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Walter Williams
Walter E. Williams
10 Feb 2016
Sloppy Language and Thinking

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Isn't It Strange?

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Education Insanity

Some credit Albert Einstein, others credit Benjamin Franklin, with the observation that "the definition of … Read More.

Educational Rot


American education is in a sorry state of affairs, and there's enough blame for all participants to have their fair share. They include students who are hostile and alien to the education process, uninterested parents, teachers and administrators who either are incompetent or have been beaten down by the system, and politicians who've become handmaidens for teachers unions. There's another education issue that's neither flattering nor comfortable to confront and talk about. That's the low academic preparation of many teachers. That's an issue that must be confronted and dealt with if we're to improve the quality of education. Let's look at it.

Schools of education, whether graduate or undergraduate, tend to represent the academic slums of most college campuses. They tend to be home to students who have the lowest academic achievement test scores when they enter college, such as SAT scores. They have the lowest scores when they graduate and choose to take postgraduate admissions tests — such as the GRE, the MCAT and the LSAT.

The California Basic Educational Skills Test, or CBEST, is mandatory for teacher certification in California. It's a joke. Here's a multiple-choice question on its practice math test: "Rob uses 1 box of cat food every 5 days to feed his cats. Approximately how many boxes of cat food does he use per month? A. 2 boxes, B. 4 boxes, C. 5 boxes, D. 6 boxes, E. 7 boxes." Here's another: "Which of the following is the most appropriate unit for expressing the weight of a pencil? A. pounds, B. ounces, C. quarts, D. pints, E. tons." I'd venture to predict that the average reader's sixth-grader could answer each question. Here's a question that is a bit more challenging; call your eighth-grader: "Solve for y: y - 2 + 3y = 10, A. 2, B. 3, C. 4, D. 5, E. 6."

Some years ago, the Association of Mexican American Educators, the California Association for Asian-Pacific Bilingual Education and the Oakland Alliance of Black Educators brought suit against the state of California and the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, charging that the CBEST was racially discriminatory.

Plaintiff "evidence" was the fact that the first-time passing rate for whites was 80 percent, about 50 percent for Mexican-Americans, Filipinos and Southeast Asians, and 46 percent for blacks. In 2000, in a stroke of rare common sense, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit found CBEST not to be racial discriminatory.

Poor teacher preparation is not a problem restricted to California. In Massachusetts, only 27 percent of new teachers could pass the math test needed to be certified as a teacher. A 2011 investigation by Atlanta's Channel 2 Action News found that more than 700 Georgia teachers repeatedly failed at least one portion of the certification test they are required to pass before receiving a teaching certificate. Nearly 60 teachers failed the test more than 10 times, and one teacher failed the test 18 times. They also found that there were 297 teachers on the Atlanta school system's payroll even though they had failed the state certification test five times or more.

Textbooks used in schools of education might explain some teacher ineptitude. A passage in Marilyn Burns' text "About Teaching Mathematics" reads, "There is no place for requiring students to practice tedious calculations that are more efficiently and accurately done by using calculators." "New Designs for Teaching and Learning," by Dennis Adams and Mary Hamm, says, "Content knowledge is not seen to be as important as possessing teaching skills and knowledge about the students being taught." Harvey Daniels and Marilyn Bizar's text "Methods that Matter" reads, "Students can no longer be viewed as cognitive living rooms into which the furniture of knowledge is moved in and arranged by teachers, and teachers cannot invariably act as subject-matter experts." The authors explain, "The main use of standardized tests in America is to justify the distribution of certain goodies to certain people."

With but a few exceptions, schools of education represent the academic slums of most any college. American education could benefit from slum removal, eliminating schools of education.

Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University. To find out more about Walter E. Williams and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at



14 Comments | Post Comment
I'm guessing most people who have the ability to complete a higher demand degree probably do so. Having an easy college degree program that leads to a job where you have summers off is obviously going to attract many medicore people but there are some out there that do it for the love of kids. Williams is right here for sure.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Chris McCoy
Mon Mar 11, 2013 9:20 AM
The reverse is also true -- teacher's unions, education professionals and politicians have made it incredibly difficult for people with degrees other than education to become teachers. My degree is in journalism, but 10 years ago, I began teaching English in private schools. After climbing to the top of my profession, I have moved to public school. Despite excellent performance reviews, in order to get my state certificate, I will have to spend several thousand dollars on useless education courses. I believe great teachers are born, not made, and education schools don't birth or make them.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Leisha
Mon Mar 11, 2013 10:58 AM
Re: Chris McCoy;... If Mr. Williams was ever right it is in the same sense that stopped clock is correct twice a day... Since he is a clock that is spinning backwards the chances of him being actually correct at any time are only better than never....
When people with highschool educations cannot find work it is proof that work toward an education is wasted effort, and when the same is true of college educated people, that is all the more reason to believe the effort fruitless...Some one should explain the basics of economy to these people, simple elements like supply and demand that if left free on the labor market will lower wages to the point of starvation, or if wages are supported legally, then more work will be done with less people until they break, and more will be trotted in to do the jobs they walk from...The ability of a free market to destroy itself with gluts alternatively with high profits should be well known by now, and with every turn of that screw, wealth becomes more concentrated among the wealthy as poverty becomes more rigorous for the poor...But they do not teach economics except in the most practical form of home economics, or the fantasy form of economic principals...
Dealing with hypotheticals is not education... As a practical matter no one will ever have any more than they will need to survive... We do not save in this country because that would require excess, and that is impossible when necessity sets wages, so instead we have the negative saving of credit...The most terrible thing taught in this land and the most usless is a subject called civics, but in reality, political economics...Politics is taught in a general way, and so is economics; but they are taught together so that the two are linked in every mind...Freedom becomes free enterprise, and free enterprise is the reason for civil liberty...It is all so theoretical: This is the way it is supposed to work; but all people have to do is lift their heads from their despair to realize it does not work, and learning the mechanics of an engine that will never work, and never did work as intended is the largest possible waste of life...
People learn history and it is lies... How would you like be black and have your experience of the past, the story of your people's contribution or their struggle for equality relegated to a few paragraphs in a four hundred page volume... American history is white history...And then concerned black people have to work overtime to teach their children that they truly have a culture, even if it is an amalgam...I heard of a recent survey of educators serving the black community, and they did not think they were doing well enough, and they were joined by parent who did not believe the schools were doing enough...It is because they see education as the only path to a better life...I had to home school one of my children, and that involved paying for help when needed... For the other child, very bright, I was in no position to help her, and thank God she needed little...
Since I went to school, math and science have progressed beyond me, and English and History have lagged...I understand the push of people into the technologically demanding jobs of the future, but what of those children who have no resources, and what if they do not understand the common language, and what if they do not even grasp enough of their own history and history in general to see the extent to which they are being abused...
Ignorance is as much the aim of eduction as education is... If you could reveal the extent to which people suffer injustice and the extent to which unfair demands are made of them they would resist...Instead the attitude is advanced that what you don't know won't hurt you though the evidence is all on the other side...No knowledge of injury does not mean no injury... If you are gone for two weeks and are ripped off 15 minutes after you leave home, were you not ripped off for not knowing it???...
