When I see the great clip below of Ben Stein as a high school economics teacher — from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” — I’m very amused. But at the same time, I can’t help but feel saddened because I believe the scene also reflects the intellectual theft committed by our education establishment over the past couple of generations. The lecture in this classroom scene deals with the handling of the U.S. economy in the wake of the Great Depression. It’s another fascinating topic rendered irrelevant and boring by our factory methods of schooling, as well as by the effects of radical education reform. The students neither know the answers nor care. And their apathy is not something we can simply blame on a boring teacher.
I recall a feeling of annoyance — anger, actually — when I realized that so much classical education was basically withheld from me in my public high school. Thanks to radical education reform, my high school did not offer the average student any year-long surveys or foundational courses in English and History. Instead, we got a new curriculum with a fractured menu from which we could pick from among many various 9-week classes. Among the offerings were “American Drama” in which students could read a play or two by Lillian Hellman or Tennessee Williams; “Modern Poetry,” which mostly consisted of the lyrics of songs by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and Simon & Garfunkel; “Shakespearean Tragedy,” in which you could spend the academic quarter reading and studying nothing but Macbeth. As far as History was concerned, students could choose from a menu in which they might study the Civil War for a quarter. Or a new course called “Ecology.” Or American Presidents. In the latter each student would simply pick one president to write a report about and then share it with the class.
Question: What’s wrong with this picture? Answer: It is devoid of context. Instead of a continuum of foundational knowledge, students are offered fractured bits and pieces of out-of-context readings and discussions unattached to any greater body of knowledge. A good survey course, on the other hand, will place historical events and people in context. You’ll get the Big Picture instead of a few random and disconnected puzzle pieces. A good English survey course will provide the entire spectrum and history of English literature. By the time I got to college I realized that neither Chaucer nor Milton were even mentioned once in any of my English classes. There were really only two ways to get a survey of history at my high school: either you were selected for Advanced Placement or took the summer school class which crammed the entire academic year into six weeks. The former was not available to very many students, and the latter (which I opted for) was too compressed to retain much of anything.
This sort of experimental education laid the groundwork for the even more fractured education children are getting today, so much of it rife with political correctness. And, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago at The Federalist, “Today’s Riot-Prone Mobs are a product of America’s Cult Like Education System.”