Sanity Injection

Injecting a dose of sanity into your day’s news and current events.


Posted by sanityinjection on October 6, 2009

I commend to your attention today’s column by conservative commentator Thomas Sowell. Sowell, while brilliant and a fine writer, can be a bit of a crank sometimes, and this piece is no exception. He writes about his dismay in receiving a letter form a fifth-grader whose assignment was to ask a “famous person” how they would solve an important problem such as the economy:

Sowell’s main point is that the child’s teacher should be encouraging him to think for himself rather than looking to celebrities for received wisdom – and also choosing age-appropriate subject matter. After my recent post on the cult of intelligence, Sowell draws attention to the even more pervasive cult of celebrity:

Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one’s own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”

Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: “I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.”

  Although I do take some hope in the fact that a fifth grader from Michigan actually knows who Sowell is.

10 Responses to “Pseudo-education?”

  1. I-love-mummies said

    In defense of the teacher, this assignment may have been part of a greater assignment that ultimatey culiminates in the student making up his/her own mind based on the opinions and ideas of others, which is what we all do once we have gathered facts and/or ideas. Sometimes, perhaps is the case of this commentator, one jumps too quickly to pick out only a piece of something greater.

    • I-love-mummies said

      That being said, it would be nice if the commentator actually printed what the entire assignment was, rather than use a brief statment of it as a launching pad into how “education” should be taught. It also remains to be seen if this 5th grader actually knew what the assignment was to begin with, as I have met many a 5th grader who didn’t. The commentator wouldn’t dare ever admit that there might be a chance the “educator” was misinterpreted by the student. Conclusion? I smell a big, fat load of theory based on microscopic evidence! Looks like the commentator needs a little ej’cation himself . . .

  2. Of course Sowell seized on this as a way of making a larger point. That’s what commentators do.

    • I-love-mummies said

      Not good ones. Good ones provide textural support and evidence, facts and examples that support a larger point. Bad ones take a one-liner out of context and then get diarrhea of the mouth with all of their opinions that are based on who knows what because we never get to hear them! If most people today spent any length of time in a classroom, they would see that their children are getting a good education, as good as tax dollars can buy. Teachers often teach in non-traditional ways and get criticized by old-timers that want to box everything in. Are there some crappy teachers and crappy schools? Absolutely. But they aren’t the norm. It’s sad to hear this commentator say these things; it’s like an observer saying how lame climbers are when climbing Mount Everest because it takes them several days to get to the top. He has no idea how steep the climb is and what the battles are along the way. They are mind-boggling. A huge percentage of kids come to school hungry, come from broken homes, are abused, neglected, etc. And many times, a teacher has to link a topic with something kids can related to, and if sometimes it’s a celebrity, then so be it.

      • You make good points, but it’s also true that even in the “good” schools, there is too much emphasis in the younger grades on “self-esteem”, “diversity”, and other things that take time away from valuable curriculum. Even when I was in school, I remember some of the fluff and nonsense. And when they did try to introduce quality curriculum – for example a Latin course for junior high school students – the content was so watered down as to be almost useless.

        I think Sowell’s comments were aimed as much at our society as a whole as at pedagogy.

  3. I-love-mummies said

    To have the viewpoint that taking a small amount of time away from curriculum to promote self-esteem, diversity and such, is to say that you do not know the research that is out there indicating that spending time on cultivating a positive classroom environment, along with other motivational and esteem building activities, actually promotes learning to its highest level. Droning on and on over curriculum without taking the time to do the fluff and nonsense is actually counterproductive to learning. Learning only takes place when certain factors are present, such as social and physical safety, motivation, etc. Research clearly shows this, and that more information is retained when these factors are present. So straying from curriculum to build positive relationships, motivation, acceptance etc, with kids actually yields a much greater result than sticking to curriculum and watching the kids forget everything you taught them the minute they walk out the door.

  4. You can build a positive relationship with a child without feeding them a lot of BS. You can help them build self-esteem simply by praising them when they deserve it. Solid curriculum doesn’t have to be boring. Kids tend to pick up enthusiasm when teachers are enthusiastic about their subject matter.

    As for whether the kids forget everything when they walk out the door, that has a lot more to do with their home life than anything you do in the classroom. It’s tempting sometimes to try to be a child’s surrogate parent, but it’s a fool’s errand.

  5. I-love-mummies said

    I had a physics teacher once who was passionate about physics but didn’t spend a lot of time building relationships with the class, no “fluff and nonsense,” if you will. Do you think I learned a lot about physics? I didn’t. It’s still my least favorite subject and as an adult, I still don’t get it. I don’t think encouraging a child to be a well rounded individual in as many areas as possible is the same as trying to surrogate parent them. I think it’s an educators responsibility to society to do work toward well-roundedness. There’s a reason movies like Good Will Hunting and Freedom Writers are so powerful and people love them. Educators get more chunks of a child’s life than their own parents do, and without crossing the lines and trying to “parent” them, educators have a uniquie opportunity to help in more aspects than just material. To say that this is trying to be a surrogate parent is to oversimplify something much greater than you probably understand.

  6. Hey, physics is hard! And passion for one’s subject does not in and of itself make someone a good teacher. Keep in mind I was focusing my comments more on the younger grades, while yours seem mainly to be made with the older grades in mind.

  7. I-love-mummies said

    I will keep that in mind and physics shouldn’t be hard! It’s mostly a bunch of formulas and energy/movement. The thing that always bogs me down is when they start talking about levers and fulcrums and such, I can never remember which is which!

    And anyway, disliking physics is not surprising, I suppose, from a high school Anatomy teacher who is currently studying mummies and who could look at slide after slide of decaying human remains. 😉 It’s no wonder I don’t like physics!! (wait a minute, I think I was previously blaming the boring teacher!!)

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