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Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality

3.91  ·  Rating Details ·  466 Ratings  ·  86 Reviews
"The most talked-about education book this semester." —New York Times

From the author of Coming Apart, and based on a series of controversial Wall Street Journal op-eds, this landmark manifesto gives voice to what everyone knows about talent, ability, and intelligence but no one wants to admit. With four truths as his framework, Charles Murray, the bestselling coauthor of T
Paperback, 224 pages
Published August 25th 2009 by Three Rivers Press (first published January 1st 2008)
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Sep 21, 2008 Vincent rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current
I was in the bookstore on Saturday, saw that Charles Murray had put out a new book, and said, "Dammit," because I knew I HAD to read it and therefore shell out $25 for it.

He discusses four truths of contemporary American education. I think his first two truths (ability varies; half of all children are below average) are undebatable. Few would disagree with his fourth truth (America's future depends on the education of the academically gifted) on its face, but they might disagree with his recomme
Bojan Tunguz
May 21, 2011 Bojan Tunguz rated it it was amazing
Charles Murray is one of the best known researchers and writers on various public policy topics. He is oftentimes maligned due to the fact that many of his positions and arguments fly in the face of the popular wisdom and challenge some of our most cherished prejudices. In the case of education, those prejudices have been the source of countless "reforms" that have had very little, if any, impact on the actual achievements of students they were meant to help. The latest one of those attempts, th ...more
Billie Pritchett
I have mixed feelings about Charles Murray's Real Education, although I think he's partially right. The subtitle of the book is Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality. Here are his four simple truths. The first basic truth is that ability varies. This is undoubtable, I think, and shouldn't be uncontroversial, but if it's taken seriously then it could help change the way school systems tend to do a one-size-fits-all education. So not everybody can be expected to master ...more
Skylar Burris
Sep 27, 2008 Skylar Burris rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: sociology, education
Real Education injects some much needed realism into the never-ceasing education debate. Charles Murray insists we must first dispense with "educational romanticism" before we can better serve students of all academic abilities. It's time, he argues, to admit some brutal truths:

1. By definition, half of all children are of below average academic ability.
2. Children cannot, in reality, be anything they want.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. We are expecting too much of the lower half
May 25, 2010 Lynn rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Charles Murray wrote a few articles in the Wall Street Journal and expanded them into this book. The most memorable statement from both the articles and the book was that 50% of students are below average in educational ability. People took offense to this statement, not because he assumed students fall on a normal curve and he may have misused the term “average”, but because it offended their educational romanticism. If 50% of children are below average in educational attainment, 50% of childre ...more
Point 1: Ability varies. Though there are multiple intelligences, it is a fallacy that everyone is particularly good at one or more, and there is a definite correlation between six of the seven (kinesthetic/physical is the one without any strongly observed correlation as of the writing, though athletes are more likely to be like Tiger Woods than Donte Stallworth). Also kids who are above average in one tend to also be above average in the other ones.

Point 2: Half of the kids are below average.
Jan 14, 2011 Seth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Murray has not cowered since his inflammatory IQ arguments in the mid 90's. Here, Murray argues that educational romantics are harming the least academically gifted children and the most academically gifted ones by ignoring inherent abilities. He cleverly uses Multiple Intelligence theory to argue that we must face inherent capacity no matter what natural aptitudes a child may have. He focuses on three of the seven general types of intelligence: spatial, logical, and verbal. These are the academ ...more
Jul 15, 2016 Allison rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Murray argues "The goal of education is to bring children into adulthood having discovered things they enjoy doing and doing them at the outermost limits of their potential. The goal applies equally to every child, across the entire range of every ability." (This is not the same as preparing all students to be college-ready, which is the apparent goal of most current educational policy). This book explores many differences between current and ideal practices and is extremely rich food for though ...more
Mike Horne
Nov 15, 2008 Mike Horne rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good book, easy read (though I imagine easy to hate--very interested in reading some negative reviews). I don't think there is much I disagree with. Too many people go to college. And four years is too long. Teach kids lots of facts in k to 8th. Give smart people a chance to fail.
Leah Macvie
Feb 21, 2010 Leah Macvie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was the first book to really get me thinking about what our students really need. It sparked a passion. Great book, separated into 4 main sections, and backed by data and facts.
Feb 04, 2009 Linda rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I found myself agreeing with about 1/10 of what Murray says. Some of the rest of it I found downright frightening.
Jan 08, 2016 Kevin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book strips away the emotions and sentimentality often associated with education and tries to take a hard look at some trends in education and tries to confront some harsh realities about the current state of education. I thought this book presented some valid points, but omitted some needed discussion of the downside of certain approaches, and overweighted the importance of ability and downplayed the lack of effort. There are other books that delve into those issues, so he might be just re ...more
Mar 15, 2017 Elaine rated it really liked it
Shelves: academia
Murray's arguments (chapters 1-4) seem like common sense.

