ABA Journal


Law Students

Is ‘No Child Left Behind’ creating subpar law students?

Mar 14, 2013, 02:53 pm CDT


Don't admit students who shouldn't be there. Problem solved.

By Fred on 2013 03 14, 3:24 pm CDT

Her point is that there are no students who "shouldn't be there," Fred. Soon there would be no law graudates. Don't get too excited though. Even then, you'd probably have trouble finding a job.

By Pushkin on 2013 03 14, 5:17 pm CDT

The idea that "there are no students who shouldn’t be there" is the problem. "there are no students who shouldn’t be there" is valid through High School in that society benefits from having its members posses a minimum level of functional literacy. But it does not benefit from lowering standards for creating doctors, lawyers, scientists, engineers, etc. Given the dismal job prospects of the average recent law grad, if anything the standards need to be raised and a bunch of law school shuttered.

By Tyrone on 2013 03 14, 5:53 pm CDT

Spot on, Tyrone.

By Existential Yam on 2013 03 14, 6:06 pm CDT

@ 3 I disagree with lowering standards just to e.g. make people feel better.

But sometimes standards are artificially high/higher than they need to be, and that's also a problem. Interior designers needing a 4-year degree just to be able to call themselves "interior designers" or practice in the field, for instance. Lawyers (or doctors, or engineers) must be genuinely competent to protect the public, but to require excellence (superhigh grades or LSAT to get into law school, for instance) is anticompetitive and inefficient. Maybe if someone is arguing to limit all college degrees, only so many historians, mathematicians, engineers, etc. I'd think it totalitarian but at least would have some logical consistency vis-a-vis Stalin or Maoist central planning.

There's not a problem with rich people and corporations being unable to afford excellent lawyers, it's with middle class, the poor, and small business being unable to afford competent lawyers, and artificially restricting the number of lawyers doesn't help with that.

By df on 2013 03 14, 6:21 pm CDT

@ Pushkin

I understand her point. She's wrong. There are plenty of students in law school who shouldn't be there. I was a university professor for twenty years before I went to law school so I've seen it from both sides of the podium.

By Fred on 2013 03 14, 7:18 pm CDT

American public schools teach children to be "good workers" Critical thinking is not only not taught, but discouraged. Children in our public school system are taught to what what they are told, and not to think independently. You need to get private schooled, or home schooled children if you want critical thinking skills.

By David on 2013 03 14, 8:08 pm CDT

Oh look another article about a law professor who laments having to interact with the peasantry. Law students' writing seems to have degraded because law school serves no purpose for people looking to practice law in the real world. Why put any effort into listening to the professor when you can learn these appellate decisions in a hornbook? The less you do in class, the better you do on the exam. Anyone foolish enough to interact with their professors rather than enroll in internships during law school runs the risk of being unemployed after graduation.

By Good Luck Grads on 2013 03 14, 8:21 pm CDT

Speaking of subpar critical thinking skills, how did these law professors conclude No Child Left Behind was the root cause of student's poor writing and analytical skills? How can they be sure a collapsing educational system that seems to be putting the fun in dysfunctional isn't more to blame?

By Cheeser on 2013 03 14, 9:17 pm CDT

What difference does the level of writing skills that the students possess make? The students aren't even going to be employed as lawyers upon graduation anyway, so learning how to write well is a waste of time. The students should be concentrating on improving their customer service skills so that they can excell in their future retail careers. Learning such important maxims as 'the customer is always right' and 'service with a smile' will be much better for the students than learning useless legal writing skills that none of them will ever be using.

By What Difference Does It Make? on 2013 03 14, 9:18 pm CDT

They still have to score on the LSAT to get into a law school so don't blame the educational system in this country.

By Tony on 2013 03 15, 3:12 am CDT

I recently represented a second or third year law student for a traffic citation and asked him to write a review. This is what he posted: "Mr. Fienman represented myself for a speeding violation in traffic court. Throughout the representation, I had no issues contacting him about any questions. Additionally, he was very reasonable with the amount he charged myself for legal fees. Most importantly, he was able to get me a deal whereby I would not have any points assessed to my driving record. I could not ask for anything more."

By Fienman on 2013 03 15, 11:03 am CDT

I think more than a few of the comments here reflect the problem Goodwin complains of: lack of an ability to think critically. Even if the job market is tough, there are still students who will find jobs and their writing and analytical skills will be crucial. The story quotes a professor at a highly ranked school who notes the problem as well.

