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Real Education: Four Simple Truths for…
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Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools…

by Charles Murray

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My immediate impression of Charles Murray's Real Education is that he's right, but in that blunt way one is by pointing out the elephant in the room. America's educational system is tangled with so much more than the business of learning that Murray's assessment will come across as hostile, and he'll be ignored or ostracized. And this leads to my second impression, which is how much educational romanticism is infused with the American identity. This has been the case for over a hundred years and it might be impossible to change.

As stated in the introduction, this book is about four simple truths of education: (1) Ability varies, (2) Half of the children are below average, (3) Too many are going to college, and (4) America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. It's also implied that these truths are ignored or forgotten. You'll find some condescension in the author’s tone throughout, but nothing to suggest he's intentionally trying to be provocative. Murray is merely calling it like he sees it, and then backing up his claims with evidence.

This is my second Charles Murray book after reading Coming Apart last year. Count me as a new fan. ( )
  Daniel.Estes | Mar 26, 2013 |
I was able to read the book in a day. Not necessarily because "it was that good", I just wanted to finish reading it so I could get on with my life. It is not a book I wanted to hang on to for a long period of time.

Murray's credentials seems to be that he had kids in school at one time, and that he went to Harvard. His main thesis is that only 10% of the most academically gifted should be allowed into college. I'm guessing that he just barely made it at 10% and wants to shut the door behind him. After all, it is the elite 10% (1%?) who run everything anyway so stop pretending that it isn't. And stop wasting everyone's time by trying to force people to be who they are not.

His four simple truths are:
1. Ability varies.
2. Half the children are below average.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.

They are not just simple truths, they are simplistic. It is over-simplistic. The book reads like a very long letter to the editor.

The book is not without its merits. My favorite quote can be found on the last page: "They (children) will have succeeded if they discover something they love doing and learn to do it well." I can't argue with that.
  StephenScience | Feb 19, 2012 |
Real Education starts off solid; Murray points us in the direction of some much-needed realism with regards to the American educational system. We are indeed absolutely wasting our time by expecting that every child has the same innate capacity for academic achievement, or that expecting that every child (or even most children) will benefit from a liberal arts college education.Where the book falls off the rails is in Chapter 4, where Murray expounds on what he believes the gifted should be learning in college. He clearly believes in objective values, and that furthermore a broad liberal arts education can help people become "wise" in coming to grips with questions relating to such values, as they need these in order to make better decisions which will ultimately affect the lives of those around them as members of America's elite. I just can't help but roll my eyes in contempt at anyone who honestly lays claim to there being such a thing as objective values; since there's no basis for a value statement which does not itself include a value statement (the "is-ought problem"), anyone claiming otherwise is peddling bullshit. Furthermore, I would hope that an economic conservative like Murray would trust that the best way to avoid the messy problems of an elite screwing up is to put most decisions in the hands of the most efficient, powerful system we've ever devised: the free market. When people are free to make mutually beneficial arrangements with one another that can succeed or fail on their own merits, much of the angst over an "elite" goes away.Real Education is worth reading if you have an interest in the topic and avoid Chapter 4 (and related parts of Chapter 5); this unfortunately guts much of the book, which really could be condensed down to an essay that hits the salient points without the silly "elite" nonsense. ( )
  tomxtobin | Jan 23, 2011 |
This book is a no-nonsense approach to the nations educational problems. His basic principles are either self-evident or common-sense, when considered thoughtfully. His findings are typically well-backed up by statistics and it is clear that he is thoughtfully considered not only about what education should look like in America, but also what is possible considering the cultural and political realities. I would highly recommend this book to anyone concerned about the nation's educational system, which ought to include any educator, college student, or parent. ( )
  aevaughn | Jun 9, 2010 |
This is not the warm and fuzzy education book; it is, rather, the education book that needs to be written and listened to.

In an age of declining standards in education, and where everyone is put on the same "one size fits all so that no child is left behind" track, Murray tells us something that we once knew but long forgot: different students have different abilities and different proclivities. Some will go to college (and will, therefore, need a foreign language and Algebra II). Others will go to tech schools and community colleges (and we may want to rethink the foreign language and Algebra II).

Murray spends most of his time convincing us of two big things: (a) students abilities and talents are more fixed than fluid (meaning not that they are 100% fixed, but that we should not be suprised to see data showing that student IQ doesn't fluctuate too terribly much). (b) Too many kids are pushed onto the college track when they may do better with tech ed and community college programs.

Sound pessimistic? In a way, I think so too, but I also think that this view is, in other ways, more optimistic than the "one size needs to fit all" approach. Rather than training a student to get in over their head in college (where they may not be ready for such a challenge), why not prepare them to excel at community college or in a tech program? Rather than expecting everyone to get a white collar job, why not accept the fact that many will do better in blue collar jobs.

Yes, such a thing does lead to tracking and all the objections against it (which Murray really doesn't deal with), but it is a very needed point of view in light of NCLB (which, ironically, has left tons of kids behind while pretending it hasn't).

Must read for those interested in the field of education. ( )
1 vote KevinCK | Jul 10, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0307405389, Hardcover)

With four simple truths as his framework, Charles Murray, the bestselling coauthor of The Bell Curve, sweeps away the hypocrisy, wishful thinking, and upside-down priorities that grip America’s educational establishment.

Ability varies. Children differ in their ability to learn academic material. Doing our best for every child requires, above all else, that we embrace that simplest of truths. America’s educational system does its best to ignore it.

Half of the children are below average. Many children cannot learn more than rudimentary reading and math. Real Education reviews what we know about the limits of what schools can do and the results of four decades of policies that require schools to divert huge resources to unattainable goals.

Too many people are going to college. Almost everyone should get training beyond high school, but the number of students who want, need, or can profit from four years of residential education at the college level is a fraction of the number of young people who are struggling to get a degree. We have set up a standard known as the BA, stripped it of its traditional content, and made it an artificial job qualification. Then we stigmatize everyone who doesn’t get one. For most of America’s young people, today’s college system is a punishing anachronism.

America’s future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. An elite already runs the country, whether we like it or not. Since everything we watch, hear, and read is produced by that elite, and since every business and government department is run by that elite, it is time to start thinking about the kind of education needed by the young people who will run the country. The task is not to give them more advanced technical training, but to give them an education that will make them into wiser adults; not to pamper them, but to hold their feet to the fire.

The good news is that change is not only possible but already happening. Real Education describes the technological and economic trends that are creating options for parents who want the right education for their children, teachers who want to be free to teach again, and young people who want to find something they love doing and learn how to do it well. These are the people for whom Real Education was written. It is they, not the politicians or the educational establishment, who will bring American schools back to reality.

Twenty-four years ago, Charles Murray’s Losing Ground changed the way the nation thought about welfare. Real Education is about to do the same thing for America’s schools.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:35:43 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

The controversial author of "The Bell Curve" returns with a groundbreaking manifesto to transform American education. He presents the four simple truths that parents and educators should confront to precipitate change--that ability varies, that half of the children are below average, that too many people are going to college, and that America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted. Real Education describes the technological and economic trends that are creating options for parents who want the right education for their children, teachers who want to be free to teach again, and young people who want to find something they love doing and learn how to do it well.… (more)

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