A New York Times article reports the testimony of education experts before the Senate education committee, which is in the process of rewriting the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (formerly known as “No Child Left Behind.”

As we’ve heard many times before, American education seems to be lagging behind most OECD countries, both in achievement tests and completion rates. What is interesting is the the cause pinpointed by these experts. The problem, they said, begins before students even set a foot in public school.

The problem is that public schools inherit children who are “overentertained and distracted.”

In the 1830s, Alexis de Tocqueville observed this attitude among Americans, calling it the habit of inattentiveness. If this really is the root of what ails the American education system, what can parents and educators do to keep students from being (as Eliot put it) “distracted from distraction by distraction?”

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Local Culture


  1. Good one, John Médaille.

    But no, the root of the problem is not that. The root of the problem is the anti-intellectual philosophy foisted on us by the intellectual class. The symptoms are in part the over-entertainment aspects, but that’s not quite the root of it.

  2. Part and parcel of this syndrome, my own Professional Organization is pushing a well-meaning but decidedly comic legislation called “No Child Left Inside”. Apparently , we shall have a law alerting the young citizen and their parent to the lost idea that staying indoors all the time is somehow less than optimal.

    We had a No Child Left Inside policy at my house, get noticed indoors too much and one was assigned to Rock Pile duty, moving a pile of rocks from one side of a lower forty walk to the other. Needless to say, we spent most of our time outdoors as a result, not really avoiding the penalty of Rock Pile so much as enjoying the great Tabula Rasa of the outdoors.

    The mistaken idea that legislative remedy will cure what ails us allows everyone to think that legislation is about controlling events under the rubric of “equalization” rather than what it really is within a proper Republic: protecting the freedoms of self-motivation and self-realization within a healthy culture. One does not need a culture when one thinks legislation is an “incentive”.

    As I’ve said before “No Child Left Behind” will be a stirling success within its narrow universe because No Child Will Go Forward. The ones that do certainly will not do so because they were harangued into it by legislative embrace.

  3. I don’t have children as of yet, so I can’t say how to undistract them. I was recently horrified to see television sets for the back seats of minivans, but parents I know assured me “oh you have to get them watching dvds on trips or they’ll drive you nuts.” Fair enough, but plasma screen tvs in banks, at the mechanics, and in libraries? My wife once went to a ritzy nightclub where they had plasma screen televisions playing inside the toilet stalls. Maybe spending the majority of your waking hours staring at glowing rectangles isn’t good for your mind.

  4. Rufus, Parents who let their kids watch DVDs on long trips should be sent up for child abuse, same as those parents who let their kids spend hundreds of hours of the best years of their lives on school buses.

    I have an ongoing campaign to get television banned in public places, just as surely as smoking is banned, and for much the same reason. I have made a nuisance of myself resisting television in hospital patient rooms, hospital waiting rooms, and jury rooms. I am happy to report that the last time I was on jury duty (in January), the stupid television was kept OFF in the jury waiting room. But in the form I filled out in response to the summons, I had complained greatly about how it was above and beyond the call of duty to have been subjected to television as part of jury service.

    One of my rants about an experience in a hospital waiting room is here.

    One of my sons did eventually thank me for not letting him watch much television when he was a kid. But these days I worry more about the effect of television on oldsters. We’re losing a generation — the older generation.

  5. rufus,
    My favorite public television set are some screens mounted atop gas pumps at a quick stop a half hour south of me. One time I filled up, they started showing films of NASCAR and in particular, a massive flaming pile-up. Nice whilst filling the tank and getting ready to get back on the road with our amateur NASCAR Host.

  6. John, you’re doing the Lord’s work. D.W., I hate to say it, but I think I’ve seen a gas pump screen here, or at least I seem to remember muttering angrily to myself about one. And, actually, I just remembered that the last bar I went to in Toronto had a television screen above each urinal, repeatedly showing an ad for a romantic comedy, of all things.

  7. rufus,
    To intrude upon that sacred existential bastion known as the men’s urinal with a television screen…why that just beats all. When packaged television supplants graffiti, one can expect the demise of civilization by next week, 10 o’ clock.

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