The greatest share of education is devoted to telling people the power is in their hands, and that if they fail it is their fault... The rich want us to feel that way... Failure is built into the system, and much of education is premised on the ability of people to fail with good graces, with civility, and all the while stuggling in futility for justice and rights...The teachers can only teach what they know, and only in some instances do they know more than myself...All the rest they teach, they teach wrongly or not at all...
Back when I was in highschool, I read a lot about socialism, and was revolutionary, and even then more self educated than educated...Back then they had us read the Communist Manifesto which is the most inflamitory and ultimately destructive anti socialist literature possible, but it was read for that very reason, to scare the hell out of people...My school went so far with school board action as to forbid any further illumination of practical socialist/materialist economics which is the true strength and contribution of Marx...They wanted people to have some idea of marxism in order to not waste their time in throwing dirt on it, but in general wanted people almost entirely ignorant... Well they got em, and almost to a man, the businessmen who sat on that school board were run out of business by wall mart, though by then it was their children who had to join the working class ignorant and without perspective...
Das capital is not just a book of economics, but of history, and sociology, even anthropology; with the addition of being a good history of economics to that date...It is a book, and not a molatov cocktail... But you would have sworn those ignorant bastards on the board were so many devils handling the Book of Kells... It could not have hurt them more if it was lightning in a bare hand; but ignorance hurt them worse because it all but destroyed them...And that is how they wanted us: to know enough to be useful, and to know too little to defend ourselves, or think rationally about the subject; to have heads full of nonsense and rubbish interspread with some unrelaiable facts and conjectures.. What a waste of time...
Comment: #3
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:51 AM
Re: Leisha... I certainly agree with you; but there are many good teachers I have crossed paths with who were really starved of proper resources, and forced to teach for the test... Teachers are not criminals... Not one of them liked to have a union, and all were hooked enough on the philosophy of the individual to hate being pegged one way or the others... As everywhere, to maintain some standards and working conditions they had to have unions, and as in all professions, only the most jaded and useless people did not give more than their pay required...
I was a lost cookie... It was those people more even than my own parents who gave me a sense of my ability that has never exactly filled out my potential... Even with extremes of strengths and weaknesses I had a near genius IQ... Can you imagine a doing Ironwork with a genius IQ??? The funny thing is that I was not alone, and met many intelligent people in the trades, and what is more, learned the entire time I was with it, never gave up buying or reading books...
It is the most terrible misunderstanding of the purpose of education to direct it toward income... Anyone can make an income... People come to America with no education and manage to support themselves because they have what they need in ambition...The purpose of education is understanding because without understanding no one has any perspective on their being, and they can only see what they are by what they do like a cog seeing itself as a cog, and others as cogs, and all in a great whirelygig of cogs... Education is the most essential quality to happiness even when that gives also the ability to self support...Any one with a reliable theory of forms, which is the most elemental part of philosophy ought to be able to master any subject, but it is never taught in highschool... Why not teach people first how to learn anything before trying to teach them everything...
Comment: #4
Posted by: James A, Sweeney
Mon Mar 11, 2013 12:10 PM
These columns of Mr. Williams stay posted till they almost rot. Since mostly no one but the commenter that calls himself Sweeney comments on them, I'm not sure if the people in charge of this blog are mad about Walter Williams or Sweeney. I, personally, lean toward it being Sweeney's comments that regurgitate dislike of Mr. Williams morals, capitalists in general, the character and morals of all capitalists, the south and southerners, Christians and churches, the rich, corporations and conservatives in the collective.
Comment: #5
Posted by: P. Long
Wed Mar 13, 2013 8:53 AM
A good reason for this is the incestuous relationship between administrators (who run the schools) and educationists. Administrators get their administrative degrees through the Education departments--so they're beholden (if not enamored) of Education (and you may wish to look at the GRE scores of Administration graduates).