I think the Goodwin's claim about No Child Left Behind may be a bit overblown since public schools have tended to emphasize rote learning and multiple choice exams. I think the decline in reading and students growing up with media laden childhoods is more to blame. At best it can be said that No Child Left Behind has tended to reinforce a trend that was already taking place. What does the future hold? A brilliant film, Idiocracy, comes to mind.

By Puzzled on 2013 03 15, 11:05 am CDT

The problem may be more texting and email than teach to the test. Students simply don't know how to write anymore.

By Richard J. Brickwedde on 2013 03 15, 11:43 am CDT

@ Puzzled

There is no way I can prove it but I suspect that many of the posters you reference are actually the same person using different names. He or she apparently believes that multiple ignorant posts will be more persuasive if they appear to come from several sources.

By Fred on 2013 03 15, 12:27 pm CDT

Let's get real folks. Just because you graduated law school in 1960 doesn't make you any more or less talented than today's kids. Get over yourself.

By Vince on 2013 03 15, 12:37 pm CDT

Critical thinking requires, among other things, the ability to know the difference between, coincidence, correlation, and causation. The premise of this article relies on coincidence without material, empirical evidence of correlation or causal relationship. Indeed an interesting coincidence, but so are video games, texting, smartphones, MTV, and global warming. Other critical thinking concerns might include the problem of anecdotal versus empirical data or failing to define and disclose the limits of the scope of inquiry. Lastly, the art of statistics would be better served if the underlying data were regularly and fully available by links.

By Paul Silvan on 2013 03 15, 12:46 pm CDT

kudos to Paul Silvan

By Richard J. Brickwedde on 2013 03 15, 12:55 pm CDT

Everyone gets a medal - the mantra of this generation - these short sighted parents of today are setting their kids up for a life of disappointment and failure.

By Matthew on 2013 03 15, 1:24 pm CDT

The law schools are looking in the wrong direction because they're ignoring the LSAT. If they want students who can write, test for writing skills. If they want people who can think critically, test for critical thinking. You can't give a test that tests for short term memory and other partially relevant attributes and complain when the people who score great on the test don't have the attributes you really want.

By George Chuzi on 2013 03 15, 1:37 pm CDT

If a few students fall short of the norm that is their own underachievement. If most students fall short of the norm, then that changes the norm itself and may well presage a change in the very way the law will have to be taught and practiced in the years to come. Schools ultimately have to adapt to what may just be changes in the work and study culture generally. We are inexorably moving away from a traditional book-learning culture and have been for a few generations. The digital era has merely accelerated this. Perhaps students are in fact acting rationally and just not acquiring traditional reasoning and writing skills because they simply do not see these skills being rewarded, in the workplace or in the culture generally, in the way these once were.

By AHD on 2013 03 15, 1:55 pm CDT

Maybe the problem with law students is they are being taught largely by a bunch of ivory tower types, many of whom have never practiced law a day in their lives and have no idea what skills practicing lawyers actually need?

Lawyers graduating from law school having never actually read or drafted basic forms of contract? Seriously? Have you seen the drivel that earns an 'A' in most legal writing courses? How about not giving good grades to crappy work?

It is not the law profs' fault if students can't write when they enter law school, but if they graduate from law school and still can't write (which is my observation after years on my firm's recruiting committee), then law faculties have only themselves to blame.

By SH on 2013 03 15, 2:00 pm CDT

Why is U. Michigan providing pictures of U. Minnesota professors?

By linovo on 2013 03 15, 2:05 pm CDT

Blaming No Child Left Behind doesn't make any sense. That law passed in 2002 and took several years to implement. Most of today's law students graduated in the early to mid 2000s, meaning most of them were not impacted by NCLB, or, at best, only were for the final year or two of high school. I'm not a fan of No Child Left Behind, but this professor's thesis is pretty lazy.

By JR on 2013 03 15, 2:08 pm CDT

This is just nonsense. First, NCLB was instituted in 2001 and didn't take effect until 2003. Many law students today (who are at least 4 years out high school) wouldn't have been under NCLB, or if they were, they were not under it for long. Second, Ms. Goodwin fails to note that HER OWN STATE requires a writing component to the standardized test required for graduation. So the notion that tests are ruining writing has no basis in fact. Third, I believe research has shown that you can't teach "higher-level thinking." People become good at the thing they practice. So studying history doesn't make you better at studying economics. So her argument is based on a flawed understanding of education.

But since this is an attack on NCLB (and thus an attack on President Bush) it will be celebrated by the left, the law academia, and people leaving comments on this page.

