Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: Minority Studies are Ruining Kids’ Lives

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.”

Dr. Laura
Dr. Laura: living a life made possible by feminism, and then bitching about feminists.

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.

By Susan

I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

15 replies on “Dr. Susan vs. Dr. Laura: Minority Studies are Ruining Kids’ Lives”

Minoriy studies can’t teach students reading, writing, grammar, and composition?  Why, because we watch movies all day?  No.  We read, engage critically, write, and rewrite.  I am a history instructor (soon to be professor) and ALL of my college-level courses involve some major writing component.  I mean it’s pretty transparent what Laura is doing — use poor reading comp skills as a smoke screen to attack minority studies.  But the two are not a trade off by any stretch.  She doesn’t care about  those little details, does she?

Seriously, it’s such a cop-out argument. The closest to logic I can get is that she thinks “minority studies” involves watching movies with non-white actors, and listening to “black” or “Hispanic” music, or staging protests. Not comparing similar works by writers of different ethnicities or spending time on not American or European history. (Yes, I’m still bitter that my history minor included probably a total of two weeks’ classes/readings about Asian/South American/African/Middle Eastern history. And most of it was stuff that every history class talks about, like Mesopotamia and the Chinese dynasties.)

From a lit-geek standpoint, I would MUCH rather read “The House on Mango Street” or “Things Fall Apart” or “The Kite Runner” for a class than re-reading, for the billionth time, something like “Lord of the Flies” or the Romantic poets or anything by the ancient Greek philosophers. I forgot how many times I read any of the latter from middle school through college (to the point that I just had to refresh my memory with a quick skim or Sparknotes), and we spent very little time on any non-Northern/Western Hemisphere writers. I would have eaten Pablo Neruda’s poetry with a spoon in high school, if for no other reason than it wasn’t Emily Dickinson (AGAIN). Diverse materials isn’t just good for social/cultural education, but it helps to keep kids (and adults) from getting bored as hell with the same damn thing for the fifth time.

I would actually go as far as to say that the limited inclusion of minority issues that does exist (and I am aware how limited it is) is the US education’s biggest edge. I come from a country where if I hadn’t specifically opted to do History at A-level, and hadn’t gotten lucky with my exam board, I would’ve never learned any non-European history. Never. EVER. The history I did do? Civil Rights in the US, and Maoism.

It is a blessed strength that the discourse on race in the US has become strong enough to filter (at least a little) into the education system. It is, I would argue, the one thing that makes the US education system exemplary, at least from here in Europe. There’s a lot about the US education system I dislike (as I have made vehemently clear), but actually having some level of inclusion of minority issues (even just days devoted to minorities) is far beyond what I’ve ever had at school.

She obviously has not recently spent time in a high school, whether in the classroom or lurking around during a teacher’s “planning period”.

“Minority studies” aren’t the problem, “Dr” Laura. Standardized testing as the Ultimate Proof Of Learning is the problem. Teaching kids how to cram and regurgitate is not a useful life skill. (Some teachers focus more on the problem-solving aspect, which is much more useful, but it’s not the same as understanding the content.) Test scores don’t reveal actual knowledge or understanding so much as they demonstrate who can take tests the best. Nevermind that teachers are measured based on their students’ test scores, and in a lot of areas have to follow a scripted curriculum every day. If someone walks by the classroom and the teacher is not reading photocopied notes off of the overhead projector for students to take down verbatim, and then giving students fifteen minutes to copy those notes again at least twice, that teacher is “doing it wrong” and “failing his/her students” because those kids aren’t learning how to memorize properly.

“Minority studies”, non-classic literature, actual EXPERIMENTS in science classes, and using creativity when teaching lit/language/history will help students “get it” and get why this information is important. Maybe they won’t get test scores in the 90th percentile, but they’ll actually understand why education is RELEVANT and why they should care. I’d say that’s more important.

Nevermind that “practical” skills (like business/tech classes) are pushed into “elective” status, and discouraged for “top students” (because “they’re going to college”); that’s half the reason high school grads don’t know much about life other than how to take a test.

But I have to scurry to catch the bus for work, so I’ll have to come back with my rantin’.

If you haven’t read the classics

Ha ha ha aha ha, oh what a joker! I’ve been reading several Classics the past years and have been underwhelmed for several times. And giving a high-schooler War and Peace might not do nothing more but give them an intense dislike for (big) books. I’m a book lover and fully support school-reads, but tying them to children becoming lazy workers ..nah.

But that’s the Dr.’s spiel, of course. She’s like a lazy spider tying threads to anything and not checking if the things she ties together are strong and right enough for a proper web/argument.

Oh man, I hear you about teaching classics to kids who aren’t ready for them just because they are classics. Or really any book that is critically renowned. I had to read Eli Wiesel’s Night as a freshman in high school (13 years old). Not really a great time to deal with a topic that heavy. See also: reading Macbeth and Wuthering Heights in eighth grade and The Bluest Eye in 11th grade in an almost completely white school with no attempt at giving us a real sense of context or getting us to acknowledge our privilege. Giving books to kids that they can’t really process well or relate to is just going to put them off reading more classics. Giving them less renowned books that they can engage with will develop far more “critical thinking” skills.

She clearly has not instilled the values of perseverance, flexibility, humility, and commitment in her own son, so she needs to STFU.

Or maybe some of the issue is, too, that in states where higher test scores mean more money for schools, schools are just teaching to those tests and not exploring other things.  How can someone be expected to think critically when all they have been taught to do is learn by rote?

Oh lord. I would have loved to have had more expansive studies in school. You know, beyond “Hey, here’s slavery! And, hey, did you know about Cesar Chavez? Oh, also, Irish people once had a really hard time.”

I do feel lucky that I grew up in a very multicultural city where we were taught about Spanish-speaking culture and history. Now, I think a lot of my perspective has to do with living where I did, but the formal education also helped, too.

It’s good to learn about other people!

Obviously Dr. Laura isn’t a teacher. It’s not the subject that leads to critical thinking, it’s the methodology in which it is taught. Kids could be learning about space goats and still be thinking critically. Critical thinking is about comparisons, ideas, problem solving, and values. African-American studies sound like the perfect place to employ critical thinking! The protests, laws, injustice, affirmative action, reparations, culture and customs, speeches, historical figures, movements, campaigns, slave trade–there are so many facets to this part of our history in which to engage students! And the emotional response we all feel when studying these issues is so useful in getting kids to employ critical thinking! Dr. Laura is 100% wrong when she says kids today don’t know how to think.

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