Tags: Education

Curriculums Favor Groupthink Over Accomplishment

Monday, 13 July 2015 01:01 PM Current | Bio | Archive

In "The State of the American Mind" (Templeton Press) edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow, fifteen experts explain why too many Americans “have meager knowledge, low skills, fading civic interest, high narcissism and abundant distractions” despite our wealth, technological advancements and record numbers going to college.

The contributors agree with an observation T.S. Eliot made over 70 years ago: “There is no doubt that in our headlong rush to educate everybody, we are lowering our standards. . . destroying our ancient edifices to make ready the ground upon which the barbarian nomads of the future will encamp their mechanized caravans.”

Throughout academia standards have eroded; students are required to read little and there are few written assignments. Grade inflation is epidemic. The most common grade today is “A” opposed to “C” in the 1960s. Mediocrity is praised and students get awards for showing up. (One professor who drives his students crazy is Harvey Mansfield, the distinguished political philosopher at Harvard. He gives two grades on exams and papers — the one he must give and the one that is deserved.)

Courses that expose students to the great ideas of Western Civilization have been abandoned in favor of a multiculturalism curriculum that stresses identity politics. This approach, Adam Bellow argues, has caused the American mind to slip into “ignorance and hedonism” because it cherishes the “pluribus” and neglects the “unum.”

Educators tend “to favor self-belief in academic ability over actual academic ability.” Those born after 1980 have “never known a world that emphasizes anything over the self — for instance, putting duty before gain.”

Minimum academic effort has seriously impaired the performance of graduates in the real world. A 2013 study performed by the Society for Human Resources Management revealed that employers rated 49 percent of recent college graduates deficit in “the knowledge and basic skill of writing in English.”

The inability to write a sentence reflects the quality of thinking, Professor Gerald Graff concludes in his essay, “Why Johnnie and Joanie Can’t Read or Write Revisted.”

Slovenly writing not only has an impact in the workplace but “breeds weak citizens—people who are slow to see through propaganda and nonsense, unable to detect contradictions, and poor at grasping the implications of consequential policy choices.”

This helps explain why studies have found:
  • People who read a newspaper “yesterday” declined from 50 percent in 2000 to 23 percent in 2012.
  • Only 5 percent of people between eighteen and twenty-nine said they “follow news about political figures and events in Washington very closely.”
  • Thirty-two percent of people two years out of college admitted they never read a newspaper and 39 percent almost never discuss politics.
  • In the 1990s the median age of people who viewed TV news was 50; in 2013 it was 60.
Other consequences of the illiteracy epidemic: civic virtue has been abandoned; individualism has morphed into self-absorption and “more and more Americans accept restrictions on speech, freedom of association, rights to privacy and religious conscience.”

“Groupish righteousness” hardens biases and those who dare to disagree are diagnosed as having phobic conditions, “as in homophobia, Islamophobia, technophobia.  . . .” The ridiculous amount of time people spend staring at computers, iPhones and iPads has also contributed to the decline of the American mind.

Experts fear that “hyperconnectivity is turning tech-immersed generations into impatient thinkers with a ‘thirst for instant gratification’ . . . ”

In her essay “The Rise of the Self,” Jean Twenge tackles contemporary narcissism. “American culture” she holds, “has become more individualistic, imparting messages of self-esteem and personal fulfillment that overlook genuine accomplishment and disregard interests beyond immediate experience.”

Believing that their feelings should never be hurt, narcissists subscribe to a morality rooted in feelings and individual tastes. Judeo-Christian standards have been rejected in favor of an “emotional relativism” based on “the fluctuating emotional state of each person.” Those who promote standards of excellence and justice are dismissed as “heartless beings.”

In their “Afterward,” editors Bellow and Bauerlein lament that Americans described in their book “do not share in a national identity or character. No heritage inspires them, no ideas guide them.  . . . They set social lives above civic life, racial and sexual identify over American identity.”

To salvage America, the editors call for a new cultural revolution “to undo the delinquent habits and attitudes of our citizens and shake the diversity ideology of the elites.” They “await with eagerness the next Federalist Papers and Leaves of Grass . . . “A Time for Choosing” speech and an eloquent martyr in a Birmingham jail.  . . .”

I admire their optimism as well as their book, but viewing America’s landscape at age 62, I don’t expect the revolution to commence in my lifetime.

George J. Marlin, a former executive director of the Port Authority of N.Y. and N.J., is the author of "The American Catholic Voter: Two Hundred Years of Political Impact." He also is a columnist for TheCatholicThing.org and the Long Island Business News. Read more reports from George J. Marlin — Click Here Now.


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Standards have eroded; students are required to read little and there are few written assignments. The most common grade today is “A” opposed to “C” in the 1960s. Mediocrity is praised and students get awards for showing up.
Monday, 13 July 2015 01:01 PM
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