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Review of Real Education (Charles Murray)
Charles Murray - Real Education free, ebook, download, pdf
Its a short, accessible (for non-experts), clearly written book about some of the things that is wrong with modern education, with a focus on the US system. Some of the things surely apply to other countries as well. For that reason the book is worth exploring for people interested in the issue.
In short, just about every reader understands from personal and
vicarious life experiences what below average means for bodily-
kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal ability, and for
the aspects of spatial ability associated with hand-eye coordination
and visual apprehension. You may think you also know what below
average means for linguistic ability, logical-mathematical ability, and
spatial abilities associated with mental visualization because you
know you are better at some of these intellectual tasks than at others.
But here you are probably mistaken. It is safe to say that a majority of
readers have little experience with what it means to be below average
in any of the components of academic ability.
The first basis for this statement is that I know you have
reached the second chapter of a nonfiction book on a public policy
issue, which means you are probably well above average in
academic ability—not because getting to the second chapter of this
book requires that you be especially bright, but because people with
below-average academic ability hardly ever choose to read books
Therefore the first task is to understand what below average
means when it comes to academic ability. The best way is to show the
kinds of test questions that people with below-average academic
ability have trouble answering. I take them from items that have been
used on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP,
pronounced “nape”), the program used by the federal Department of
Education since 1971 to track student accomplishment. It is adminis
tered periodically to nationally representative samples of students in
the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. It is a test designed to test
what has been learned, not academic ability, and is regarded as the
gold standard for measuring academic achievement at the elemen
tary and secondary levels. The examples I will use are from the test
for eighth-graders. I begin with a simple mathematics problem:
Example 1. There were 90 employees in a company last year. This
year the number o f employees increased by 10 percent. How many
employees are in the company this year?
(A) 9 (B) 81 (C) 91 (D) 99 (E) 100
By eighth grade, it would seem that almost everyone should
be able to handle a question like this. Children are taught to divide
and to calculate percentages in elementary school. Dividing by ten is
the easiest form of division. Dividing a whole number by ten is easier
yet. Adding a one-digit number (9) to a two-digit number (90) is
It is a problem based on a simple mathematical concept, using
simple arithmetic, requiring a simple logical interpolation to get the
right answer. It is an excellent example for starting to think about
what below average means in mathematics—because 62 percent of
eighth-graders got this item wrong. It does not represent an item that
below-average students could not do, but one that many above-average
students could not do. Actually, more than 62 percent did not know
the answer, because some of them got the right answer by guessing.
To estimate the total percentage of students who did not know the
right answer on a question with x alternatives, multiply the total
percentage of students who chose one of the wrong alternatives
by x / ( x— 1). There are more sophisticated ways, but this one is
close enough for our purposes. In this case, the estimated proportion
of students who did not know the right answer is (.62 X 5/4), or
Example 2. Amanda wants to paint each face o f a cube a different
color. How many colors will she need?
(A) Three (B) Four (C) Six (D) Eight
Twenty percent of eighth-graders did not choose C. Approximately
27 percent did not know the right answer.
Example 3. How many o f the angles in this triangle are smaller
than a right angle?
[showing a triangle]
(A) None (B) One (C) Two (D) Three
Thirty-one percent of eighth-graders did not choose C. Approxi
mately 41 percent did not know the right answer.
and so on with a few more examples.
The Coleman Report documenting how little difference the quality of
the school makes, the negative evaluations of Title I, the sparse results
of NCLB—there are many reasons to accept the reality of limits. To
continue to assert that major improvements are possible in the aca
demic test performance of the lower half of the distribution through
reform of the public schools is more than a triumph of hope over expe
rience. It ignores experience altogether. It is educational romanticism.
Often, the rewards will come after college. A person who has dis
covered that he enjoys the challenge of difficult books is a person
who, years later, is open to picking up a biography of George Mar
shall at the bookstore and becoming a World War II expert, or a
person who decides to give War and Peace a try and ends up reading
the whole Tolstoy corpus. As evidence that this happens, I appeal to
readers: How many of the avocations that have absorbed you as an
adult, and in which you have become quite knowledgeable, have any
thing to do with the content of a course you took in college?
well, never, but im a special case.