The nice folks in the Mondoville College library acquired a copy of Robert Weissberg’s book, which I’ve lusted after for a while. Because I’ve been wrapping up my summer term, I’m only about 15% into the book, but my initial impression is that it was worth the wait.
Thus far, Weissberg makes several telling points, and he does this with wit and verve. He argues that our habit of talking about “failing schools” indicates a fundamental error. Desks and light fixtures don’t pass or fail achievement tests; students do. But because we are unwilling to admit that some students are either insufficiently motivated or insufficiently bright, we attempt to pin the blame on other factors, ranging from socioeconomic disadvantage to inadequate facilities to poor pedagogy, depending on where the critic sits ideologically.
Doubtless all of these factors pose problems for some students. As Weissberg notes, however, it’s hard to be more disadvantaged than the Vietnamese “boat people” were, yet they and their children have achieved remarkable academic success. In fact, immigrant students from the Far East, the West Indies, and the Subcontinent perform dramatically well, despite having to overcome considerable obstacles.
So what seems to be the problem? It’s early yet, but Weissberg points to radical egalitarianism, which manifests as our old acquaintance, educational romanticism. But despite those egalitarians, we’re once again reminded that in real life, not everyone can achieve at a high level. In a future progress report, we’ll look at the fictions the educational establishment deploys when the truth is too uncomfortable to admit.