There’s a “crisis in the classroom,” and American children are paying the price, say Armstrong Williams, host of “The Armstrong Williams Show,” and Dr. Ben Carson, a renowned neurosurgeon and former secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.
It’s “very concerning in our society today, as you see the dumbing down of our people,” Carson says.
Carson and Williams are the authors of the book “Crisis in the Classroom” and join “The Daily Signal Podcast” to offer solutions to America’s foundering education system. They had a third co-author, Benjamin Crump.
Carson also addresses the role of the federal Department of Education and whether it should be eliminated.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript:
Virginia Allen: America’s education system is languishing. In October, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which is also called America’s Report Card, revealed a catastrophic decline in math and reading scores in America just since 2019. And here with us to talk about the state of education across the nation and solutions to fix the problem is the host of “The Armstrong Williams Show” and entrepreneur, Armstrong Williams, and neurosurgeon and former Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson. Thank you-all so much for being here today.
Armstrong Williams: Pleasure.
Allen: Well, Mr. Williams, I want to start with you and ask a little bit about these national test scores. It was really disturbing when we saw these numbers come out. In mathematics eighth grade students, their scores have dropped eight points from 2019 to 2022. In eighth grade, their proficiency in reading has declined about three points. What is going on here? Is COVID entirely to blame for these issues? Are there other factors affecting this dramatic decline in education?
Williams: Well, I certainly, I don’t think you can leave COVID out of the equation, but that’s not all of it.
No, look, Florida had it right. Florida did not allow its students to social distance. It defied and challenged the White House when they claimed that kids could learn virtually. Many of these kids did not have internet. Many of them did have internet. And when there was an internet disconnect, the parents were not aware. And so the kids would miss class for that day. Oftentimes the teachers were not prepared, it was just disorganized and kids were bored and isolated.
And so, obviously, we should not be surprised of the results given the issues that we were having before COVID-19. And remember, COVID-19 also unearthed, it gave birth to Moms for Liberty when they discovered what their kids were actually being taught, what was going on in the classroom.
And listen, and we all know that the more the [National Education Association], the more these special-interest groups grow in power, the more at the expense of dumbing down education and children becoming more and more illiterate. That’s just the fact. The more the power that these lobbyists have is at the expense of these children. And one of the things that we often forget is that family is also a significant culprit. We don’t like to talk about this.
When you think about single motherhood and adolescent pregnancy rates, especially in minority communities during the previous century, have produced generations of children without a second parent who are born into poverty and lack nutrition and actually adequate habitation. They are born burden with figurative change in the race of life.
And politicians, what they often do so well is leave welfare undisturbed to attract the votes of their government dependence while welfare recipients leave politicians undisturbed to maintain a hike that unearned government benefits. It is a form of such of a pathological domestic abuse in which the wife returns to her abuser out of necessity.
And so that’s what they created here. And so this crisis has impacted families in ways just unimaginable. But these stories are real and riveting of the incumbent problem in urban cities across America and also all sectors of America. Because you ask yourself, how is it possible that a child can go through school for 12 years and be illiterate? And how can you know that they don’t measure up with math and English? And how do you know they cannot write? It is such a devastating blow to the human spirit.
And listening to these parents and hearing these kids, you could also see their dreams for a better future for their children. It’s just doom. It’s just doom. And you clearly see they know that they were cheated. And this is, actually, they were cheated.
And it is such a harsh reality also that I think that this is probably one of the greatest robberies in the United States. And if it were a financial crime or any other crime for that matter, dozen would be charged, prosecuted, and likely face jail time. But that is not the case here when we fail our kids and we must ask ourselves why.
We must ask why this continues to be so acceptable when people are being robbed of an opportunity to make a good life, to have real self-worth, real self-esteem. We know that this education, this passport keeps kids farther away from sexual trafficking, from prostitution, from petty theft, from the prison system, being incarcerated, from homicide. We know exactly what happens when a kid is educated. It’s not a 100%, but it’s 90%. I’ll take that 90% any day.
