Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Education

“”Educated men are as much superior to uneducated men as the living are to the dead.”” – AristotleStudies show, and experience confirms, that of all the factors that determine financial status in life, education is primary. High-school graduates out-earn dropouts, and college grads do considerably better than workers with only high-school diplomas.

It’s not just about making money. It’s about keeping it. And making it grow. College graduates have double the savings rates of high-school grads. And they invest more wisely. Studies of long-term investors find that those with a better education tend to have more balance in their investment selections and invest more consistently (the two key determinants in investment returns) than others.

Educated people waste less money too. They commit fewer crimes, have fewer abortions, experience less alcoholism and violence, and enjoy better health.

What Went Wrong?

Of course, you shouldn’t need studies to tell you the obvious. But in this post-Nietzschean world where computerized data is believed over personal experience, the strangest ideas can take hold.

* Like the idea that kids don’t need to settle down and shut up to learn. That a looser, friendlier environment is better for their education.

* Or that we shouldn’t expect foreign-speaking children to learn English – perfectly.

* Or that African-Americans – who are truly disadvantaged – shouldn’t have to work harder to get ahead.

There have been so many bad ideas that have wormed their way into our thinking since the 1960s. Many were well intentioned. But they defied common sense.

Old Sister Mary Mack Truck didn’t need a government-funded study to tell her how to get Johnny Daydream to pay attention. The first time she whacked him on the back of the head, she knew what worked.

And Mr. Musclebrain, the high school gym coach, didn’t need a prescription pad to get the overactive kids to settle down. Five sprints around the track worked wonders.

Let’s face it. Education in America is a joke. It has gotten worse every year since the federal government started reforming schools in the early 60s. The most talked-about evidence is the average scores on national aptitude tests. SAT scores, for example, declined so far they had to recalibrate the numbers so it wouldn’t be obvious to parents. And listen to this: According to the government’s own statistics, the number of high school seniors who can read “proficiently” (not well, but proficiently) is a dismal 40%. And yet, we graduate 85% of our high school students.

Yes, kids are getting dumber. And the American public-school system is horrible. (I can say this from experience. The public schools here in Delray Beach, Florida are worse than those I was familiar with in Chad (Africa). And Chad is one of the five poorest countries in the world.

In The Old Days, If You Didn’t Learn, You Were Often Held Back.

What went wrong?

We forgot what schools are for. In the old days, education was about learning. Nowadays, it’s about the children.

When an enterprise – any enterprise – stops paying attention to some objective purpose and starts to focus on the subjective experience of its people, degeneration begins.

Times gone by, bad students were ridiculed and good students praised. Now miscreants are studied, coached, and cared about while achievers are ignored. A simple course in psychology would tell you what’s wrong.

The state of Wisconsin recently dropped plans to require the passing of a competency test as a condition for graduating. And in Virginia, according to USA Today, several school superintendents asked state education officials to drop a similar requirement, which they said was cooked up by pro-voucher politicians to embarrass public schools. In Los Angeles, school authorities voted to continue automatic promotion when a study indicated that without it 350,000 mostly minority children would have to repeat a grade. And in Massachusetts, state officials set a “D” passing grade on a new statewide test after realizing that 80% of minority children would fail to receive a diploma if they used a higher cutoff score.

This is going on today despite the fact that studies show the reformers have been wrong. It is much easier to graduate these days (all you need to do is stay alive for four years) but fewer minorities than ever are doing so. Instead of learning at school, they are getting shot or pregnant.

And when they do get their diplomas, they don’t compete well in the job market. They aren’t hired as readily – and when they do get jobs, they don’t advance as far.

That’s the biggest shame of the “reformation” in American education. Minorities have all but disappeared from the competition.

Rather than respect the studies that showed that minorities were lagging behind, reformers refuted them. Rather than accept the fact that minorities had to work harder to catch up, we dumbed-down our standards with specialized curricula and open enrollments.

A Less Educated Population Means A Poorer Population. But Not For Everyone.

If we want our children to succeed in life, we need to set high educational standards for them. And this is especially true for minorities.

Because there is racism in America – because so many people in power are prejudiced – parents of minority children have to demand more, not less, of their education. And demanding more is not about computer equipment or cultural history. It’s about reading, writing, and arithmetic.

Some minorities have always understood this. Japanese-Americans and Jewish-Americans are the most obvious examples.

If you want to succeed in life . . . and if you want your children to . . . you have to believe in education. You have to believe in the power that comes from thinking well, speaking well, and writing well. And you have to believe that in every field of endeavor there are secrets that allow some people to do better than others.

On Monday, we’ll talk about how you can learn those secrets even if you never learned them in school. I’ll try to prove that you – and your kids ­– can have a much richer life, with more rewards and fewer troubles, simply by getting a little bit smarter every day.