It was definitely, as Yogi Berra put it, déjà vu all over again.

The headline in question in The New York Times for February 2008: “Survey Finds Teenagers Ignorant on Basic History and Literature Questions.” It is a tragedy. Because the same headlines announcing the same deplorable facts appeared twenty-five years ago, and nothing seems to have changed in the intervening years. Yes, there have been many kinds of changes in the schools since the mid-nineteen-eighties, but improvement in what really counts—what young Americans know about their country and their world—is not among them.

Anxiety about the state of schooling in America was launched in 1957 with Sputnik, the USSR satellite program that served to warn that the U.S. was falling behind in the technology race. Finally, in 1983, a blue-ribbon commission was created by the Reagan administration to investigate the question of what had been happening to America’s schools. The result was a brilliant report titled “A Nation At Risk,” which declared, “Our once unchallenged preeminence in commerce, industry, science, and technological innovation is being overtaken by competitors throughout the world” and identified the dimension of the problem “that undergirds American prosperity, security, and civility…. the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people…. If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed this to happen to ourselves. We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral educational disarmament. Our society and its educational institutions seem to have lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectations and disciplined effort needed to attain them.”

A gauntlet had been thrown down before the educational establishment, and plans for reform seemed to come from all directions. But before settling on the diagnosis and cure, the symptoms had to be identified. This was the purpose of a book by education historian Diane Ravitch and policy expert Chester E. Finn, Jr., titled What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know: A Report on the First National Assessment of History and Literature (Harper & Row, 1987).

Analyzing the results of a test administered to a sample of high-school juniors of different races, sexes, income levels and geographic regions, Ravitch and Finn revealed some shocking numbers. Little more than half could answer the questions on literature or history. Only 20 percent could identify Joyce or Dostoevsky, fewer than 25 percent could identify Henry James or Thomas Hardy, only one in three knew Chaucer was the author of The Canterbury Tales, 65 percent did not know what 1984 or Lord of the Flies is about. It gets worse. One third of these American high school students could not identify the phrase “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” as coming from the Declaration of Independence and even those who identified the phrase correctly could not articulate the document’s significance; some who found the phrase familiar thought it came from the Gettysburg Address. Three quarters of the students did not know when Abraham Lincoln was president; three of every ten could not place the Civil War in the proper half-century. More than a third could not place the writing of the Constitution in the proper half-century. Map questions revealed only the most elementary knowledge of American or European geography; many girls as well as black and Hispanic students had trouble locating Great Britain. For the most part what information or misinformation students had about world events and great works of literature seem to come from movies and television rather than from school

Twenty-five years after the wake-up call of “A Nation at Risk,” twenty years after the depressing answer to “What Do Our Seventeen-Year Olds Know,” our schools still aren’t doing their job and our high school students remain ignorant of basic U.S. and world history and literature. Fewer than half of today’s American teenagers today asked questions from the 1986 survey knew when the Civil War was fought, and one in four said Columbus sailed to the New World “some time after 1750.” (The Times adds to the last sentence “not in 1492,” in case some of its readers might not know the date either. After all, they are products of America’s schools.)

Other results were equally appalling when one considers that these are the citizens who will choose the next generation of the country’s leaders—and who might even be among those leaders themselves. About a quarter of today’s high school juniors were unable to identify Hitler as Germany’s leader in World War II. The rest guessed he was a munitions maker, an Austrian premier or the German Kaiser. Roughly half knew Job as the Biblical figure embodying patience in the face of suffering. The other half thought he might have been a builder, a warrior or a prophet. While the past and its great works remain a mystery to most American teenagers, what they do know illustrates the emphasis on race in today’s curriculum. Although uncertain about Abraham Lincoln, most were familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr. and knew the plot of “To Kill a Mockingbird.” And studies continue to show how little young Americans know. National Geographic found that in 2006 two-thirds of 18 to 24-year-olds questioned could not identify Iraq on a map and 88 percent could not find Afghanistan.

Among the sorriest failures of the schools from the earliest grades through college is the loss of mathematics skills among native-born American students. The failure to develop higher math skills is reflected in international competitions, in which youngsters from other countries regularly outperform American students, and local competitions in which both male and female high school students and college undergraduates tend overwhelmingly to come from immigrant families with traditions that encourage interests, study habits and goals absent from our public school systems because our culture—which means our families—do not set a high priority on them.