And are we also selfishly absorbed by own daily problems that we are complacent with the grand larceny of our children’s future?
And this is why Dr. Carson, Attorney [Benjamin] Crump, and I decided to come together because the children who attend these dilapidated schools are survivors of a corrupt system that, frankly, really doesn’t care about them. It really doesn’t.
And no one wants to say, and to politicians, they’re nothing but votes. And for education administrators, you know where they are? Expendables. And so these communities are populated by, guess what? The unschooled. Because why? Why? Because the educated lead, they move out of the city to enable their children to escape from the debilitating miseducation they experience, but more stay behind with neither hope nor ambition. That is why school choice, charter schools are so important.
Allen: Dr. Carson, I know that this issue is very, very personal to you, and you talk very openly about how education was so important in your household growing up. If you would just share a little bit about the role that education played for you as a young person and the role that your own mom, the emphasis that your own mom put on learning and the importance of a strong education.
Dr. Ben Carson: Well, as a youngster, I was not particularly strong academically, and that’s putting it mildly. The other kids were always glad I was in the room because no one had to worry about getting the lowest mark on the test as long as I was there. But I just really didn’t think that I was smart. So as a result of that, I really didn’t pay close attention to what was going on.
And then, interestingly, in the fifth grade, we had eye exams. I didn’t know that anybody could see the board. I got glasses and all of a sudden I could see the board. And I went from an F student to a D student and I was so pleased. And the teacher was pleased too because she had low expectations for me.
My mother was still horrified that I was getting these grades and she worked as a domestic cleaning other people’s houses. And she noticed that they did a lot of reading and didn’t watch TV a lot. So she concluded that that had a lot to do with their success.
She came home one day and imposed that on me and my brother. And we were not happy campers, believe me. Days where we would’ve called social services on her. But we had to read the books.
And I didn’t like it very much at first. But as I started reading about people of great accomplishment, great entrepreneurs and innovators and scientists, I started to understand that you don’t just become one of those people. You have to work at it. And the person who has the most to do at what happens to you is you. And all of a sudden I became a bookworm. I was reading everything I could get my hands on.
In the space of a year and a half, I went from the bottom of the class to the top of the class. Everybody was just amazed at this transformation that had occurred in me. But I was just thirsting for knowledge at that point. And it completely changed the trajectory of my life and allowed me to come from very humble circumstances to become a brain surgeon, that it had to do with education and recognizing the importance of it.
And one of the reasons that we wanted to write this book is to help people to realize that our educational system is an incredibly important part of success in our society. It doesn’t matter where you came from, if you get a good education, you write your own take. It doesn’t matter if you come from a liberal family or a conservative family or a black family or a white family or a yellow fam. It doesn’t matter.
You go ahead and you program that computer of yours, which is your brain. And like a regular computer, you get out of it what you put into it, you have to program it if you want it to do things. If you don’t do that, you’re like, what’s going on? And it was so important that John Adams, our second president, said that our system is based upon an educated and informed populace. If you don’t have that, you have people who are very easy to manipulate.
And it’s very concerning in our society today, as you see the dumbing down of our people. All you have to do is go back and look at a middle school exit exam from the early 1900s or from the 1800s and see what kids were expected to know compared to today. And spending so much time on gender classifications and things like that as opposed to the basics of what you need to know so that you can read an application and fill it out appropriately, so that you can read instructions and follow them, so that you can accomplish a lot of the tasks that are needed for basic employment.
And we have a lot of kids graduating who don’t have those skills and what are they left with? Unfortunately, frequently, a life of crime and debauchery. And that’s our fault as a society. We need to recognize this and we need to take the steps to do something about it.
Now, one of the things, of course, is giving people choice and education, but not everybody can take advantage of that. And we still have a lot of people in public education. So we need to rectify what is going on in our public educational arenas.
