is not difficult to understand why.
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