WSJ Editorial: Vocational Education and Gifted Ethics

Charles Murray’s article came to me through EdNews.org‘s daily email, which I look forward to because of its interesting choices. I clicked on “Intelligence in the Classroom:
Half of all children are below average, and teachers can do only so much for them” right away. Who is this guy and exactly how un-pc can a guy get?

Murray is with the American Enterprise Institute, which, according to its website, “operates at the intersection of scholarship and politics, aiming to elevate political debate and improve the substance of government policy. Many of the subjects of AEI research and publications are controversial, and many are the focus of rough political contention and intense interest-group advocacy.”

I read Murray’s three-day series cautiously. He made several points that I have to say, got me thinking:

1. “The second problem with the argument that education can be vastly improved is the false assumption that educators already know how to educate everyone and that they just need to try harder–the assumption that prompted No Child Left Behind. We have never known how to educate everyone. The widely held image of a golden age of American education when teachers brooked no nonsense and all the children learned their three Rs is a myth.”

2. “No data that I have been able to find tell us what proportion of those students really want four years of college-level courses, but it is safe to say that few people who are intellectually unqualified yearn for the experience, any more than someone who is athletically unqualified for a college varsity wants to have his shortcomings exposed at practice every day. They are in college to improve their chances of making a good living. What they really need is vocational training. But nobody will say so, because “vocational training” is second class. “College” is first class.”

3. “The encouragement of wisdom requires mastery of analytical building blocks. The gifted must assimilate the details of grammar and syntax and the details of logical fallacies not because they will need them to communicate in daily life, but because these are indispensable for precise thinking at an advanced level.

The encouragement of wisdom requires being steeped in the study of ethics, starting with Aristotle and Confucius. It is not enough that gifted children learn to be nice. They must know what it means to be good.”

So, as I understand Murray, it is not good for all students and it is not good for the economic future of the country for teachers to encourage everyone to go to four year colleges. They should encourage vocational education for those not in the top intellectual tiers and those who are in the upper intellectual tiers should get education that really challenges them along with ethics training.

I am still thinking about what he has to say, but I must say, he has me thinking.

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