By Utter nonsense. on 2013 03 15, 2:14 pm CDT

I went to an Ivy League School, and I run law firm. And my wife homeschools our kids (because it's the only way to free them from taking three years to learn a year of material, which is mind numbing for the intelligent). My perspective: There are too many law students who will never be good enough lawyers to do their clients justice, and (separately) there are to many law school graduates who will never earn a living large enough to support their student debt loads.

There are real problems with using standardized tests. Yet, I use an IQ test in hiring, because it's the easiest way to ensure I"m including smart folks who went to poorer schools, and excluding lower-performers who went to good schools. Ironically, my use of it opens up opportunities for those whom I otherwise would not consider.

In the end, my view is this: The gross failure of our educational system is its effort to make everybody college material, and its failure to demand real performance or kick folks out because the money spent on them is better spent elsewhere. We have replaced good old fashioned "drilling" and other rigor with feel-good and coloring. Discipline fails in multiple areas.

Many could learn what is taught through high school by about sixth grade, and then go about their lives---whether that means college or, e.g., a good apprenticeship. The increase in productivity and the cost savings would be stunning. Let' stop trying to make everybody an academic. Plumbing shouldn't cost $150 an hour, but so long as the price is inflated (because everybody is too cool to be a plumber) I'd rather have my kid be a good and well-compensated plumber than an overly indebted not-very-good lawyer. Let's wake up to who people really are and how they can best be productive and happy.

By Ray on 2013 03 15, 2:31 pm CDT

Wow, @25 Utter nonsense, bitter conservative much?

Blaming NCLB may be bogus, but I think Goodwin's thesis still has something to it. A culture of "teaching to the test" has developed in elementary and secondary education, and was in process before NCLB passed. Texas had mandatory statewide competency testing for students for years before Bush was elected President. Other states did too. When Bush announced NCLB, I thought, "Oh, this again, only now nationwide."

I understand that this form of education is a desperate attempt to make sure that everyone has certain basic skills - some schools had classes where something like 70% of the kids were reading below grade level. But the problem is, when you force everyone to be taught with a focus on the basics to pass one mandatory test, it destroys the opportunity to learn more and do more. I don't have a solution, but I do believe this problem exists.

By AO on 2013 03 15, 2:50 pm CDT

I think we need to look at the bigger picture, and this has been a pet peeve of mine for years: the state of current public education is creating a society of students whose goal is only to score high on tests. Many are not learning to their fullest potential, and those who ARE interested probably equal the number who have completely checked out. Education should be a priority, and students should be taught in ways that will stimulate them and get them excited about learning. There are definitely some teachers/professors who know how to do this, but I believe (as a parent of 2 who has experienced it) the majority of them do not have the students filled with excitement for the learning process. I agree with Ray that not everyone is an academic, but given the right tools in school, students could adequately discover whether they want to pursue academics, a trade, or something creative or entrepreneurial. We simply need to give our students more opportunities in school. Why this is not the rule in our country baffles and upsets me.

By Rachel LaMar on 2013 03 15, 2:56 pm CDT

More than 30 years ago when I was in a doctoral program at Penn, I was asked to coach a student who failed comps. It wasn't for knowledge; it was for the writing. Student then passed. This was before NCLB. Using Natl. Writing Project methods, having students write every day improved student writing tremendously. Why aren't we doing this today?

By BA Mitchell on 2013 03 15, 3:32 pm CDT

Everyone American is entitled to be a lawyer and wear fancy suits to sushi dinner like Alley McBeal. They also get a minimum of four "ah-ha!". smoking gun, jury gasping, defeat the bad guy win the day moments in court.

By You call this coffee!? on 2013 03 15, 3:52 pm CDT

Today's public-school students seem to have been taught that everything should be pre-digested for them, and handed to them without thought or effort on their part. Naturally, this contributes to poor writing skills, since good writing requires the ability to edit -- and THAT requires critical thought.

A friend (former lawyer) who went into teaching (high-school English and History) told me how, in teaching a class of supposedly higher-performing students, she had to instruct them on how to take notes on her lectures. And recently, when I talked to a few students in a high-school music-composition class (I was a guest participant as a singer, which I do in my spare time now that I'm retired from the law), the teacher of the class had to tell the students that they should be taking notes on what I was telling them about a singer's viewpoint.

I'm glad that I won't have to work with young lawyers who are the result of this educational quagmire. I just hope that I won't need their legal services . . .