Allen: Dr. Carson, when it comes to things like the teaching of critical race theory in the classroom or gender identity, how does that have an impact on students in the classroom, both on their educational abilities and on overall disunity in the classroom?
Carson: Well, it’s very distracting. I have a friend, his 8-year-old granddaughter came home crying one day and she said, “Grandpa, am I evil because I’m white?” Now, where are you hearing that from? Where’s she getting those kind of ideals?
And of course, you have a lot of the black kids or minorities feeling all of a sudden that this society is stacked against them, that it’s impossible for them to excel to the degree that they should because society’s stacked against them. If you think you’re a victim, you are a victim. There’s no question about that.
And my mother, if anybody was a victim, it was her. But she refused to be a victim. She came from a huge rural family in Tennessee, shuffled from home to home, was able to get less than a third grade education, got married at age 13, years later found out that her husband was a bigamist.
If anybody was a victim, it was her. She refused to be a victim. She refused to let us be a victim. She was always saying, “You can think your way out of this and depend on yourself and depend on God.” And if we ever made an excuse, out of her mouth the next thing was a poem called “Yourself to Blame.” And the question, “Do you have a brain?” And if you do, the answer was “yes,” then it doesn’t matter what John or Susan or Mary or Steve did or said, you could think your way out of it.
Allen: Mr. Williams, I want to pull you back into this conversation. I was interested, The Washington Post, they recently published an op-ed that was discussing the frustration that some teachers have with things like standard-based gradings. So these are policies that tell teachers they can’t give a kid a grade lower than a 50 or that there is no deadline for when homework can be turned in. What is the effect of policies like that on students, especially minority students?
Williams: The unfortunate thing about those policies is that, first off, it creates a challenge with your own peers because kids are the cruelest of all, and kids gossip and they tease. And so kids are very aware when their colleagues in the classroom are not studying and they don’t earn a grade. So they have to deal with that stigma.
But the true test of that stigma really doesn’t happen while they’re in school, it’s what happens after they graduate and they must apply for jobs and they cannot read, they cannot write, they cannot do basic arithmetic. You pass them along for this false self-esteem and this false self-worth. It’s like giving a kid a prize, even though the certain kids who score between 9 and 100 earn the prize, you’re going to still get the same prize as some kid that scored between 30 and 50.
The impact that it has long term, it’s where the devastation happens. Sometimes it leads these kids to suicide, it leads to depression, it leads to lack of self-worth.
And for me, I don’t even understand how you can give something to anyone that has not been earned. What that does—and consciously you understand that you did not earn it. It eats at you. It’s so different than you being in a classroom and you know cheated your way through that classroom. There’s something inside you that knows that you did not earn that. And it’s one thing for a kid to do that to themselves, but for a system to allow that to happen, it’s just very crippling.
Allen: Dr. Carson, I would love to ask you a little bit about the faith component that you write about in the book and the role of religion and the role of faith that plays within the education system. Of course, this used to be a really core tenet within America’s education system in the early days of our nation. How does the conversation of faith play a role in our discussion of education today?
Carson: The fact of the matter is, in early America, our schools all posted the Ten Commandments. And in 1963 we said, “No, you can’t do that anymore.” What exactly is wrong with thou shall not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shall not commit adultery, thou shall not bear false witness, thou shall not envy, you should honor your parents? These are general principles of Judeo-Christian societies. And as we push those out, they have to be replaced with something else.
And not teaching our children morals and values is having a very negative effect. They don’t respect other people. Instead of “Love your neighbor,” it’s, “Cancel your neighbor if they don’t agree with them.” These are things that will obviously sow seeds of division within our society. And I think that has a lot to do with some of the violence that we see and some of the things of that nature. It’s not the guns, it’s not the knives, it’s the mindset of people that we need to be worried about.
