By Richard Vedder
My wife Karen and I have a good friend named Kathy who is a veteran high school English teacher in Las Vegas. She is of the old school, expecting students to follow rules, learn material, and be evaluated rigorously on it. She has been fighting a losing battle to maintain standards in her school, and therein lies one of the major problems for higher education.
Kathy told my wife yesterday that her boss effectively told the teachers to not be too demanding of the kids, not to give low grades copiously, etc. The boss (who was upset with this herself)in effect said the central office did not want too many calls from irate parents, and that virtually all parents think their kids are wonderful students who should not be reprimanded, ordered to do a lot of work, or given low grades.
The recent reports of high school grade inflation are consistent with this, as are the results showing declining literacy amongst both high school and college graduates. We are dumbing down the curriculum in many cases, lowering our expectations, and getting the expected results. The American public basically does not want high standards or too much homework for their kids -- it might lower their self esteem and interfere with sports.
All of this strengthens my conviction that maybe we should NOT be educating so many kids in college. Too many college kids enter unprepared, partially through no fault of their own. But why should we waste additional resources trying to educated ill-prepared kids with little sense of academic discipline? Of course, we need to whip our high schools into shape, perhaps, but given parental, teacher union and administrative attitudes, that is easier said than done.
To be sure, my own children (including daughter-in-law) who teach at the public secondary level are less pessimistic about the future than Saint Kathy of Las Vegas. I fear, however, that Kathy's lament has much truth to it in many school systems around our country.