American businesses have reached their fill of young people who have passed 12 years of American schooling, and still somehow missed learning how to read or write or do math: Industry Puts Heat on Schools to Teach Skills Employers Need.

And it’s not like we don’t already have support for this point of view all around us. College English teachers have complained recently about horrific writing skills and reading comprehension for incoming freshmen, and have had to implement remedial English classes to address it. American businesses are the ultimate consumers of our educational system, and they are demanding better. One of many reasons this is important is this: they have seen how well educated the foreign-educated students are, from China, from India, from various other countries in Europe. And in today’s global economy, we really have no choice as a nation but to raise standards and stop with our insane focus on “gaps” because it has made us quantifiably dumber as a nation and as a people: the world is passing us by, and our children will pay the price.

So. We as a nation spend $100,000 or more per child for a public school education … for what, exactly? Well, at least in the case of the Chicago Public Schools, to line the pockets of union officials and teachers who are already well-compensated. The “education” part is optional, apparently, given that CPS students “… score worse than 79 percent of their international peers in math and worse than 65 percent in reading.” What chance do these kids have to go anywhere in life? A few of them, sure, because for some people the power of will overcomes awful life circumstances, but overall? It’s like a fire sale: “kid’s future, damaged, take 90% off”.

Again: what good is a high school degree? If you’re going to spend twelve long years of your childhood working towards a goal, it would be nice if it opened some doors for you. What sort of doors does a high school degree open, what opportunities does it afford? Bueller? Anyone? Not much, apparently, except to serve as a stepping stone to college, where you get to spend outrageous sums and go into huge debt to get a degree that may or may not get you anywhere.

Our achievement in K-12 schools has declined relative to the rest of the world over the last 30-40 years, in a spectacular way.

Consider: when my father went to high school in Chicago in the 1950s, one of the required subjects was Latin. When I went to high school in the Chicago suburbs in the 1970s, Latin was optional, and few people took it. Today it is probably nowhere to be found, except perhaps at some charter schools and private religious schools like Catholic schools. But maybe not even there – the point is, we specifically chose to move away from teaching it. And while Latin is essentially a dead language, and might not be the best example here, whether it is “useful” to students or not might be missing the point. Learning a foreign language, like learning to play an instrument, is supposed to be the best kind of brain exercise that pays off in spades in other areas.

But our genius education professors like William Ayers came along with their “social justice” theories about politicizing the classroom, and propaganda like “A People’s History of America” from socialist Howard Zinn, and teaching reading as a “skill” rather than as comprehension of facts about the world around us, and countless other ways that we removed value from the education process and replaced it with fluff, have conspired to bring us exactly where one might expect: low achievement.

So here we are. Decades later, intoxicated by post-modern silliness and driven by a relentless focus on the “achievement gap”, we can now pat ourselves on the back: we set out to dumb down the curriculum, and by golly, we did it! Well done! To address poor achievement by minorities, we actually thought it would help them if we taught them less, so they could pass and get higher grades and feel good about that even though they did not earn it.

The reality is that most of those minorities actually face much tougher problems at home and in the streets than in school, unlucky enough to come of age during the disaster that was The Great Society. LBJ and his Democrat Party friends, embarrassed by centuries of support for Jim Crow, including Al Gore Sr. (who infamously tried to filibuster the Civil Rights Act of 1964), tried to help them by making them dependent on government, with this ingenious plan: pay young black women to have babies and not get married. Well, this worked out like you might expect a perverse financial incentive to work out: it destroyed the urban black family unit in most cities across the United States, and in the process, decimated hundreds of neighborhoods, schools, and local businesses, and led directly to the gang and drug culture that reigns supreme in those same places today.

The Great Society? How about The Great Disaster? That’s more accurate.

Teaching people less does not help them more. How could it? How does passing kids who should fail, and giving kids A’s and B’s when they should get C’s and D’s, help them in any way, shape or form? The popular theory, that giving them better grades than they deserve helps them manage their feelings better, is both counterintuitive and obviously not working.

The value of the education comes not from the letter grade but from the gains in knowledge that the letter grade is supposed to represent.

It’s just a symbol, meant to represent something real: the knowledge gained. And if there is nothing real behind it, it becomes worse than meaningless – because it is deceptive.

And then, on top of all that: by focusing on closing achievement gaps, and by dumbing down curriculums, we necessarily removed focus on higher-achieving students and have left them to languish, with no “higher bar” to shoot for, no emphasis on excellence for the sake of excellence, no reinforcement of the idea that knowing “stuff” is really the essential root of what the word “education” is all about.

You reap what you sow, friends. You reap what you sow.

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