Educational Romanticism: Get Over It?

May 19, 2008

by Tammy Drennan

Charles Murray is stirring up controversy again.

Mr. Murray believes we’ve been living in an age of educational romanticism. We’ve been dreaming that all children can be educated to a level of “proficiency.’

Can’t be done, says Murray. It’s a nice, romantic sentiment but it never did happen and never will happen. Some kids have more upstairs than others and there’s hardly a thing in the world a school can do about it. The sooner we face the truth, the better off all the kids will be.

Murray contends that a careful examination of the empirical evidence proves his point: in the end it’s more the innate ability of the student than the quality of the school he or she attends. The only thing besides natural braininess that seems to make much of a difference is the child’s family background.

The bad news, by Murray’s reckoning, is that until we get over the romanticism, public schools will continue to poorly serve all students. To wit:

“For now, it is enough to recognize that educational romanticism asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top. It short-changes all of them.”

The good news, still according to Murray, is that we’re on the cusp of recovering from our infatuation with the possibility of intellectual equality.

Unstated in the article (though stated, I assume, in his upcoming book on the topic) is what to do next.

I don’t know what Mr. Murray’s suggestions will be. But I do know that the parents of millions of homeschooled children over the past 25 years or so have known all along that one-size-fits-all education doesn’t work and that family background counts a heap.

Above all, most of them have known all along that education in the hands of the state never has worked and never will. There are a few rare exceptions, of course, and thank goodness for them, but for most students the key to excellence in education will never be found in a state school. It will be found at home or within themselves or in a good private school situation or with some mentor who acts in loco parentis.

Mr. Murray bemoans the ways state schools have twisted the meaning of such things as self-esteem and multiple intelligences. Yup. That’s what government bureaucracies do. It’s always been that way and it always will be.

Fortunately, many regular people who have chosen independence know exactly how to define and use such concepts. They know that in order to feel good about yourself you need a reason to. And they know that different people are good at different things and that their areas of strength can be used to bolster weaker but essential mental skills even as they hone their natural abilities to a fine point.

The biggest danger at this juncture is that all the folks who should know that only freedom will work, that the only answer is to take our brains and our children’s brains out of the hands of the state, will harness their reform energies in yet another utopian plan to make state schools bend to their will (which changes from time to time).

At some point, we will have to face the true truth: the education of our children is not something we can outsource to the state — not if we care about excellence. Maybe that’s bad news to a lot of people.

The good news is all the exciting possibilities that come with independence. Think about it – your children free of state control and interference, your children free to soar, your children as wardens of the state, not wards of it.

Think about the potential of families restored because parents are becoming grown-ups with responsibilities again, instead of breeders for state schools. Think about children seeing their parents be parents, not cowing before the bullying of school bureaucrats and the definitions they choose to impose on the helpless.

There’s a bright future out there. Many people are already realizing it, which is the best news of all. The parents of 14% of all students in the U.S. have already opted for freedom.

And it’s not only the well-off and middle class. Poor parents, single parents, handicapped parents, thousands upon thousands of fiercely dedicated and independent parents are blazing a freedom trail for others to follow.

It gives me goose-bumps just to think about it.