Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, or Add by Charles J. Sykes, 1995, St. Martin's Press, 326 pps., $23.95 cloth, $14.95 paperback. Phone: 1-800-288-2131
Despite good intentions and wishful thinking, the reality of the failure of schools is easily and readily documented. Charles J. Sykes, author of Dumbing Down Our Kids, looks beyond the usual favorite scapegoats of the education establishment-parents, society, and money-to reveal how the schools themselves can no longer evade blame for America's educational decline.
The education reforms of the 1990s are not new. Such ideas, the latest being Outcome-Based Education, "have been tested and retested for decades in thousands of schools. And they have failed." Even 40 years ago, progressive educational philosophy revealed its fundamental denial of absolutes, objective standards, a priori knowledge, and eternal truths. The present, according to educationists, is the only reality worth knowing.
A natural outgrowth of this Postmodern philosophy is the dominant assumption among educationists that children are "frail and easily damaged psychological growths" that need to be liberated from "oppressive" influences such as family, traditional morality, and even conventional spelling and grammar. Literature and history are no longer important guideposts; moral courage, arduous choices, and virtue are useless. Feelings, say the educationists of today, are the only necessary compass.
This emphasis on feelings inevitably means that schools often infringe on the privacy of families, such as courses encouraging children to report on family problems. "America's schools," charges Sykes, "have become backwaters of amateur psychologizing." The school becomes a "village," where children are taught they should turn to the schools' "experts," instead of parents.
Ironically, Americans routinely dismiss mounting evidence, insisting that their own children and local schools are immune to the so-called crisis. All Americans should set aside their doubts and read this penetrating and comprehensive critique of the nation's schools. The education of America's children involves issues that affect every American. "I am convinced," says Sykes, "that the defining cultural and political debates of the decade will center around the so-called school wars, which will be fought out in the elementary, middle, junior high, and high schools."