By Megapixels on 2013 03 15, 4:25 pm CDT

Vince, I disagree. I graduated from law school in 2001, practiced for a bit then decided that I preferred the recruiting and professional development work (was in legal industry prior to law school so have 20+ years in legal). Over the last 10 years I have seen a real decline in writing skills from the universal applicant pool. Oh sure, there are always a number who write quite well, but they are vastly outnumbered by those who seem to have difficulty writing a coherent sentence. No. 12's post is more along the lines of what we've been seeing.

It's a real shame to meet a student who has a a strong presence, excellent grades and a writing sample so poorly written that one knows the student is too far gone to coach him out of it during the summer program. We're seeing dozens of students like that, and passing on them all. A great many of the unemployed young attorneys will remain so even if the market picks up.

By Julie on 2013 03 15, 4:31 pm CDT

I'm no proponent of No Child Left Behind by any means, but I have a hard time associating that with the lack of critical thinking at the graduate/professional level. I just recently returned to school for an MBA, and I've noticed a huge difference between returning students and fresh-out-of college students...we work; they want immediate gratification. I think it's more of a generational issue than anything. Is the lack of critical thinking truly the fault of the education system, or more because of absent parenting? Are parents encouraging their children to think about things and come up with their own analysis, or are they just giving them the answers in the interest of getting homework done and moving on to other things? I can't place the blame squarely on NCLB when there are other factors that play into the lack of critical thinking and writing skills. Perhaps application materials need to be adjusted to better assess these skills...

By in-house on 2013 03 15, 4:41 pm CDT

Professor Goodwin thinks students lack skills for critical thinking and good writing. Her students think she lacks any skills of teaching. She is an embarrassment to the faculty at the University and doesn't even attempt to lecture. She also clearly has no training in scientific method if she is coming to this conclusion. An elementary research methods mantra is "correlation does not imply causation."

By Student on 2013 03 15, 4:53 pm CDT

No Sh*t Sherlock... Been saying this for years. It ain't new news.

By LawJake on 2013 03 15, 4:57 pm CDT

My children were enrolled in the best school district in our state. When my oldest was in middle school, I discovered that he couldn't write a paragraph, despite doing fabulously on the state tests. I said, "how's he going to go to college if he can't write."

Much to the dismay of his teachers, I withdrew him and placed him in a very, very expensive private school. His English teacher at the private school spent several hours a day after school teaching him how to write. The private school married old fashion humanities instruction with science taught by Phds. Most of the students were the offspring of doctors and lawyers. My son graduated from a highly selective university, where he helped his public school classmates learn to write. Today he's a screenwriter.

My younger son has learning disabilities. The public school wanted to warehouse him and basically not teach him. He also was shipped off to a private school. The private school encouraged him, telling him hard work was what mattered. The dean spent time teaching him how to write. He attends a highly rated university, where he earns dean's list grades.

When hiring secretaries and paralegals, I've found that older employees in their fifties, know grammar, spelling and can write well, if they graduated from high school. When hiring younger employees for these positions, we have to hire college graduates to get the same level of competency.

Teaching to a test is not teaching at all. I now am an academic dean at a two year college. When I teach, I give the students real life examples that they might encounter on the job. They must apply their learning in class to these situations. They complain and hate these questions. They want something they can memorize instead of thinking.

I wonder, what impact is this "teaching to the test" having on our society.

By SusieQ on 2013 03 15, 5:01 pm CDT

No. 19 has nailed it. The children raised on unlimited entitlement and runaway self-esteem have reached post-graduate school, and it ain't pretty.

By B. McLeod on 2013 03 15, 6:35 pm CDT

It has always been my job as a legal assistant to know how to properly prepare written correspondence and documents. There is also another aspect to this inability of our younger people to write properly and that is their inability to communicate verbally with those of us who are hired to assist them. I am continually amazed at how young attorneys are totally unable to communicate on any level with anyone other than their peer group. There have been CLE courses offered on legal writing skills and one person for whom I worked was sent because this person came from a government office which had a form for every pleading imaginable; no research and text compilation had been necessary for this person until arriving at the firm for which I work. This person found private practice to be a bit overwhelming and has now returned to government office practice.

By LAB on 2013 03 15, 6:50 pm CDT

I think no child left without an iPhone, unlimited texting, twitter, etc. have done more damage to the ability to write than teaching to a test.