As with mathematics, the high school students winning prizes for scientific innovation today are overwhelmingly immigrants or the children of immigrants, largely of Asian descent. Again, what distinguishes them from their underachieving fellow students is the motivation that begins at home, in the family that values education as a step to a better life. Too many American parents are complacent about their children’s schooling, failing to ask what a passing grade really means or inquire as to what goes on in their children’s classrooms

What has been happening in the years between the strikingly unchanging survey results? While authors and educators like Diane Ravitch and Core Curriculum innovator E.D. Hirsch, Jr. were in the forefront of those arguing for the value of the liberal arts and researchers like the late reading expert Jeanne Chall were demonstrating that phonic decoding is the most effective way to teach reading, they were outnumbered and out-shouted by ideologues. Educational fads trumped common sense and common experience.

Beginning in the sixties, the mission of the schools has been redefined. The institutions training our teachers have come to see their job not as transmitting our culture but as changing it, not as passing on an understanding of the history and traditions of a democratic United States of America but as pursuing an agenda of far-left social activism. The U.S.—oppressive, racist, sexist, homophobic—needs to be set on the path toward greater equality, not just of opportunity but of results. Equality should be enforced by legislation if necessary, and the elitism of demands for excellence should be scrapped.

For the past half century this has been the message young people who want to be teachers have been getting along with a curriculum heavy on pedagogical methods and light on subject matters—a lot of emphasis on how to teach and very little knowledge of anything to teach. Curriculum has taken a back seat to methodology—it doesn’t matter what children read as long as they can handle the vocabulary well enough to be moved on to the next grade. And with fads like “whole language” taking the place of phonics, this meant simple “basic readers.” Whole language, based on word recognition rather than learning to associate letters with sounds, is a product of the reigning educational philosophy known as “constructivism.” The idea, which goes back for its origins to Rousseau, is that children will construct their own learning naturally, like flowers unfolding. It follows that teachers should resign their positions of authority in front of a structured classroom, becoming “facilitators” of the process by which small groups of children (preferably around small tables or seated on rugs on the floor) figure things out for themselves. By a similar process, which has been characterized as “fuzzy math,” they will estimate answers to numerical problems, a method that says grasping a general concept is more important than arriving at an exact answer. All of this has prepared a couple of generations of American schoolchildren to be barely literate and hardly able to deal with simple arithmetic.

By the time these students reach high school, a vast dumbing-down has become necessary to keep them afloat. When third grade is the new eighth grade, much has been lost along the way. Lowering standards to eliminate “inequality,” so that everyone can be said to be as smart and as accomplished as anyone else, has bred a hostility toward merit. “Self-esteem” is fostered through group identity, not achievement. And that identity is not understood as that of an American citizen but of some group perceived as oppressed by white America. So “multiculturalism” has come to mean valuing—and studying— any other cultures but our own. And “diversity,” the newest shibboleth, has come to mean different genders or skin colors, but not different ways of thinking.

In the end, learning is something that takes place between teacher and child. Buildings, technology, and all the things money can buy have little to do with it. Someone who loves a subject and knows it thoroughly and can pass that knowledge and that passion on to the young is the bedrock of the learning process, starting when schooling begins and going on into young adulthood. It’s not class size or teachers’ salaries, charter schools or vouchers, or all the other kinds of structural tweaking to which the schools have been treated by assorted legislators and billionaires. It’s the quality of teachers with which change for the better will have to begin.

The largest accrediting agency of teacher education programs in the country, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, has been running the show for decades now. Its policy states explicitly that schools of education should see teachers “as agents of change” with “a commitment to social justice.” And for years now Columbia University’s Teachers College has led the way in turning out teachers whose mission is defined by a faculty that despises the very idea of an American common culture.

What has become acceptable in the teacher-training institutions that used to be called normal schools has been brought to national attention by the spotlight trained in the 2008 presidential election campaign on William Ayers. A sixties radical, leader of the violent Weather Underground, an unrepentant terrrorist who was quoted on September 11, 2001 as saying of the bombing of the Pentagon, the Capitol, the State Department building, banks, courthouses and police stations, "I don't regret setting bombs...I feel we didn't do enough," Ayers was saved from prison by legal technicalities involving surveillance methods, not by innocence..

