Perhaps you’ve seen this: the 8th grade test from Bullitt County Schools in Kentucky, circa 1912. Here are a few questions the 8th graders were expected to be able to answer:
- Define latitude and longitude
- Locate the Erie Canal. What waters does it connect, and why is this important?
- How does the liver compare in size with other glands in the human body? Where is it located? What does it secrete?
- Define the following types of government: democracy, limited monarchy, absolute monarchy, republic. Give an example of each.
- Who invented the following: magnetic, telegraph, cotton gin, sewing machine, telephone, phonograph
102 years later, and education is now in the hands of education researchers. According to Max Eden, these folks study very different things that the 8th-graders of yore. Eden, writing at National Review Online, says he eagerly dug into the report of the American Educational Research Association, twenty-thousand of whom descended upon Philadelphia a few weeks ago.
(Just so you know, Mississippi is generally considered to have the worst public education system in the U.S., with a graduation rate of about 64 percent.)
What did Eden find when he started his reading? Great suggestions on how to lift graduation rates? Help with literacy? Create better teachers for inner-city schools? Nah. That stuff is passé, apparently. No, these folks are studying far deeper issues:
- Neoliberal Globalisms and the Rebooting of Mankind’s Ideological Revolution
- Marxian Analysis of Society, Schools, and Education
- A Poststructuralist Feminist Study of Three Chinese Women Academics’ Subjectivity and Agency
- What Might a Transnational (Queer) Daughter Make? Staking Claims to Feminism via Race, Space, and Time
Clearly, our educational system is in good hands. Eden says,
One can’t shake the feeling that our best and brightest could be doing more. But it seems that they are content to poststructurally intersubjectify each other’s navels in the pursuit of transcendent sociospatial justice while another generation of students languishes in low-achieving schools.
I’m not suggesting that our kids need to know who invented the cotton gin (although it wouldn’t hurt them), but a basic level of literacy, both educational and cultural, would be nice. Maybe the folks at the American Educational Research Association can take that up at their next conference.
Catholic education has played a major role in the development of Western nations, yet it is in many places in crisis. To bring about renewal, it is necessary to revisit the subject with an eye to fundamental questions. What is the purpose of education? What is distinctive about Catholic education? What is the right relationship between schools, parents, Church, and society?