Our Education Establishment, in plain sight, is doing a second-rate job. Who, we should ask, is in charge of this train wreck, and what motivates them?
First, let’s add up the evidence. The fifty million functional illiterates. The one million dyslexics. The poor performance against international competition, despite our huge budgets. The ignorance of average Americans about basic geographical, historical, and scientific information. SAT scores slide; kids cannot multiply and divide; students reach college not knowing what six times seven is. About 65% of the children in fourth and eighth grades are reading at a level below “proficient,” that is, they are in some sense illiterate.
That’s a dismal record. In any other field, the people in charge would be fired, disqualified, disbarred, drummed out of office, or indicted.
In 1953, Professor Arthur Bestor wrote a book called “Educational Wastelands — the Retreat From Learning in Our Public Schools.” Our educrats have been doing a lousy job for more than 60 years–that’s well chronicled. Explaining why they persist in doing a bad job is the hard part.
You can play all the evidence back and forth in your mind for a year; I predict you will finally come down to four possible explanations. All unpleasant to contemplate. But let’s try.
First, these people are less than competent. Education is not a field known for recruiting brainiacs, not since 1950. Now it seems to be an intellectual backwater. The main recurrent image is a large school of slow fish drifting from fad to fad.
Second, the elite educators are lost in cloud-cuckoo land. That is, they rarely meet a theory, however silly, that they don’t fall in love with. So they can promote counterproductive ideas without even realizing how bad the ideas are.
Third, we are always told to follow the money. In this case it’s important to note that ordinary minds can make an excellent living in education. They have titles, credentials, prestige. All they need do is agree with their superiors.
Fourth, they are subversives deliberately trying to undermine our society. Recall that in the 1930s, John Dewey and his progressive educators announced that public schools must be transformed, so the country could be transformed. That’s code for creating a socialist country, no matter how few people want it.
Which of the four explanations is best? Well, humans are usually driven by a messy mix of motives. When we are talking about the lower and middle levels of the Education Establishment, I can imagine those people being propelled by all four motivations.
However, as we consider the top level of the Education Establishment, the smartest people, don’t we have to assume much greater awareness? There is so much obvious decay, so much intellectual decline, so many dreadful statistics. Surely, the top-tier people have to know exactly what they’re doing and why.
One distinctive thing about the field of education is that the elite people rarely confess or write tell-all memoirs. Further, the media don’t do much investigative journalism. You almost never see, in a newspaper, any in-depth analysis explaining educational failure. So we have to use our intuition and solve this mystery as best we can. If my deductions aren’t correct, the Washington Post should put Woodward and Bernstein on the case, thereby returning to their glory days. If they can still find their way back.
I tend to suspect the top people can’t be driven primarily by incompetence, love of theory, or money. Doesn’t there have to be ideological commitment? Remember, millions of kids are being damaged, year after year, decade after decade. This is no job for weekend warriors. You have to be a hardcore “change agent.”
Recall that these elite educators embraced Whole Word in 1931; in 1955, Flesch explained why it didn’t work. But here we are 50 years later and the schools are still churning out millions of citizens who can’t read. Dwell on that. These education commissars decided to keep pushing a clunker no matter what. How many people have that kind of will and discipline?
So I’m seeing, at least at the pinnacle, a small group of dedicated fanatics. Perhaps, as we look at the entire field of education, there are only five or ten people who actually know what is going on and make the big decisions. Maybe at the top there is only one guy who really knows.
Maybe the question we should be asking about the Education Establishment is precisely this: who is the person actually pulling the strings? Who is Jabba the Hutt?
He, as you may remember from Star Wars, is an intergalactic crime lord and all-around bad boy. Of course, that’s just my personal image of a guy who could deliberately create millions of functional illiterates.
Now, many foolish state legislators have accepted Obama’s bribes to sign on to Common Core Curriculum. All this means is that Jabba the Hutt and his crew will have more power than ever, if that’s possible.
Each of these top professors has mentored one or two dozen Ph.D. candidates. I imagine the top guys putting the word out to their loyal lieutenants, and they to theirs. The word could be passed down through a phone tree in an hour. Message: support Plan X. And the next thing you know, Plan X flows out into all the schools. Because Jabba the Hutt said so.·
So I suspect serious scheming at the top, perhaps overseen by a godfather or two. Malfeasance and conspiracy are the perennial themes. Otherwise, the relentless tide of bad stats that we see could never have been achieved.·
Is this too harsh a vision? Well, when people are incompetent for so long, it’s altogether fitting and proper to harbor dark thoughts about them.
Here’s more bad news. Even as the public is generally cowed and confused, the groups and forces that should be protecting the society are passive. Remarkably, business and the military now, like the media and academia before them, don’t seem to try very hard. A phenomenon that strikes me as more and more alarming.
What is the way out? Mainly, we shouldn’t listen to the people presiding over our educational decline. Let’s oppose them or at the least ignore them.
Meanwhile, let’s learn from what the best in the field do. Every city has three reservoirs of educational knowledge: people in charge of the good private schools; managers of the best parochial schools; and homeschoolng parents (these people have to teach all day; my impression is that they won’t waste time on methods that don’t work).
So my goal here is to drive a wedge between ordinary citizens, and the ideologues who are mismanaging public education. Ignore the latter. Copy only what the best schools do.
Let’s create public schools that will take each child as far as each one can go. Skip the indoctrination. Stop the busy-work. Put the education back in education. It’ll be a beautiful thing.
CODA: It’s very important that VIP’s in every town become involved in the Education Wars. I created a short video on YouTube titled “Are you a community leader? Do you want to help local schools?” It’s aimed at business execs, doctors, lawyers, stock brokers, real estate moguls, all the people who need to step up.
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005.