By TsatB on 2013 03 15, 6:53 pm CDT

1) Before I went to law school, I was an adjunct professor for several years. I taught the typical 1/2 year History survey courses (American and World), and I required my students each week to write a simple, 1- 2 page (perhaps 800 words) essay, due the first class of the week, reflecting on whatever we had covered the prior week. The content really didn't matter, I simply wanted them to think about whatever we had discussed.
The writing was usually horrible. I handed out the information about the schools' "writing center" ( a tutoring center design to bring the students' writing skills up to an acceptable level). Few students ever bothered to follow up. I sought advice from the professor in charge of the center. She advised me to focus on teaching them to write a coherent paragraph. Apparently, it was part of my job to teach grade school English.
2) In my experience, one receives what one demands from students. If teachers, be they 3rd grade English teachers or exalted Law Professors, accept lousy work, that's exactly what their students will product.

By Vastly Amused on 2013 03 15, 7:09 pm CDT

The quality of writing will only worsen as the digital age progresses. Although, maybe there will be an app for that too!

By Joe on 2013 03 15, 7:18 pm CDT

Wait, massive federal gov't intervention has unforeseen consequences and creates more problems than it solves??? That simply cannot be so! Right Mr. President? Hello??

By Just Some Bloke on 2013 03 15, 7:28 pm CDT

And of course, my posts contains errors. Ummmm. Maybe this writing stuff is harder than it looks. ;-)
Happy St. Patrick's Day!

By Vastly Amused- slightly red-faced on 2013 03 15, 7:37 pm CDT

I am sure that #25 would consider me a part of the left and I am no fan of NCLB, but I don't think that it is responsible for the problem. The problems cited have been around for a long time. In the mid 1970's I spent a year teaching high school physics. I was shocked at the inability of suposedly top students among high school seniors to answer questions that required anything more than rote memorization or repetition of calculations that I had demonstrated in class. In the early 1980's I was a part of a group through my state bar association that sponsored a law student essay contest on technology law with a first prize of $500 (at a time when $500 was still real money for a student). We dropped the program after 4 years because the submissions that we got were so poor it was not worth the effort or expense. Some of those were essays that the students indicated they were also using for a class. I can't imagine what grades they received.

By Nothing is new on 2013 03 15, 8:13 pm CDT

Lolz @ McLeod at 37. What do you know of today's post-graduate students?

To the extent the current generation is "entitled" (a favorite accusation of geezers throughout history directed at their contemporary youth), I have a feeling that such entitlement was not the result of an across the board genetic mutation that just happen to coincide for millions at the same time. The attitude was learned, and guess who from? Entitled parents.

I'm with 30. This country is full of people entitled individuals. Though probably none are more so than boomers.

By NoleLaw on 2013 03 15, 8:15 pm CDT

Ray is absolutely right! Oh, and Utter nonsense @26 hit the nail on the head with his last sentence. President Bush ought to be celebrated for insisting and believing that all children should know how to read by 3rd grade; the 'feel-good, anything-goes' left was content to have children being "socially promoted" all the way through high school; it was not uncommon when I graduated from high school in the early 1908s to have folks who neither (or barely) read or write. That is so shameful that is verges on immorality.

Everyone is NOT college material; somebody has to change the oil in cars, build the houses and drive the city buses. It's as if REALITY is an insult to the "every thing goes and there are no standards" country in which we live today. Just shameful.

By Kudos to Ray @26 on 2013 03 15, 8:44 pm CDT

This attribution seem simplistic. Maybe they can't write because they went through school cutting and pasting from the internet instead of writing. Maybe they can't think critically because they didn't have to memorize the multiplication tables, and used calculators in school. If you can't determine the answer yourself, how can you spot inconsistencies?

These reasons are as good as any others.

By Dr Phun on 2013 03 15, 8:49 pm CDT

Recently in Michigan, due to tight budgets, elementary school teachers were required to ask parents to send toilet paper to school with their children.
We called this policy, "No childrens' behind left."

By Ralph Blasier Blasier, MD, JD on 2013 03 15, 9:56 pm CDT

I had the misfortune of having Professor Goodwin in class. I must say, whatever her opinion of her students may be, they cannot be lower than her students' opinions towards her. Goodwin does send pointless, unsolicited e-mails about how to send "professional e-mails," but she does not read her assigned cases, know what the cases are about, or the holding of the cases. This often leads to her having to read entire cases out loud to the class so she can "catch-up."

Perhaps if Goodwin put forth slightly more effort into teaching, she would not be so disappointed in her students' exams.

