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Why “Education is not rocket science”?

In 1999, I ran across an article in AFT’s American Educator magazine by Louisa Moats entitled “Teaching Reading IS  Rocket Science”. It can still be found on the AFT site. The title and the article accompanying it struck me as self-serving, creating an expertise requirement for teaching a skill which is as common as sitting on Grandma’s lap while she reads to you, and you read back to her. Grandma was never an expert, but we learned to read from her, and Grandpa, and Mom, and Dad, and Older Brother and Sister. Miraculous as it may seem (and the human brain is truly miraculous), slowly but surely, without pressure, we all learned to read. It came as naturally as learning to talk.

Why this pronouncement from Moats? The answer might lie in her early  work, skill and training being in Special Education! I can agree that there are some special cases where failure or delay in learning to read might be symptomatic of some underlying physical or mental problem requiring a specialist trained in the area. However, for normal students the old fashioned sit-on-lap-with-grandma is all that is necessary. So, why extend the need for “rocket science” experts to teaching normal children to read? My guess it’s an example of general societal sickness that now requires the creation of a “client class” for “professionals” to treat, like bereavement specialists. Yes, therefore, we need rocket science reading specialists.

So, the secondary title of my blog of “Education is not rocket science” is a direct consequence of my strong disagreement that what needs to be learned in elementary and middle and even high schools is so complex and beyond the ability of any normal student “rocket science” specialists are required.

What about math and science? Doesn’t that require expertise in math and science? Answer: It shouldn’t. It’s only because 95% of adult Americans are mathematically and scientifically illiterate, by one survey, that we have to rely on “experts”. It is simply a sad commentary on the thoroughly inadequate education system (really the US culture — let’s not put the blame on the schools), that common reckoning (as Thomas Jefferson might have said) and science have not been learned by parents and grandparents and older brothers and sisters such that the material taught in elementary and middle schools seem to require expertise rather than common knowledge.

Likewise for history and biology (life?) at the grade and middle school levels. These topics can and should be so commonly known that any adult could impart this knowledge.

None of this is Rocket Science.


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