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Made Dumb in the USA

Made Dumb in the USA

This country has a bizarre and unprecedented problem. “The longer American children are in school, the worse they perform compared to their international peers,” according to McKinsey and Company, management consultants.

Columnists at the New York Times have realized that the education crisis is grave. Tom Friedman said we’re falling off a cliff. Paul Krugman noticed our dilemma but wants to blame it on a lack of money, which is nonsense. Education budgets are massive. Here’s a better theory: the people in charge are evidently not all that interested in excellence. Nicholas Kristof pointed out that “Democrats have…stood by as generations of disadvantaged children had been cemented into an underclass by third-rate schools.” Thank you, Mr. Kristof.

My guess is that the Education Establishment (i.e., the people in charge of creating those third-rate schools) are real proud. I’m not being ironic. Dumbing-down is, I conclude, their philosophy and their goal.

Are you wondering why? Simple. These guys, from John Dewey onward, were Socialists, obsessed with molding children to fit into a new socialist paradigm. Academic success was not essential; it might even be an obstacle to the collectivist plans these people had for us.

What about how? Again, simple. Favor the non-academic and the anti-academic. Let’s say you have two pedagogical methods. Option A works better than Z. Drum roll, please. Agonize but, in the end, select Z. Concoct some good marketing prose to sell this pathetic thing. But use what does not work.

So far as I can tell, every method and approach embraced by the Education Establishment, for the past 100 years, ends up somewhere between dumb and dumber. (One might ask: are these people incompetent or purposeful? It’s not likely that anybody can be that incompetent, so I’m seeing intent.)

In any event, our educators created schools so dysfunctional that they would make students worse with each passing year, as Mckinsey and Company has stated.

To recap the reason: all the main methods (and there are dozens) used in the public schools turn out to be surprisingly counter-productive. Here’s a quick look at some of the worst offenders:

Whole Word has the peculiar property of not teaching children to read. 50,000,000 functional illiterates is a lot of dumbing-down.

Reform Math has the peculiar property of making sure that children can’t do basic arithmetic, even by college.

Constructivism (which is popular in many different subjects) has the peculiar property of making sure that children learn less than they did the year before. (Constructivism requires that children invent their own new knowledge, which takes a lot of extra time.)

Cooperative Learning has the peculiar property of making kids less independent and less able to think for themselves. This technique is helpful if you’re trying to create a herd mentality.

Outcomes-Based Education has the peculiar property of directing students toward very trivial goals (i.e., outcomes), such as discussing a movie or preparing a scrapbook.

One of the more popular methods is called Self-Esteem. Doesn’t it sound good? In fact, this thing dismantles education in several different ways. First of all, it requires praising children who do a bad job. Children become accustomed to gold stars and compliments even if they haven’t cracked a book. Why should they bother with books? But Self-Esteem is more insidious than so far suggested. Suppose you want your class to know the 10 states nearest to where they live. Some students won’t get the whole list; they will feel badly about themselves. What to do? Cut the list to six. But next year, some children may not recall the shorter list. So the list will be cut to four. Then the teachers will decide that this is too demanding and “they can look it up.” So you see that Self-Esteem undercuts from every direction until there is nothing left standing.

In 1983 a huge government commission concluded that our public schools are so bad they may as well have been designed by a hostile foreign power. That’s the incompetence that Friedman and colleagues were talking about; but they just can’t come out and say the truth. Namely, people like themselves–other liberals–were the culprits in charge. But how do they admit this after so much damage has piled up?

Meanwhile, the Business Roundtable reports that managers are struggling to find trained workers. Businesses are “wrestling with an undertrained workforce: Half see a sizable gap between their needs and employees’ skills.”

Well, I can just imagine that our Education Establishment is tickled pink.

What do we do? Fire from the top. That’s what we would do in any other area of human activity. Colossal failure year after year? Fire the bosses. Second, dismantle the anti-intellectual infrastructure that is evident everywhere throughout the school system. Get rid of a mentality that dotes on social engineering, and replace it with a mindset that glorifies intellectual engineering.

More than anything else, however, we simply need to tell the truth. Schools don’t get so bad unless somebody wants them that way. The USA is afflicted with an Education Establishment that is anti-education.

(For more about effective education, see “47: Teach One Fact Each day” on Improve-Education.org.)

Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of Improve-Education.org, a high-level education and intellectual site. One focus is reading; see “42: Reading Resources.” Another focus is education reform; see “38: Saving Public Schools.” Price is an author, artist and poet. His fifth book is “THE EDUCATION ENIGMA–What Happened to American Education.” whole

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