Post just conducted a public opinion poll to find out what are the top
"worries" of Americans. The results are informative and useful to
policymakers, officeholders, candidates, and the media.
are also surprising when we realize that most public opinion polls are
very skewed by media coverage. For example, Bill Clinton and Bob Dole
each got a bounce from the favorable news coverage they received at
their own party's national convention.
Topping the list of worries in
the Washington Post survey, identified by a whopping 62 percent of
respondents, was this: "The American educational system will get
worse instead of better." Although this worry outranked crime, drugs,
taxes, health care and welfare, it is seldom if ever addressed by our
national political leadership or media elite.
Ask yourself how many
times you have ever seen this subject featured on the nightly
television news programs of the NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN, or PBS. Many
subjects on which television news programs lavish most of their high-
priced minutes, such as Saddam Hussein's latest outrage, didn't even
rate a mention in the survey as a worry.
The American people
recognize what the federal government, the education establishment and
the media have failed to notice: that public schools are a disaster
area and that so-called "reforms" and the influx of more and more
taxpayers' money aren't doing any good. If the pollsters would
question people further, here are some of the specifics they would find
that Americans are worried about.
Violent crime against students and
teachers inside the public schools has caused an unprecedented level of
fear and intimidation. A U.S.A. Today survey found that 43 percent of
public school students avoid the school restrooms because of
School administrators are afraid to take any disciplinary
action against criminal or gun-toting students. Governor George Allen
of Virginia reported that the U.S. Department of Education threatened
to withhold $50 million in special ed funds if Virginia continues to
discipline criminal students.
The chief reasons why the educational
system is so inferior and is getting worse is the refusal to teach
basic skills and knowledge in the elementary grades and the dumbing
down of the textbooks and courses of study by about three years below
what it was a generation ago.
The goal of the schools now is to
inculcate self-esteem in schoolchildren instead of to give them the
skills necessary for individual achievement. The schools have been
pumping up kids with inflated notions of their self-worth and
importance, eliminating the discipline of competition, insulating them
from failure, and shielding them from the knowledge that poor
performance can be remedied by hard work and perseverance.
schools have reduced the time spent on academic subjects to about one-
fourth of the school day. The majority of the day is spent on
psychological courses, counseling, social services, and other non-
Even worse, these non-academic courses use a
methodology that used to be called values clarification and is now
known by its generic name of non-directive. That means that
schoolchildren are presented with dilemmas, situations, and various
problems of modern living, but given no direction as to the correct or
Schools have abandoned their responsibility to
correct students' mistakes, all the way from encouraging "inventive
spelling" in the elementary grades to "make your own choices about
sex and drugs" in high school. A call to respect "family values" is
meaningless to a generation that has been systematically taught that
everyone can choose his own values, and that one person's values are as
good as the next person's.
While the American people have accurately
identified the problem that public schools aren't doing their job and
are getting worse, they haven't figured out whom to blame. It's a
fraud when presidential or congressional candidates promise to remedy
the problem, because education is a state and local (not a federal)
problem and only six percent of public school funding comes from the
The only action that federal officeholders should
take is to stop imposing national mandates that override local
authorities and parents' rights. Yet, most proposed and pending
congressional legislation is still moving toward more federal, rather
than local, control.
President Clinton's offer to spend $2.75 billion
to send volunteers into the schools to teach illiterate third graders
how to read is a four-dimensional sham. Teaching kids to read is not a
federal responsibility, the teachers union won't allow volunteers into
the classroom, the children ought to be taught how to read in the first
(not third) grade, and the schools are still refusing to use the only
proven method of producing good readers: intensive, systematic
The Washington Post survey is an important contribution to
public discussion and policy development. It should be used by
politicians and the media to address the American people's number-one