Public Schools Are Worse Than Most People Believe

RottenAppleby Bruce Price  12/13/13
In all the comments I see left on articles about education, two themes dominate. The first is, average Americans have no idea how bad the public schools are. The Education Establishment has done a brilliant job at propaganda and deception. They have tried to deceive the public; and the public is deceived. Unfortunately. So here are several quotes from some of the smartest, most successful people in the USA, people you should trust completely. And they are saying that educationally speaking we are now having a near-death experience:

“When I compare our schools to what I see when I’m traveling abroad, I’m terrified for our workforce of tomorrow.” Bill Gates, founder, Microsoft Corp.

“If companies were run like many education systems, they wouldn’t last a week.” Thomas Donohue, president, US Chamber of Commerce

“Will America lead… and reap the rewards? Or will we surrender that advantage to other countries with clearer vision?” Susan Hockfield, President, MIT

“Our record at fixing our K-12 education system is virtually unblemished by success.” Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin

“If you don’t solve (the K-12 education problem), nothing else is going to matter all that much.” Alan Greenspan, former Chairman, Federal Reserve

Scared? You should be.

The second common theme is that the public seems to have no idea that the sabotage of the public schools (and thus our economy) was started long ago, 75 years or more. All the wonderful new methods discussed in your daily paper are the same old dreck from your grandparents’ day. The ideas were bad then, and still are today. (Typically, progressive ideas stress sociological and psychological abstractions, but there’s no mention of actually learning anything. So-called educators actually say such nonsense as, “It’s not important that children know historical facts as long as they can think historically.”)

Probably John Dewey’s quote from 1898 sums up the assault best: ” I believe that we violate the child’s nature and render difficult the best ethical results, by introducing the child too abruptly to a number of special studies, of reading, writing, geography, etc., out of relation to this social life.” That is, don’t teach them anything.

I’ve just read a book called So Little For The Mind by a Canadian academic writing in 1953 (Canada being entirely under the spell of American ideas). This brilliant author, Professor Hilda Neatby, tells us how barren the educational landscape already was sixty years ago:

“The faith of our experts is not faith in the ability of all to solve problems but the reverse. The material which would enable the individual to work out his own salvation is practically withheld in order that he may be more receptive to the ready-made solutions that are handed out.”

“Probably many Canadian parents would at least understand the attitude of the man who said, ‘Nowadays the school seems to be doing the job of the homes, and the home has to do the job the school was supposed to do. They spend their time teaching my son to wash his face; when he comes home I have to teach him to read and write.'”

“For all his talk of democracy, the educator is generally authoritarian and dogmatic. Teacher-training institutions in general exist to indoctrinate; their task is not to discover truth, but to convey ‘the truth.’…[Students complain] that whatever lip service may be paid to them, ‘logical self-expression, problem solving, and creative thinking’ are the very last things the college wants to develop in its students.”

“The official attitude towards examinations is in accordance with the general feeling on which we have remarked that the use of the intellect is a painful thing, which people ought to be spared on humanitarian grounds.”

“Whereas in the elementary school the child learned critical thinking, and in the junior high school, critical and independent thinking, in the senior high school he learns critical reflective thinking.” (Sarcasm, of course. Today, every day, we hear chatter about critical thinking. Look how far Canada had taken the same racket 60 years ago.)

All the dopey ideas that progressive educators had unloosed upon kids circa 1950 are still the latest thing today. Our so-called experts have merely adopted new names and terms, new propaganda and PR. True story: schools got ever dumber, the public was robbed in plain sight.

Many people are in despair and say the public schools cannot possibly be saved. Bruce Smartt in his wonderful book The Harsh Truth About Public Schools (which I highly recommend) states his thesis that everyone should homeschool their kids, that public schools are a hopeless brew of left-wing politics and raw greed. People influenced by Smartt say we should close down the public schools. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea; I just don’t see this happening. So what are we to do?

One reason I’m more optimistic is that I think even the people inside education know how rotten it is. These phonies have created 50,000,000 functional illiterates. How do you live with that?

My hope is that more people get involved, get informed, and get indignant. Find out why Sight Words don’t work, Constructivism is nonsense, or New/Reform Math are hoaxes. You’ll never trust the Education Establishment again. That’s when we’re going to see progress.
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Bruce Deitrick Price explains education theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org
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17 Responses to Public Schools Are Worse Than Most People Believe

  1. LibertyMark says:

    “All we need is more (of your) money and more time, and we’ll fix it in a jif,” or so says every unionized statist teacher in America.

    Head of AFT on Megyn the other night: ” we need to level the playing field for all the poor (illegal alien) students in K-12.”

