Education in the US remains curiously schizoid.
On the one hand, the official experts tell us they know what they’re doing, and public education is getting better and better.
At the same time, most statistics tell a different story. All the favored theories and techniques appear to work irresistibly to dumb down the schools.
FIRST, THE GOOD NEWS: FIVE MAJOR POSITIVE FORCES IN EDUCATION
1) There is a great public hunger for better education, for knowledge and content, for superior results. Despite all the difficulties and obstacles, most parents clearly want more for their children educationally. This is a huge positive.
2) There is great public pressure for diversity and choice, that is, vouchers, charter schools, private schools, homeschooling and internet learning. It’s vital that this pressure he kept up. A charter school, etc. is not automatically a great school; but it can be a public investigation of new ways of doing thing. People can see for themselves what works best.
3) Another big plus is the boom in new technological possibilities — the web, videos, projectors, interactive whiteboard, social media, television programs, movies, a flood of books. There is no excuse now for boring courses or dull teaching. You can easily assemble a packet of great photographs, websites and other materials to teach any subject in a memorable way.
4) Most Americans seem keenly aware that our prominence in the world is threatened. Our students do not compete well against foreign students. There is a greater seriousness throughout the culture. One refrain commonly heard is: “Where are the adults? Why can’t we have grown-ups in the top positions?” The Education Establishment refuses to bring gravitas to education….The public now has the gravitas, and wants more of it in their public officials.
5) A lot of money flows into education.
These five factors are all we need for a huge renaissance in education, were it not for the many countervailing forces.
SIX MAJOR NEGATIVE FORCES IN EDUCATION:
1) IDEOLOGICALLY RIGID–The Education Establishment (this phrase refers to the policy-makers at the top) have been set in their ways for 75 years. They believe in progressive education and the collectivist or equalized classroom. Their minds are full of politically correct opinions, rarely reexamined. Apparently, nobody can be promoted in this profession unless they have bought in to all these unfortunate tendencies. So now we have a self-perpetuating monolith incapable of self-reform.
2) HOSTILITY TO BASIC KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS–For one example, the 1960s witnessed a dreadful new pedagogy known as New Math. It bombed but came back in the many curricula called Reform Math. The real goal always seems to be to make kids helpless with numbers and dependent on calculators; all of this bad teaching is now being rolled forward into so-called Core Standards which the federal government is pressuring the states to embrace. Read the prose at corestandards.org and you will be convinced that these self-proclaimed experts are simply not serious about teaching little children to do arithmetic. All of this illustrates a pattern: the Education Establishment somehow finds an inferior way to teach each subject. New Math was actually an anti-math curriculum. Similarly, Whole Word, forced into classrooms for the past 75 years, has caused 50,000,000 functional illiterates. It is an anti-reading curriculum. Typically, public schools are anti-fact, anti-memorization, and anti-precision. The general name for the broader pattern is dumbing-down.
3) SOFT TESTING–Another development consists of authentic assessment, portfolios, performances, projects–a whole juggernaut of what might be called soft or pseudo-testing. Basically, our top educators don’t want to teach very much; and then they want to design tests that will make a student’s limited knowledge seem acceptable. Nobody knows nothing; everybody gets at least a B. This pattern is proliferating throughout our educational system.
4) LIBERAL IDEOLOGY IN THE SCHOOLS–Another noteworthy development is something called “social justice.” Socialist educators who take themselves very seriously strive to be “change agents.” They want schools to be courses in the higher socialism. Some of their websites argue that children should be taught the important civil rights events and holidays, and that’s it. Unless a piece of knowledge is part of a liberal narrative, it’s considered useless and irrelevant.
5) TOO MUCH POWER–These people have ever more money and clout. The NEA gets billions of dollars in dues and supports the political candidates who will support its agenda. Department of Education has gotten billions from Obama, and this money was used to compromise the states. So what we see happening in general — concentration of power in DC–is also happening more and more in education. Bad ideas will be harder than ever to reverse. The federal government will write every clunker into law. Instead of serving the local citizens, public schools will function as federal outposts.
6) FINALLY, EDUCATION IS A MONEY MACHINE–“Quackery in the Public Schools,” published in l951, pointed out that education is the only field where the practitioners have to go back for more courses, unlike architects, lawyers, etc. Teachers are always made to go back: this keeps the professors busy. Furthermore, the National Education Association collects billions of dollars in dues and uses the money as noted to manipulate the country’s politics. Perversely, every bad idea adopted by the Education Establishment creates millions of children who need remedial help, a billion dollar industry by itself. So there’s a disincentive to do a better job. Now there is more and more federal money flowing into higher education. Only one thing must be guaranteed, a steady flow of so-called high school graduates. These students will get grants, scholarships, etc. from the government. College professors will be paid to continue their left-wing indoctrination. There is relentless pressure on high schools to kick kids up to college, no matter how ignorant they are. Notice again the giant incentive NOT to improve education.
Summing up: So many great possibilities. But the actuality is sort of sad and shabby. It’s as if we’re watching an addict, promising constantly to move to a higher level but never able to pull it off.
Rules of thumb: Don’t give the Education Establishment any more money; don’t give them any more power. Starve the blob whenever possible. Don’t assume they are competent or trustworthy. The historical record suggests neither. Indeed, any time the Education Establishment strongly endorses an idea, be very afraid of it. If they constantly agitate against something, assume it’s probably the smart choice.
The Big Picture: John Dewey and all the other early educators were avowed Socialists and they injected a lot of far-left political ideology into education. They judged ideas and methods in political terms–would their ideology be advanced? This approach often meant that the students and education itself were retarded. That’s the imbalance that needs to be corrected.
(For a further statement of the problems, see “56: Top 10 Worst Ideas In Education” on the writer’s site Improve-Education.org.)
(Let’s get America talking about education. Contact Bruce Price on Improve-Education.org for an interview. Or use his many free articles available on Isnare.com.)
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