Feb 20, 2021
Oscar Wilde supposedly said George Bernard Shaw "has no enemies, but is intensely disliked by his friends". Socialist blogger Freddie DeBoer is the opposite: few allies, but deeply respected by his enemies. I disagree with him about everything, so naturally I am a big fan of his work - which meant I was happy to read his latest book, The Cult Of Smart.
DeBoer starts with the standard narrative of The Failing State Of American Education. Students aren't learning. The country is falling behind. Only tough no-excuses policies, standardization, and innovative reforms like charter schools can save it, as shown by their stellar performance improving test scores and graduation rates.
He argues that every word of it is a lie. American education isn't getting worse by absolute standards: students match or outperform their peers from 20 or 50 years ago. It's not getting worse by international standards: America's PISA rankings are mediocre, but the country has always scored near the bottom of international rankings, even back in the 50s and 60s when we were kicking Soviet ass and landing men on the moon. Race and gender gaps are stable or decreasing. American education is doing much as it's always done - about as well as possible, given the crushing poverty, single parent-families, violence, and racism holding back the kids it's charged with shepherding to adulthood.