Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back To Reality
In his 2008 book, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality, author Charles Murray seeks to destroy the notions that the American people and government have operated under in past decades: the belief that schools and the educational system itself must be structured in a way that forces education down the throats of the masses, which has proven wholly ineffective in Murray's eyes. Murray, alternately, argues that the American educational system has based itself in romanticized ideals of demanding excellence from every student, which is simply impossible, largely ineffective, and debilitating to students and individuals who are actually academically and intellectually superior enough to succeed in education, thereby restructuring the system and perhaps the American landscape completely.
Murray has noted that his book seeks to counter the ideas of the past, saying, "American educational romanticism asks too much from students at the bottom of the intellectual pile, asks the wrong things from those in the middle, and asks too little from those at the top" (Murray/AEI, 1). In beginning to adjust for the problems of the past, Murray notes that four simple truths about education must be understood: the fact that ability varies; the fact that half of children are below average, the fact that too many people are going to college, and the notion that America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. Murray does an exceptional job at expanding on these ideas, providing significant back-up to align with his beliefs and providing insightful knowledge regarding his beliefs. However, many readers may disagree with Murray's ideals, finding them cynical and high-brow. However, in understanding the facts presented in Murray's work, there is no doubt in the minds of any reader that a significant problem with the American educational system does in fact exist, Murray only offers the chance for individuals to note this and aid the country in finding a way out of such a mess.
Murray begins his analysis by singling out the generally-accepted American mindset of "educational romanticism," based on an idealized image of the potential that children can bring to the classroom and of our ability to realize that potential (Murray, 11). Such an ideal can be largely considered one that operates solely under fantasy -- a fantasy that all children are above average. However, the fact remains that this is simply untrue. Teachers in American schools have for years taught children that there is absolutely nothing beyond their abilities if they only try hard enough. This notion is not only highly fantasied, setting teachers and schools up for failure, but unintentionally cruel toward the children who are taught this -- setting these very children up for failure, as their skills rarely meet or surpass the "truths" that their teachers present them with at school.
Murray notes that it would be beneficial for the American public to understand and accept the truth that not all children are equal in their talents and abilities. Maybe, Murray notes, some children are naturally more gifted than others in certain areas that will lead to success in their academic futures. By no means does Murray note that these increased abilities make someone a better person, but they certainly make one a better scholar and a more desirable and logical candidate for continued education in the realm of undergraduate and graduate admittance.
Next, Murray argues that half of all children are below average. Certain tasks, he notes, are beyond the capability of many children (Murray, 42). Murray notes that such government programs such as "No Child Left Behind" have done nothing but promote the aforementioned "you can do it if you try" attitude that often leaves children and teachers discouraged and full of self-doubt when such successes never come to fruition. Adjusting the system that America currently utilizes would mean spending less effort on the education of some children that do not fit into the category of academically gifted, and would aid in making room for the honing of skills by those who will succeed in continued education (Murray 45). Further, in adjusting the way we as Americans currently view education, Murray notes that we can move children from far below the average in to a realm that more suits their own capabilities (Murray 55). Additionally, students who do not excel in these studies, Murray notes, should be allowed to hone their other skills during their high school experiences, focusing on more vocational studies in which they themselves will later excel.
Third, Murray notes that far too many individuals are currently attending college, and that college curriculum is rightly above the knowledge and skill-base of many of the student who are actually enrolled. In the fall of 2005, more than 1.5 million students enrolled in college, which is exponentially too many considering that half of these students were in the "below-average" realm during their pre-university education (Murray, 67). Because of this, colleges and professors alike are forced to consistently dumb-down true college curriculum because it so far surpasses the abilities of the students who are enrolled (Murray, 70). A college that graduates only a small percentage of its matriculating students raises question in the minds of the general public, and among donors to these schools. For many, college is the road of choice simply because the United States has always had symbol of class and a college degree from a reputable institution continues to be and always has been one of these symbols (Murray 105). This notion takes away from the significance of learning for the purpose of learning and changes it into one of learning for the purpose of attaining status -- which is not only completely counterintuitive but damaging to the establishment of the American collegiate system.
The future of America and of the American educational system, Murray notes, depends on how we educate the academically gifted, catering to these individuals rather than altering curriculum in schools to adjust for the below-average students (Murray, 107). Academically gifted children do well when they are given a chance to shine, and in past years, the American schooling system has done little if nothing to value these students in the way they should be valued, which has proven, in Murray's eyes, to be extremely detrimental (Murray, 145).
In moving beyond the contents of the book and into the realm of deeper analysis, one can generally find that Murray provides both appropriate and convincing evidence to support his argument. Additionally, Murray does a favorable job of forming a complete argument, especially in his inclusion of the opinions of those who generally doubt his own belief systems. However, Murray, although he expresses sympathy and interest in improving the lives of those below the "elite" level to which he speaks, Murray is rather dismissive of the significance of doing much beyond Career and Technical Education by not having realistic expectations of those who he would not consider "intellectually elite."
The missing portion of Murray's research seems to lie in the argument of nature vs. nurture. While Murray does a remarkable job of noting the nature of the beast at hand, in the fact that certain people are born with capabilities beyond those of others, he entirely neglects the "nurturing" portion of the American educational system, which is an aspect of the system itself that has been largely heralded as being a saving grace in the lives of many students. For instance, those students who have less academic ability than others can still certainly increase their academic performance, and even in certain instances, outperform the gifted through utilizing hard work and perseverance. While this is not true across the board in all circumstances, the fact that it is truth at all merits an analysis.
While the book offers a fresh look on the American educational system, focusing on the elite academics, many may believe that this book is essentially a book for the elite, about the elite, by the elite, ignoring to the point of being dismissive, the role of the American educational system to foster the full growth of students throughout their school years in a way that is more all-encompassing than academics alone. There are far more aspects of a child's educational experience that move beyond excellence in math, science, and history and into the realm of social skills, the arts, and each of these area's influences on the personal growth of a child.
Despite the existence of a test-crazed world, evidence exists that supports the importance of arts in a child's curriculum; the highly-acclaimed report Critical Links: Learning in the Arts and Student Achievement and Social Development (2002) published by the Arts Education Partnership and the National Assemble of State Art Agencies, established a link between student achievement and arts education (Kirkland and Manning, 286). Additionally, this research has noted a direct link between the inclusion of the arts and more socially-centered areas of one's schooling to achievement in other core subjects. The report…