I wonder whether the data about the performance of charter schools vs. ordinary public schools are as confidence-inspiring as he suggests in chapter 5 (p. 152).
Sep 09, 2013 Farfignugen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: public policy wonks, iq enthusiasts, education policy wonks, teachers, parents
This is a short, informative little read. I gave it 4 out of 5 stars because its short. This book also reminded me alot of Mark Bauerlein's excellent "The Dumbest Generation."

The sections detailing the ignorance of American youth are rather disheartening. I forget the exact numbers from the text, but I think it went something like:

40% of 8th graders didn't know who was President during WWII

60% of 3rd graders couldn't answer the question "If there are 90 employees, and the work force is expanded
It's slightly alarming to agree with Murray, but there it is.

Real Education outlines why our educational system doesn't work and how we can fix it. However, it's not your usual "schools are underfunded" or "teachers are not trained well" or "teachers' unions prevent real change" (the list could go on).

Murray says what has become far too taboo in our culture: not every child should go to college, not every child can do well academically, and, most horrifying to our national narrative of education
Sep 11, 2008 Carmen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoy reading about all aspects of education. So, a book like this totally appeals to me. This is a short tome which touches on a variety of topics like the theory of multiple intelligences and the modern university abandoning solid liberal education as a core curriculum. In short, Murray thinks that our educational system is broken because we refuse to believe that 1. ability varies 2. half of the children are below average and there are limits to what can be done. Many children cannot ...more
Alex MacMillan
Jul 18, 2012 Alex MacMillan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The problem with our schools isn’t standards or choice or teacher quality. The problem with our schools isn’t money or poverty. The problem with our schools is our expectations, and the pointless demands we make of kids who don’t want to and/or can’t do the work.” – educationrealist

"There were 90 employees in a company last year. This year the number of employees increased by 10 percent. How many employees are in the company this year?" - Only 22% of eighth grade students answered correctly.

Dec 03, 2013 Nshslibrary rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The wide selection of books on education fit on a bookshelf in Barnes and Noble about the size of 3/4 of my arm. Each title was extremely original: Problems with Education, How to Fix Education and Education for Dummies. So I closed my eyes and pulled out Real Education by Charles Murray. I trudged over to the cash register and handed her a full $15.00 for the tiny and flimsy book. Real Education sat on my counter, untouched for a week and a half. One day after finishing my homework and procrast ...more
Jun 04, 2015 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book really resonated with me for a number of reasons. Although I felt the author came across as a little smug and glib at times, I do generally agree with his assertion that people have different levels of ability, and that it's pointless to try and force children to conform to some norm.

His simple points are:
1. Ability varies.
2. Half of the children are below average.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.

The issue is
Nancy (NE)
Oct 31, 2009 Nancy (NE) rated it really liked it
Shelves: education
I applaud so much of what Charles Murray has to say about the current education system in the United States. He doesn't hold back criticism and offers concrete ideas. He is grounded and not romantic about the problems faced by students, parents and teachers.

He has four main suppositions:
1.) Ability varies. He discusses Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences in a realistic manner. This doesn't mean that because everyone is good at something, that teachers can use that something to make up fo
Shelley Diemart
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Apr 14, 2012 JFN rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book oversimplifies both the serious problems dogging education in the U.S. today and the solutions. I think it's a worthwhile read for the point of view, but read this in conjunction with other studies and works like ones I've listed here on my page -- Ravitch, and Goldin & Katz -- to get the bigger picture.

