The Cult of Smart – BONUS POST

The Bonus Book of the Week is “The Cult of Smart, How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice” by Fredrik deBoer, published in 2020.

The author discussed trends that have already been ongoing for decades. The government agencies that make or change policy blame teachers and schools for the failings of the American education system, because those are the elements in the system that they can control.

The author argued that one major elephant in the room is inherited traits of the students, which educrats obviously can’t control. But bringing up that issue invites accusations of racism or eugenics– both taboo topics that might result in cancel culture.

Studies have shown that genetics plays a larger role in a student’s ability to learn than policymakers want to acknowledge. Instead, government is perpetuating the elitism of American education because educrats themselves want to stay in power and /or make money, or are deluding themselves into thinking they’re bettering education. In reality, the monetization of the system has pressured a huge number of interested parties to lie with statistics, and simply lie.

Two misleading claims included those with survivorship bias. In 2013, Stanford University, in updating a study, omitted 8% of the data consisting of underperforming charter schools (which had been closed since the first study). They then bragged that the charter-school students had made modest gains against public-school students, in standardized test scores. The other example was an elite New York City public high school whose entrance exam allows the school to select the cream of the crop when accepting students; in this way, it could boast of its high number of celebrity alumni.

One issue the author could have mentioned relevant to genetics and academic ability, included that of the American college entrance exam, the SAT. It used to be called the Scholastic Aptitude Test. The definition of aptitude is talent, which is genetic– innate ability– for which students cannot study. When educrats realized this, they changed the name to Scholastic Assessment Test. This way, the test might validly measure students’ skills that could be learned. But it might not.

One concept the author could have discussed– that would jive with his view of a more relaxed way of preparing young people to become mature, responsible adults– is that of the two kinds of smarts: street smarts and academic (book) smarts. He thought that kids who are not cut out to be students, could be counseled to acquire the former, which is learned; whereas, he believed the latter involves inherited traits.

It is interesting to note which American presidents, beginning in the twentieth century, possessed each of the two smarts. It is easy to see that having either one or both, does not necessarily indicate a president’s success in office, given: how history has treated him, and historical events during his tenure.

It can be argued that the presidents all had street smarts, else they wouldn’t have previously won any elective office. Yet, they could have been elected because they surrounded themselves with crack political strategists and public relations experts who burnished their image– although they acquired reputations for incompetence or wrongdoing in office. But street smarts could mean the ability to emerge unscathed from scandals.

Presumably, there is general consensus on academic smarts– when the president graduated from an Ivy League college, or earned a law degree, or was known as an intellectual (but there are exceptions). Here they are:

SS = Street Smarts; AS = Academic Smarts; both; neither.

Theodore Roosevelt, William H. Taft, Woodrow Wilson: both.

Warren Harding: AS only.

Calvin Coolidge: both.

Herbert Hoover: neither.

FDR: both.

Harry Truman: SS only.

Dwight Eisenhower: SS only.

JFK: arguably AS only.

LBJ: arguably neither.

Richard Nixon: AS only.

Gerald Ford: both.

Jimmy Carter: arguably neither.

Ronald Reagan: SS only.

George H.W. Bush: AS only.

Bill Clinton: both.

George W. Bush: neither.

Barack Obama: both.

Donald Trump: arguably neither.

Joe Biden: arguably SS only.

Anyway, read the book to learn of the author’s recommendations for an approach to American education that is socialistic, kinder and gentler; one he thinks that would improve it immensely.