Forum Left. 3/20/12

Ludicrously Obvious Facts We Don’t Want to Face

By Ben Tomkins

I am constantly amazed at the lengths to which people in this country will go to avoid dealing with an obvious but unpleasant reality.

Everyone in this country knows our elementary and high school students tend to underperform against other industrialized countries, particularly Asian countries.  The reason for this is simple:  rice and fish contain natural psychotropic chemicals which allow them to … just kidding. But the fact that the top five countries in the Programme for International Student Assessment results are consistently China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong naturally lends itself to jokes of this nature.

Of course, we as a country can blow smoke up our rear ends until the end of time about how awful it is that they push their students so hard and point to the subsequent high student suicide rate, but the bottom line is that they perform better on tests because students feel the incredible pressure the system and their society puts on them to perform.

Now we cut back to the United States.  We’re the best country because “we are.” Naturally.  We created Elvis and Pogs.  We keep the world’s biggest nose on Lady Gaga so she can Hoover up more cocaine than any Brit rocker ever could.  That’s what being #1 is all about.  We also eat more than other people, and as a result we create more toilet paper than anyone else.  Most of that food is consumed during the Super Bowl, which we always win.

And when it comes to education, we feel that it’s important to put systems in place that will motivate our students to perform as well as the Chinese, but we do it better.  Our system is called:  “Mass Cultural Delusion About Ludicrously Obvious Facts We Don’t Want To Face About Ourselves And Our Kids That Can Easily Be Blamed on Others.”

It works really, really well.

Springfield, OH recently instituted a fabulous new version of this system in which they will retest teachers who have to deal with the students most affected by poverty and social issues.  The theory here, and it governs our entire education system, is that if your child sucks at math then teachers must be at fault.  That’s what No Child Left Behind is all about.  If your district underperforms, then they punish your school and teachers economically, thus making it even harder to perform well in the future.  Of course, all this seems to have accomplished in recent years is to highlight things we already knew.  Students in the Cleveland ghetto do really, really badly, and students in Worthington will be taking their tests on the way to Mars next year via satellite feed.

So why is punishing teachers worthless?  Very simple.  No teacher on earth can “make” kids do well in school.  They couldn’t even do it when they were allowed to beat the hell out of a kid with a stick, much less now when they aren’t even allowed to take their phone.  Therefore, we must find a way to incentivize those who do affect the outcome.

That would be the students, I’m afraid.  Is it unfair to tell 12-year-olds that if they suck they will be responsible for the lost funding, cost teachers their jobs and injure their high-achieving classmates?  Yup.  There might even be a few soap parties in the barracks as a result, but unfortunately that’s our system.   It’s no use deluding ourselves.

You know, I hear a lot about this generation being the entitlement generation.  You know that’s not about the kids, right?  It’s about the fact that parents are allowing themselves to blame others for their kids’ problems because it’s easier.  Schools, teachers, Principals, whatever.  Yes, we all want flowers and butterflies for our kids, but if we truly want great education, our students must be made to feel the pressure of failure.  Otherwise, we’re just grasping at straws.

Benjamin Tompkins is a violinist, teacher, journalist, and critically acclaimed composer currently living in Denver, Colo. He hates stupidity, and generally believes that the volume of one’s voice is inversely proportional to one’s knowledge of the issue. Reach Ben Tompkins at

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