Charles Murray writes a masterful essay at the New Criterion about what he calls “educational romanticism” — pretty much the Lake Wobegon idea that every child is above average and can achieve proficiency in basic academic skills, as the No Child Left Behind Act postulates. Murray argues that some children will always be below average and will struggle or fail in school, and that therefore No Child Left Behind is based on totally unrealistic premises.
One of the main reasons for the rise of educational romanticism, according to Murray, is that after the civil rights movement, people who were of a certain age at that time could not accept the thought of low-achieving black kids as they had low-achieving white kids. But is that it, or is it that they couldn’t stand the thought of a greater percentage of black kids in that category? Were the black and white percentages equal, I doubt that there would be much of an issue about this.
Meanwhile, through the years since the civil-rights movement, the country became more materialistic and status-conscious, as did the movement itself, and they both lost sight of many old virtues, such as modesty, humility, and gratitude. It was no longer a matter of encouraging young people to recognize their own uniqueness, do the best possible with what they have, and feel a sense of pride and accomplishment in that — and not to compare themselves or their group to others. Instead, the civil-rights activists came to feed on envy and resentment, and began to use statistical disparities among groups to indict the country for ongoing racism and discrimination and to gain boons of various kinds on that basis. And of course Hispanic activism piggybacks on black activism.
Murray says the age of educational romanticism is coming to an end, but that would require that experts be willing to say that we can’t demand exact group equality. We should seek to provide the best education possible at all levels as well as the kind of practical education that less-academically proficient young people could use to advance, instead of insisting that everyone must go to college. And perhaps also to provide the kind of character education that can offer a deeper satisfaction than the invidious and never-satisfied spiritual greed common today.