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Real Education: Four Simple Truths for…

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 |
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 |
Charles Murray, social scientist extraordinaire, describes the problems with America’s educational system using four easy points:

1. Ability varies

2. Half of 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

Murray argues that these problems stem from our hopelessly romantic ideals involving education. I argue that many of the problems in the country today stem from our romantic ideals and our lack of substance to back them up anymore, but that’s a blog for another day. Many of the programs in the U.S. school systems are products of educational romanticism. The most obvious is No Child Left Behind, which sets dates for 100% of all children in schools to pass a standardized test. Most teachers will tell you that the only way that will ever happen is if they only grade whether the children can write their names on the answer sheet- not absolutely correct mind you, but close enough that they know the child was trying to write his or her name. And even then they would have to give the ones who forgot to write it a second chance.

Murray’s first premise is that ability varies. Not all kids are academically bright. Some just aren’t bright at all. Everyone realizes that not every child is athletically or musically gifted and no one has a problem with that. We don’t say we can turn every child into an athlete or a concert pianist. The same principle applies to mathematical and linguistic ability. The U.S. educational system ignores this and says that we can raise every child’s mathematical and linguistic ability to a set standard. All kids can do it. Well, all kids have a ingrained linguistic and mathematical ability, and once they hit that wall, that’s it. We just don’t want to admit that not all of our children have great academic ability.

Murray talks about the Coleman Report that began in the 1960s to study the discrepancies and inequality in segregated schools and how it affected student achievement. Congress was so certain the results would show a correlation between crappy schools and student achievement that they began Title I programs and threw money at the problem before the report was complete. When the results came back, it showed that the schools and teachers had almost no affect on student achievement. It didn’t matter if the school was run down and had mediocre teachers or had all the best resources and the best teachers. Student achievement was relatively the same. What mattered was what kind family background the kids had. Now a really good teacher will make a difference in a individual student’s educational experience, but looking at the numbers as a whole, schools have little affect on achievement.

This leads to half the kids being below average. It seems like common sense, but educational romantics will refuse to accept it. I worked for a principal who refused to have a basic English class in the curriculum because “None of our students are below average.” So, students who could not do the work in a grade-level English class were forced to stay in the class. They felt hopeless, misbehaved, failed, etc. Not everyone has the same mathematical and linguistic ability. Not everyone is an athlete or musician. Accept it.

Not everybody use to go to college. Now employers use it as a basic aptitude test. Do you have a college degree? I don’t care what it’s in, just as long as you have one. It proves you were able to pool enough resources to pay for it and you managed to put forth enough effort to get the piece of paper. Murray argues that since at least two-thirds of the population are not academically gifted and are going to join the work force at positions that require on the job training rather than a formal liberal arts education, only the top 10% of students should go to college. Now I have issues with this one because I think as a representative democracy people need to get a liberal arts education to be intelligent enough to make good decisions, etc. I am a romantic in that I think people should value education for education’s sake rather than as a means to some other end (a job). But I’m one of those people who needed a liberal arts education. I like learning difficult things, abstract things. I like reading. If you don’t like those things, then you shouldn’t go to college according to Murray. This sounds elitist, but he argues that the problem with everyone going is that only about 10% of the population really get anything out of it. Sure, more than 10% can flounder through a BA as they drink like a fish, screw everything that moves, and get a piece of paper, but how much do they really learn? Then they get a job where they never use anything they took in college and forget it all anyway.

And we segue into the last point, how we educate the gifted is important to the country because it is the academically gifted that go on to be doctors, corporate leaders, lawmakers, scientists, etc. If we do not teach these people the basics of the liberal arts education of old- what is a good life, what is happiness, how to be humble, how to make decisions involving the welfare of others, how to effectively communicate- they enter positions of power lacking ethics, critical thinking skills, introspection, etc. When we force these students to sit in classes bored out of their minds because the teacher is trying to raise the academic ability of the other students who are below average, we miss giving them the opportunity to find how far their own ability goes and even how to fail and be humble. Some of these kids leave high school thinking they can do no wrong simply because they were smarter than the majority of their peers. I’ve seen it happen.

Murray finishes the book by giving recommendations for how we can fix some of these problems, but I’m afraid the system is so ingrained that it will take a disaster to change. Otherwise, the educational system is like a biological organism. When something foreign comes into it, it makes it assimilate or it destroys it. But looking at the economy, the disaster needed to change the system may be on the way. ( )
3 vote wilsonknut | Apr 14, 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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:03 -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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