By Student 2 on 2013 03 15, 10:57 pm CDT

This problem has existed since before NCLB was instituted during the Bush administration. I graduated from law school in the late '90's, well before NCLB. I was not the only older student in the class, and the generational rift in reading comprehension and writing ability was clearly evident--even then. Since most students didn't have cell phones at that time, and Twitter and Facebook hadn't been conceived yet, I do not believe that they are to blame in all cases--although they are time sinks and most likely don't help in the current situation.

Teaching to the test IS part of the problem. But it's a practice that has been going on since at least the '50's and perhaps earlier. What has changed are the types of tests given. Today's tests are primarily psychometric tests. On the whole, these tests reward speed, dexterity, and gross short-term memorization skills--all of which are superior in younger students. Tests also have been designed to remove racial and cultural bias, which means that asking for a student's "interpretation" of, say, an aspect of a literary work and judging one answer as superior is wrought with pitfalls. Literary interpretation is highly subjective, and depends on the viewpoint/background of the reader. In addition, most authors will not provide interpretations of their work. So the teacher essentially lobs softballs that demonstrate that the students read past page 47 and understands what's going on. Unfortunately, most kids know you can find that information online in condensed format for easy cheating.

Teaching itself is also part of the problem. Increased class sizes allow less time for individualized instruction. Tenure allows those teachers who are "dead wood" to remain on the payroll, while enthusiastic graduates in elementary education are serving up lattes at the local Starbucks. It is TEACHERS and ADMINISTRATORS--not liberals--who are primarily responsible for social promotion and feelgood grading. It's easier; plus it has the added advantage of placating those parents who think their children are flipping geniuses (--and who will sue if Jane or Johnny's chanced of getting into Princeton are quashed by "unfair grading.")

The politicization of school curriculum is also a problem. There are two states whose textbook purchases essentially dictate what the country's children will be studying: CA and TX. If you have kids, that should scare the h*ll out of you. Thanks to CA, we not only have feelgood grading policies, but feelgood PC curriculum decisions. Students in some junior high schools can't read "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" because it uses the "N-word." And "Catcher in the Rye" is out because the Lord's name is taken in vain 27 times. (NOTE: I didn't count; a school board official did.) Meanwhile, back at the ranch in TX, political committees decide that slavery and subjugation of Native Americans will be mentioned only briefly in history texts, Darwin will be omitted from the junior high biology texts, and fight over whether the fact that evolution is a "theory" should give it primacy over creation. The writing in a novel is not the same as the collections of short stories and essays that are often used in literature courses. Academic rhetoric differs from all of these, and has all but disappeared in an attempt to make texts "user friendly." Ideally, students should be exposed to all forms of writing, and understand the mechanics of writing in each form prior to graduation. By the time school texts and assigned readings have been "sanitized" for political consumption and "relevance" to students' lives, and pre-packaged into "learning modules" for easy digestion, is it really a surprise that they are learning so little?

By BMF on 2013 03 16, 3:07 am CDT

Bravo, BMF, your last comment was very well put - you really addressed all the issues pertaining to our ADD society, and the reasons our children are at a disadvantage.

By RL on 2013 03 16, 4:13 am CDT

Collectively, the comments are meaningfully more insightful than the article. Except for a few notable outliers, there appears to be meaningful agreement among the commenters. Thanks, all.

[Kudos to Paul @17 for identifying the logical flaw in Professor Goodwin's reasoning.]

By Yankee on 2013 03 16, 2:32 pm CDT

Twenty years ago I came home to a crying fourth grader who could not understand why his teacher had marked an answer wrong; he insisted his was right. I asked to see the paper and I had to agree with him. The question posed, after a two paragraph set-up, was something along the lines of "What do you think Sally should do next?" - The qustion was "what do you think ..." and his answer, his thought on the subject, was deemed wrong. I have no specific recollection of what I assumed the teacher was looking for or what my son thought, though obviously they were different - but neither my son nor any of his classmates were actually being asked what they thought. They were being asked to regurgitate what they were supposed to have understood the teacher thought.
I went to the school the next day and spoke to the principal, who I knew socially, and was shocked to find she did not understand my consternation. She brought in the teacher to explain what the answer "should" have been, i.e. what they thoguht my son should have thought, and it was even more shocking to find the answer the teacher was looking for was not what I assumed she was looking for but something she admitted was not included in the two paragraphs, but an idea she felt all fourth graders who had been "raised properly" would have known. Again, I do not recall the details but I believe there were not so sublte fundemental christian religious overtones to her assumptions.
I next visited with the local school board member who wanted nothing to do with me. Because my father was a then-recently retired, well respected, high school principal I was able to drop his name and get an appointment with the Supenintendent, an well educated man I had no reason to believe would countenance such mindless "teaching" as opposed to clear thinking and problem sloving - which my son had engaged in to his detriment. I was sort of right - he immediately understood my complaint but ultimately informed me unless my son learned to "read the teacher as close if not closer than the material" (a phrase I have imprinted in my brain) he (my son) would not do well in today's classrooms.
Bottom line - I told my son to continue to think for himself, play their game and beat them at it. The next test he took he answered as he correcftly assumed he was expected to - but got in trouble for ended with a Galileo-like "but that's not what I think."
I was proud of him that day and almost every one since. It is the education "system" I worry about because critical thinking is not only not taught or encouraged, it is actively discouraged. I will be watching my gradnsons teacher carefully and, for the first time, this child of public school teachers is seriously considering a version of home schooling.

