In 1983, the Reagan administration published a report titled “A Nation at Risk: The Imperative of Education Reform.” The report warned that the decay of American schools was threatening the country’s very survival. But the powerful amalgamation of teachers’ unions, state bureaucracies, and the Democrat establishment defeated the initiative. Committed to preserving the status quo, this special interest group became the guardian of American education, maintaining complete control of the education curriculum and using its position to subvert innovation in education. No surprise, this group enjoys the systematic support of the Democratic Party and the Biden administration.
Ironically, the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s subverted the education system by offering equal opportunities in education and employment. As usual, the left confused equality of opportunity with equality of results. Integrated schools were supposed to provide quality education for all children regardless of color. In reality, there were large gaps between the education, behavior, and performance of white and black children. However, the schools took the easy route. Instead of recognizing these differences, enforcing discipline, and providing black children with additional help and assistance, the schools geared their curricula and educational standards to the lowest common denominator. In doing so, they indeed produced equality—equality in illiteracy.
Thinking about the significance of education, I recall my first day of school in the Soviet Union. The principal made the educational values she expected of seven-year-olds perfectly clear, in words no child would ever forget. “Children,” she said, “No one will get out of here illiterate. Those who want to learn, we will teach you; those who don’t, we will force you.”
Whenever I think of those words, I still feel a chill down my spine. This is not the place to make specific suggestions for improving the American education system or to suggest emulating the Soviet system, but you get the point.
I gained firsthand insight into the American education system during the mid-1970s when immigrants from the Soviet Union started enrolling their children in public schools. Despite their limited English proficiency, sixth- and seventh-grade students from the USSR were assessed and admitted directly into the eighth and ninth grades. By the 1990s, the situation in America was getting progressively worse. The following is a poignant and true account of an exchange student from Kazakhstan that illustrates this plight.
In 1995, I worked for an international engineering and construction company in Houston. We did much work in Kazakhstan, where I established a good relationship with the Deputy Minister of Energy.
His daughter, Irina, was a straight “A” student in Almaty, then the capital of Kazakhstan. The girl had just finished ninth grade and was accepted in the tenth grade for the following school year. The Soviet schools at the time had a ten-year system. After successful completion, kids became eligible to take the university entrance exam. She won the privilege of becoming an exchange student and was invited to spend a year in an American school. This was a great honor.
Upon her arrival in Wichita, Kansas, she was warmly greeted by an American family who took her in and ensured her well-being. However, a few weeks into her stay, her father called me in a state of despair. “Alex,” he began urgently, “Irina has been placed in a class for mentally retarded students, likely due to her poor English. Please, help me transfer her to a regular class.”
“Boris,” I responded, trying to calm his anxiety, “Irina isn’t placed in a class for mentally retarded students. That’s just a typical American classroom setting.” His shock was palpable. He implored, “You must help me. She’s a tenth grader. What they’re teaching her, she learned in sixth grade. When she returns home, she won’t stand a chance to pass the final school exam and gain admission to university.”
Fortunately, my employer was originally headquartered in Kansas, and many executives had friends and relatives in Wichita. One of the company’s executives knew a dean at Wichita University and asked him to intervene. Following an interview, the girl was granted admission to the university with a full scholarship. The story has a happy ending. This young lady graduated with honors, married, and lives happily somewhere in the United States today.
However, there is no happy ending for the millions of American kids whose educational progress is gauged solely by standardized tests mandated by the Department of Education. This reality is echoed in another true incident from 2014. This is an instruction given by a teacher to her students in one of the most esteemed private schools in Texas.
People, as you already know, you will have to take the SAT test. I know, I know, you think you’ve worked hard, and you’re ready for it. Wrong. To do well on the SAT, you have to dumb down; everything I’ve taught you does not apply. It is a test designed for morons. In this school, we do not teach you to be idiots; therefore, you are woefully unprepared.
Your smart analytical thinking skills DO NOT WORK!!! They will only confuse you. Remember, this test is not based on real-life logic, so don’t think! The most obvious answer is the right one. For example, if a question says, “What can you infer from the line “The teacher walked into class with her hair wet?” you may think, “Well, the answer is she just took a shower, or the answer is she got caught in the rain,” both of which are answer choices. You will be wrong. The answer is, “Her hair is not dry.” No, really. This is your answer. So, for this test, forget those lovely analytical skills I’ve taught you! Forget those useful inference skills your elementary school teachers drilled into your heads! Go for the most thoughtless, shallow, obvious answer, and you will be fine.
The question is whether we, as a nation, will be fine. If we are raising one of the dumbest people in the world today, how can we expect them to make intelligent decisions about tomorrow?
Alexander G. Markovsky is a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research, a think tank that examines national security, energy, risk analysis, and other public policy issues. He is the author of Anatomy of a Bolshevik and Liberal Bolshevism: America Did Not Defeat Communism, She Adopted It. Mr. Markovsky is the owner and CEO of Litwin Management Services, LLC. He can be reached at email@example.com.