During the past four decades education spending per pupil has shot up, class sizes have shrunk, and yet test scores have stayed flatter than a 10-cent pancake. What gives? Finally we know the answer. Earlier this month scientists announced three new elements had been named: Darmstadtium, Roentgenium, and Copernicium. The elements are man-made and can exist only under laboratory conditions. This is is like Newton's apple: It explains so much. Back in A. Barton Hinkle's school days, the Periodic Table had only 11 elements, nobody learned much science because there was not much to learn, and nobody had to learn about the civil-rights movement or Vietnam or Watergate or Reaganomics because none of that had happened yet. Ditto English. Great writers from Clive Cussler to Danielle Steele keep cranking out new masterpieces. Every year the major dictionary publishers add new words (retweet, tinfoil hat, cryonaut) and eliminate obsolete ones (aerodrome, cassette tape, literacy). The real problem, writes Hinkle, isn't that public education has failed, but that there's too much to learn.
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