Today Ayers holds the tenured position of distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois-Chicago, advises Chicago’s mayor on the city’s education reform plans, and last year was elected vice president for curriculum of the nation’s largest organization of education school professors, the American Educational Research Association. The mind reels at the thought of an unrepentant terrorist as a respected faculty members of an institution of higher learning, and of the training of future classroom teachers at that.

Those faculty and administration figures who dismiss Ayers’ past as youthful indiscretion, even in many cases admire it, are enthusiastic about his current ideas as well. The curriculum he espouses for prospective K-12 teachers is “teaching for social justice and liberation,” by which he means liberation from American capitalism and imperialism, turning the nation’s classrooms into laboratories for revolutionary change. How widespread Ayers’ influence is and how representative the anti-American stance of most of the country’s educrats has become is indicated by the ubiquitous presence of his writings and his agenda in the schools and departments of education throughout the country. As Sol Stern has written in the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal, Ayers’ prominence in the field of teacher training promises “more funding and support for research on how teachers can promote left-wing ideology in the nation’s classrooms—and correspondingly less support for research on such mundane subjects as the best methods for teaching underprivileged children to read.”

All this is nothing new. It is only the accident of one of Ayers’ erstwhile associates being elected to the presidency that brought Ayers’ to the attention of anyone outside the world of education policy and politics. In a book published almost two decades ago and sadly as relevant now as it was then, I wrote that “the public school, once charged with the task of transmitting the common culture and imparting the skills required to understand it, participate it, and extend it, has come to be seen instead by those who prepare men and women to teach in it as an agency of social change. No longer is there said to be a common culture, but a multiplicity of cultures, each of equal value and significance. The function of the schools is to achieve educational equality as a means to social and economic equity. Not equality of opportunity but equal grading is the accepted goal, and objective standards are agreed to be an obstruction to that goal since not everyone does equally well by them.

“The idea of a common culture stretching from the ancients to our own times, bequeathing a literature, a history, a body of knowledge, and a set of traditions that define our political institutions and are of unique value is said to be a myth kept in place by the powers that be in the service of domination, of keeping the lower classes in their place and of exploiting them.” (Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers, Free Press, 1991).

An extreme but hardly unique example of where we may be headed is Brooklyn College’s School of Education screening of students for their political views, evaluating teacher candidates on the basis of their “dispositions.” The critical attitude toward white America (“multiculturalism”) and hostility toward merit (“self-esteem” based on group identity, not individual achievement) has by now become part of the admissions process and a requirement for passing courses even in such neutral-sounding subjects as “Language Literacy in Secondary Education.” Students who disagree with the instructor’s political agenda can’t hope for a good grade and complaints to the administration are ignored.

But indoctrination does not only occur in the so-called soft subjects—the humanities and social sciences. Even mathematics is being taught in some public schools from the perspective of the radical social agenda. “Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice” is the title of a course given at Northeastern University’s School of Education in Boston.

According to the course description, future teachers of algebra, trigonometry and geometry will be given “an opportunity to contemplate on [sic] the role of the teacher as an agent of change” as they “develop a pedagogical model for… addressing issues of social justice in mathematics teaching and learning.” A textbook titled Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers includes ideas on “how to weave social justice issues throughout the mathematics curriculum.” Some of the suggested topics: Disparities in Wealth Cartoon; Driving While Black or Brown: A Math Project About Racial Profiling; Corporate Control of U.S. Media Line Graph; The Global Capitalist Economy Cartoon; Poverty and World Wealth: Recognizing Inequality; Unequal Distribution of U.S. Wealth; and Map of Territory that Mexico Lost to the United States.

The authors quote a ninth-grader in a Chicago public school who says, “Now I realize that you could use math to defend your rights and realize the injustices around you.” Let’s hope she will also be able to use math to balance a checkbook, make change, calculate a mortgage rate, and perform other ordinary tasks in this unjust capitalist society.

In the past, math has been a tool to help make scientific and technological advances; the higher mathematics required for an understanding of physics or biochemistry might also be considered a way of improving the world, if not exactly making it “more equal and just” in the way these teachers have in mind.

Whether that level of mathematical proficiency will be attained by pupils being encouraged to think of changing the world “rather than merely regarding math as a collection of disconnected rules to be rotely memorized and regurgitated” remains to be seen. According to a math teacher at one of New York City’s select high schools, his students have a very difficult time understanding and doing math at higher levels. He pinpoints the reason why so many of these brightest of students require private tutoring: the prevalence of the “constructivist” approach that discourages traditional methods of learning and memorizing and practicing rules in favor of encouraging students to “discover” their own methods for solving problems. Both the constructivist and the social-justice approach are flying in the face of centuries of experience of learning in order to pursue ideological goals.