By Feeling Old on 2013 03 16, 5:37 pm CDT

In a few places, the public schools are still about education, but in the main, they are now about socialization and normalizing the external stereotype of each student. This, in large part, because political leadership at all levels would prefer to have a citizenry that is ignorant rather than a citizenry composed of educated, critical thinkers. Unfortunately, it the arena of global competition, this will take the United States down.

By B. McLeod on 2013 03 16, 8:14 pm CDT

People have been complaining about following generations being idiots as compared to the generatons that came before for thousands of years now. All I can say is, if you think these kids are so stupid, how come you need to ask one of them to program your smartphone for you?

By Logan5 on 2013 03 17, 6:32 pm CDT


This has gone on for generations. Over forty years ago I could not understand why my teacher had marked an answer wrong; though I knew I was right. The question was "My mother does/does not bake cookies." Now, an openly sexist question like this would not exist today. However, even back then, there were mothers who did not bake cookies and my mom was one of them. I correctly answered that my mother did not bake cookies. The teacher (a woman) marked the answer as incorrect. During the next parent/teacher conference, my mother jokingly remarked that I hadn't answered the question wrong because she didn't bake cookies. My teacher got all huffy and insisted that that wasn't the point and that I answered the question incorrectly.
Now all this occurred well before today's alleged "dumbed down" education. Some things never change.

By Logan5 on 2013 03 17, 6:40 pm CDT

@ 54 - Interesting perspective. Are you speaking from experience or from your rear end?

By NoleLaw on 2013 03 18, 12:11 pm CDT

ultimately the whole point of the educational system is to get you to function in society. it's a game. Your kids shoudl try to win.

"reading the teacher" is important; playing the game is important.

i tell my kids so--they seem to appreicate the honesty and compete well.

When I was a kid, it was all the same, except my parents refused to acknolwedge it was all bullshit. mad eme more neurotic.

Not saying this is a good way to runa system, just that it has ever been thus, and player's gotta play.

By defensive lawyer on 2013 03 18, 6:33 pm CDT

@ 56: The educator-centric bias just exists in more subtle forms. A few years ago, my sister had her son tested to see if he could enter the first grade, despite being born after the cutoff date for admission. He missed one question on the test: "What does a refrigerator do?" His answer was: "It keeps food from spoiling." The "correct" answer: "It keeps food cold." Your tax dollars at work....

By BMF on 2013 03 18, 7:26 pm CDT

When I was in law school 30 years ago, we knew of schools with very high pass rates on the bar exam--because they were basically a three year bar-bri course. They were also known not to provide a decent legal education, and their graduates were not respected as legal scholars, nor were they regarded as very good lawyers.

There were high schools that produced an aberrant number of National Merit Scholars--those who scored well on the the SAT. They had been training for them since middle school. The teaching was heavy on the mathematics and grammar with a good dose of analytical reasoning; which isn't all bad, but perhaps other knowledge was left behind.

I taught the LSAT prep course while in law school; most of my students were from the very competitive undergraduate school. I primarily taught them how to pass the test, by teaching logic, clues, games and puzzles, process of elimination--which inadvertently including analytical reasoning and critical thinking. And overall, I thought the LSAT tested those qualities well. However, with my experience in standardized testing, I found the multistate bar exam woefully deficienty as a test of much of anything, and cvertainly not analytical reasoning, the lawyer's most fundamental skill. So maybe "teaching fo rthe test" is not always bad; it depends on the test.