    Never mind there are now two Administrative staff for every public school
    teacher. Never mind we are expropriated from twice as much money per student than we were when we were growing up. Never mind that pedophile teachers get union advocacy for golden parachutes instead of summary dismissal and prison time. Never mind that every Lib politician promises to excise and plunder more of your wealth on behalf of all the welfare colonists’ public school offspring. Never mind that over 50% of, for example, all HS students at LAUSD (second largest school district in the US with over 1 million students) drop out. Never mind that we are 19th in the world in education. Never mind…oh, never mind!

    More money, more time, more money! And we’ll fix it! We promise!

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      Never mind there are now two Administrative staff for every public school teacher.

      This entire system needs to be figuratively blown up because of stuff like that. It’s not about education students as much as the government school system is an employment mechanism for the teacher’s union.

  2. Timothy Lane says:

    Let them provide actual evidence that their methods work before they get the money — any money at all, not an increase — to continue using them.

  3. The second saddest thing (after the limiting of all of those millions of lives) is that tens of thousands of gifted and dedicated teachers are being thwarted in their exhaustive efforts to help children learn. I once had a new colleague say to me, “Oh, I get it. I’ll never be allowed to do this right.” It broke my heart because she was right. Every administrative decision that came at us made our jobs harder. Teachers in the district where I taught will shortly be on strike — not for money, but because their jobs have become impossible at any salary.

    The third saddest thing is that we are now learning so much about the human brain that we really have a chance to do this right, but not in the current system.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      I don’t doubt at all that there are good teachers being held back by the system. But for everyone one good teacher, how many just go along to get along? How many are being the giraffe and sticking their necks out to face up to some of the bad methods and just outright corruption? Obviously you have that kind of integrity. But is that becoming a rare thing these days?

  4. Kurt NY says:

    I think it’s a bit of an overstatement to say that all public schools are bad. PISA results, which seem to indicate that American education is mediocre at best, also show that, if looked at separately, white American students outperform every European-based country except Finland, and Asian American students rank somewhere 2-4 in the world. Which also seems to show high correlation to poverty rates in the school districts being looked at.

    Not to deny that many district administrators are more obsessed with political correctness and unworkable theories, but the problems in American education mostly deal with poverty, language, family structures, and ethnic attitudes than with gross failures in pedagogy.

    Are there incompetent and uncaring teachers? Sure, just as there are incompetents in private industry. The difference being that public schools all too frequently are unionized and overly protective of the problem employees rather than pushing best practices. But, again, the primary problem is not the teachers – it’s the students and their parents.

    • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

      but the problems in American education mostly deal with poverty, language, family structures, and ethnic attitudes than with gross failures in pedagogy.

      Kurt, that’s a pretty common talking point that I hear. But I’m trying to imagine a group of old-school Catholic nuns, for instance, who would let any of that stuff bother them for a minute. I think the education system has become very good at blame-shifting. There never was a time when kids were all angels and sat quietly. We had to be disciplined.

      Yes, the degraded nature of many American families has made this more difficult. And with namby-pamby parents who are as likely to reach for a lawyer as back up the discipline meted out to their children at school, this degradation is exacerbated. Still, I think we all underestimate the sheer power of good people not putting up with nonsense. I know my teachers and my principles generally did not when I was in school.

      Someone has to be a leader. And one of the prime problems running through our society, and not just schools, is that adults don’t want to take on the function of actually being an adult and wielding due authority.

    • Bruce Price says:

      Re: “an overstatement to say that all public schools are bad.” My more exact sense of things is that the kids at the very top can get a good education. Kids in gifted programs and IB programs– one hopes they are well-educated. But it’s less than 10%. And I think the main reason the Education Establishment permits this is to take those parents out of the picture. Don’t bother us until we get total control and then we will come back and dumb down your kids as well. (I think that’s the real goal of Common Core.) My focus is on what we’re doing to the great majority of kids. Most of them can hardly read. They can hardly do arithmetic. They don’t know very much. Even if there is a small elite who are well-educated, I don’t find that very comforting.

      • Timothy Lane says:

        This seems reasonable. The top level will probably always manage to get an education (their parents can do it, or supply tutors, if necessary). But the broad middle class needed to operating things may not be able to — but then, this hardly matters if that all gets sent off to foreign countries (or the foreigners come here to do it). And everyone else only needs enough education to collect welfare and do scutwork. Think of Brave New World without the Betas and Gammas.

        • Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

          I think my last pleasing delusion was blown when I realized just how noxious and narrow-minded teachers unions had become. Everyone professes these days to “Do it for the children.” But children are just pawns in an overall game to suck as much out of the taxpayers as they can.

