Adult Education Issues

The Wall Street Journal recently published a special section on Education. What inspired me was the opener.

If an educated work force is the nation’s human capital, business is seeing a lot of subprime these days.

FreedomIt’s a snarky little comment, but it hit entirely too close to home. Even if your school’s graduation rate is stable . . . what do the kids know? You may remember my rant a few months back when I had a boyfriend explain to me that the GMAT (standardized test for those seeking an MBA) is unfair and unrealistic because it asked him to calculate the area of a triangle. And he, “Knows triangles.” After all, he “earned” A s in math, including a 98 in Geometry.

How has this happened?

The majority of our teachers are graduating in the bottom quartile of their college classes. Fewer than 31% of 8th-grade math teachers have degrees in mathematics. Less than 7% of 5th-8th grade science teachers have a degree in science.

And folks care more about climate change?


Excuse me?

A poorly educated mass population leads to slavery. If you can’t discern for yourself, you must depend on others to do the discerning for you. You give up your independence, your control and all that is holy because you didn’t bother to learn the basics.

This is a particularly sore point with me. I recently had a student complain that I unfairly singled him out when I suggested he get back to the basics. Never mind that I made the suggestion to the entire class, he took it personally.  Here’s a kid who was flunking class and had not done his homework. It was anyone’s fault but his own . . .

What’s wrong with the basics?

What do we have against doing “basic” work? Is knowing the multiplication tables really that awful? Is proficiency with simple concepts going to dumb us down or build us up?

Look at education systems that encourage the rote drills we have eschewed state-side.


Proponents of our education system will tell you that, “That’s okay, because Americans do better with complex critical thinking.”

Um, no, no we do not.

usstudents4problem solving

The reality check is that American students performed far below other advanced nations on a test of original, creative thinking, and also were well below the international average. The notion that students in some of the highest scoring nations simply regurgitate memorized facts is false.  -Walt Murfin

As though rote drills pushes critical thinking skills out . . . Another myth perpetuated by those who are too interested in creative teaching and not interested in the results of their experiments.

But the problem is even more insidious. Highly educated families have always had more interest and therefore created more access to education opportunities. Guess what, even our top performers are behind. Click on the graph to expand it.


We’re not just kind of behind, we’re under a rock behind. We’re in front of economic powerhouses like Malta, Slovenia and Bulgaria. These are our top students as compared to other top students.

Is there any hope? Of course! Families are voting with their wallets and private education is discovering new ways to deliver education. Adults are getting access to levels of education previously unattainable – Stanford and MIT have both made a series of classes available online for free.

But how many will partake?

The larger issues is not really one of access. At the micro-level, perhaps specifically for low income families, access is indeed a huge impediment, but families can move. We are a mobile society. At the macro-level, we have a problem with interest. What do we celebrate culturally?

We used to celebrate winning.

I’m not into the politics of education. Let’s just get it done.

Is it important to know your multiplication tables 20 years later? Yes.

Is it important to know the Krebs cycle 20 years later? Well, probably not, but wouldn’t it be great if we celebrated those who did?

Citric acid cycle

Thank you to the Kenyon Biology Department and The terror of 9th grade, Gail Liljestrand – who terrorized us into learning things for life.

3 thoughts on “Adult Education Issues”

  1. Hi Kate,

    BA from Smith. *sigh* My late father had PhD in Mathematics from Yale (having transferred over from MIT). I was a (WEIRD!) unusual girl in that on the SATs (undergrad vs. grad) I scored just about evenly Math and Verbal.

    Such an excellent point about actual math proficiency.

    Happy Dating and Relationships,

    April Braswell

Comments are closed.