The politicization of the schools has had many consequences. Not least of what has been lost in the redirection of high school and college courses around themes of “social justice” is the literary patrimony. Standard English is the language of oppressors, those dead white males who left behind the creations of genius. There goes the nineteenth-century novel, lyric poetry, drama from Shakespeare on, and all the treasures that have enriched Western culture in centuries past. The present gatekeepers of our culture have little use for imaginative literature or the recorded sweep of history through biography, for tales of early heroism, adventure and tragedy. They decry the study of dates, times, eras as “mere facts.” What used to provide a window on the world for the young has been replaced by a curriculum so deadening and so boring that the country’s young turn increasingly to the purveyors of mass media for their views and their values.

What we have instead of rigorous academic standards is a therapeutic culture that encourages self-awareness over any other kind. One can easily graduate from an American high school without ever having read an entire book, whether a novel or nonfiction, and without ever having written an essay of any length about a subject other than one’s own feelings and experiences—what passes for creativity.

In place of literature and accounts of the past, which always run the risk of giving offense to someone somewhere, our students are given material from which they will learn as little as possible. Popular middle and high school textbooks, as Gilbert T. Sewall of the American Textbook Council has repeatedly demonstrated, present “politically correct” but skimpy and often inaccurate information, and with vastly different standards applied to Western and non-Western cultures. Their publishers, as Diane Ravitch has revealed in various publications, follow detailed guidelines about what subject matter and illustrations are permissible. The religious right frowns on tales of magic or the supernatural, as well as stories about dinosaurs that might suggest evolution. The PC left insists that mothers be shown going to work, briefcase in hand, not baking a pie, and that old—sorry, senior-- folks only be depicted as active and full of vigor, certainly never using a cane.

By means of this distorted and sanitized view of reality the mega-publishers who produce the texts insure that California and Texas, the large states that form the backbone of their market, find the material acceptable to all their constituents. The result of removing everything that anyone can possibly find offensive is that the textbooks are so vapid and boring that they all but guarantee that the young will turn to TV and pop music, which are actually a better mirror of life as they see it around them. Nowhere in the books their schools provide do they encounter the excitement and wonder of first-rate literature, just politically correct pap.

Former Harvard president Derek Bok, hardly a right-wing fanatic, has said that many college seniors graduate “without being able to write well enough to satisfy their employers….Few are able to speak or read a foreign language. Most have never…acquired the knowledge necessary to be a reasonably informed citizen in a democracy.”

Not only do American students fail to learn languages other than English, too many do not even learn English beyond a rudimentary level. Bilingual classes, spawned by pressure to accommodate newcomers to this country, have left too many children stranded between languages with mastery of neither. What kind of favor is this for the immigrant family looking for a wider future for its next generation? A father I spoke to when I was observing a bilingual course that was supposed to be making things easier for children from Spanish-speaking families in Los Angeles said to me bitterly, “They’re preparing my children to be maids and gardeners. I want them to be lawyers.” His children are among the many who are held back by a system that claims to be designed to help them.

A report released in June 2008 by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the results of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation found that while the bottom 10 percent of students have made gains in recent years, in the top 10 percent the gains have been minimal. It reported that bright students were languishing to fend for themselves for lack of attention while classroom time and resources are shifted to bringing the bottom up. The National Association for Gifted Children in turn has repeatedly warned we were shortchanging gifted students, whose needs go unmet, jeopardizing the nation’s future. “Especially alarming,” adds the NAGC, “are findings that our nation’s teachers do not consider themselves prepared to meet the learning needs of gifted students.” Small wonder, when the system is geared to minimizing the distance between nigh- and low-achievers by whatever means are necessary, including lowering standards for grades and for graduation. And with the preponderance of teachers coming out of education schools and colleges that are often little more than diploma mills, with no significant subject knowledge and a mission oriented more toward “fairness” and “diversity” than to learning.

According to the National Council on Teacher Quality, too many teachers-in-training are unprepared to do the job they are hired for. One example: Only ten of 77 schools surveyed did an “adequate” job of preparing aspiring math teachers. “Low expectations and standards…insufficient grounding in algebra, and inability to agree on what math teachers should know” [geometry or social change?] “are effectively crippling elementary math teacher preparation.” Add pressure from teachers’ unions to protect ineffectual teachers and prevent the hiring of uncertified recent college graduates and mid-life career changers, and the most that can be hoped for is to “equalize” by producing at best a mediocre middle.

