Acton Institute Powerblog

Educational Research Just Might Be Killing Education

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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.

Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.


  • mlarson

    Homeschooling will be the monasteries for the new Dark Ages

  • dennisbeck

    If you want to compare content that is required by 8th graders in 1912 with something relevant, then you should compare it with, say, what the common core standards requires in a specific subject. But if you did that, your post might actually have relevant content, rather than be a blatant attempt to grab a headline.

  • dennisbeck

    When you cite content that is required of 8th graders in 1912, it would kind of make sense if you compared it to something relevant – say, the content standards for common core in 2014. You are attempting to compare apples and oranges.

  • Jonathon Richter

    This is absolutely ridiculous. AERA’s program is FULL of solid research grounded in respectable methods that addresses substantive issues – including the issues that you describe and many more. How can you possibly attempt to pick up such scantily clad “journalism” as Max Eden has done and pass it off without doing any fact checking? This is really shameful. You’re just getting people all fired up about a few silly sounding research presentations and hoping no one digs into the subject you’re reporting on. Gross.