Response to Dr. Thomas Sowell’s Column “A Letter from a Child”

Here is a link to the column referenced

Dr. Thomas Sowell
Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution
Stanford University

Dr. Sowell,

I would like to respond to your column titled, “A Letter from a Child,” that was published in the Longview News-Journal in Longview, Texas. I have spent 28 years teaching, coaching, and working as an administrator in Texas Public Schools. I am troubled by the idea of painting Public School Education with such a broad stroke of your editorial pen. Your accusations that public school teachers indoctrinate students with trivia at the expense of competing with students on a global scale are disturbing at the least.
A great deal of time and energy could be spent on the topic of the United States school children’s performance on international testing standards. As an educator, you are well aware of the factors that go into such analysis, and the fact that US students are making significant improvement on tests that compare “apples to apples” so to speak. According to the United Nations Education Index, the US ranks 19th in the world and 13th in the Human Development Index worldwide. There is not one country ranked higher than the US with a population equal to or greater than ours. Given that that kind of information does not help you make your point, I understand why it is not included in this column.
More to the point, I would like to address a few of your comments. You state that we are “frittering away time on trivia.” Texas Public Schools are governed by the Texas Education Agency and are required to teach the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) to all students. Those TEKS are then assessed through the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) test. In the fifth grade we are responsible for 344 TEKS for English, Math, Science, and Social Studies to be covered in 180 school days. That is two new concepts to master each day we are in class. That does not include the required material covered in Fine Arts, Technology, and Life Fitness. We do not have time to “fritter.”
The main point of your column has to do with a letter received from a fifth grade student at Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Michigan. You assail the teacher for giving this student an assignment to seek the advice of “stranger in the media.” It must have been your hope that most of your readers do not know who you are. A person with three degrees in economics, forty-eight years working in the field of economics, and the author of seven books on economics should be a viable source for advice concerning problems in the economy. If you do not want to be bothered by school age children, just say so. You would have been more truthful and honest to quote W.C. Fields and say”, “Get away from me kid, you bother me.” Just using the information from your column, you have no idea what the scope of that assignment included and therefore cannot accurately judge it’s integrity.
Finally, I am always amazed that those who work within the most elite setting in education can determine the faults of those that educate everyone in their community. Your institution has very strict entrance requirements and a process of eliminating those that may not succeed. My school district enrolls every student that can produce a current water bill or any other valid proof of residency within the district. Your work history indicates you have spent your entire career in some of the most prestigious educational institutions in the United States. I challenge you to defend the idea that there is no indoctrination of students at Harvard, Columbia, The University of Chicago, and/or Stanford. There are good and bad teachers at every level of the education process. I firmly believe the public schools do more to weed out the weak than do our higher education constituents. I can assure you that when 60 to 70 percent of our students fail a course, we don’t blame it on the students. The men and women that get up every school day across this country and devote their time and energy to the education of our young people deserve better from you. It would be refreshing if we could wake up one morning and read the thoughts of an “Education Expert” that had taken the time to look at the big picture and decided to report on the good being done in public schools.

Michael E. Gilbert, M. Ed.
Superintendent of Schools
White Oak ISD
White Oak, Texas

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