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Wilma Counts: Dumbing down of education disastrous

Wilma Counts
For the Nevada Appeal

Everyone “knows” American education is going to hell in a hand basket. Whose fault is it?

Long ago Pogo said, “We have found the enemy and it is us.” We suffer the Lake Wobegon syndrome – where all children are above average. Today children aren’t just above average, they’re brilliant – and woe to schools if tests show otherwise.

Few parents read to children. Television blares constantly. Video games, text messaging and Twitter have replaced reading and conversing. High school graduates have little exposure to familiar, often life-changing literature.

Can’t you just hear someone muttering, “Well, if teachers did their jobs…”? Teachers, inundated with paperwork and irrelevant meetings, seldom have real input on curriculum.

Instead of dealing with quirky personalities of the Founding Fathers and the premises of their documents, students memorize data for tests. (In Lake Wobegon, children are not only brilliant, they must prove it.) So, instead of discussing the complexities of a literary classic, they memorize a list of characters.

Critical thinking? Forget it. A disturbing number of college students think Hannah Montana or Bart Simpson are great literary figures. Few know the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Instead of mastering the nuances of sentence structure to articulate complex ideas, they take standardized tests. (“Fill in the circle of the item that best answers the question: a, b, c, or d. Fill in the circle completely.”)

The result is disastrous: for students and the nation. We dumb down education to accommodate ill-prepared students. For instance, Western Nevada College is lowering standard scores for entrance into freshman composition classes (which transfer to major universities) because “local high schools complain when their students place in remedial classes.”

What’s wrong with this picture?

Does anyone care?

I teach those remedial classes. My students should be right where they are! They are sincere and eager to learn, but, sadly, they lack skills that used to be taught in junior high.

We blame an abstract entity, “the schools.” The enemy is us. Students are cheated, and harassed teachers are required to perform tasks having little to do with instruction.

To cut costs, we raise class sizes regardless of how five or 15 more students impact the teacher’s effectiveness. The result? Johnny and Susie read less, write less, and take more mindless tests. They can’t compete in the world market, but they can fill in that circle completely.

• Wilma Counts is a novelist, adjunct instructor at WNC and a former high school English and social studies teacher. She lives in Dayton.