Is Dr. Laura trolling me?
A recent blog post, titled “U.S. Youth: Working Hard or Hardly Working?”, was what you might expect from Dr. Laura. La la la, kids are lazy, parents don’t expect enough out of their kids, society is falling apart. Same old, same old. And, truth be told, there’s nothing particularly offensive about her arguments. I am a strong believer in the value of jobs for teenagers, to teach them about responsibility and money.
On the other hand, these kinds of lessons can be learned in non-paying environments; not having time to dig ditches because you are busy being the vice president of a high school charitable operation isn’t a step backwards. Dr. Laura sees the lack of jobs as an across-the-board problem though, saying that kids today are not prepared for the world. “They lack the necessary skills to move up the professional ladder: perseverance, flexibility, humility, and commitment.”
And this is where her argument slides off the track. It’s not jobs, or the lack thereof, it’s really that parents are being too soft.
“It’s basically the elders who are responsible for our kids’ incompetence. It’s grownups who don’t make their kids learn values or appropriate expectations. They don’t teach them how to take advantage of opportunities. We do a lousy job of getting our kids ready for the real world because we’re teaching them their esteem is more important than their effort.”
She then quotes a survey from the Corporate Voices for Working Families, saying, basically, that incoming high school graduates are ill-prepared for entry-level jobs. Says Dr. Laura: “I guess if you’ve spent your time sexting and playing video games, you’re not going to be good in reading comprehension, writing, and math.”
So first, the problem was that kids are too lazy to work. Then it was that parents are too accommodating. Now it’s that technology is ruining the next generation.
But finally, she gets to the important part. The same study, she says, viewed high school graduates as unable to use reasonable grammar and spelling. “Critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to express oneself are no longer being taught in school. Do you know why? Because we have women’s studies, Black studies, Hispanic studies, purple studies, green studies, etc. We have all kinds of studies for advocacy groups which have no place in our basic education system. These studies should all be extracurricular subjects and should have no relevance to graduating with a degree. If you haven’t read the classics and you haven’t thought through profound concepts and essays, then you’re not educated. All these studies simply involve being angry about something and putting your fist in the air. This is why our ranking in science and math is below a lot of third world countries. We should be number one.”
Is she joking? Or just sorely misled? The study was talking about high school graduates; the vast majority of high schools do not have minority studies. For example, in 2005, Philadelphia public schools changed their curriculum to require a year of African-American studies for all students; this was the first move of its type in the nation, and two-thirds of the students there are black. To the majority of those students, African-American studies is the basics. This is the history that is relevant to them, and it is critical to their lives. And to the White students, who receive 11 years of White studies, it offers a different worldview. Classics don’t automatically teach critical thinking. Critical thinking is thinking that questions assumptions, such as the assumptions that the only people who ever had anything important to say were rich White men.
Does Dr. Laura even understand what critical thinking is? Memorizing the same things year after year without any sort of questions about the sources or the context is the opposite of critical thinking. Sure, if she wants to complain that the students don’t know grammar, I can understand saying “there should be more focus on grammar” (it is wrong, but it would at least make sense). But to say that students are bad at critical thinking, problem solving, and the ability to express themselves because their education is broad and inclusive? Her argument is maybe the biggest indicator that people are willing to swallow crap without questioning it, without thinking critically, because it is absolutely nonsensical.
These studies are not about putting your fist in the air (although I’m all for fists in the air). They are about learning about different perspectives, about broadening an education, about thinking through profound concepts and essays. And sometimes, when you see things from different perspectives, your fist raises, because of how angry you get at how narrow the rest of your education has been, and how much inequality there is all around.
Perhaps Dr. Laura should rethink her own education.