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Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality Hardcover – August 19, 2008

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Murray, coauthor of The Bell Curve, believes our educational system's failures stem from the fundamental lie that every child can be anything he or she wants and that such educational romanticism prevents progress. Four simple truths, he asserts, would prove better: children have different abilities, half of the children are below average, too many children go to college, and America's future depends on the gifted. Murray takes care with his first point, discussing various types of abilities instead of the oft-maligned I.Q. measure; however, he does believe that test scores reflect ability. He argues that there are only a limited number of academically gifted people and these are America's future leaders, that only this elite can enjoy college productively and that the nongifted shouldn't be channeled by their high school counselors into training for that college chimera, which wouldn't make them happy anyway. Further, he argues, if the Educational Testing Service created certification tests covering what employers want applicants to know, these would become the gold standard for applicants, rather than college degrees. This book is likely to stir controversy even if it appears that Murray is dressing up an old elitist argument—test scores reflect ability, so high-scorers should be offered a challenging education, while the below-average should be herded into vocational training. (Aug.)
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From School Library Journal

Murray (Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950–1980; coauthor, The Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life) proposes four "simple truths"—ability varies, half of all children are below average, too many people are going to college, and America's future depends on how we educate the gifted—for parents, educators, and policymakers to confront. The current focus of the educational system, Murray contends, of educating all children to the same level and holding them to the same standards (i.e., No Child Left Behind) ignores these four truths and attempts to prepare most children to earn a B.A., though many of them are not suited for college and would be happier and more productive in different careers. He suggests that bachelor's degrees should be reserved for students with the ability and interest in careers requiring it and instead there should be a series of national certifications to show what a job candidate can actually do. Murray's argument is controversial but well researched. His book is highly recommended for public and academic libraries.—Mark Bay, Cumberland Coll. Lib., Williamsburg, KY
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Crown Forum; 1 edition (August 19, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307405389
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307405388
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (83 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #578,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Charles Murray is a political scientist, author, and libertarian. He first came to national attention in 1984 with the publication of "Losing Ground," which has been credited as the intellectual foundation for the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. His 1994 New York Times bestseller, "The Bell Curve" (Free Press, 1994), coauthored with the late Richard J. Herrnstein, sparked heated controversy for its analysis of the role of IQ in shaping America's class structure. Murray's other books include "What It Means to Be a Libertarian" (1997), "Human Accomplishment" (2003), "In Our Hands" (2006), and "Real Education" (2008). His 2012 book, "Coming Apart" (Crown Forum, 2012), describes an unprecedented divergence in American classes over the last half century. His most recent book is "By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission" (Crown Forum, 2015).

Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

255 of 278 people found the following review helpful By Stanley H. Nemeth on August 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Charles Murray has written a brilliant analysis of the shortcomings of current American education, both K-12 and postsecondary. First among the problems he singles out is the pervasiveness of a mind-set he calls "educational romanticism." Educational romanticism takes as realism the Lake Wobegon fantasy, the notion that all children are above average. Consequently, its advocates tell the young, in smarmy Edgar Guest fashion, that there is nothing beyond their ability if only they try hard enough. Murray subtly points out the unintentional cruelty in this practice of encouraging overparted children to repeatedly set themselves up for failure. As an antidote, he suggests we accept the existential truth that schoolchildren are not equal in talents and abilities, that some are more gifted than others in the most important areas for academic futures, language skills and math ability. Such differences, he readily concedes, do not make one necessarily a better person, but they surely make one a better scholar and thus a more logical candidate for university attendance.

Second, he argues that half of all children are below average. While he concedes each child should have full opportunity to develop his abilities to the utmost, Murray recognizes that no documentation exists which would support the current educational establishment's wishful thinking that it can significantly alter a student's low ability, whether through more money spent, revised pedagogy, or better teacher training. He is similarly dismissive of the government's and politician's hysterical optimism which has produced such absurdities as "No Child Left Behind.
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72 of 80 people found the following review helpful By J. Scott Shipman on September 7, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Leave it to Mr. Murray to wade into the "special-interest-laden" waters of the educational bureaucracy/establishment and present facts. Mr. Murray has written a book that is maddening on the one hand ("facts are pesky things"), and reassuring on the other. Maddening to the extent of what K-12 education has become,or more correctly, devolved. And Murray takes all comers---including the self-esteem police and the grade-inflating universities. The problems he defines---all created by people with good intentions, no doubt, are fixable but sadly probably not by our current crop of elite educational leaders. Murray concludes on an optimistic note, and not a moment too soon. I have seen anecdotal (my children are through college---those that wanted to go), evidence of Murray's conclusions; many problems are being solved in innovative ways by parents and local communities. His advocacy of expanded vocational HS paths and innovative methods of learning (beyond the campus) are insightful---but so are Murray's admonishment to get back to a "core" curriculum that emphasizes what it means to be human. (By the way, his comparison of Aristotle and Confucius on page 122 is spot-on!).
Murray illuminates the one element that is absent in today's public school setting; the lack of moral instruction. He says, "...the reigning ethical doctrine of contemporary academia: nonjudgmentalism. They have been taught not just that they should be tolerant of different ways of living, but that it is wrong to make judgements about relative merit of different ways of living. It is the inverse of rigor in thinking about virtue and the Good---a task that, above all else, requires the formation of considered judgements.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Currie-Knight TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 30, 2008
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Some books deserve 5 stars not because they are right on every score or because they will convince all readers, but because they explore a hidden other side to a seemingly one sided issue. Charles Murray's "Real Education" is one such book. It will not change everyone's mind. What it will do is make everyone (agreers and disagreers) take a long, hard think.

Murray's main point is a simple one: we need to be real about what we expect from students, especially those in the bottom percentiles. While the present age's mantra is that one size - the "college track" - fits (or SHOULD fit) all, the data has never bourne this out. While very modest gains in ability are possible with much effort, all the attempts to "leave no child behind" do exactly that, often by asking square pegs (underperforming students) to fit into round holes (the college-prep track). Murray shows us the numbers - including those from Head Start and NCLB - to back up the idea that, like it or not, some students are less ACADEMICALLY gifted than others by nature.

One hard truth that Charles Murray focuses on is that while trying to send all kids down the college path sounds good on the surface, it may not be the most reality-based approach. High schools need to recognize that it is alright to steer students towards vocations, two year colleges, and trades. Murray also criticizes colleges for mandating that all students - no matter whether they aspire to be a lawyer or an HR manager - go through four years of liberal arts classes that may be irrelevant to their career-track. (Does the latter really need to take philosophy?)

All of this might seem a bit pessimistic and will surely rub people the wrong way.
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