In the past few years, various reports have surfaced regarding the gifted and talented students being left behind in our school systems.
First there was the report that parents were taking their children out of the Minneapolis education system and personally driving them to other school districts. The reason? The Minneapolis district was focusing on those lagging behind and not giving gifted children the tools they needed to excel.
Then there was the report from Jay Matthews in The Washington Post explaining how many gifted and talented children are viewed as nuisances and held back from success.
Furthermore, recent research found that when compared to other nations, the U.S. has a very low percentage of high achievers. For example, 40 percent of Singapore’s students received top scores on the math portion of the international PISA exam, but less than 10 percent of U.S. students were able to do the same.
Oddly enough, C.S. Lewis foresaw this trend away from gifted education when he wrote Screwtape Proposes a Toast in 1959.
The essay finds the demon Screwtape exulting over the success of the underworld in undermining the education system in the U.S. He writes:
“In that promising land the spirit of I’m as good as you has already become something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system. … The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be ‘undemocratic’. These differences between the pupils – for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences – must be disguised.”
Screwtape goes on to describe how such a result can be achieved:
“At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. … Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma – Beelzebub, what a useful word! – by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age-group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coaeval’s attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON THE MAT.
In a word, we may reasonably hope for the virtual abolition of education when I’m as good as you has fully had its way. All incentives to learn and all penalties for not learning will vanish. The few who might want to learn will be prevented; who are they to overtop their fellows?”
Given the increase of grade inflation, the decline of rigor, and the emphasis on the self-esteem of children in today’s schools, would you say that the doctrine of I’m as good as you has taken the American education system by full force?
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Annie Holmquist is the editor of Intellectual Takeout. When not writing or editing, she enjoys reading, gardening, and time with family and friends.