Sunday, September 13, 2020

The Cult of Smart: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice

The Cult of Smart was written by an avowed Marxist, yet espouses many views that would be more commonly found in Libertarian circles. The author identifies the "blank slate" philosophy as one of the core problems with education. We assume that all students have the same ability and that a good education system can enable anyone to learn. Our fear of segregation and racism has caused us to disregard individual variation. This would be similar to saying that a good basketball coach could turn anyone into an NBA star. There may be cases where pure determination causes somebody to succeed. However, this determination is likely to also be a genetically-connected trait. People differ in their genetic abilities. Some can easily succeed at school. Some cannot. 

The author takes pains to say that he is talking about only "individual variation" rather than group variation. This is probably not enough to escape the calls of racism. However, it probably also is not enough to account for effect of purely genetic population differences. There are likely to be some differences in comparing population groups. However, there will be much greater variation among individual people than in a group as a whole. Education policy will often tend to focus on the differences in the environment of groups and individuals. However, even if we were able to purely equalize the environment, the individual genetics would still remain different.

The education system's treatment of everyone as equal conflicts with the system's desire to sort students out. Grades can be absolute or relative (on the curve). Colleges and selective schools attempt to achieve an ideal mix of students through selective admissions. If a school can mold a student, why not just randomly accept any student and allow them to succeed? We also have common curriculum. Some students will struggle with individual classes that may or may not be relevant to their ultimate education and career goals.

The author proposes a number of solutions. We should allow students to drop out at a younger age. If school is not for them, they should not be required to stay. We should also be flexible in the curriculum. It is better to have a student pass statistics than to fail algebra. We can provide universal free child care and health care to improve the environment for all. Guaranteed jobs or income are also viable solutions to help provide an equal setting. Eliminating the price tag for public colleges will allow them to be more accessible for those that want to study. We should focus college on those that need it. Otherwise, jobs that do not require advanced education should be readily available.

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