The pattern is clear. Millions of graduates of American public schools turn out to be remarkably unsuited, untrained, and unqualified to work for large industrial companies or the military.
Consider how remarkable this pattern is. Throughout history the military took everybody who could walk. Factories put every able-bodied person to work.
But somehow the country’s public schools can force children to attend school for 12 years, and teach them virtually nothing.
Another remarkable aspect of this pattern is that the military and business communities have been squealing and squawking about educational failure for more than half a century. But they have not actually improved the situation.
There are studies, commissions, laws, investigations, and dramatic press conferences, where generals with five stars and CEOs of major companies announce a new initiative, a new policy, a new program, a new approach.
You would think that at some point people smart enough to be generals and CEOs would realize that the Education Establishment is living in an alternative universe. They like their little collectivist schemes. They believe in social engineering. They don’t give a damn what the military or business leaders think.
Just recently a general announced that 75% of young people are not fit to serve in the military. So what was his answer? He wanted everyone to rally behind the new Core Standards. If you go to corestandards.org, you will find the worst kind of professorese. Horrible verbiage that will not help parents, teachers or community leaders monitor what is going on in the schools.
When the Gates Foundation turns its attention to education, it seems to focus on peripheral matters. How big are the schools? How crowded is the classroom? How effective are the teachers? Admittedly, effective teachers are helpful. But if the teachers are forced to use unworkable methods, even the best teachers will fail.
The essential problem in the public schools is that they are infected with many bad ideas. Think of these things as intellectual viruses. They make all progress impossible. The main one is Whole Word in reading. If a school uses sight-words, children will be retarded in learning to read. Similarly, Reform Math is almost a guarantee that children will advance slowly in arithmetic. The list of bad ideas is VERY LONG.
Bottom line: military and business leaders must intervene more forcefully in the educational crisis we face. The Nation at Risk report is already more than 25 years old. Everything that could be said was said in that report. Nothing changed. Three years ago Bill Gates and Norman Augustine issued their own report and said that the public schools were pulling down the economy and indeed the entire society. Nothing changed.
This column is basically an appeal to the smart, practical and perhaps visionary leaders in the military and business worlds. You have got to acknowledge that somebody is running rings around you. You have got to be more aggressive.
What to do next is so simple. Ask Samuel Blumenfeld how to teach reading. Ask Siegfried Engelmann how to teach arithmetic. In any case, don't ask the people who helped create the problem.
I can suggest the next 10 or 20 steps after that. Let’s talk.