Public Education's Only Limiting Factor: Intellectual Curiosity

Attempting to identify the culprit for student underachievement is a national pastime. The list of suspects is endless: poor teachers, lack of funding, class size, lack of choice, bureaucratic bloat, lack of parental involvement, too-mushy curriculum, too-restricted curriculum, and on and on. In this morning’s Wall Street Journal, Charles Murray suggests the culprit is IQ.
The Washington Post reported on some of the results of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s Civic Literacy Report, including the fact that a substantial number of college students think that in his “I Have A Dream” speech, the Rev. Martin Luther King was arguing for the abolition of slavery.
It would be easy to blame such a travesty on poor schools, bad teachers or indifferent politicians, but there does seem to be a reticence to lay the blame on the students themselves.
I once wrote that the qualities of a good teacher are the ability to create an environment where learning is possible, and the subject knowledge to make learning worthwhile. Anything after that is up to the students. Clearly, many of them are not up to the task.
There are good schools and bad schools. There are good teachers and bad teachers. There are good curricula and bad curricula. None of it makes someone a good or bad student.
Students (and adults) are human beings, not “Jeopardy” contestants. No matter how many innate advantages we may have, how high our IQ is, how exceptional a school we attend, how motivated a teacher we have, or how much money we spend, eventually we come across something we don’t know and weren’t taught in school. What we do then is what determines if we will be a successful student (and adult) or not.
It’s unthinkable that a college student of today has never heard of Martin Luther King. And it’s also unthinkable that a 17-21 year-old has never had the opportunity or means to discover what King’s “I Have A Dream” speech was about. So if you think it was about abolition, you have no one to blame but yourself.
“Learn” is an active verb. At some point, the responsibility of the taxpayers, government, schools, teachers, and even parents ends, and the responsibility of the students begins.