In our continuing conversation with people involved in different aspects of education, we turn today to Richard Whitmire. Whitmire long served as the education editorial writer for USA Today, writing "voice of the paper" editorials. He recently finished a book manuscript about the challenges boys face in school.
GE: What's the most surprising change you've seen in education during your time covering it?
Whitmire: The acceptance of the fact that far more students -- including minority students from low performing high schools -- need at least some college is a huge change. Before, we could rely on the best and brightest from private and suburban schools to fuel our economy, but both the economy and the nation's demographics have changed. Trying to turn that corner is what the education reform movement is all about. It appears likely to go on for years.
GE: Do you think most education reporters are interested in gifted issues? What would make them more interested?
Whitmire: I think reporters like to write about gifted child programs mostly because they have high readership appeal. Either your own child is gifted, you think your child is gifted or you resent the children who were pulled out for gifted programs -- any of those categories will guarantee readership. At the same time I think reporters are very cynical about these programs -- lots of "Volvo brigade" jokes. Frankly, those jokes are partly warranted. School districts often treat the programs as something they need to do for parents rather than something they ought to be doing.
GE: Tell us a little bit about the book you have coming out.
Whitmire: Why Boys Fail, due this fall, is a reporter's take on the boys issue. Because the federal government continues to duck the issue, the entire field has been turned over to psychologists, psychiatrists, ideologues and others who have books to sell, lectures to be paid for, etc. I'm not saying their theories are wrong, but I do think there's a central cause for the problem, a cause that's already been identified in countries such as England and Australia where government investigators have stepped in. In short, what they've found is the world has become more verbal but boys haven't. The failure by schools to help boys adjust to the early verbal demands placed on them (today's preschool is yesterday's second grade) is the core problem. The other stuff -- video games, rap music, etc. -- is chaff.