Dumbing Down America: How Would You Do It?

Deliberate Dumbing Down of AmericaSuppose someone wanted to dumb down a country. How would they accomplish this?

In fact, no research is required. We don’t need to speculate about what the most brilliant Pavlonians might do.

American public schools have been dumbing down students for most of a century. The best techniques have been discovered, refined, and locked in place for many years. All that’s required is frank admiration for professionals who know their job.  Simply apply their methods full-strength, and wait. You will have dumber schools, dumber kids, and a dumber society.

First and most important, using any possible pretext, eliminate academic content  Kids don’t need to know X. Kids will find Y too difficult. Z is racist, sexist or something bad. Look back at a typical public school curriculum for 1950 and you’ll probably find that half of that curriculum, fact by fact, has vanished into thin air. And good riddance, according to our top-tier educators. Bottom line: make the classroom as fact-free as possible.

Second, prohibit teachers from teaching. Schools mumble incantations about something that Piaget said 75 years ago. He generalized that learning something deeply is better than learning it shallowly. You don’t say? The Education Establishment then decreed, if kids don’t learn knowledge deeply and personally, it does not count. This flimsy sophistry is said to mean that teachers have to stop teaching. Students must teach themselves. (This folly is called Constructivism.) Bottom line: if there is any information left to teach, no teaching is allowed.

Third, if teachers do teach, they must do so in a way that virtually guarantees failure. Reform Math has been breaking the sound barrier in this area. Typical problems mystify most adults. The Internet is now overflowing with examples of nonsense math. Let the kids struggle. Most of them will slowly give up—that seems to be the goal. Bottom line: nothing should be done in the most efficient way.

Fourth, maintain a high level of chaos in the classroom. Announcements blare from loudspeakers. Students drift in and out. Unruly students are not disciplined. Principals and administrators give teachers little support. Teachers are often absent so that substitutes are common, disrupting continuity. If you were to tape-record the classroom, you would probably find that more words are spoken by students than by teachers. Noisy chaos is the norm. Bottom line: make the school as much like a mental institution as possible.

Fifth, anything resembling a rule, a blueprint, a truth, or any kind of precision, is ignored or ridiculed. In every respect, softness, fuzziness, guessing and imprecision are praised. The goal, according to the most advanced Pavlovians, is a constant state of intellectual disorganization. After a while, kids don’t know how to put one foot in front of the other, cognitively speaking. Bottom line: make the school incoherent, like a broken machine.

 Sixth, some of the most brilliant work entails using big complicated theories to overwhelm the public. Common Core is an example. There are endless claims of higher “standards,” even as achievement gets lower. Similarly, Cooperative Learning requires that children always work in groups, even if that prevents children from becoming self-reliant, independent thinkers. Self-esteem, which should be a good thing, basically freezes the entire school system because the instant you teach something to Bob, you might hurt Jack’s self-esteem if he doesn’t understand it. In short, a huge cockamamie theory, instead of serving the students, incapacitates the system. Bottom line: grandiose claims are used to disarm support for what actually works.

Let’s state a generalized paradigm expressing everything that has happened in public schools for the last century. With great fanfare, officials announce a pretentious new theory that is the be-all and end-all of education. New Math was like that. You claim a lot of research, you specify a lot of details about how the task will be accomplished, and you quickly demonize and discard everything that doesn’t fit into the new paradigm. Look-say was especially like that. 

The bold new theory dominates for 5, 10 or 20 years. Schools of education have to be reorganized. Procedures from K to 12 must be revamped, all at great expense. Finally, it becomes apparent that grades are going down. The authorities stop mentioning the new theory, and phase out the details one by one. With great fanfare, the next theory is introduced. We may be told that children learn best when they’re upside down or they have to hop. 

Do you think any of that is overstated? Not at all. These two new theories are no more silly than Look-say as a way to learn to read. The non-teaching mandated by Constructivism is as counterproductive as anything you can imagine, but it now controls a lot of what goes on in the public schools. 

Big claims and confusing fanfare are used to bludgeon the public. Today, we are told that Common Core is the ultimate end-point of all education. That’s how you know it’s just another hustle.

 Bottom line: our Eucation Establishment will pay any price, bear any burden to make sure public schools stay stuck on mediocre.

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Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.