American education is on a shaky foundation when students believe they are brilliant even though they have major deficiencies in basic skills. Many high school students with high grade point averages cannot write a coherent essay, do simple grammar or computation correctly. We are not confronting these glaring gaps. We promote students with basic academic shortcomings to avoid deflating the student's self-esteem or deal with parental displeasure. Instead schools concentrate on creating a "feel good entertainment environment."

Schools are failing students because they attempt to please everyone. Many schools are doing what teachers, parents and students want rather than what is needed. Students spend too much time watching movies, changing classes, organizing clubs and having parties for every occasion. These extra frills limit teaching time. Teachers are forced to go forward to cover the curriculum without being able to help the children having problems.

Dating back to the early 1900s, John Dewey's Progressive Education movement has emphasized following the natural inclination of children. Children like to play at school rather than concentrate on memorizing what appears to them to be meaningless tasks. Reading skills, times tables, writing skills, science, history and geography facts need to be learned and relearned. Allowing students to do what they want rather than what they need to do does not prepare them for the real world of work.

Any complicated task requires learning basic skills and terminology before successful completion. An adult learns a foreign language the same as a child: Starting at the beginning. Everyone must learn the sounds of the letters, words for every object, concepts and the grammar of the new language. It is a tedious task with many mistakes and corrections. It requires a lot of focused, tiring repetition for both the student and the teacher.

Only the dedicated teacher would choose to do repetitive exercises rather than share general knowledge and personal insights of life. It is easier to talk about what one enjoys rather than to endure the daily grind of assisting students to internalize the basic elements of learning. This knowledge creates hooks allowing students to attach other thoughts and ideas assisting in the creation of more sophisticated thinking.

This process of moving from the concrete to the abstract is essential for a student to be able to think for himself. Without basic knowledge people can be more readily propagandized.

It is less stressful for schools to appease everyone by serving "dessert" without requiring students to eat the "meal" first. This approach has led to many difficulties. The unrealistic belief that students and teachers can skip the mundane and rudimentary part of the learning process is leaving many students lacking the necessary skills to become self-educated.

American education is making a fundamental mistake by attempting to make school a painless endeavor. Initially learning new material is difficult, although the later pay off is great. The ability to express oneself well and think clearly on an abstract level can only be obtained through considerable effort.

Our students' poor performance is most often the direct result of inappropriate and misguided educational policies. Grading of students often lacks integrity. Grade inflation has resulted because we are blinded by looking at the social appropriateness of the child rather than the skill achievement. Students who are unable to disguise their academic inadequacies or social inappropriateness are labeled and placed in special education classes. This process excuses the school's responsibility to educate the child and solely blames the recipient, (the student) for his lack of learning. Schools need to become more accountable or there will be no improvement in our educational system.

The philosophy of American education must be revamped from the top down. There should be fewer administrators per school and they should support the hard working classroom teachers. We must stop pretending the teacher's credentials and self-promoting presentation are more important than the daily dedication to teaching students.

In the early grades let us keep things simple and concrete to create sound and solid future thinkers. When young students have developed strong fundamental skills then and only then, can they move forward. They will prosper in higher education, professionally and as citizens in a modern society when they have all the skills to extend thinking and learning.

Educators should stop deluding students and themselves that learning does not take tedious sacrifice and focused effort to be highly successful in our competitive world.

Dr. Maglio is the author of "Invasion Within and Essential Parenting." He is a psychotherapist and the owner/director of Wider Horizons School. Visit:

Source: Tampa Tribune, FL