Review of Real Education (Charles Murray)

Charles Murray – Real Education free, ebook, download, pdf


Its a short, accessible (for non-experts), clearly written book about some of the things that is wrong with modern education, with a focus on the US system. Some of the things surely apply to other countries as well. For that reason the book is worth exploring for people interested in the issue.


Some quotes:


In short, just about every reader understands from personal and

vicarious life experiences what below average means for bodily-

kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, and intrapersonal ability, and for

the aspects of spatial ability associated with hand-eye coordination

and visual apprehension. You may think you also know what below

average means for linguistic ability, logical-mathematical ability, and

spatial abilities associated with mental visualization because you

know you are better at some of these intellectual tasks than at others.

But here you are probably mistaken. It is safe to say that a majority of

readers have little experience with what it means to be below average

in any of the components of academic ability.


The first basis for this statement is that I know you have

reached the second chapter of a nonfiction book on a public policy

issue, which means you are probably well above average in

academic ability—not because getting to the second chapter of this

book requires that you be especially bright, but because people with

below-average academic ability hardly ever choose to read books

like this.




Therefore the first task is to understand what below average

means when it comes to academic ability. The best way is to show the

kinds of test questions that people with below-average academic

ability have trouble answering. I take them from items that have been

used on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP,

pronounced “nape”), the program used by the federal Department of

Education since 1971 to track student accomplishment. It is adminis­

tered periodically to nationally representative samples of students in

the fourth, eighth, and twelfth grades. It is a test designed to test

what has been learned, not academic ability, and is regarded as the

gold standard for measuring academic achievement at the elemen­

tary and secondary levels. The examples I will use are from the test

for eighth-graders. I begin with a simple mathematics problem:


Example 1. There were 90 employees in a company last year. This

year the number o f employees increased by 10 percent. How many

employees are in the company this year?

(A) 9 (B) 81 (C) 91 (D) 99 (E) 100


By eighth grade, it would seem that almost everyone should

be able to handle a question like this. Children are taught to divide

and to calculate percentages in elementary school. Dividing by ten is

the easiest form of division. Dividing a whole number by ten is easier

yet. Adding a one-digit number (9) to a two-digit number (90) is



It is a problem based on a simple mathematical concept, using

simple arithmetic, requiring a simple logical interpolation to get the

right answer. It is an excellent example for starting to think about

what below average means in mathematics—because 62 percent of

eighth-graders got this item wrong. It does not represent an item that

below-average students could not do, but one that many above-average

students could not do. Actually, more than 62 percent did not know

the answer, because some of them got the right answer by guessing.

To estimate the total percentage of students who did not know the

right answer on a question with x alternatives, multiply the total

percentage of students who chose one of the wrong alternatives

by x / ( x— 1). There are more sophisticated ways, but this one is

close enough for our purposes. In this case, the estimated proportion

of students who did not know the right answer is (.62 X 5/4), or

77.5 percent.




Example 2. Amanda wants to paint each face o f a cube a different

color. How many colors will she need?

(A) Three (B) Four (C) Six (D) Eight

Twenty percent of eighth-graders did not choose C. Approximately

27 percent did not know the right answer.





Example 3. How many o f the angles in this triangle are smaller

than a right angle?

[showing a triangle]

(A) None (B) One (C) Two (D) Three

Thirty-one percent of eighth-graders did not choose C. Approxi­

mately 41 percent did not know the right answer.




and so on with a few more examples.



The Coleman Report documenting how little difference the quality of

the school makes, the negative evaluations of Title I, the sparse results

of NCLB—there are many reasons to accept the reality of limits. To

continue to assert that major improvements are possible in the aca­

demic test performance of the lower half of the distribution through

reform of the public schools is more than a triumph of hope over expe­

rience. It ignores experience altogether. It is educational romanticism.



Often, the rewards will come after college. A person who has dis­

covered that he enjoys the challenge of difficult books is a person

who, years later, is open to picking up a biography of George Mar­

shall at the bookstore and becoming a World War II expert, or a

person who decides to give War and Peace a try and ends up reading

the whole Tolstoy corpus. As evidence that this happens, I appeal to

readers: How many of the avocations that have absorbed you as an

adult, and in which you have become quite knowledgeable, have any­

thing to do with the content of a course you took in college?


well, never, but im a special case.




Leave a Reply