The K-12 Lobotomy

RottenAppleby Bruce Price   12/1/13
An acquaintance sent this note: “My sister tells of teaching math to college freshmen. The question was: If X plus 5 = 10, what is the value of X? It took her an entire week to get the kids to finally say ‘5.’ So the following Monday, just on a hunch, she gave them another problem: If Y plus 5 = 10, what is the value of Y? And no one could answer!”

Remember, these students have been admitted to a community college. Presumably, many studied Algebra around the ninth grade. The teacher is an experienced veteran who knows mathematics.

How can anyone explain this anecdote?

You would surely conclude that public schools did a terrible job. But the situation seems more ominous than even this summary suggests. These students have been made dumber at 19 than they probably were at 12. They can’t understand a simple idea, even when it’s explained to them for days. It’s almost as if someone had performed a long, slow lobotomy on these young brains.

How do the public schools achieve this diminishment?

Suppose you were serious about achieving exactly that goal. There are techniques you would automatically use. Books could be written on each technique, and probably have. But I’ll be brief. It’s the totality of the effect that we need to contemplate, not the details.

1) You ensure a general disorderliness, with lots of interruptions and chatter from loudspeakers. Discipline is slack. Ideally, unmanageable students are kept in the classroom. If children feel insecure and frightened, that’s helpful.

2) You curtail or eliminate recess and physical activity. You want the children confined and lethargic, or bored and restless.

3) You divide students into small groups. They are graded as a group, praised as a group, and addressed as a growth. They learn not to trust their own thinking.

4) You keep children constantly engaged in trivial “activities.” They sing a song or talk about their favorite day of the week. What matters is that the activities have no academic content.

5) You ensure that the classroom does not contain maps, especially of the US or the world. Geographical details are rarely mentioned.

6) You make sure that teachers think of themselves as facilitators. They do not communicate information to the students. Teachers emphasize that facts need not be memorized. History and science are skimmed, not taught.

7) Literacy is constantly referenced; and the classroom is filled with books. However, the methods used to teach reading are designed not to be effective. (The central sophistry is to teach English, a phonetic language, as if it’s a hieroglyphic language.)

8) Math is referenced every day. However, the methods used to teach arithmetic are designed to be ineffective. New topics are introduced helter-skelter. Often these topics are exotic and complicated. Weird techniques are taught. Even in the sixth grade, most children can’t multiply and divide, and don’t understand decimals and fractions. They are dependent on calculators. As college students, they don’t know what 7×8 is.

9) You insist that grammar and spelling are obsolete; cursive is a waste of time; kids shouldn’t learn a second language. Anything rigorous and logical is dismissed as “inappropriate for our children.” It’s important to create an atmosphere where deadlines don’t matter, tests are soft, grades are inflated, everyone is promoted, and students learn that little is expected of them.

10) The goal is that most students feel at once overwhelmed and empty. They know they are ignorant and barely literate. Whatever education is, they didn’t get any. Many have been told they are dyslexic or have ADHD. Many have received tutoring, counseling, or sedation. Many pretend to be sick so they can stay home.

11) All educational failure is blamed on factors the school can’t control. Children are said to be not ready, not smart, or neurotic in some way. Parents are said to be not involved, not helpful, or hostile to the educational process. The schools constantly praise their own wisdom and performance.

The totality of these techniques, kept in play month after month, virtually guarantees that no education takes place. If some students are stubborn and insist on acquiring information on their own, they are labeled “gifted” and removed from the general population.

The whole process is carefully anti-educational and anti-intellectual. Whatever a real school would do, you do the opposite. A remarkable thing happens. The children grow physically; they age before your eyes. But what they know at 10 or even 15 is not distinguishable from what they knew at 8. What they know as high school graduates can be measured in smidges. They arrive in community college able to drink, drive, vote, serve in the military, or marry, but unable to grasp that if Z+5 equals 10, Z must be 5.

Much more than we would like to thank, the k-12 experience is a lobotomy performed in slow motion.

McKinsey & Company, the famous consulting firm, put it this way in 2009: “The longer American children are in school, the worse they perform.”
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Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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9 Responses to The K-12 Lobotomy

  1. Glenn Fairman says:

    Good lord! This writer just described my everyday experience like we were joined at the hip. This is adamantine truth raised to the 100th power. The entire edifice is stupidity on stilts and should be bulldozed to the ground so that kids can begin again to write x +5=10 on the damp walls of a dirty cave.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    That was a truly frightening example. I think we had developed the skills to deal with such questions in grade school. Of course that was 50 years ago, and I wasn’t in regular public schools after 3rd grade.

  3. Glenn Fairman says:

    Tim: Perhaps it is good that you are not intimately aware of what now passes as education for our inner cities’ underclass, nor of the sheer mouth dropping ignorance that is the provenance of selected minority groups who reside therein. It would break your heart, friend.

  4. Kung Fu Zu says:

    And when these kids graduate high school, what happens? They run into, at least partial, reality. Some quicker and some slower (those who go to college).

    Can you imagine the mixture of delusion, confusion and anger which many of them experience? They have been deluded into believing they actually learned something in school. They must have, as they have diplomas to prove it. But once they get into a situation where performance is demanded and they don’t have the tools to perform, confusion as to why they don’t sets in. Finally, after realizing they have be duped and wasted years in the public school system and have very little to show for it, they get angry. And these emotions are felt by the more intelligent ones. The slackers and fools among them don’t even realize they are ignorant about virtually everything that matters to succeed.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      This is a key reason why I consider public miseducation criminal fraud. Not only do they fail to educate students (despite taking large sums of money for that purpose), but they deceive them into thinking they have been educated.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      The slackers and jackasses are one thing. But the ones who are in Honors classes and AP courses are the sad beneficiaries of this leveling of ignorance. Many have been told that they are the cream and have long internalized their specialness. However, when they run into SAT, AP or even now University and Community College placement and matriculation exams, that realization dawns on them that they were undeserved by a system that in reality is a community jobs program and a warehouse for children while their parents toil at their 2 jobs. Even in AP courses, you would be surprised at the inability to form complex sentences, use grammar correctly, spell moderately simple words, or write a synopsis of several pages of reading, let alone offer a critical analysis that students 60 years ago could master without computers and bloated educational hierarchies.

  5. Kung Fu Zu says:

    “You divide students into small groups. They are graded as a group, praised as a group, and addressed as a growth. They learn not to trust their own thinking.”

    I think this is key in your example of x + 5 = 10. The students are possibly too timid to answer on their own as they have been taught a sort of group think.

    On the other hand, I wonder if some of them thought it was some sort of trick question as it was so simply.

    • Glenn Fairman says:

      In junior highs, rows of individual desks have been replaced by tables of 3 or four chairs where the sociology of this groupthink is inculcated. the conferring and brigade approach to learning occurs when teachers place a more intelligent student at one of these tables which encourages the other students to copy off that high achiever. Meanwhile, such a seating arrangement encourages idle talking and foolishness or horseplay, as well as test cheating. Throw in the cellphone and the entire rotten system stinks to high heaven.

  6. Glenn Fairman says:

    And yes, knowledge of one’s ignorance is the beginning of wisdom.

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