He starts be recognizing the general problem:
Parents send their children to school to acquire the knowledge that has come down to us as a legacy of our culture — whether it is mathematics, science, or whatever — so that those children can grow up and go out into the world equipped to face life’s challenges.
Too many “educators” see teaching not as a responsibility to the students but as an opportunity for themselves — whether to indoctrinate a captive audience with the teacher’s ideology, manipulate them in social experiments, or just do fun things that make teaching easier, whether or not it really educates the child. (Emphasis mine.)
But then he brings in parents as complicit:
Unfortunately, the dumbed-down education of previous generations means that many parents today see nothing wrong with their children being manipulated in school, instead of being educated.
Such parents may see nothing wrong with spending precious time in classrooms chit-chatting about how everyone “feels” about things on television or in their personal lives.
Well, okaaaayy, but a lot of parents have a big problem with this...it's just that we have had our collective hands slapped enough to know that that any objection will either (1) fall on deaf ears or (2) result in some type of subtle or not-so-subtle retaliation played out on our kids.
But while our children are frittering away time on trivia, other children in other countries are acquiring the skills in math, science, or other fields that will allow them to take the jobs our children will need when they grow up.
You betcha. It would be nice if someone pointed that out to the NCTM which reportedly just issued its high school guidelines. Now to the letter from little Johnny:
[S]chools are supposed to prepare children for the future, not give teachers opportunities for self-indulgences in the present. One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader in the Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Mich.
He said, “I have been assigned to ask a famous person a question about how he or she would solve a difficult problem.” The problem was what to do about the economy.
Oh yeah, we've been there. Stupid, stupid assignment. We tell our kid, just do it and get it over with. So what does Tom do? He's well-intentioned, but he writes back to the PARENTS!
What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with questions that people with Ph.D.’s in economics have trouble wrestling with?
Damn straight. But, ah, the parent didn't come up with the assignment.
The damage does not end with wasting students’ time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up their own minds as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”
The fad of assigning students to write to strangers is an irresponsible self-indulgence of teachers who should be teaching.
Yeah! But, honest, I didn't ask for this assignment!
Then, predictably, his final pronouncement:
[T]hat practice will not end until enough parents complain to enough principals and enough elected officials to make it end.
Yup, it's our own darn fault. Blame us for that lousy education our kids are getting! But that's a little unfair to Mr. Sowell, because he really believes (no snickers now) that parents have power.
Parents need a union.