The Corner

Gods of the Copybook Headings

The indispensable Charles Murray has a fine piece in the current issue of The New Criterion titled “The Age of Educational Romanticism.” Sample:

To sum up, a massive body of evidence says that reading and mathematics achievement have strong ties to underlying intellectual ability, that we do not know how to change intellectual ability after children reach school, and that the quality of schooling within the normal range of schools does not have much effect on student achievement. To put it another way, we have every reason to think — and already did when the No Child Left Behind Act was passed — that the notion of making all children proficient in math and reading is ridiculous. Such a feat is not possible even for an experimental school with unlimited funding, let alone for public schools operating in the real world. By NAEP’s definition of proficiency, we probably cannot make even half of the students proficient.

Charles is at the top of his brilliant form, walking through the shed calmly, courteously, and diffidently disembowelling sacred cows as he goes:

America’s federal education policy as of 2008 is at about the same place that the Soviet Union’s economic policy was in 1990 …The reforms were based on premises about human nature that were patently wrong …George W. Bush is the Percy Bysshe Shelley of educational romantics …

He thinks that the age of educational romanticism is coming to an end:

I am optimistic for three reasons. First, the data keep piling up … Second, we no longer live in a romantic age. Educational romanticism was born of forces that have lost most of their power … Third, hardly anybody really believes in educational romanticism even now … it is a classic emperor’s-clothes scenario waiting for someone to point out the obvious.

It’s not just educational theory. It’s all the theories about human nature that our elites have been cherishing this past forty years. In an article somewhere I tagged the later 20th century as “the Age of Bad Ideas.” Reality doesn’t go away just because you stop believing in it.


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