To the Editor:

Why do people who know better often consent to being fooled? Who is kidding whom?

By and large, graduating high school students today (and even many principals!) have only a fraction of hard knowledge in any subject area (except in the wizardry of technology gadgets) that students possessed 40 years ago. In New York State, Regents exams measured actual content retention.

Perhaps past generations overestimated the value of such knowledge and often misapplied it even when it was valid. Scores were assumed to correlate with intelligence and leadership potential and were viewed as a barometer of individual mental “exceptionalism.”

But people of great achievement across the spectrum of intellectual disciplines usually did not graduate at the top of their class and were often mediocre in their mastery of conventional skills and informational memory.

Creative genius usually is confined to a single precinct of cognition and is expressed often without human tutelage anyway. Mozart had no teachers except his father, and Einstein didn’t need any beyond a certain point early in his life. Mozart might have failed a Music Regents, if there were any.

So why the controversy over whether New York State Regents exams should be scrapped in favor of other less-formal, less-restrictive, inclusion-friendly criteria? Should the Regents exams be “repealed and replaced”?

Honest disagreements among people of good will can often unite rather than split them apart. Both proponents and opponents of the Regents exams have cogent arguments.

If the Regents exams are fatally flawed, is it due to their failure to test whether useful knowledge has been remembered, at least for the moment, or that they victimize and disenfranchise communities to whose culture and frame of reference they are insensitive?

Passing Regents exams many years ago made me feel practically predestined and entitled to prominence and comfort in society. But maturity and immersion in the ways of the world have since then made me discredit that notion zealously.

Character development is currently being stressed, and that is vital to a meaningful education. In its absence, sophistication is empty and progress is nothing.

But if the Regents exams are abandoned, there must nonetheless be substantive emphasis on content knowledge and verification that it has worked its way into our students’ psyches and souls and found a home there.

Otherwise, our nation will be led, and our liberties controlled, by a microscopic percentage of the total population and will have to entrust our liberties to Gates and Zuckerberg, et al.


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