The Real Problem In Our Public Schools
July 31, 2012
School size, class size, the place of unions, teacher training, vouchers, charter schools, budgets — there are a lot of things that people argue about. Everybody has a theory; every parent has a horror story. But these debates don’t seem to advance much from year to year.
You can probably go around the country and find good schools on both sides of these issues. One school does X; the next school doesn’t do X. But they both turn out about the same. Obviously X is not a fundamental issue.
If you want to understand our public schools, you have to look deeper. You have to look at what the professors of education call theories and methods. These are the big ideas–the software, we might say–that determine how the system operates.
A century ago, John Dewey and other educational philosophers stated that the purpose of public schools is to create a new kind of child, more cooperative, less individualistic. Scores of theorists articulated the classroom methods that would best fulfill this vision.
In short, the whole educational universe is much more ideological than people think. John Dewey and all the other early thinkers were progressives or socialists. They thought that the purpose of schools was to create a new kind of citizen, who would accept a new kind of country.
That’s where the trouble started. Traditionally, a school’s purpose was to teach children basic knowledge and skills. Suddenly, the purpose was to turn the United States into a socialist country. Put simply and starkly like that, it almost makes your head spin. Of course, in the country’s actual history, all of this unfolded in slow-motion, secretly behind the scenes, one small subversive step at a time.
If you look at all the theories and methods, you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that actually creates more knowledgeable students. But no official is going to explain why. So we have a strange crime scene indeed, with millions of walking wounded, an endless chattering of excuses, and no Superman to save us.
The Education Establishment claims that every method is a perfect solution. In fact, they are often destructive. Back in the 1930s, phonics was thrown out; schools were forced to use Whole Word. Now we have 60 years of data showing that this is a disastrous method. But today, in first grades throughout America, you’re likely to find children memorizing sight-words.
During the last 25 years, almost every public school made children learn arithmetic with one variety or another of Reform Math. These curricula are illogically designed, and children reach college not knowing what 5 x 7 is.
I can go through the entire list–Cooperative Learning, Constructivism, Self-Esteem, Prior Knowledge, Diverse Learning styles, and all the rest–and show you that the actual effects are not what is promised. Instead we see dumbing-down.
If America wants to reclaim its schools, people need to take a look at these theories and methods, learn why they don’t work, and meditate on what kind of fanatics care more about indoctrination than about educational success.
If we want to fix public schools, we have to get rid of the bad ideas. They were deliberately inserted in the schools. They can be deliberately eliminated.
Don’t be sidetracked by the discussions in the media. Stay focused on the dreadful performance of our so-called experts. Internationally, we’re 25th in math. Our own national assessment in reading indicates that two-thirds of our students are below proficient. This is pathetic. The people in charge should be fired.
The broader pattern is that our Big Media won’t report facts and our Big Education won’t teach facts. Neither is our friend.