Are public high schools dumbing down?

February 02, 2015
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By Lea Z. Singh |

A friend recently had a long conversation with a public high school teacher in the Ottawa area, and he was so disturbed by what the teacher had to say that he took the trouble to write out the points of concern.

Here is a rundown of the teacher's observations, as written by my friend:
  • In the ten years he has taught he has noticed a continuous and noticeable decline in student attention spans, especially in the last five years.
  • It is a constant battle to control their use of smartphones in the classroom. 
  • Academic expectations have been dumbed down and grades inflated across the board.
  • He says no one fails and no one really succeeds (bright students become bored and disruptive in classes that they find unchallenging).
  • This dumbing down of standards affects colleges and universities as well.
  • Student use of the internet to cheat or copy is endemic.
  • The easy access to information that the internet provides has destroyed curiosity in many of them.
  • Students are passive learners (waiting for you to tell them what to do and how to do it). This is attributed in part to parents and teachers over-managing their children/student's lives.
  • Students actually feel resentful when the teacher demands their attention in class. He attributes this in part to their fixation on their smartphones.
  • Teachers often try to turn learning into a kind of game, as students are not interested in lectures and will quickly tune out (and try to distract themselves with their smartphones).
  • Students really do feel they deserve a good grade just for showing up.
  • Students have lost all cultural reference to the Bible, such as allusions made in a movie or book to David and Goliath or Noah, for example - these are totally lost on them.
Lots of red flags here, to be sure. Note that these are the observations of one individual teacher, not a statistical survey. This teacher's impressions could be skewed, or may reflect only the particular school in which this teacher is located.

Personally I find these observations fairly convincing. What I find perhaps most disturbing is the widespread loss of the Bible as a cultural reference. I am shocked (am I naive?) that many youth today do not recognize even the most well-known stories in the Bible, like Noah's Ark or David and Goliath. What a strange world is coming into existence, with Christianity so completely absent from the minds of these younger generations.

If religious references have been lost, what about an understanding of world history? I wonder how many public high school students still recognize names like Marx, Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, Mao and so on. How much do they know about the historical tragedies associated with these names? Has "social studies" been usurped by political agendas that fail to deliver a real world history education? It would be a dangerous error to sink into collective amnesia before "lest we forget" has even left the lips of Gulag and concentration camp survivors.

The other thing that comes to mind when I read this teacher's observations is that there must be a widening divide between the public and the private school systems. My impression is that in many private schools, students continue to be motivated to learn, and they are fairly well informed about religion and history. Am I wrong?

Photo: rosipaw via photopin cc

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We provide commentary on the cultural decline of the Western world, from a conservative perspective.