Today it is no secret that primary school teachers are required to focus on SOL test performance, and gear all education toward the test, at the expense of any other form of learning, or content that would not be addressed in the tests. So the quesiton is: Does the SOL test include all that a well-rounded, well-educated, student at that level should learn? universally the opinion is that the SOL does not. Pass the test but fail at life.

I agree with the other comments, though, that it is not just the "teach for the test" dynamic that is producing deficiently educated students. Professors have told me for years that the "immediate answer" style, like Jeopardy and more like video games and instant communication, is where the problem lies. They answer, and then think of the reason to support the answer, which is rationalizing, rather than the other way around, which is "critical thinking."

Perhaps the problem would not have evolved, if we still had fifth grade taught by graduates of Brown, Vassar and Hollins.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 03 18, 10:01 pm CDT

I can understand your curiousity, No. 57. I'm sure most people do address you through their rear ends.

By B. McLeod on 2013 03 18, 11:49 pm CDT

@ 61 Well then, thank you for making your points over the internet and not in person. Apparently you were not speaking from experience.

By NoleLaw on 2013 03 19, 1:40 am CDT

You're preaching to The Choir. My daily posts at [Paralegal Brain The Blog] (just Google it) all contain this very issue and resulting harm to the profession of paralegals as well as lawyers. The Paralegal Bubble is imploding. Good! Read my take on the identical subject, if you care to . . . Paralegal Brain The Blog: The Paralegal Bubble Has Imploded? Good! Teachblade's Take.

By Barb Teachblade Reynolds on 2013 03 19, 2:29 am CDT

I would suppose people could speak from experience and from their rear ends as well, the two not being in any way mutually exclusive. Hence, for example, people speaking from experience might specially arrange to also speak from their rear end when addressing you, No. 62, simply in order to communicate with you in the fashion to which you are evidently long accustomed.

By B. McLeod on 2013 03 19, 4:30 am CDT

I suppose that any attorney sees others communicate out of their rears quite often. It makes that sort of communication easier to spot, especially when in written form. I have a feeling you communicate out your backside not to accommodate others, but to accommodate yourself. Who really thinks that bemoaning mooncalvery and the unprecedented deficiencies of the young generation is anything more than hot air, to use a generous term. I doubt even you believe half of what you have to say about whippersnappers.

By NoleLaw on 2013 03 19, 1:05 pm CDT

Boys. Boys. Don't get all Beevis and Butthead over the "behind" in "no child left...." I don't care who started it; both of you go to your rooms until you can play nicely.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 03 19, 3:46 pm CDT

@60 I was with you except for the shot you seemed to take at the National Merit Scholarship Program. My experience is that the students who excel in that program are the bright spots in an otherwise gloomy state of American education.

By Yankee on 2013 03 19, 4:36 pm CDT

no I didn't mean to take anything away from the NMSP or those who qualify, nor do I think all, or even many, those who score well on the SAT are merely good test takers. But since the qualification (as I understand it) is based on the test scores, then a single school that produces and inordinantly high number of recipients may be a school that spends an inordinantly high amount of "teaching" on the tests.

And maybe that's a good thing. Although perhaps from lack of familiarity, that it is my impression that the SOL tests the bare minimum of "education" while the SAT reaches higher levels of learning and academic skills. So a school focused on a high pass rate on the SOL is still not teaching much.

By Hadley V. Baxendale on 2013 03 19, 9:34 pm CDT

I agree with Ray. There is this stoooopid idea among the educrats that EVERYONE must go to college. For many young people, going to college is a waste of their time and their parents' money. However, higher education has been complicit in the foolish scheme by lowering academic standards and thereby allowing marginal and even sub-marginal students into the university. Once they are there, they require constant remediation in various subject material that should have been mastered in grammar school. I remember in undergrad working at the school writing lab and being constantly amazed at the gibberish college students would write/type for their assignments. Now, as an attorney, I am in the unfortunate position of editing rather a large volume of legal writing. I now get to be amazed at the inability of people with law degrees to write cogently, the inability of law grads to use proper punctuation, the inability of lawyers to construct arguments in proper form, the inability of these people, in fact, to write anything meaningful beyond boilerplate plagiarism. It's not about No Child Left Behind; the public schools have been teaching to the dumbest tenth for a long time. We don't dare introduce more rigorous curriculum, as the teachers themselves are so mediocre that they would be unable to comprehend and relate such material. And yes, there are political considerations behind all this, sinister considerations.

By Outsider on 2013 03 21, 3:20 am CDT

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