In short, schools are supposed to prepare children for the future, not give teachers opportunities for self-indulgences in the present. One of these self-indulgences was exemplified by a letter I received recently from a fifth-grader in the Sayre Elementary School in Lyon, Michigan.

He said, “I have been assigned to ask a famous person a question about how he or she would solve a difficult problem.” The problem was what to do about the economy.

Instead, I replied to his parents: With American students consistently scoring near or at the bottom in international tests, I am repeatedly appalled by teachers who waste their students’ time by assigning them to write to strangers, chosen only because those strangers’ names have appeared in the media.

It is of course much easier– and more “exciting,” to use a word too many educators use– to do cute little stuff like this than to take on the sober responsibility to develop in students both the knowledge and the ability to think that will enable them to form their own views on matters in both public and private life. What earthly good would it do your son to know what economic policies I think should be followed, especially since what I think should be done will not have the slightest effect on what the government will in fact do? And why should a fifth-grader be expected to deal with such questions that people with Ph.D.’s in economics have trouble wrestling with?

The damage does not end with wasting students’ time and misdirecting their energies, serious though these things are. Getting students used to looking to so-called “famous” people for answers is the antithesis of education as a preparation for making up one’s own mind as citizens of a democracy, rather than as followers of “leaders.”

via Thomas Sowell : A Letter from a Child –

Dr. Sowell is the greatest social critic of our time.