Friday, November 23, 2007

Book Review: Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or Add by Charles J. Sykes

Homeschoolers Beat The Blob!
(Book Review)

Many of us as homeschoolers, may at one time or another, wonder if we've made the right decision to keep our children out of the confines of the public school. Many of us may wonder if our children will miss opportunities or experiences they might no otherwise have, were it not for the government funded curriculum and programs. If you are having these same doubts, here is a book that is sure to comfort you in your decision to keep your child from the horrendous goings-on in the public schools. The book is Dumbing Down Our Kids: Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves But Can't Read, Write, Or Add by Charles J. Sykes.

Sykes lets us know, in no uncertain terms, that public schools, with their faddish Outcome Based Education (OBE) programs, are not exactly what he would call an education. (There are several other very good books on the market that explain OBE and its effects but none are as detailed as Dumbing Down Our Kids.)

Right Away Sykes says: "America's schools are in deep trouble, not because they lack men and women who care about children, but because they are dominated by an ideology that does not care much about learning. " He goes on to say: "When I first began writing about education in the mid-1980's, I focused on the problems of higher education, in part because I came from an academic family (my father was a professor), and in part because the crisis of the American university--its flight from teaching, the collapse of academic integrity, the rise of political correctness--carried a special urgency."

That sense of urgency is now being felt by parents of elementary and high school students. They are witnessing first hand the effects of outcome based education on their children who are graduating from schools and programs with a new-found sense of self-esteem but can't read, write or do simple calculations. (A trip to just about any checkout counter will verify these young adults lack basic academic skills.)

Sykes throws many facts and figures at us, such as surveys and test results, but his mini-chapters, titled: Scenes from the Front, put a human face on the difficulties many parents have experienced with school administrators and failed educational theories and experiments.

At the end of chapter five, under the title The Mission Statement, Sykes compares a mission statement from 1885 for eighth graders at Jersey City High School to one in 1994 for a small Midwestern district. On the test given to the Jersey City students for enrollment they were asked to: "I. Define Algebra, an algebraic expression, a polynomial. Make a literal trinomial. II. Write a homogeneous quadrinomial of the third degree...III. Find the sum and difference of 3x-4y + 7cd-4xy + 16, and 10ay-3x-8xy + 7cd-13..." and so on.

The Midwestern school district gave 'statements of belief' that included: "We believe everyone has individual needs; responsibility for education belongs to everybody; trust, care and respect are needed for social harmony; everyone has intrinsic worth; change is inevitable; joy and humor enhances the journey of life..." Where are the academics? When do these highly paid 'professionals' get around to teaching our children reading, writing and arithmetic? The answer is, according to Sykes and many others, they don't!

Sykes also tells us that: "Educationists like to point to high graduation rates as as sign of success, when they often mean that the standards have been lowered to the point where no one could possibly fail to meet them. Dropout rates also can be lowered by making school even less demanding than leisure time."

Are our homeschooled children missing anything by not attending public schools? Yes, they're missing affective teaching. They're missing the lowering of academic standards to the point of being illiterate.

Still having doubts about keeping your children out of public school? In chapter thirteen Sykes brings to the surface the sensitive and scary subject of school children being encouraged to tell all on their parents and families in the name of "protective behaviors" curricula, "drug awareness" and "abuse awareness" programs. Our public schools are using group therapy and encounter group techniques. These programs are being implemented by untrained, unskilled teachers who may actually be causing psychological harm to very young children.

Sykes is very thorough in covering all sorts of territory in his book. He delves into learning disabilities, outcome based education, learning styles, the history of education, the reality of educational reform, and where all of this is headed if something isn't done soon to change this out-of-control "blob".

This reviewer very much enjoyed Sykes' sense of humor as he injects little quips about the bloated bureaucracy known as American public schools. As a parent, I found some of his information down right scary but Dumbing Down Our Kids isn't bleak. It's full of ammunition for the soul and for the tug-of-war going on for our childrens' futures. It has steadfastly increased my belief that our public schools are not fit for any man, woman, or child.

Dumbing Down Our Kids was first brought to my attention by the organization Vermont People For Integrity in Education (VT P.I.E.); a group of parents, educators, taxpayers and concerned individuals dedicated to restoring academic integrity to our failing public schools. Dumbing Down Our Kids is a battle cry for VT P.I.E.. They are trying to restore rigorous academic programs in our schools. Programs that have been replaced with touchy-feely 'my self-esteem may be intact but I'm as dumb as a stump' affective education.

This book may actually shock some readers but it will most certainly get their attention. I consider Dumbing Down Our Kids to be one of the top books on the subject of outcome based education and educational reform.

Dumbing Down Our Kids ISBN 0-312-13474-6

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