Failing Grades and The Cult of Fragility

Failing Grades

Previous posts have decried the state of public primary and secondary education in this country as, well, trending from poor to worse. Poor reading scores for Virginia third graders released this fall further punctuates the point. Some examples from the report. Only 72% of third graders are proficient readers; down 3% from the previous year. In our fair City of Richmond only 53%, down 5%. So nearly half the third graders in the Richmond Public Schools are classified as poor reader. That is not the fault of the children. And obviously if they are poor readers at this level imagine how it will impact their ability to have success in the higher grades when the requirements and the stresses mount. According to the Richmond Times Dispatch editorial piece (and source of some of my statistics) on September 5th “the wasted lives and potential is inexcusable – especially because the problem has been festering for decades and continues to grow worse.”
Imagine where would we be if not for the SOL testing. Many in the educational system loth the system. I cannot help but think it is because it is exposing the public education system’s failures to the world. There are many reports of teachers “teaching to the test”. It seems reading proficiency is one that attempting to circumvent the testing system will not generate the desired false picture of educational achievement.
The system’s response is of course to ask for more funding. This is predictable and lacks substance. There are examples of public school districts being showered in extraordinary amounts of funding per student per year; Washington D.C. a prime example. Yet when compared to national averages, over several years, the results produced are abysmal. More money is not the answer.
The system needs accountability. Teachers and administrators compensation should be predicated primarily on academic achievement not tenure. The very best will earn more. This will attract more high achieving individuals to the profession. The “coasters” in the system will see declining income potential and lack of documented achievement leading to a forced exit. No teacher, especially at these young critical student ages where the fundamentals must be engrained successfully, should have a demonstrated record of underachievement and be allowed to continue.
All that being said, the entirety of the accountability for all these failures cannot be leveled exclusively against public system teachers and administrators. And private education possesses characteristics not found in the public setting. The socio-economic status of most families with students in private school is likely very different depending on the individual school or district. Clearly these families not only pay the tax dollars designated for public education but then pay substantially more for their child’s private education. With the attributes of higher socio-economic status, private school students typically have parents with a history of superior academic achievement. Those values often translate into more attentive parents who demand more from their child. The corollary is these parents also expect and demand more of the private school staff.
The trend in theses test results should be disturbing to everyone who desires future success for our great country. The way forward to improvement is complicated. But clearly some combination of increased use of lottery-based voucher system, to transition at risk students into a private setting, and establishing a pay for performance systems for public system teachers and administrators should be key principals of any plan.

The Cult of Fragility

Much as public school districts are in a financial choke-hold caused by ever-growing bureaucracies filled with staff whose value to the overall education mission is highly questionable; higher education is experiencing the same. Pulling excerpts from George Will’s recent column on Higher Education, he quotes Heather Mac Donald’s (of The Manhattan Institute) study. The Study has a range of 1997-98 to 2008/09, that, during this period of time, while University of California student population grew 33%, and tenure-tracked faculty grew 25%, senior administrators grew 125%. The ratio of “senior managers to professors climbed from 1 to 2.1 to nearly parity at 1 to `1.1”.
What is driving this massive “investment” in managerial overhead and driving up your child’s tuition? Again quoting Mr. Will’s column, “Writing last April in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Lyell Asher, professor of English at Lewis & Clark College, noted that ‘the kudzu-like growth of the administrative bureaucracy in higher education is partly a response to two principals now widely accepted on campuses: Anything that can be construed as bigotry and hatred should be so construed, and anything construed as such should be considered evidence of an epidemic. Often, Asher noted, a majority of the academic bureaucrats directly involved with students, from dorms to ‘bias response teams” to freshmen orientation (which often means political indoctrination), have graduate degrees not in academic disciplines but from education schools with ‘two mutually reinforcing characteristics’: ideological orthodoxy and low academic standards for degrees in vaporous subjects like ‘educational leadership’ or ‘higher education management’.
Further quoting Mr. Will’s column, “the problem is not anti-intellectualism but the ‘un-intellectualism’ of a growing cohort of persons who, lacking talents for or training in scholarship, find vocations in micromanaging student behavior in order to combat imagined threats to ‘social justice’……. Group think and political intimidation inevitably result from this ever-thickening layer of people with status anxieties because they are parasitic off institutions with scholarly purposes.”
“In her just published book ‘The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture’ Mac Donald writes that many students have become what tort law practitioners call ‘eggshell plaintiffs,’ people who make a cult of fragility –being ‘triggered’ (i.e., traumatized) by this or that idea of speech. Asher correctly noted that the language of triggering ‘converts students into objects for the sake of rendering their reactions ‘objective,’ and by extension valid: A students triggered response is no more to be questioned than an apple falling downward or a spark flying upward.’ So the number of things not to be questioned multiplies.”
This is the portion of the piece I found to be just so remarkably disturbing. Again quoting Mr. Will’s column. “Students encouraged to feel fragile will learn to recoil from ‘microaggressions’ so micro that few can discern them. A University of California guide to microaggressions gave these examples of insensitive speech: ‘I believe the most qualified person should get the job’ and ‘Everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.’ Fragile students are encouraged in ‘narcissistic victimhood’ by administrators whose vocation is to tend to the injured.” If someone is injured by these statements then God help them, and God help us all. Reading this makes me woozy in disbelief as if I were a character in a Ray Bradbury dystopian tale of a future where an all-powerful “authority” secretes systemic mind control herding societal lemmings devoid of individual thought.
Conversely, no one who holds the values of our founding fathers dear would want even implicit or thinly veiled bigotry or bias to insidiously turn young minds toward even a proton’s weight of acceptance of such destructive constructs. What is occurring within universities across the country, however, hints of a brown-shirted fascism that attempts to eradicate a young person’s ability to form individual value perspectives by instilling a singular dogmatic outlook. And if somehow a conservative-leaning speaker is booked to a university event, the left-wing radical elements of the student body and faculty hold sit ins, rallies and even violent protests to ensure the event doesn’t take place.
No one has yet mentioned the cost. Your child’s tuition costs are rising to unaffordable heights and clearly this is a key factor in increasing the cost of college without contributing anything to your child’s education. In fact, I am certain this additional value-less administrative burden negatively impacts the university’s ability to afford additional faculty, classrooms, modern equipment, and other implements of educational value.

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