The college major determines the premium of a degree

Repeating something often enough does not necessarily make it true.  That is most certainly the case when the issue is the difference in lifetime earnings between holders of a bachelor’s degree and a high school diploma (“Is Majoring in English Worth It?” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 10).

A new Bankrate study found that English majors, for example, reported median income of $47,000.  I’ll bet that those who have a vocational high school diploma, coupled with an apprenticeship, make far more.  Moreover, the latter are not saddled with onerous student debt.

Whatever critical thinking skills once were associated with majoring in English no longer exist.  Political correctness has made it almost impossible for unpopular views to be heard.  Middlebury College is a case in point.  In March 2017, more than 200 students prevented Charles Murray from delivering his address.

A college degree today makes a travesty of education.  With the exception of STEM, the years spent on campus are a waste of time and money.  Yet the obsession persists.

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Discipline is necessary for learning

There was a time when teachers acted in loco parentis – without regard to the race of their students.  But teachers today can’t run a disciplined classroom because they are afraid of being accused of bias (“De Blasio and Carranza should heed the wisdom of ‘Dear White Teacher,’ “ New York Post, Sep. 4).

That’s why it’s heartening to read about a black 8th grade teacher in Portland, Oregon who wrote an essay addressed to her white colleagues urging them to seize control of their classrooms once again.  If that means giving time-outs to students of color, so be it.

When I was teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, busing brought in hundreds of students from the inner city.  When some of them became disruptive, white teachers were reluctant to discipline them out of fear they would be called racist.  As a result, classroom decorum slowly disappeared, making it harder and harder to proceed with instruction.

Discipline has to be fair, but it cannot be denied because it is indispensable to learning.  It’s time to make “Dear White Teacher” required reading for all schools.

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Technology is not a panacea for learning

It’s easy to understand why so many school districts have spent countless millions on digital devices.  After all, their manufacturers have said they would engage students (“Schools Pushed for Tech in Every Classroom. Now Parents Are Pushing Back.” The Wall Street Journal, Sep. 4).  But the investment has not always paid off, according to a report from the National Education Policy Center.

In fact, it has often only reinforced the dependence of young people on their devices.  Yes, we want them to be digitally proficient when they graduate.  But the overuse can be detrimental.  It takes a certain discipline to read a textbook and write an essay by hand.  Critics will claim that’s an anachronism, but only time will tell if something important has not been lost in the obsession with technology in the classroom.

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Higher education is a travesty of learning

The politicization of academic life has made learning through debate impossible on most campuses (“How college students today go against everything universities stand for,” New York Post, Sep. 1).  Speech codes are a one-way street, allowing only politically-correct ideas to be heard.

The most egregious example was Middlebury College.  On Mar. 2, 2017, Charles Murray, who had been invited to speak, was unable to utter a word before nearly 400 students booed him off the stage claiming he was a bigot.  Yet those responsible were given a mere slap on the wrist as punishment.

How do colleges and universities justify their existence under the present situation?  I fail to understand how students are being truly educated if they are permitted to continue to intimidate the views of those who disagree with theirs.  Yet most administrators are spineless, viewing students as customers who must not be offended.

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Gifted programs must be protected

Only in this country are gifted children treated so shabbily.  The latest evidence comes from New York, which is in the process of considering dismantling gifted p-rograms because their enrollment does not reflect the proper racial mix (“Desegregation Plan: Eliminate All Gifted Programs in New York,” The New York Times, Aug. 27).

The reality is that gifted children are the ones most likely to make significant contributions in their respective fields.  At a time when the U.S. is in competition with other nations, it’s hard to understand why gifted programs are anathema.  Perhaps it’s because we believe in democratization, rather than in differentiation in education.

Our competitors have no problem whatsoever in separating children out early in their education.  For example, Singapore, which is known for the quality of its schools, begins the process with its Primary School Leaving exam and continues it for the rest of schooling.  Germany also has long sorted out students by its tracking.

We can argue all day long about the proper age to begin identifying the gifted, but I think it’s a huge error to abolish such programs.  Unfortunately, the obsession with diversity is too strong to have much hope.

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Self-selection is key to school success

Whenever standardized test scores are released, charter schools invariably outperform traditional public schools (“Charter Schools’ Success Is an Illusion,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 27).  That leads to further condemnation of the latter.

But the truth is that parental choice is the reason charter schools excel.  When parents apply for their child’s admission, it’s prima facie evidence that they are involved in their education.  It’s little wonder that charter schools post such impressive results.

