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Education Reporter

Book of the Month
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The Burden of Bad Ideas: How Modern Intellectuals Misshape Our Society, Heather MacDonald, Ivan R. Dee Publishers, Chicago, 2000; 234 pp., $26

According to author and Manhattan Institute Fellow Heather MacDonald, the anti-knowledge ideology that pervades the teachers' colleges has given rise to some of the worst of the bad ideas cited in her provocative new book. These ideas have caused the problem that Johnny's teacher cannot teach as she wants to teach and as parents expect her to teach.

MacDonald writes that knowledge as we've known it - memorization of facts, knowledge of history - is somehow perceived by schools of education as an oppressive imposition on students. Children are instead encouraged to construct their own knowledge by teaching themselves in small groups, which MacDonald calls "absurd." "Group learning is the most destructive pedagogical bad idea that has come out of the education schools," she states. "If you visit the typical classroom, you often see students in small groups with the teacher benignly surveying the scene. The kids are supposed to be talking about Charlemagne or medieval history, but the conversation quickly turns to the child with the newest pair of sneakers or last weekend's parties."

Miss MacDonald debunks the romantic notion of children as "naturally wise and creative," and that "drilling and memorization" destroy their love of learning. "Exactly the opposite is true," she contends. "Children love to master the multiplication tables and phonetics."

She emphasizes that liberal bad ideas especially harm minorities and the poor. "Double standards are established for minorities, education becomes a tool for 'ethnic empowerment' rather than a means of gaining knowledge, and reason is dismissed as a tool of male oppression." She describes a public high school in Brooklyn, New York that teaches a course about graffiti for academic credit called "Hip Hop 101." Students are tested on how quickly they can create a design for "roasting" a subway car. Term papers are written about rap stars from articles in hip-hop magazines. "This is the outcome of the self esteem movement," MacDonald writes. "It's also the easy way out - embracing the concept of ethnic empowerment instead of teaching students basic skills."

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