And there are countries that have more guns per capita than we do, like Switzerland. They have almost no problems of this nature because they’re not sowing those kinds of seeds. So we need to be concerned about what we are teaching our children in terms of their relationships with their fellow human beings. And that’s where faith and religion come in.
Allen: Mr. Williams, looking at all of the problems that we have talked about and addressed, it’s easy to get a little bit discouraged about our education system. But what are the solutions? What can parents do? What can we do as citizens? What can teachers who are listening do to raise the bar and actually be serving our kids well and raising those education standards?
Williams: Well, the media, which I’m certainly part of, frequently has the problem spoon-fed to them too, but regularly fails to report on them, seemingly for political or other business-related reasons.
When you look at Project Baltimore and the Baltimore City schools and that internal illiteracy testing in which the Baltimore school system found that 77% of high school students read at only an elementary school level, and even worse, their internal reports were not publicized by the school, instead they were only uncovered when a distraught teacher leaked these reports to Project Baltimore.
They just couldn’t take it anymore. They just could not take destruction of being part of a system. She just could not sleep. And so she risked it all. And you would’ve thought that would’ve been the headline, but it wasn’t because, you know what? The mainstream media are aware, but to protect their own special-interest groups, they do it often at the expense of the children.
And so the sadness is, is that. And then parents play a role. Parents understand that their kids are being exploited. They know their kids are not educated. But one of the things that happened in our household, not only did our parents read to us, but we had to read to our parents. Why? Because they could measure our learning capacity. They could measure the progress that we were making. And we had to go to the library. We had to read. Television was earned, not something that was expected.
And so the future is what each of us individually makes it. But what does it cost us as a society if we do nothing to help motivate people to rise to their full potential? Because as Dr. Carson says so often, every child is born with freedom in this country, but are they truly free if they’re born in environments that rob them of freedom before they have a chance to know what it is? I don’t think so.
Which is why, particularly in the inner cities across America, we most hold these political leaders accountable and look internally at the culture changes the community needs to make in order to prosper. But the need, it has wider application. All Americans, just like Dr. Carson and Ben Crump and myself, are coming together. We have to come together to make everyone succeed in their ambition because a rise in tide lifts all boats.
And politics is not about winning or losing, it is about making everyone a winner and giving everyone a helping hand when it’s necessitates by the vicissitude of life. That’s what it’s about. Because in the end, it seems that those who purport to unify us are dividing us. And minority communities can be made safer and minority people can thrive if they are unafraid to speak up about the conditions of their communities, and if they’re given the facts and the opportunities to think of creative solutions, address problems that directly cause their suffering, and hold those accountable who put them down.
They’ve got to have that kind of freedom. They cannot feel they’re intimidated. They’re betraying some kind of oath when it’s at the destruction of not only their kids, but their parenting and the success of their kids that someday will take care of them, as Dr. Carson did with his mother and I did with my mother. This stuff has long-term consequences if we don’t do something about it.
Allen: Thank you for that call to action, Mr. Williams. Dr. Carson, before I let you-all go, I would be curious to ask, there are some Americans, particularly on the political Right, who advocate for an end to the Department of Education, having worked as the secretary of housing and urban development, what do you think? Should the Department of Education be dismantled?
Carson: Well, it’s pretty hard to get rid of something that’s been established for a long time. Maybe it wasn’t necessary in the beginning, but it’s here now. So rather than getting rid of it, I would say, let’s use it in a positive way. Let’s understand the value of education for all of our citizens, and let’s try to make it equitable and available to everybody.
And the Department of Education is not only about elementary school and high school, it’s also about universities. And the Department of Education could actually be effective in terms of grant money to remove a lot of the bias that’s going on in our university campuses. It’s supposed to be a place where people have discussions, where they learn about all kinds of different philosophies instead of a monolithic indoctrination school. And the Department of Education could play a very significant role in helping that to occur.
Allen: Gentlemen, thank you both so much for your time today. The book is “Crisis in the Classroom.”
Williams: Thank you.
Carson: Thank you.
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