Are You an Optimist or Pessimist About America?

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
01/12/2012
       
Are You an Optimist or Pessimist About America?

In November 2011, Commentary magazine asked 41 members of the cultural elite — writers thinkers, and professors — whether or not they were optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future. While most of the comments dwelt on political and economic issues, some of the contributors pointed to our education system as a source of their pessimism.

 

In November 2011, Commentary magazine asked 41 members of the cultural elite — writers thinkers, and professors — whether or not they were optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future. While most of the comments dwelt on political and economic issues, some of the contributors pointed to our education system as a source of their pessimism.

 Of course, as an “extremist” writer and “thinker” on the matter of American education, I was not asked to contribute my views. I would have expressed guarded optimism about the growth of homeschooling as an alternative to our failed public schools. Nevertheless, I found some of the comments worth passing on to our readers. Here they are:
 
Brooke Allen, author and professor, wrote:

Which leads me to one of the root causes of my long-term pessimism: the state of American education. We are constantly confronted with dismal statistics on test scores, our students’ performance relative to other developed nations, etc. But what is the reason for this, and what is the solution? It’s not an answer, I think, to throw more money at the problem.... The problem seems to me a deep-seated one: we simply have no consensus as a nation, no unified philosophy of what an educated person should know. Perhaps this relates to the breakdown of government; we have arrived at no consensus as a nation about what a government should do.

Professor Allen is, of course, right. There is no unified philosophy of what an educated person should know. But there was one when I was going to public school in the 1930s. We were all taught reading by phonics, arithmetic by rote memorization, cursive penmanship, and grammar. Our principal read the 23rd Psalm at our assemblies, and we were all encouraged to become patriotic citizens. We also learned basic history and geography so that we could easily understand the witty historical and geographical references in Cole Porter’s sophisticated show tunes.

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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