Apr 16, 2019 by

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
12 April 2019

Chester Finn often points out that for a good many parents of students in our schools, academics are not their first concern. They want their children to be happy, have friends, be well-rounded, and enjoy school. They do also want them to graduate.

Any increase in academic demands can threaten some of that, including graduation. 

For decades, our education Pundits have assured us that the most important variable in student academic achievement is not student academic work, but teacher quality. If student academic work does not have much to do with student academic achievement, perhaps it is no surprise that after many Programs, Initiatives, Consortia, Reports, Symposia, Panels, and much federal legislation on education, apart from a very tiny group of top kids, the great majority of our students are asked to do very little schoolwork.

As the Indiana University High School Survey of Student Engagement reports, students are very busy, with jobs, sports, extracurricular interests, dating, video games, and the like, so it should be understood that they feel they have little time for schoolwork, and their teachers know that.

If the teacher assigns a reading in the textbook in History class, and the next day, the students have not done the reading, then the teacher goes over the material in class, confirming them in the wisdom of skipping the homework. This can happen in a school where nearly 100% of the students go to four-year colleges upon graduation. No doubt the situation in many other schools is not very different.

Again, as Chester Finn has pointed out, students are not stupid. If they see that teachers do not really have time to grade term papers and book reports and so do not assign them; if teachers go over the reading in class so the students don’t have to do it; if the general message to students is that we never want them to fail academically and it is very important to us that as many as possible graduate, then most are smart enough to realize that schoolwork is not something they need to worry about very much.

It has been observed that students in other countries with which we are in competition have much less time for activities outside of academic work, and it seems foolish to assume that they will not as a result surpass our students in academic achievement over and over again.

Take a look at various current studies of Education as they come out in this country and see if you can find one that concentrates on the actual academic work of students in our schools. Please let me know if you do.

But do we really want our children to be like some Christmas tree ornaments—well-rounded, bright, good looking, cheerful—and empty?

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