An article was recently written by the Second Vice Chair of the Republican Party, Bryan Smith. In his article, “Don’t trust government to teach your kids,” he claims that because “things aren’t wonderful in Idaho schools… exams revealed that roughly 70 percent of kids in those grades [K-3] read at grade level… then roughly 26,000 Idaho kids don’t.” This apparently means, “These numbers tell a damning story… Elected officials are aware of the problem… If your local educators aren’t getting the job done, hold them accountable. Question the principal. Take your case to the school board… Don’t trust the government to educate your kid, lest they end up as one of the 26,000 students who can’t read proficiently.” In short, it must be the educators and by extension the government’s fault that kids can’t read.
This is an extreme case of ignorance regarding correlation and causation. Correlation is when two things have a mutual relationship or connection, which is different from causation as he is trying to present it; causation being when something causes something else. This logical fallacy that he is trying to push is called the fallacy of incomplete evidence, or cherry picking. It also just so happens to be a lawyer’s favorite way to win a case, which makes sense why he would pick it. According to him the only obvious reason that a child may not be reading at grade level is because the school failed the child, not for any of the other innumerable possible reasons.
Let’s look at a similar example I use when teaching 8th graders about this fallacy. Every year around the same time of the year boat accidents tend to occur more frequently, coincidentally at the same time the amount of ice cream sold seems to increase. The only logical conclusion here is that boat captains must be eating and boating at the same time, so obviously we must forbid ice cream on boats because that is the cause. While these two things are related, interact with each other, and sure maybe a boat accident has occurred during the consumption of ice cream. The better conclusion would be ice cream sales go up in the summer, and people primarily boat in the summer, so accidents will also happen at the same time that ice cream sales increase. My 8th graders understand this...
Instead of looking at the possible influences of why reading levels are low, it must be the government’s fault. Here are some other possibilities to think about that also have correlation and in my experience as a teacher have a much stronger correlation on a students ability then simply going to a government school. Parents who don’t care and so don’t help their children do homework. Parents who actively tell their students that school doesn’t matter. People like Bryan who say that schools are evil and brainwash you. Children who are being abused (sexual abuse happens to 1 in 4 girls, and 1 in 6 boys before the age of 18… wait a second, there’s the 30% who are not reading at grade level... or maybe it is physical or emotional abuse which have much higher percentages). Children who just had a parent die, or any loved one for that matter. Children who are being bullied. Children who are learning English (might explain why Hispanic students are at a lower percentage). Children who didn’t eat any food or are homeless because they are too poor (huh, that one might explain why children in poverty perform worse than others). Children who have parents in prison and so nobody is at home to help because the other parent is working (the plurality of people in prison are unfortunately black because of a justice system designed to put them there… hey this might explain why black kids are reading at a lower level). Children who naturally struggle to read because of disabilities whether emotional, physical, or mental. Children who don’t want to learn.
Wow, in less than 10 minutes I found lots of reasons, reasons that make a lot more sense for why a student might not be at grade level. Let’s also look at the fact that if schools were failing kids, then the vast majority would be below reading level, not the supermajority at or above reading level. With Bryan’s logic, the only possible way schools could be failing students and it be the school and government’s fault, would be if teachers were picking students in their classes to fail them (3 out of 10 must fail so I can look bad), probably not the case, or if a few select teachers utterly sucked at teaching and all their students failed (which would actually not support his argument that schools and government failed the kids because that would obviously be the teacher that failed…).
Hmmm. Seems to me that schools have failed someone, Bryan Smith, in not helping him develop logical reasoning skills. Let’s be honest here, teachers are trying their hardest and are not to blame. Many spend hours upon hours preparing lessons, grading homework, and worrying about their students futures, outside of work hours. Instead, it makes more sense to me to blame societal norms (lack of morals or ethics… ie lawyers), negative attitude towards teachers and education in general (google “teacher’s fault cartoon” and look at the first few images comparing years), and ignorance. Simply put, Bryan Smith failed to see the forest for the trees.
Charles Horikami is a Social Studies Teacher at BLMS, and the Legislative District 32 Chair for the Idaho State Republican Party. The views expressed are not representative of the BLSD or of the Idaho State Republican Party. He can be contacted at email@example.com and welcomes all comments and critiques.