Ambivalence About Education Bodes Ill

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To the Editor:

In his Commentary "Good Intentions, Bad Results" (Oct. 27, 2004), Robert J. Sternberg omitted one additional reason why the No Child Left Behind Act will have difficulty in meeting its stated objectives: We as a nation are not truly in favor of real learning.

The latest contentious presidential election has highlighted a variety of concerns for the future direction of the United States. Among the issues discussed was the federal No Child Left Behind law. Unfortunately, it received shorter shrift than the other issues that were never really discussed by the candidates or their respective parties in any depth. Slogans have replaced erudition, and therein lies the problem. As has been the case many times before in our nation’s history, our rhetoric does not match our actions.

The federal law places before the nation the highest educational standards ever proposed—lofty but worthy goals. Their efficacy will be debated for some time to come. Without reference to the law’s many shortcomings and questionable assumptions about human learning, its enactment serves as a reminder of America’s incredible ambivalence about education, and its general dislike of educated people, particularly those whose views differ from our own.

The recent election is a prime example of this. We want our leaders to be smart, but not too smart. We want leaders who have the ability to analyze in depth, to truly understand the issues, and then to make wise and thoughtful decisions. We do not want them to demonstrate this to us, however, in speech or manner. We prefer short answers, preferably in sound-bites, to complex problems. A thorough examination of the issues and a propensity to rethink have become unacceptable.

We have voiced our love of education and the need to teach critical thinking, and yet we have accepted far less as a standard for forming our own beliefs. What, as an educated people, should be our loyalty to reason, inquiry, loyalty to country, and the greater good has become an acceptance of loyalty to a party that agrees with us regardless of how specious or thinly veiled in truth the argument may be. We appear to lack the moral courage to examine and question why we believe what we believe, even though this is exactly what well-educated individuals are supposed to do. Our actions demonstrate the antithesis of truly educated people.

This will not stand in a society drawn to knowledge and continual learning. Children do learn in many ways, and one powerful way is by example. It does not bode well for the success of the No Child Left Behind Act that we will require all children to undergo a more rigorous pursuit of knowledge and truth, while we adults are unwilling to submit ourselves, our practices, and our beliefs to the same.

James P. Mazgajewski
Buffalo, N.Y.

Vol. 24, Issue 14, Page 42

Published in Print: December 1, 2004, as Ambivalence About Education Bodes Ill

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