A William J. Bennett Sampler

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"Secondary education is the last stage of compulsory, universal education in America--our last shot, if you will, of giving the best we have to offer them. Humanities courses should not be set up just for honors students. [We need to make the humanities available] not just for the dilettante, but for the indifferent, the Philistine, and even the hostile."

"Everyone thinks that's what the humanities are, that you sit around and talk: 'Well, what do you think? That's fine. What do you think? Does anybody know anything? It doesn't matter. Let's just keep talking."'

On Literacy

"A definition of literacy is not simply a statement of fact but a statement of values."

"Literacy is a form of knowledge and power. It is when one knows and can, thereby, effectively, with some confidence, work with words, reality, symbols, meanings, and concepts which continue to have a pervasive presence in our commerce with each other.

"Yes, I am investing my definition of literacy with values. The question is, are those values worthwhile? Are they serving the people they are meant to serve? Or is it just some arbitrary social convention meant to punish people or to put them in some kind of competitive order?"

On Education and Careers

"There's nothing mutually exclusive about educating someone to be able to perform tasks at a job and educating someone for life. We do both, and there is no reason that we have to choose between the one and the other. The worry is the narrowing ...

"If you listen to students, they tell us what's wrong with the arguments we're making. They talk about themselves as if they were careers. They talk as if their life were a job to be held in the future. And we have aided them in that because we have talked too much about education as education simply for a career."

On Teaching

"I would not want to discourage the would-be Socrateses from entering the profession, as I think we do now. For the teacher who went into teaching--or would go into teaching--thinking that it might have some aspect of an intellectual life to it, we ought to provide more opportunities for that. That's what we're doing at the National Endowment for the Humanities--providing summer seminars on books, with colleagues, talking about ideas."

"The dumb and incompetent teachers have to be removed. But the great mass of teachers can do the job fine."

"With the large body of teachers, I think it matters less what they know than what they do."

"It's a disservice to students to act as if they don't know anything, but it's as bad a disservice to act as if they know something if they don't."

"I remember going to school, and I never thought of evaluating my teachers in terms of dumbness or intelligence. You know, 'Is Miss Adrien smarter than Miss Dallas?' You just did what the teacher said. And the same through high school. But what do those effective-school studies tell you? It's that high expectations, homework, regular evaluations, and the like are what make the difference."

On Teacher Education

"For too long we have trained teachers to know all about how to teach and too little about what they teach. This is a critical national problem."

"Teachers major in education, not in the disciplines. They are not educated principally in an area of knowledge."

"[The national education establishment] became fascinated with innovation--change for the sake of change. Innovation became a synonym for good, and traditional became a synonym for bad. Alfred Kazin said that if we practiced medicine the way we practice education, we would remove the liver from the right side and the left side in alternate years."

On What Students Should Know

"I would not suggest that as one progresses through education everything turns out to be an uninterrupted harmony and it gets more and more harmonious. One of the purposes of a good undergraduate education is to foster the proper kind of identity crisis.

"A fuller definition of education is the recognition of ambivalence and conflict in life. Am I a cog in the corporation? Am I a free man? Maybe you are a little of both. You can't say, in order to avoid ambivalence and conflict, let's not educate people."

On a National Curriculum

"I think we should have a basic national curriculum, a basic, national, minimal curriculum, not specified. Let's take the humanities. If we go to four years of English and three years of social studies--history, I mean history--of those seven years, one year should be agreed upon as a national minimal literacy curriculum.

"It should not be a federal curriculum, however."

On Graduate Education

"Moving from undergraduate to graduate study should be like moving from being a college athlete to being a professional athlete. Instead, it is frequently like being transformed from a college athlete into a sports statistician, if not a distant and demoralized spectator."

Vol. 04, Issue 17

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