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Thomas Sowell

“Science is not the only field in which American students are lacking in knowledge and — more importantly — in the ability to tie what they know together to form a coherent chain of reasoning. Many American students seem unaware of even the need for such a process. Test scores are only the tip of the iceberg. Professor Diane Ravitch, a scholar specializing in the study of American education, reports that ‘professors complain about students who arrive at college with strong convictions but not enough knowledge to argue persuasively for their beliefs.’ As Professor Ravitch concludes: ‘Having opinions without knowledge is not of much value; not knowing the difference between them is a positive indicator of ignorance.’ In short, it is not that Johnny can’t read, or even that Johnny can’t think. Johnny doesn’t know what thinking is, because thinking is so often confused with feeling in many public schools.

The phrase ‘I feel’ is so often used by American students to introduce a conclusion, rather than say ‘I think,’ or ‘I know,’ much less ‘I conclude.’ Unfortunately, ‘I feel’ is often the most accurate term — and is regarded as sufficient by many teachers, as well as students. The net result, as in mathematics, is that many students are confident incompetents, whether discussing social issues, world events, or other subjects. The emphasis is on having students express opinions on issues, and on having those opinions taken seriously (enhancing self-esteem), regardless of whether there is anything behind them…”

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Excerpted from Thomas Sowell’s 1993 book Inside American Education: The Decline, The Deception, The Dogmas.

Below, watch Sowell debating American schools in a 1981 episode from Buckley’s Firing Line.

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