Old books on shelf
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Martin Center column highlights left-of-center academic who makes good points

George Leef’s latest Martin Center column identifies a “kernel of truth” amid a “grain silo of nonsense” from a left-wing thinker.

Every so often, a leftist thinker breaks free from the orthodoxy to point out that policies favored by “progressives” can have adverse consequences. When that happens, it’s worth paying attention.

We have such an instance with the publication of The Cult of Smart by Fredrik deBoer, a writer and one-time academic whose work has appeared in leftist publications such as The New Republic and Jacobin.

He proudly proclaims his Marxism, saying that what all good Marxists want is a better, more equitable world. While he sees a lot to complain about—America still allows capitalism, after all—his particular target in the book is the way our education system overemphasizes academic credentials. We excessively reward those who are good at getting them at the expense of people who lack academic ability.

DeBoer calls his book “a prayer for the untalented” and it strikes a sympathetic chord as he discusses his efforts at teaching students who just aren’t smart. …

… Let’s give deBoer credit for his willingness to dissent from the leftist party line on the imperative of maximizing “educational attainment.” He even seems to at least dimly grasp a point that Thomas Sowell has been making for many years, namely that our education system is not designed for the benefit of the students, but rather for the benefit of the teachers and administrators who get paid whether their students succeed or not.

I agree wholeheartedly that we should stop forcing young people to stay in school when they hate being there. …

… Unfortunately, he … offers only vague, impressionistic statements about what he thinks people on the right believe about our schools. That’s why it is hard to take The Cult of Smart seriously as a work on education policy.

Another weakness in the book is that deBoer greatly overstates his case that America is inhospitable toward the “unsmart.”

Mitch Kokai / Senior Political Analyst

Mitch Kokai is senior political analyst for the John Locke Foundation. He joined JLF in December 2005 as director of communications. That followed more than four years as chie...

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