Liberal gibberish

October 04, 1994|By Mona Charen

AT CONSERVATIVE gatherings these days -- for example, at the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Human Events magazine last week -- there is confident talk of a "conservative revival."

Well, maybe, but liberal control of the central institutions of our society is as secure as ever. The schools, the churches, the foundations, the universities, the media, popular entertainment, all levels of government, publishing and (I hear) even the Girl Scouts are dominated by the liberal outlook.

If, as right-wingers like to believe, the sentiments of "the people" are actually conservative -- then they are the most docile conservatives imaginable, content to let liberals run things.

A report from the front: A friend who lives in supposedly conservative Orange County, Calif., in a reputedly good school district reports that her two children, ages 11 and 7, are being taught nonsense in the public schools. "Something happens after the third grade," she complains. That "something" is the surgical removal of content from the children's education.

As Chester E. Finn Jr. documents in the October issue of Commentary magazine, "On a host of international comparisons, the achievement of U.S. youngsters is at the middle (in reading) or bottom (in science, math, geography) of the rankings -- test after test, year after year. . . . On a recent (1992) survey of adult literacy, just 11 percent of U.S. high school graduates could accurately restate in writing the main point of a newspaper article."

We've been hearing these awful statistics on U.S. educational achievement for more than a decade, and yet the movement toward mediocrity and away from excellence continues virtually uninterrupted. My A friend worried that her children were being taught nonsense by their public school.

California friend looked at her son's fifth-grade math homework, the first math homework assigned in three weeks. There were no addition, multiplication or division problems. Rather, the "homework" consisted of a series of questions the children were to address to their parents. "How much does it cost to visit the doctor?" "How much do groceries cost per week?"

Actually, one shouldn't conclude that the curriculum in public schools is content-free. It is chock full of politically correct lessons and attitude-shaping assignments. Chester Finn notes that a youngster who faithfully attends six hours of school a day, 180 days a year from kindergarten through 12 grade will spend just 9 percent of his childhood in school. And while that 9 percent leaves plenty of time for math, science, geography and literature, those subjects are increasingly crowded out by "environmental education," "community service," sex education, drug awareness training and so on.

My friend's fifth-grader does not learn grammar in the public school. When a parent inquired, at parent/teacher night, when her child would learn to conjugate verbs, punctuate and diagram sentences, she was told that old-fashioned grammar isn't done anymore. They do "daily oral language" instead, in which the class corrects the errors of a few sentences written on the blackboard.

Writing assignments are too easy (they don't, for example, require the child to show reading comprehension), and they are heavy on the touchy-feely. "Write a story about how you would feel if you were an immigrant. What would it feel like to be as small as an ant? How would you feel if you went to a new school where everyone spoke jabberwocky?"

There is nothing wrong with encouraging children to identify with and have compassion for others. But the lessons of compassion have become perverted into the belief that, above all, no child should be made to feel bad. The extension of that idea is that excellence is not to be encouraged. If one or two children shine, the reasoning goes, the others will feel inferior.

And so the system asks less and less of everyone. My friend's child wrote an essay that his grandmother thought was sub-par. She told him he could do better. He replied that his teacher had approved it, provided it was "the best he could do." It wasn't. But the teacher would never have discovered that.

Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

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