We are failing to educate an informed citizenry, an efficient workforce, or a people proud of their nation’s special character. Unable to articulate its worth, unaware of its gifts to them, how can the coming generations be expected to defend it?

Some point to the potential of charter schools and vouchers as escape routes from the tyranny of the public schools. Yet in the short run there is no way of knowing what exactly is being taught or how in the various alternative schools being created around the country or in the schools for which parents may use vouchers to transfer from one site of failure or mediocrity they can perceive to one they are not necessarily equipped to assess. Other parents who can afford it abandon the public schools entirely for home schooling or private schools and academies which offer more rigorous learning environments. But increasingly, private schools are an option for the most affluent. A historic path for educating the children of the less well-to-do, the parochial school system, (primarily but not exclusively Catholic) is dwindling, a result of many factors including higher teacher salaries, diminished Church resources, and demographic shifts.

What does all this mean, for the nation—if indeed we are still one nation, indivisible—and for its families? The degradation of the schools has not come about because the educational agenda has become political—the schools have always been political in the sense that they have endeavored to shape citizens for this country. It is that the political agenda was once preservative whereas it has become subversive. Children are no longer taught civic pride in American democracy, they are taught to identify themselves as members of groups short-changed by that system and under obligation to turn it around. And if class war and race war and ethnic war are encouraged, even in attenuated form, we will shatter as a society and become like the Balkan states, forever at each others’ throats.

What does a government owe its citizens and what do they owe the polity?

The answer to both questions lies in the mutual acceptance of a coherent set of beliefs—and for as long as the States have been the United States that has meant what have come to be called middle-class values. I would venture to guess that most Americans still adhere to those values—individual responsibility for one’s life and fate being primary among them. And I would also venture to state, based on anecdotal but widespread evidence, that most American parents really do not know what goes on their children’s schools. If the children seem happy, bring home good grades, and appear to be on a par with their neighbors and schoolmates, parents, busy as they are with earning a living and coping with the various aspects of adulthood, see no reason for concern.

What, in the famous words of an infamous man, is to be done? How to balance the requirements of the state with the needs of the individual and the family? It’s not hard to formulate prescriptions. What is hard if not impossible is to fill them and have them taken. Here are some suggestions of a rather benign nature, followed by some suggestions it may be too late to implement.

First, why not a national curriculum designed to say what knowledge and what skills children should be expected to be able to demonstrate at every grade level. Educators including E.D. Hirsch have explained how subject matter could be integrated into the teaching of reading so that students are not robbed of substantive learning in order to pass tests designed to justify the efforts of teachers and school officials. His proposal, now in place in some schools dotted around the country, is that instead of testing children on trivial and boring passages in basal readers constructed for that purpose, they learn to read in a cumulative sequence, starting in the earliest grades, about the history of our country, the lives of great men and women, the poems and stories that make up our common culture. His argument is that not only would children be more motivated to understand what they are reading because of its intrinsic interest, but the gap between the disadvantaged and the more practiced would narrow as children from reading-impoverished and language-barren homes would be given the chance to catch up with the background knowledge and vocabulary that would put them on a more equal footing. A national system of tests like the National Assessment of Educational Progress, designed and administered by a group of non-partisan educators (not politicians, no mayors or their political appointees anointed as “chancellors”), would determine, at the end of each school years, whether the national standards for comprehension and subject matter have been met no matter in what way and by what methods.

It is that qualification that ensures the independence of the schools and the freedom of parents to choose the learning environment they want for their children while at the same time protecting the right of the government to expect a degree of literacy and numerical skills and a fund of knowledge about the country, the origins and characteristics of its institutions, and would also put American children on a more competitive level with children in other countries in an increasingly complex and globalized world.

It’s tempting to stop here, and rest on having supplied a solution to the problems created by the degradation of the schools. But is it really a viable solution? Even assuming it politically feasible to institute a standard national curriculum and a trustworthy set of tests for making sure it is working, there remains a stumbling block to that or any system based purely on ability and accomplishment. It is an attitude by now so ingrained in all of us that I am uncomfortable suggesting it. It goes directly to the belief we have all imbibed over the last couple of generations, which is that everyone is entitled to happiness. Not to its pursuit but to the thing itself. We have confused equality before the law with equality in life and denied the inconvenient reality that there are differences between individuals in characteristics of various kinds, differences in capacities and ambitions that make it impossible to achieve equal outcomes for all unless we are willing to legislate what those outcomes must be.
Grouping by ability, we are told, is unfair.