Administrators control hiring and firing, not faculty, so they're inclined to hire even completely incompetent Educationists over teachers that know the subject matter.

It's totally nuts. At my own college, we're now hiring "Math Education" graduate degree holders to teach our college mathematics courses. You don't have to take any mathematics to get a math education don't even need a mathematics undergraduate degree to get into a Math Education program. This means that we now have "mathematics professors" that can't even teach first year college courses like calculus, and are rather dubious when it comes to teaching any other math courses since they haven't had a math course since high school, some 6 years earlier.

Admin doesn't care. A few years back we had an Educationist teach Calculus I...he managed to go the whole semester without even introducing the concept of derivative (he just barely made it to limits). Was he fired? Heck no. Admin praised him for having high retention (code for "high passing rate"), and gave him "independent study" courses so he would at least be technically qualified to teach the material. In addition, the faculty who had to teach that guy's students in Calculus II was told to just pass them all and not even try to have a course.

Comment: #6
Posted by: Doom
Wed Mar 13, 2013 9:18 AM
Re: Leisha You are absolutely right. I first graduated with a bachelor degree in business administration. After taking additional graduate courses at U of PA, I was able to get a lifetime teaching certificate in Delaware for grades 9-12. Later I moved to Georgia secured a business education teaching position in a top-flight college prep school which gave me a year to get certified and an additional year to get a Masters. GA would not accept my DL certification and Georgia State would not accept my U of Pa credits. So, I started over on my masters at Georgia State, but I could not get certified. Three times I send in my application and college transcripts, the GA teacher certification office sent them back demanding that I include the transcript from the college where I received my education degree, no matter that I had explained in my application that I did not have a degree in education, but I had 8 years teaching experience in public school. Finally I got my major professor involved and she went around the gatekeepers and got someone higher up to review my credentials. Not to be embarrassed, they said I had to have an additional 15 hours of "special ed" courses. So I did and eventually got my certification. The prep school where I taught preferred foreign language teachers who were "native speakers," and math teachers with a degree in math (not math education), so they stopped requiring their teachers be certified. I went on to get a MBE, a MBA, and a Masters in Psychology. I am now happily retired.
Comment: #7
Posted by: Bettio
Wed Mar 13, 2013 11:32 AM
Yes, most of us read between Professor Williams' lines and understand the distinction between college "graduated" vs "educated," or perhaps between being educated and "trained."And I'm sure we do not indict all college students, universities or teachers for poor performance or lack of motivation and professionalism--for we know there are many who give their heart and soul to their students and the love of learning.

The grave problem is in the impoverished areas, and with the so-called teachers who are slipping through and not properly serving our children to learn and love learning in these areas. As a result our children are not taking educational journeys and thus are not taught how to "see" (understand) people, places and things outside of their world. Their "education" is not civilizing, taming or domesticating their soul's raw passions--forming or informing them as both art and science. Education not only makes us "smart," it can also make us good. Like Michelangelo
once said, "It was my job to see the angel in the marble, and first use chisel and then sandpaper until I set it free."

The solution is not just in the exit testing, rather in the entrance interviews. To get into a school of education a
candidate must be interviewed as rigorously as a prospective student is to enter medical school. And the didactic curricula must be rigorous as well, to include a clinical or classroom portion. To hell with all these outsider know-it-alls and government interventionists who think they know best: They don't!
Comment: #8
Posted by: Rick Martinez
Wed Mar 13, 2013 12:09 PM
great article on education system ignorant. made me want to share my college experience with you. i graduated 40 years ago with a mech eng degree from a respected university. Part of the corriculum required that we take some libreral arts courses. most of us carrying 15-20credits/semester signed up for education classes. we only had to attend 1 or 2 classes a month, take the midterm and final- easily pull a hook or even a B if we went to a few more classes. Probably hasnt changed much. Hope my daughter in law doesnt see this.
Comment: #9
Posted by: Joe Meuse
Wed Mar 13, 2013 5:39 PM
Re: Joe Meuse
Lucky you. You didn't have to learn grammar, syntax, punctuation, or spelling, but I'm sure that your daughter-in-law wouldn't notice.
Comment: #10
Posted by: Derel Schrock
Thu Mar 14, 2013 5:00 PM
Re: Joe Meuse

