One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader….
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.
Instead, I replied to his parents: With American students consistently scoring near or at the bottom in international tests, I am repeatedly appalled by teachers who waste their students’ time by assigning them to write to strangers, chosen only because those strangers’ names have appeared in the media.
It is of course much easier…to do cute little stuff like this than to take on the sober responsibility to develop in students both the knowledge and the ability to think that will enable them to form their own views on matters in both public and private life.
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 one’s own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”
Nearly two hundred years ago, the great economist David Ricardo said: “I wish that I may never think the smiles of the great and powerful a sufficient inducement to turn aside from the straight path of honesty and the convictions of my own mind.”