In sharp contrast, traditional public schools remain the schools of last resort, legally required to enroll all who show up at their door regardless of ability, interest or motivation.  Moreover, they can’t be expelled except for the most egregious behavior.  Charter schools can and do push out students who for one reason or another are seen as a liability.

So before concluding that charter schools are inherently superior, we need to take a hard look at reality.

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Emotional readiness for college

Academic ability and extracurricular achievements are not always enough to make the transition to college a smooth process (“Is Your Child Emotionally Ready for College?” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 24).  If they were, then mental illness on college campuses wouldn’t be nearly as high, with a third receiving treatment at campus counseling centers.

Going off to college has always been fraught with the possibility of emotional disorders because it is the first time that young people live without adult supervision.  But what is new today are the numbers of students who seek out treatment.

There are many factors, including high rates of divorce among parents and income insecurity.  Yet I think the major cause is the unrelenting pressure to excel that so many young people have felt since the time they entered preschool. Parents have a hard time finding a healthy balance between hovering and neglect.  As a result, students are at a loss when left to their own devices.

Colleges and universities today recognize that the old sink-or-swim policy is unnecessarily harsh, particularly when they enroll so many students from diverse backgrounds.  I hope they continue to recognize how counterproductive the former philosophy is.

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Fraudulent high school diplomas

The fall semester has begun across the nation, which means that high school counselors will soon advise nearly all their charges to apply to college.  I believe that essentially amounts to malpractice (“Accuracy in Academia,” the Alex Nitzberg Show, Aug. 21).

When nearly half of college freshmen require remedial courses despite possessing a high school diploma, something is terribly wrong. The truth is that too many students are simply not college material.  Either they lack the necessary IQ to handle college-level work or they lack the necessary study habits.  In either case, professors have had to severely dumb down their instruction or face criticism for their pedagogy.

When Charles Murray made similar points in “Real Education,” he was blasted for being a racist.  But race has nothing to do with the situation.  It has everything to do with the wherewithal that individuals of any race possess.  The problem is that a high school diploma is now considered a right – not a reward.  There is enormous pressure to guarantee that every student receives a diploma regardless of attendance or ability.  The result is a travesty.

I’ll go a step further and submit that a bachelor’s degree is heading in the same direction.  There was a time when a sheepskin meant something.  Today, it is virtually meaningless.  In “Academically adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa found that critical-thinking skills of college seniors showed little difference from those of college freshmen.  The situation is only going to get worse.

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Social studies are stepchild of standards movement

States are not required to produce evidence that their schools meet academic standards in teaching social studies (“ ‘We are committing educational malpractice’: Why slavery is mistaught – and worse – in American schools.” The New York Times, Aug. 19):  It’s not surprising, therefore, that controversial subject like slavery are shortchanging students.

But it’s important to remember that even if such standards were established, there is no guarantee matters would change because history textbooks are assembled by committees. As a result, special interest groups attempt to get their agendas included at the price of accuracy.

It’s not just that history textbooks for the most part whitewash American history.  The opposite is also true.  For example, “A People’s History of the United States,” by Howard Zinn, has been rightly accused of turning our history into a comic-book melodrama in which people are constantly abused by their “rulers.”

How can impressionable young people be expected to know the truth under present circumstances?  It takes brave teachers to ignore curricular guidelines because they can be fired for deviating.  In the final analysis, the best hope is for social studies to be treated with the same importance as math and reading.

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Blaine Amendments are on the ropes

The U.S. Supreme Court will decide in Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue if the state’s Blaine Amendment can be used to prevent tuition tax credit programs from using dollars to help students attend religious schools (“Consign James Blaine to Memory Lane,” The Wall Street Journal, Aug. 16).  Its ruling will affect the 3.8 million students enrolled in religious schools across the nation.

As readers of this column know, I support parental choice, but I draw a line when it comes to the use of tax dollars for religious schools.  Yes, religious schools can provide a quality education, especially for low-income children trapped in terrible public schools.  But if the high court strikes down the Blaine Amendment, it will open the door to further support of religious schools.  We’ve already seen the slow erosion of the wall between church and state, but I think it is nothing compared with what will ensue.

Yeshivas in New York State, for example, are supposed to provide an education that is “substantially equivalent” to that provided by public schools.  But many do not, claiming religious liberty.  Either we believe in public schools or we don’t.  If public dollars were allowed to pay for tuition at religious schools, enrollment would jump, draining funds for traditional public schools.  That happened in Cleveland a decade ago.

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