The Downfall of Educational Expectations Essay

“America Skips School” by Benjamin R. Barber and “Back to Basics: Test Scores Don’t Lie” by Diane Ravitch are essays by accomplished authors examining the condition of Americas educational system. The main theme of both essays are a criticism of the public school system in America. While both authors have different objections and problems with the system, both clearly feel that there needs to be major changes.

Barber, in “America Skips School”, makes a very compelling concise argument of how the entire system is in crisis. Between low expectations, underpaid teachers, the mindset of consumerism being all invasive, and the fact that America simply doesn’t care about quality education, America is slipping to shockingly low standards. Barber aptly points out the fact that we as a society take our democratic privileges in America , which should cause us to reach for excellence, for granted. It takes educated informed citizens to keep an democratic society running. Barber best points this out by saying” Jefferson and Adams both understood that the Bill of Rights offered little protection in a nation without informed citizens. Once educated, however, a people was safe from even the subtlest tyrannies.” (Barber,19). America was founded on an idyllic dream that succeeded. Unfortunately, this success is not being

Barber places the guilt on our society as a whole. Education is not given the credence it deserves . we are a nation that has become accustomed to instant gratification. The very things that will create long term excellence and security for our country is being ignored in favor of the pursuit of frivolous materialism and entertainment

Ravitch, while agreeing with our standards demise, looks at it with a different point of view. She mainly addresses the actual social values in school. This includes the discrepancy of academic scores between female and male students and the lack of respect students receive from their peers for academic success.

Female students are far to willing to hide their intelligence due to long held beliefs that they will not be able to achieve the popularity otherwise. They receive affirmation of this through the media, their peers, and by the longstanding social decree that place more value on male children. This problem is not confined only to American schools. When looking at seventeen nations, females consistently were outranked by their male contemporaries. Peer pressure, consisting of all genders, races, and status, in school also causes a lack of academic excellence. For example, in an all black high school in Washington,D.C., “if they did well in their studies, they might be accused of “acting white.”” (Ravitch,3) The student’s are faced with fighting against conforming to what is considered the “norm” for their situation or being ostracised. Those who place their education as more important face the chances of being labeled a number of unflattering terms that could potentially make the school years a trial.

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Ravitch also points out that those countries who push a rigorous curriculum at a young age and expect discipline and hard work are the countries that are now surpassing America in many fields. “There is a growing real world correspondence between our declining test results and our declining economic prowess” (Ravitch,6)

Both authors have very valid arguments that do not detract from the other. Ravitch and Barber address the problems that are proving disastrous to our educational system and ultimately our countries future. Berber offers reasonable solutions that in the long term could reverse this to a more positive outcome. His suggestions include year long school, raising our standards and expecting them to be met, reducing the class size and creating a sense of responsibility in the student for their education, and increasing funding. Ravitch really offers no solutions, only questions to ponder and thought provoking sarcasms and ideas. Should we forgo all testing that compares our performance to other countries? Reject tests that show white males as the highest scores? Or do we address the race/gender issues that cause our students to ‘pigeonhole’ themselves?

Finding solid solutions to these problems posed by the authors will not be easy. Implementing the solutions will be even less so. As a country, we have let many priorities that would safeguard our future slip, education among them. We must keep pace with the top countries academically to protect our country for future generations. However difficult it may seem, Barber states the main component of the solution. “America, however, has historically been able to accomplish what it sets it mind to. When we wish it and will it, what we wish and will has happened.”(Barber,30)


Barber, Benjamin. “America Skips School.” Harper’s Magazine. November 1993.

Ravitch, Diane. “Back to Basics: Test Scores Don’t Lie.” New Republic. March 6, 1989.

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