          The systems as they are now are, at best, Cultural Marxist indoctrination centers (and I do not exaggerate) where the underlying theme isn’t excellence but “equality.” If you understand the latter influence, it explains why so much mediocrity is overlooked…even heralded. It’s because in any system where excellence is rewarded and nurtured, that means increasing a “gap” between the motivated and the less motivated, between the talented and less talented, or however you want to distinguish it. But the new ethic is “equality” where everyone is equally “precious” and everyone gets a gold star. No one has to ever feel bad.

          And everyone else only needs enough education to collect welfare and do scutwork. Think of Brave New World without the Betas and Gammas.

          I think that’s a good description, Timothy. The point of education is not to educate. It’s to “socialize” people in a particular worldview, one that is much more feelings-based, of course (which is in line with the general female takeover of the profession).

          Someone had a good article at AT or NRO mentioning how Obama wanted to make college education “free.” But that isn’t what most people want. He said it was about the elite trying to make everyone else like they are.

          Oh…I just found that article. It’s a good one by Theodore Dalrymple: The Tyranny of the Bookish. He has an interesting take on this.

          Great numbers of citizens, including many intelligent ones, have zero appetite for book-learning. The working-class kids I grew up among in England mostly could not wait to get out of school—to have a job, to earn money, to be independent. The raising of the school leaving age from 15 to 16 was greeted with groans of dismay by millions of youngsters. One lad who missed the bullet told sociologist Eva Bene, quoted in Kynaston’s Modernity Britain, that: “It is not fair; we left at 15, so the others should be able to.”

          Dalrymple notes that “education” has always been seen as the cure-all by the Left.

          • Timothy Lane says:

            Liberals admire the example of Europe and take so much of their ideology from Germany. Too bad they can’t take the German educational policy of allowing teens a choice between advanced schooling designed to lead to college and vocational training.

            • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

              Too bad they can’t take the German educational policy of allowing teens a choice between advanced schooling designed to lead to college and vocational training.

              Exactly! When I was studying in Germany and Austria, I believe something like 8% of students went on to university. And this was not because students were not capable. I was somewhat surprised at the small percentage, but it seemed to work well.

  5. Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

    “the problems in American education mostly deal with poverty, language, family structures, and ethnic attitudes than with gross failures in pedagogy.”

    No doubt much of the above is true, but some of the above and other problems could be ameliorated if there was more discipline and accountability in schools.

    Having spent some time in schools here, I can tell you that the lack of being able to sanction students is a huge problem. They can come into class late, cause an uproar and generally be a pain in the rear, taking teaching time from other students, and a teacher can do virtually nothing. Whether that is because the bureaucrats are Leftists, afraid of lawyers or both, the fact is that unruly students have little to fear from their teachers or admin staff. Their behavior hurts all students.

    Poor children, children who come from homes where English is not spoken and negative ethic attitudes as regards education are nothing new in the USA.

    A large percentage of my father’s generation were poor yet they got through school and took America to new heights after WWII. I have known several people who grew up in homes where a foreign language was spoken, yet they all did well in school (in English) and in one instance the kids learned enough English in three weeks to function in society. And the Scots-Irish anti-intellectual slant is still with us to some degree.

    No doubt, families are not what they used to be and some parents are low down scoundrels. But these things are not under a school’s control. Discipline should be.

    • Kurt NY says:

      Wow. Gotta agree with you about the discipline issue. In fact, I think the unwillingness to discipline is the reason why charter schools seem such an attractive alternative. IMHO, charter and private schools succeed by segregating student populations more likely to be pro-education (because their parents’ put enough value on it to go through more hassles/expense than otherwise) from their less dedicated cohorts.

      Especially in certain areas, there seems to be an ethos that succeeding academically is somehow inappropriate, selling out. So social pressure is exerted to make sure no one does. There is a tipping point at which sufficient concentration of achievers is present that most students’ results improve, just as there is also a tipping point at which the presence of malcontents and trouble makers ensures no one learns.

      Seems to me, were school authorities permitted (and had the nerve) to weed out the professional underachievers, the performance of the overwhelming majority of students would improve.

      So which is the more cost effective method – to build a new system of schools into which we would cream off the better students leaving everyone else to make do, or to kick out the problems so that everyone else can achieve? Is it cheaper and more effective to segregate our best students or our worst from everyone else?

      • Timothy Lane says:

        One thing to note is that mandatory school attendance forces a lot of kids who probably shouldn’t be in school to stay there, all the way to age 18 (it was 16 in my day), quite often making problems for those who really should be there. We need a reform that handles that problem.

        • faba calculo says:

          The problem of kids having to go to school or the problem of them having to be there until the age of 18? Their are clear models in other countries for dealing with the latter, where some kids are let out after 10th grade in order to pursue a trade (e.g., Germany).

          • Timothy Lane says:

            That used to be our standard also. I suspect the change came from the teachers’ unions pushing for more positions, meaning more members, and thus more dues money with which to buy politicians.

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