Mr. Meuse, your "education" courses never should have been allowed to count as liberal arts courses. Part of the reason for this is obvious from your own inability to write with any meaningful grammatical correctness. Sadly, this supports Dr. Williams' point that colleges of education are, and have been, at least since the education purges of the McCarthy era, a vast wasteland, and the laughing stock and great embarrassment of all SERIOUS, COMPETENT faculty at universities throughout the nation.
Comment: #11
Posted by: Samuel Freeman
Sat Mar 16, 2013 10:07 AM
Re: Chris McCoy
Most teachers are life long learner s.They spend the summer taking courses ,exploring places that will enrich students learning experiences or perfecting their teaching skills. A teachers summer is a time to update for the coming year. Teachers need time to refresh too.Spending the school year with kids is challenging and tiring. The professional teacher must continually access and fine tune teaching to each of the students.Thus teaching is more than what you think. Teachers must be dedicated professionals who work to adjust learning to the needs of all learner,s.Testing is one standard of evaluation.Learning comes in many ways
I am not aTeacher but am thankful to wonderful teachers who instilled a love of learning and fostered my life long learning skills.I have been able to contribute in the Medical field because I had great and motivating teachers who were professionals . They fine tuned learning and were mentor s to the adult world.My teachers were not part-timers . I think most teachers are dedicated hard working low pay professional who go above and beyond to support and foster learning and growth.There are a few bad Apples but only few. Unfortunately because you go to school you are not a judge of how people learn best.Learning assessment is a skill just like Economic assessment.All areas need full timers with skill and dedication.Do not knock teachers until you have walked in their shoes.How many of our leaders have a parent who was aTeacher.
Yes we need qualified ,live long learner s as teacher.They need to be experts in teaching speciality area but must be Professional teachers to. They must love kids too.
Teachers are trashed so much. A lot of the true professionals get burned out and take their skills to another field. Sad but true we lose some of the best due to frustration with the system or burnout from fighting to improve the system.We need to look at education and then develop a vison and plan based on data. Let the rising young educated educators lead the change.We must Remember that teachers and students are human and grow in different ways at different stages of their live.Some students like Dr Williams need to have various life experience before the are ready to plant in education and bloom. I am sure Dr Williams is a good economist but that does not make him a expert on early , middle or high school education. I accept him as an expert in Ecomomics but leave education to educators.
We have good educators with up to date modern skill sets ready to lead. Do not throw the education system out .Work to improve the system .We need to put as much into Education and our future students as we did into getting a Man on the Moon.The Man on the Moon project was beneficial in many ares and an Education Project would be to.
Comment: #12
Posted by: Barbara d
Sat Mar 16, 2013 10:39 AM
It is good that we hear from Barbara, who offers us a passionate perspective on behalf of teachers who would greatly benefit from some kind of regular in-house "staff fulfillment" program, and--because Barbara comes from the medical world--could lend education some important pointers on how healthcare finally focused on staff fulfillment to "cure" the ills of professional performance leading to the "end" of patient errors, increasing patient satisfaction, and enriching and enhancing staff happiness.

Barbara is right! We do trash our teachers. Instead of asking our teachers how they are or how they feel, we ask them, "Why aren't you doing more?" Professional athletes get pre-and post care. Business executives and managers have their work-out suites. Doctors have their "wellness" clinics. Heck, even our copier machines get regular maintenance and “care.”

Yet, our teachers touch our future. They teach our children who may ultimately become scientists, doctors, military mechanics, persons in the trades...upstanding citizens...perhaps even our next president.

Our teachers need our help. Not more professional development courses on how to teach. Not more on how to be better teachers. Rather "personal fulfillment." In- service WELLNESS efforts that simple ask, “How are YOU?” “How are YOU feeling?” “Is there any way I can assist you personally or professionally?”

Our focus on their "personal" fulfillment is sure to lead to maximized "professional" outcomes in our students' educational performance. Can't WE see that?
Comment: #13
Posted by: Rick Martinez
Sun Mar 17, 2013 1:01 PM
Re: Rick Martinez

It isn't about the teachers; it's about the children. Any teacher who needs the babysitting you suggest should find work in a factory where they can destroy only material goods and not children's minds.
Comment: #14
Posted by: cathy jones
Sun Mar 17, 2013 1:49 PM
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