The major problem here is that Murray seems to write completely from the viewpoint that intelligence in an individual is a fixed and finite thing (it's not) and that one's abilitie
Jan 02, 2014 Kate rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those disillusioned with modern education
Recommended to Kate by: my mother
Shelves: academic
I agreed with Murray's overall assessment with the failure of modern education (the goal of college and an office job for all, the lack of liberal arts education at all levels, the current requirements for the job world), but I do have two major complaints regarding this treatise:

1. His argument that all professionals should have a working knowledge of rudimentary statistics is crucial. However, in the early sections of the book he misuses statistics. He implicitly assumes a normal curve, but ne
Mar 18, 2009 Haruko rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book has been an eye opener and a good place to start in thinking about the direction I would like to take for my children's education.

This book has introduced me to the pervasive "ideas based" education behind the current public school education. He makes the case that this type of education does not foster critical thinking as expected or improve reading comprehension. He advocates for content based education such as the Core Knowledge curriculum by E.D. Hirsch. His arguments are persuasi
Apr 10, 2010 Mattmiller rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An interesting analysis of the American system of education. Murray is not a big fan of No Child Left Behind. This got him thinking about how he would change public policy when it comes to education. In this book he states what he believes are four truths that could help us stop being educational romantics and start fixing the system.

1. Kids have differing ability (we can't make all kids genuine A students). 2. Half of our kids are below average when it come to their mathematical and linguistic
Mar 27, 2016 Kevin rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: education
Real Education is among the best education literature I've read, including as an undergrad and graduate student. Murray challenges some of the popular assumptions in the field today (i.e. that every child can be anything that he or she wants to be; a person must have a degree to be professionally successful) and offers his own version of what idealized education for all children, regardless of ability, would look like.

The author's contributions to the discussion are invaluable, but, sadly, I do
Jul 26, 2011 Ronald rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finished this short (168 pages) but powerful book (today) the day before most kids return to public school for the start of a new year. Once you've read it, you can then ignore 99% of the newspaper headlines about school reforms, testing, etc. Murray quickly rips the band-aid off in exposing the wishful and sloppy thinking out there on the topic of K-12 and college education. Titles of his chapters include "Ability Varies", "Half the Children Are Below Average", and "Too Many Children Are Goin ...more
Nov 15, 2010 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: current-issues
I can't decide whether to be dismayed or pleased about Mr. Murray's opinions on education. On the one hand, I agree with almost everything he says in the book, and it is always a bit of a relief to stumble upon like-minded people. That being said, it was a bit discouraging to find that most of my thoughts on this subject are already included in a concise, well-written book. (I was never naive enough to believe that I had any truly unique thoughts, but I thought that perhaps they might be spread ...more
Aug 18, 2015 Chad rated it it was amazing
The author develops a very well-supported and well-documented argument challenging the traditional reform methods and aims of education today. The criticism is based on four asserted facts:
1. Ability varies.
2. Half of the children are below average.
3. Too many people are going to college.
4. America's future depends on how we educate the academically gifted.
But the book isn't just a criticism; it gives a realistic solution in elementary, secondary, and post-secondary schools, based on the above f
Apr 16, 2011 Erin rated it liked it
Charles Murray has echoed many of my same thoughts on our education system.... we need to make some serious changes in our school systems in what is covered and stop the politically correct nonsense which strips our children of their culture and basic knowledge. I thought that Mr Murray left out however the most compelling reason why kids are told that college is the right choice...because college has become big business. The government makes billions in interest charges off of school loans as d ...more
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“No one should be allowed to work in the West Wing of the White House who has not suffered a major disappointment in life... the responsibility of working there was too great... to be entrusted to people who weren't painfully aware of how badly things can go wrong.” 5 likes
“We should look at the kind of work that goes into acquiring a liberal education at the college level in the same way that we look at the grueling apprenticeship that goes into becoming a master chef: something that understandably attracts only a limited number of people. Most students at today's colleges choose not to take the courses that go into a liberal education because the capabilities they want to develop lie elsewhere. These students are not lazy, any more than students who don't want to spend hours learning how to chop carrots into a perfect eighth-inch dice are lazy. A liberal education just doesn't make sense for them.” 0 likes
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