Bad Ideas For Improving Education

Most everyone I meet has an idea how to make our education system better. The perception persists here that we have failing public schools turning out undereducated students.

Few of the ideas pass muster for consideration. Most simply because we are not Maoist China and any government order to immediately execute a Great Leap Forward will meet those two cliche’d reactions: “Let’s talk about it” and “I’m not ready to buy in.”


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Robert Doroghazi

I’m horrified by a commentary written by a couple of physicians, Robert Doroghazi and Joseph Alpert, who put out publications for doctors but presume to know what we should do to make American education better.

Idea No. 1: “Students need some experience in the work other Americans do. They should labor at construction sites, on road gangs, or in factories. They could flip hamburgers or shoulder any of the other humble jobs held by unprivileged citizens.”

This is called “seeing how the other half lives,” and my best friend often says I, with a job and saved retirement money, never see that. Not true, because I see it most every day at McDonald’s, the underpaid bank tellers, and driving a road being repaved by sweating workers.

I’d suggest an engaged student to use summer working with families at the Pine Ridge Sioux Reservation I wrote about last week to try to fathom why that’s perhaps the most poverty- and alcoholism-ridden community in the U.S.

But Doroghazi and Alpert have a different idea.

“A summer spent at an unrewarding, dead-end job might be a powerful stimulus for students to study with renewed vigor when they return to school in the fall.”

The authors think spending so much time in school and college is learning to live life in a bubble and separates them from what they call “the real world.”

I emphatically disagree. The school and college campus is where you develop critical thinking and absorb material from scholars who have spent years studying the “real world” and the misperceptions of the people in it — that one religion is better than another, that we all need guns, that Barack Obama intends to sell America down the river and that most women need some physical discipline imposed by their men.

You don’t get that while flipping hamburgers.

The doctors conclude: “American colleges and universities often say they are looking for well-rounded students. We suggest that when schools review applications, they place a high premium on students who were rounded by working where they got dirt under their fingernails.”

I’m glad I worked as grocery bag boy, lawn mower and Western Union bike messenger. It was that or starve, in my case. But my “real world” knowledge was burnished by my history, philosophy, political science, physics and law professors.

I don’t need to work in a coal mine to know that coal mining is a tough, dirty and dead-end job.