Monday, July 26, 2004

Real Reform

Joanne Jacobs at Joanne specializes in education news. Her site has this intriguing report on the relationship between immigrants and their academic performance. An excerpt:

According to the National Foundation for American Policy, which backs employment-related visas, 60 percent of the finalists of the Intel Science Talent Search, 65 percent of the U.S. Math Olympiad's top scorers and 46 percent of U.S. Physics Team members are the children of immigrants. "Seven of the top 10 award winners at the 2004 Intel Science Talent Search were immigrants or their children. In 2003, three of the top four awardees were foreign-born."

It often astonishes educators that children who have to overcome serious linguistic and other cultural hurdles to learn frequently outperform those who face no such impediments. It is also worth pointing out that these children often succeed in the same schools that are said to be failing so many children of our native-born population.

One would think that ascertaining the reasons for this would be a top priority in the Department of Education since it would be crucial to improving education in this country. I suspect, however, that it's not a priority for a simple reason.

Children of immigrants don't always do well. Generally, it is the children of Asian and Hindu parents who excel most frequently. And when they do, it is because their families are usually tightly-knit and very religious, they value education, respect, and self-discipline. The parents themselves are often professionally successful, they're oriented toward the future, not the present, and they often have not yet bought into the more dysgenic elements of American culture. These are, of course, the same reasons why children of non-immigrants also do well in school, when they do. Parents, whether immigrants or not, who lack any single one of these qualities may well produce high achieving children, but the more of these qualities they lack the less likely it is that their children will excel in the academic sphere of their schooling.

There's little interest in political circles in stressing this because if it is true, the key to school improvement lies in reversing the deterioration of the family, and this is an area where the only role government is willing to play is negative. For close to two generations government policies have been undermining the bedrock supports of family structure that many immigrants bring to this country. No fault divorce, promiscuous welfare benefits, abortion on demand, increased secularization of the public square, and now gay marriage rights, all have a corrosive effect on the values many immigrants cherish.

Moreover, improving our childrens' educational performance would take a conscious repudiation of the entrenched cultural relativism that many in government embrace. The view that different societies have different ways of doing things and hold different values, but that no one's values are any better or more corect than anyone else's is philosophically inane, but is, for all that, still part of the psychological furniture of many public servants today.

Add to the structural exacerbations of government policies a highly seductive pop culture which celebrates sexual infidelity, drugs, rebellion, and other expressions of short-term hedonism, the very opposites of the values which make for academic success, and it is not difficult to understand why the "immigrant effect" wears off after a generation or two.

It's also not difficult to see why government is not interested in focussing on these factors. It's much easier to blame failing schools than to muster the political will, courage, and consensus necessary to do something meaningful to reverse the academic trendlines. So politicians and other bureaucrats content themselves with attacking the symptoms rather than the problem. The decline of American education is a concomitant of the deterioration of faith, family, and pop culture, and there's no inclination in government, particularly not on the political left, to do anything at all about that.