by Bruce Price 12/12/13
Many people, confronting the mediocrity and malaise of the public schools, are dumbfounded. Why have things gotten so bad? As long ago as 1983, a government report said that our schools seem to have been designed by a hostile foreign power. More recently, in 2007, Bill Gates led a commission which concluded that the public schools are a threat to our country’s future.
How do we explain all this? Here is the easiest way.
For thousands of years people started schools for only one reason. They knew a lot of information; and they believed this information was vital to the young people. The purpose of education, obviously, was to transmit knowledge to the next generation. All educators, since the beginning of history, were worshippers in the Church of Knowledge.
It’s not like that anymore. Virtually everyone in the top levels of education has long ago left that church. They may not comprehend its beliefs at all. They have joined a different church with a different creed.[pullquote]Since the time of John Dewey, top educators became members of the Church of Indoctrination. Everything they do during the school day is focused on turning out a child socialized in a certain way, not an educated child.[/pullquote]
Since the time of John Dewey, top educators became members of the Church of Indoctrination. Everything they do during the school day is focused on turning out a child socialized in a certain way, not an educated child. These educators see the school as a socialist training ground, a place where high-minded social engineers (them) can create a wonderful new kind of humans who will build a brave new world. (Note that the social engineers themselves will rule this world–certainly a conflict of interest.)
So the crux of our problem is simple. These top educators are not in the education business anymore, not as most of us understand that phrase. We foolishly suppose that they are trying to do something they are not trying to do. They will provide head fakes and sophistries to keep us fooled. But they know what their priorities are: collectivist indoctrination. Knowledge, if it’s considered at all, is viewed as a nuisance, like a kid having to brush his teeth.
Maybe it’s worth noting that schools a hundred years ago taught far more and were very strict about it. Let’s grant that there may have been some excesses to react against. Possibly John Dewey and his immediate successors never imagined how far things would decline under the banner of their wisdom. But once the momentum built up, who could slow it down?
Perhaps the thing that no one anticipated is that knowledge would so often appear to be directly in the way of the social schemes. So, diminishing knowledge a little did not turn out to be workable. Getting rid of as much knowledge as possible often seemed more helpful to the cause. Consider a few examples:
Math and science generally are precise and insist on objective truth. But the socialist educators were pushing theories that can’t necessarily be proven. Why encourage children to become able to discuss these things? Indeed, why teach children to think for themselves at all?
Furthermore, math and science tend to be easier for boys. Well, in this collectivist world, you don’t want one group of kids moving ahead of another group of kids. So there’s a very good reason for undercutting math and science, which the educators tried to do in Reform Math (most memorably in the curriculum called Mathland).
Consider foreign languages. Words must be spelled a certain way and pronounced a certain way–these are approaches that modern schools downplayed in the teaching of English. Indeed many children were never taught to read and pronounce English words phonetically. Imagine the conflicts that would’ve arisen if French et al were taught in the early years. So what happened? Almost across the board, public schools got rid of foreign languages in the first six grades, even though all experts said this was the best time to teach a foreign language!
What about History? Do we want to make heroes of patriotic Americans? Rich capitalists? Tycoons, inventors and famous generals? No, we do not. We want the children to think of everybody as more or less the same. Nobody is supposed to try to move ahead of other people. This creates social friction. Socialist thinkers don’t want any of those things, so History is really a hindrance. Not to mention, most of the participants over the last several thousand years were males. Talking about famous males is another no-no. Not to mention a lot of the most interesting events occurred in wars. That’s another no-no if you’re trying to encourage pacifistic cooperation.[pullquote]They will provide head fakes and sophistries to keep us fooled. But they know what their priorities are: collectivist indoctrination. Knowledge, if it’s considered at all, is viewed as a nuisance, like a kid having to brush his teeth.[/pullquote]
What about Geography? Why can’t we teach that? Well, if Americans can look at how other people live around the world, American kids might start feeling very proud about themselves and their country. Obviously we can’t have that!
All our problems become really simple if you put yourself in the place of the bishops in the Church of Indoctrination. Imagine that your goal is social engineering. Then every policy these people preferred will seem completely logical to you. You would find yourself doing precisely the same thing. You would downplay and devalue everything that was traditionally done in the schools, i.e., teaching knowledge. Meanwhile, you would focus all your resources on molding and shaping little children to be whatever it is you think they should be. Form a vision in your mind of how you think children should be. Then imagine you set up a school to make exactly that happen, and only that. Further imagine that your idea of what children should be is at variance with what the society wants or cares about. Well, you will be in a long-running campaign, a war really, against the parents, the local customs and culture, against all the things done over the centuries by concerned parents and genuine schools. Thus the Education Wars.
To make this thought experiment complete, you have to suppose that you have become really nutty and even ruthless on the subject of social engineering. You’ve gone so completely over to collectivist thinking that the very idea of grades strikes you as repulsive. The thought of some children being given Honors or one child being picked as valedictorian makes you want to vomit. Now you’ll start to feel the need for ever more indoctrination.
As long as such extremists are in charge, we will have a dumbed-down curriculum and mediocre schools. They don’t even seem to be very good as indoctrination centers. Look at all the crime, the bullying, the drugs, the dropping out, the giving up. So whatever kind of child our so-called educators are trying to create, they are not doing a very good job. Meanwhile, they’re very much succeeding in destroying the concept of the educated citizen as we used to understand that phrase.
So I keep coming back to the same dire conclusion. We have to replace these so-called experts. Many people may remember William F. Buckley, Jr. and his famous comment that he would prefer to be ruled by 400 people out of the phone book than by the faculty at Harvard. That is such a brilliant insight. If our schools were run by any 400 people in the phone book (let’s qualify that by saying they should’ve gone to college), I would feel comfortable saying the schools would be much better. Presumably these people will be trying to make the schools work, as opposed to not work. These 400 would for the most part be lifelong members of the Church of Knowledge. Improvement would ensue automatically.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org • (1007 views)