WHEN THE OP-ED PAGE DOESN'T KNOW WHAT THE NEWS PAGE IS DOING... Yesterday's Washington Post op-ed page had a very sensible column from education writer Jay Mathews. He argues that the media sensationalism surrounding over-worked, over-pressured high-schoolers is totally misplaced. Media elites regurgitate this story because their own children attend fancy suburban public schools or urban private or magnet schools, where students have too much work, too many extracurriculars, and too much pressure to get into Dartmouth. In fact, as Mathews demonstrates, for the vast majority of American high-schoolers, the problem is that their schools are not demanding enough, and, rather than not having enough time for contemplation, they have too much time for television.
So imagine my surprise when I then turned to the Post's Metro section on the very same day and saw a story on how local Big Three alumni are reacting to this year's U.S. News college rankings. The story was incredibly narrowly focused, only discussing the reactions of Harvard, Yale and Princeton graduates. And it ran at a more-than-sufficient length given that everyone the reporter talked to professed to not know or not care whether their school was first or second this year. It would seem the Post is as guilty as anyone of perpetuating this myth that the important news in American secondary and higher education is how Harvard compares to Princeton, and not stagnant reading and math scores or high rates of college dropouts.