Saturday, March 03, 2007

A Critique of Pure Reason

Brooks makes some good points, but his Op Ed unfortunately provides fodder for those willing to excuse the failure of too many of our schools -- especially those serving the students "who can’t control their impulses, who can’t focus their attention and who can’t regulate their emotions".  This essay is essentially a license for schools to throw up their hands and say, "You see!  Don't blame us for illiterate high school students!  It's the inevitable consequence of bad parenting and other external factors."  This was similar to the argument that police departments used to use: "Don't blame us for crime.  There's nothing we can do about it until we first eliminate poverty, racism, etc."  We now know that all of this is pernicious, total, complete and utter nonsense.
The right answer, which was captured in the December NYT Magazine article that featured schools that are achieving huge success with precisely the most disadvantaged children (see, is that, in the absence of parents and others who can instill inpulse control, regulation of emotions, etc., then THE SCHOOLS MUST DO SO.  If you're dealt a tough hand, you can cry and whine about it and make excuses for losing, or you can play the hand you're dealt with and accept nothing less than success.  Tragically, most big public school bureaucracies choose the former, whereas the No Excuses school choose the latter.

They will understand that schools filled with students who can’t control their impulses, who can’t focus their attention and who can’t regulate their emotions will not succeed, no matter how many reforms are made by governors, superintendents or presidents.

These candidates will emphasize that education is a cumulative process that begins at the dawn of life and builds early in life as children learn how to learn. These candidates will point out that powerful social trends — the doubling of single-parent families over the past generation, the rise of divorce rates — mean that government has to rethink its role. They’ll note that if we want to have successful human capital policies, we have to get over the definition of education as something that takes place in schools between the hours of 8 and 3, between the months of September and June, and between the ages of 5 and 18.


March 1, 2007
Op-Ed Columnist

A Critique of Pure Reason

All the presidential candidates this year will talk about education. The conventional ones will talk about improving the schools. The creative ones will talk about improving the lives of students.

The conventional ones, though they don’t know it, are prisoners of the dead husk of behaviorism. They will speak of education as if children were blank slates waiting to have ideas inputted into their brains with some efficient delivery mechanism.

The creative ones will finally absorb the truth found in decades of research: the relationships children have outside school shape their performance inside the school.

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