Today any kind of difference in outcome is considered unacceptable, the result of discrimination. In 2007 a high school in Maplewood, New Jersey made news when it was charged that, since blacks outnumbered whites in the school population, the fact that whites outnumbered blacks in advanced classes was proof of racial bias. School officials set about deciding “how to strike a balance between their two main goals—celebrating diversity and pushing academic achievement.” It did not seem to occur to the district officials that these two goals might simply not be compatible. One has to do with the schools’ traditional functions of teaching and learning, the other with the schools’ redefinition as agencies of social change. It is not enough that all students be given equal opportunities to use their individual abilities; all students have to have equal outcomes. Anything less is evidence of what a student protestor at a confrontation just short of a riot called “contemporary segregation.”

As a result of the confrontation, student leaders and administrators were said to be discussing “ways to narrow the so-called achievement gap; like granting students more say in which level they are in.” Administrators were tasked with ensuring that the racial makeup of advanced placement classes better reflected the racial makeup of the school, made up not according to demonstrated ability but open to everyone who would like to be in them. The next step, of course, is to make sure that in the interests of fairness the advanced class work is not too difficult for anyone in the diverse class. That would be unfair. So the next step is to water down the curriculum so that no one is discriminated against because the work is too hard. Which leaves us with the question of where the next generation of scholars and innovators will come from? And who will be left who knows the difference?

And so we conform to the piety that says all children are eager to learn and capable of doing so, that it is wrong to discriminate on the basis of demonstrated interests and abilities, elitist to offer an enriched academic program to those who can deal with it easily while permitting others to choose less intellectually demanding training for other kinds of lives, even if we leave openings and opportunities all along the way for movement between what have come to be called “tracks.” One result of the insistence on legislated equality of minds is the lowering of standards to accommodate everyone; in some classrooms it is the presence of youngsters who are clocking time at best, and in worst cases are disrupting the efforts of others to teach and to learn.

Some of these students, once they are equipped with the skills and basic knowledge the elementary years should provide, might choose to go on with a schooling they found more compatible with their interests and abilities. They might also make valuable contributions in the scientific competition with countries like Russia and China. Students in an automotive technology class in a Detroit high school recently devised a way of converting cooking oil from a nearby tortilla factory into biodiesel fuel to run the district’s buses. The school’s superintendent says, “We have a lot of students good at solving puzzles, diagnosing problems, coming up with creative solutions, working with their hands, and taking things apart to find out how to make them work better.” We should be providing more such opportunities for more such young people.

We are, instead, creating a class of dropouts not interested in what school as presently organized has to offer them, while at the same time depriving the students capable of forging ahead in math, in science, in as yet uninvented kinds of learning, because it is unfair to define anyone as more “gifted” than anyone else. Until we can go beyond the egalitarianism that demands the same thing for everyone on the basis that everyone is the same and denies the individual differences so apparent to common sense if not to political utopianism, we will never have the kind of republic of learning, the schoolhouse on a hill, that the country needs and that most parents, if encouraged to think about it, would want for their children.

That is the sort of statement, along with the proposals that it implies, that constitutes heresy in the world of American education today. But as long as we continue to adhere to across-the-board equality of outcomes for all children regardless of individual differences; to the maintenance of racial/ethnic diversity (read: quotas) in classrooms and among faculty and administrators; and to a definition of education that holds the school responsible for providing services more appropriate for the psychiatrist, the social worker, and the policeman; as long as we fail to redefine the classroom as a place designed for each individual to acquire knowledge and skills at the highest level he or she is capable of attaining, we will continue to cheat our citizens, their children and the country.

Rita Kramer’s books include Ed School Follies: The Miseducation of America’s Teachers and Maria Montessori: A Biography, both available at Her articles and reviews have appeared in in the New York Times Magazine, American Heritage, Commentary, City Journal, The Public Interest, The American Spectator, The Wilson Quarterly, Academic Questions, The Wall Street Journal, Newsday, the International Herald Tribune, and other newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and abroad and have been republished in various anthologies.

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