In The Press Column

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The November Atlantic takes the educational spotlight away from low-achieving students and shines it on what an article by Daniel J. Singal calls an equally serious threat to the country: the "dumbing down" of the college-bound.

In 'The Other Crisis in Education," he cites evidence of an increasing "impoverishment of language" and a "downturn in reasoning skills" among the top quartile of U.S. high-school students over the last 20 years.

A college history professor, Mr. Singal blames this decline on the persistence of the "60's mentality," a view of life and learning that disdains the "canon," favors personal expression and cooperation over analysis and achievement, and continues, he insists, to affect the rigor and content of curricula.

One byproduct of this "60's mandate,"he says, has been the sacrifice of goals of excellence to the larger search for equality. It is a development, he writes, that has led to a general disregard for programs for the gifted: "At a minimum, the assumption goes, students of above average ability will in due course find their way to classy colleges and thus don't need any special consideration from their schools."

But academic excellence and social equality should not be mutually exclusive, he maintains, urging that schools increase the quality and quantity of reading materials, reintroduce year-long humanities survey courses, and institute a flexible ability-grouping program.

The mandate for excellence has moral force and economic necessity behind it, Mr. Singal argues. "Our brightest youngsters ...," he writes, "have suffered the most dramatic setbacks over the past two decade--a fact with grave implications for our ability to compete with other nations in the future."

Oregon's Educational Act for the 21st Century represents a "revolutionary transformation in the way American schools prepare students," says the November issue of State Legislatures, a magazine published by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

The Oregon measure, which will offer standardized apprenticeship, job certification, and work-placement opportunities for non-college-bound high-school students, is seen as a litmus test of whether U.S. education is in fact ready to alter the school curriculum to meet the need for multi-skilled graduates.

If successful, the plan could be a model for national curricular reform, write David Shreve and Scott Liddell, both N.C.S.L. employment specialists, but none of the administrative tools necessary are currently in place, and many players will need to make investments of time and support to propel this "radical transformation." -S.K.G.

Vol. 11, Issue 12, Page 28

Published in Print: November 20, 1991, as In The Press Column
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