Friday, October 24, 2008

Charles Murray Left Me Speechless

Last month my TiVo surprised me by recording a BookTV lecture given by Charles Murray about education. The lecture was recorded in July 2008 at FreedomFest and was about his latest (short) book which was published in August 2008: Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality". In that lecture Murray speaks about two of his four theories about education that are covered in the book.

I didn’t know what to expect of this lecture, but after hearing this, I was left speechless and literally sitting with my mouth hanging open. In the very beginning of his lecture, here is what he said that shocked me.

American education “…well it is an emperor’s clothes situation. This is the way I put it in the introduction to the book: the problem in American education is not low test scores, or obdurate teacher’s unions or a lot of the other usual suspects, the real problem with American education is that is that it is living a lie. And the lie is that people believe that children can be just about anything he or she wants to be only if the educational system tries hard enough to teach them. Nobody really believes that. If you get people alone and put a few drinks in them, and make sure that they understand no one will repeat what they said, they will agree that some kids are actually pretty dumb and there is nothing you can really do about it and other kids are much smarter than they are. In the same way that some kids are better at basketball or better at music, and other kids can’t carry a tune, and others stumble over their own feet. Ability varies. It is something that American educational system from Kindergarten to Graduate School runs from as if it were the plague.”


He illustrates said belief by the lack of any articles saying that the reason why no articles about the failure of No Child Left Behind is that some children can’t raise their standardized test scores is that they simply aren’t smart enough, and the reason why not all students go to college is that college level material is too tough for them.

I watched the lecture twice, so far, between then and now and can’t wait to read the book.

Here are the four theories in the book as direct quotes from the lecture.

1. Ability varies. A simple truth.
2. Half of the children are below average. A simple truth.
3. Too many students are going to college
4. The future of America depends on how we educated the gifted students.

Murray is the co-author of the famous book “The Bell Curve”.

You can watch or listen to the lecture from FreedomFest 2008 on the BookTV website, here.

If listening to this lecture does not inspire thought, then I don’t know what will. I recommend this lecture to all parents, to all home educators and to all teachers. Take a listen and start thinking.

To be truthful, I feel that I was sold that bill of goods, by the American public education system. As a student in the system I was led to believe that if I only studied hard enough and played by the school rules, adhered to their system, I could be smart and educated and could be anything I wanted to be. At age seventeen the lie in that was made apparent to me when I tried to get a little part-time, after-school job that I was completely capable of doing based on the training I got in school, but access to that job was denied to me. I won’t get into that now though. That was just the first thing. I have found over and over again in life that despite doing the right things, the fact is that not all the doors in the world open up to everyone, even if they are educated and able. Until I heard this lecture by Charles Murray, I had never heard anyone criticizing that notion of the American education system before; it was both scary to consider accepting yet his ideas are somehow exciting to contemplate.

I’ve been thinking, “What does this mean for my children?” and “What does this mean for our homeschooling?” I’ve also been thinking about institutional schooling and college, the formal education system itself and the difference with self-education and continuing to learn throughout our adult lives versus the over-focus that seems to be on education from grades K-12 and up through the college years.

I also have been thinking of the trophy kids who were raised with doing all the right things in school, doing lots of extra-curricular activities, going to college and graduating, who are struggling in the workplace, quitting jobs left and right and continuing their adolescence into their 20s, relying on their parents for financial support and housing. And I am asking myself if that is a perfect example of how following the rules in the American education system from preschool through college has failed to produce the kinds of mature, thinking adults that our country needs and if it has failed the individuals themselves, if they cannot keep a steady job and support themselves as adults.

What do you think of Murray’s theories?

Charles Murray’s book: Real Education

Kindle Edition:

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Elisheva Hannah Levin said...

Hi, Christine.

I have read Murray's book, and I have also read several of his other books, including The Bell Curve and What It Means to be a Libertarian.

I think that he is right on in all four of the assertions he makes about American education, particularly K - 12. I taught high school science for seven years, and gifted education for three, and I saw exactly the problems that you outlined.

I will write more about this later, but I was also intrigued by your discussion of homeschooling, trophy kids and their problems growing up.

christinemm said...

Elisheva thanks for sharing your thoughts.

I'm in the hold queue from a nearby library to get the Murray book. I have been buying so many new books lately from Amazon that I feel like I need to reign myself in.

I have a blog post in draft about the trophy kids. I'll work on that this afternoon and get it out.

It is cool when sometimes one topic segues into another.

MamaK said...

I will read this book. This topic has been burning in my brain. I am in the middle of a post right now, and am linking to you as well as borrowing a quote from you. I have an audio clip from NPR in that post that you might want to listen to. Your posts get in my head for days sometimes. Stop being so thought provoking, will ya?! :>)-K

christinemm said...

MamaK if you think my posts get in your head, how about me being in MY head? LOL.

Besides what I publish I usually have at least two blog drafts daily that never get polished enough (due to lack of time) to ever publish.

Plus I have the other stuff rattling around in my head that never gets let out.

When I have trouble falling asleep or wake up in the middle of the night these thoughts are rolling all around. Now you know why I must rely on some brain-numbing reality TV to try to relax and get the other issues out of my head enough to relax!

One time a HS mom friend who was at my home for a support group meeting said to me upon leaving, "You give me so much to think about I don't know how you know all this stuff and I wonder how you can sleep at night just having it all in your head!" LOL.

MamaK said...

You are something. My problem is that I can't blog all the stuff I think about because it morphs to quickly into another thought, and then back but more evolved and I never conclude. All my blog posts would be long elaborate question!...

Ben017 said...

Unfortunately, a lot of people took a very slanted view on the Bell Curve without actually reading it. The media has been largely responsible for this. There's a book called "the IQ Controversy" by Mark Snyderman & Stanley Rothman which surveys the opinion of academics involved in psychometric testing and then compares the findings to how the issues are portrayed in the media. What Snyderman & Rothman found was that the media portrayed an extremely one sided view of the literature which did not reflect what the majority of the academics actually thought.

Likewise, politicians and policymakers have avoided the topic to avoid controversy.

Academics are also under pressure to avoid the topic. Linda Gottfredson discusses in this interview the kind of problems she ran into at her University for her research.