Thoughts on a rejection: Where will our future critical thinkers come from?

Again, I’m placing this entry in the “business & economy” category, because Science Blog has no place to discuss education directly. Since our future economy is at risk because of dangerous trends in our educational system, I hope this posting gets the attention of policymakers who can do something about the near elimination of critical thinking as an objective in education.

I’ve been writing long enough not to obsess over being turned down, especially when the editor is a long-time friend who takes the time to tell me why a book proposal doesn’t fit the publisher’s present plans. In this case, however, the reason for the turndown suggests that an organization that once took the lead in promoting innovative and critical thinking can no longer justify the risks in doing so.

For background, the proposed book is based on my current school visit presentation, “Our Next Planet: Why, When, and How People Will Settle Another World.” The publisher is associated with a major national nonprofit organization.

Here is the relevant portion of the rejection:

“… while I recognize how well qualified you would be to write OUR NEXT PLANET, the proposal simply did not win me over. We try very hard to tie our books to the curriculum, and I don’t think teachers spend much classroom time on speculative material such as this.”

I couldn’t argue with the reason for the rejection, but I lamented it as follows:

Dear _____,

Thanks for the very specific feedback. It will help me to find the right publisher, probably one with a clear niche and a risk-taking approach, if such publishers survive these days.

Your comment about NEXT PLANET is absolutely correct. Teachers don’t spend much classroom time on speculative material such as this. I can certainly understand _____’s business approach that leads to that point of view and decision.

However, if you’ll allow me a little philophizing, the reason you had to pass on that book is a sad reflection on the current state of education, which is being pulled apart by ideologues at both ends of the spectrum. Teachers no longer have time for much in the classroom besides satisfying over-defined curricular and social requirements, and those are increasingly aimed at improving scores on standardized tests. Those tests focus on answers, while science and other fields of inquiry stress questions and exploration. Critical thinking is left behind along with every child, despite the name of the program. In the name of universal competence, we are creating universal mediocrity.

It used to be that kids would be given time to explore beyond the curriculum, including the chance to browse the school library where some would discover books like the ones I want to write.

Unfortunately, the emphasis on standardized tests and the diversion of educational time and funds to meet the testing programs have left librarians with little money to spend on books like the one I’m proposing. So I can’t argue with the correctness of your decision for your organization’s current finances

I must admit that it makes me wonder whether _____ has lost its ability to set the trends in science education and has become content to be a follower like every other publisher in its market. I know you’re not the one to raise that issue, but I am relying on the fact that our friendship allows me to bring it up to you….

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