On Our Schools

“Nevertheless,” I remarked sagely, “our schools are the bastion of our democracy.”

“Balderdash,” said Mr. Magundi, employing his strongest expression. “Our schools are the assassins of democracy. They stab democracy in the heart and dance on its grave. If schools were democratic, they would take it as their mission to make sure that each student succeeded in his own particular way. But our schools exist to divide children into classes. Their purpose, starting in kindergarten, is to mark which children will succeed and which will fail. And it is absolutely necessary that a certain number should fail. The failures are not just unfortunate imperfections of the system: the system is adjusted until it produces the proper number of failures. What would happen if one teacher worked so hard, and succeeded in teaching so well, that every student in every one of her classes earned an A, year after year? How would we reward that teacher? You know the answer: if she refused to change her grades so that her class produced the proper number of failures to balance the successes, we’d fire her. No, democracy is not the aim of our schools. Their sole purpose is to create an aristocracy of designated achievers who will be allowed to succeed in life, and an underclass of failures who must scratch out a living by serving the achievers.”

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4 thoughts on “On Our Schools

  1. Mr. Magundi,

    Some people can run faster than others, and some can run very fast, indeed. Some can jump higher than others, and some can jump very high, indeed. Some people can throw a baseball faster and more accurately than others, and some few are extraordinarily fast and accurate. All of this is obvious. Equally obvious, to most of us at any rate, is the fact that no matter how hard most of us try, we simply lack the inherit ability to be professional baseball pitchers. We lack the basic physical assets necessary to pitch in the major leagues. Obviously environment (nutrition, exercise, etc.) affects how well we could pitch, and obviously most of us couch-potatoes would be better pitchers if we worked really hard at it, but we would never be qualified to pitch for the Yankees, however hard we tried. Simply put, there is a genetic component to the ability to play baseball.

    Why, then, should it seem so strange that there is a genetic component to intelligence? Science tells us that 40 and 80% of intelligence is accounted for by this genetic component. Other than our desire, our *wish* that everyone be equal at birth, what reason is there for thinking that they *are*?

    People who are more intelligent *tend* to be more successful at most jobs, and this tendency is higher in jobs that are more intellectually challenging. Isn’t this pretty obvious? Don’t we all know people who seem to pick things up more easily, and see more deeply into problems, and come up with better, more fruitful conclusions? Call that anything you like – “intelligence,” “academic ability”, “giftedness,” “IQ,” it doesn’t matter. The point is, some people consistently perform better and we can predict who they are with impressive reliability by means of testing.

  2. Good grief. Matt defends his position that a certain percent of the population should be left to fail, and yet also notes that most of “us couch-potatoes” could be better baseball pitchers if we worked hard at it, albeit not good enough to pitch for the Yankees.

    Sir, the point is not that everyone will become equally good pitchers, or equally good at the jobs requiring “high intelligence.” The point, as Mr. Magundi noted already, ought to be that “each student succeeded in his own particular way.” Not everyone is has equal intelligence or physical talents, but we need both engineers and miners, and a miner who does his job well is as successful in his own way as the engineer who does his job well.

  3. The situation in Australia – at least in vocational training – is approximately the opposite. Assessment is based on competencies, and the only two grades are ‘not yet competent’ and ‘competent’. It’s fairer on the populace, of course, for the reasons you are objecting to. But it does make it hard to love a subject – to put in that extra bit of effort to get a good grade to show the world that you’ve got *this* subject nailed.

    On the other hand, university ‘entrance scores’ over here are entirely about grading persons relative to each other, albeit in a dishonest way. The smartest persons get 100, and the dumbest persons get 50 so as not to hurt their feeling overmuch with a 0, and the rest of the results are scaled in-between. An individual’s ranking with others in the educational jurisdiction isn’t determined alone by their performance with relation to the assessment, but is influenced by the performance of their school in relation to the assessment, and then their performance within the school. So it’s not even any reasonable indication of an individual’s mastery of any particular subject. It’s sole purpose is a gross ranking of all persons with respect to each other, for settling who gets into Law and who doesn’t. Mr Magundi would possibly fare poorly under a system like this, since Mr Magundi doesn’t appear to be the sort who enjoys jumping through hoops.

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