A band director in Texas wrote to me with a complaint that was evidently a part of his daily life: “Too many administrators and school boards will ONLY hear arguments for music education that come back to ‘It improves test scores in Subjects X and Y.’  When we constantly frame a discipline exclusively in terms of what it provides to OTHER disciplines, we ignore its intrinsic value.”

Interesting point. It got me thinking. Below is my letter back to him. This discussion, with thousands of variations, is probably occurring all over the country. We are trying to answer the question, why study music?  By the same token, why study ANYTHING? I’ll bet there are people in our Education Establishment who will be pushing that very agenda in the near future. So we have to be able to answer these questions. My answer:


“...I’m all in favor of kids doing lots of different things. End of story. I would like them to play as many sports as possible, I would like them to take shop and learn how to fix an engine, I would like them to study computers, I would like them to study all the academic subjects. I would try to create, even among ordinary kids, Renaissance Minds to whatever degree it’s possible. So they should know music.

"Additionally, I would like children to have as many different ways to be successful as possible. So we have chess clubs and drama classes and anything else you can do. The world is multicultural, multi-disciplinarian, not to mention politically correct. There may be kids good at music and little else. So we need music.

"There is an entirely separate thing, which might be called discipline/technique/practice/precision. My sense is that public schools are often in the position of attacking character, in the old-fashioned sense. Kids can be lazy, they can be late, they can be half-ass about everything. But you can’t be half-ass when you’re playing music. You keep the beat and play the tune or you don’t. In this same vein, kids should learn cursive, draftsmanship, and realistic art. I was just talking to someone 3 days ago about how all children should have to draw an apple with a #2 pencil, totally realistic. That’s quite comparable to playing some simple song well on the piano. Precision. Everything they do in the public schools seems to be in pursuit of imprecision.

"Also, in my ideal school, music would be complementary to history, science, psychology, religion, et al. In other words, music teaches many other things. People should know who Beethoven is. They should know what a symphony is. It’s much better to learn about Beethoven in a music class where the music can be played in a natural way. For my money this is not the same as art appreciation, although I’m all in favor of that. There is just a lot of general knowledge that kids should know; and any way the school can be clever about teaching that knowledge is a good thing.

 "So as I look over this, I see I’m making an argument, at every junction in a child’s life, for learning SOMETHING rather than nothing. Ever since the time of John Dewey, the elite educators have at every junction made a case for NOTHING rather than something. That is why I have such contempt for them.

"... I have a fairly bleak sense of what is happening to education. So if academic content, knowledge, facts, and skills can be taught, in any way possible, to even the smallest degree, that’s something to celebrate.”


The Efficient Path to Education Reform

We hear the same debates over and over, year after year, leading nowhere. Why is there so little progress?It almost seems that no one analyzing the public schools has grasped the essential problem. 

Personally, I'm sure that super-brain Bill Gates doesn't grasp the problem; and if not he, then who? (Gates and just about everybody else seems to think there's some magical administrative, bureaucratic, or economic fix. I suspect this thinking is wishful.)

And yet the world of Bill Gates is where we find the best metaphor for our malaise. That metaphor is software. The biggest computer, with no matter how many exabytes of RAM, is only as good as the operating system. Yes, the glorious, subtle, almost godlike kernel. If it's cleverly crafted, then all

systems are golden.

If the OS, on the other hand, is creaky, buggy, and otherwise all too human, you can hardly send an e-mail or navigate around a website.

The richest country in the world spends more billions than anyone else but we end up 20th in one subject, 25th in the next, 30th in another. Obviously, the Public Schools OS is a monster of inefficiency.


Recent National Assessment of Educational Progress scores are terrifying. NAEP scores reveal that only one-third of fourth graders (and as well eighth-graders) read at a proficient level. Translation: two-thirds of America's children are to some degree illiterate. And the same scores apply in mathematics. Science, too. Everything. We're dumb and getting dumber.

Even if you work for the world's sleaziest PR firm, you cannot spin these stats. We have a school system that seems determined (even programmed) to do a bad job. "Educators" who hate "education" -- that's a hard paradox to wrap one's mind around.

The obvious first step is to fire these incompetents. Even so, we are no closer to explaining the counter-intuitive failure of the Public Schools OS.

At this point, I am going to jump to a startling conclusion, one you may want to doubt. But it really does explain a lot. 

Here's the conclusion: the Public Schools OS is not intended to work if by "work" you mean produce educated children.

Remember that famous lyric, "You say potato, I say potahto... let's call the whole thing off"? When John Dewey and his progressive educators say "education," they don't mean what parents mean. Hardly. They mean social engineering; they mean what Lenin, Castro, Chavez, and Bill Ayers mean by "education." These ideologues do not care if children learn to read and write at a high-level or can point to Japan on a map. By "education" they mean indoctrination that produces think-alike children. If that fries the cognitive circuits, no problem. Maybe it's a plus.

In short, the Public Schools OS is malware. It's a network, a matrix, of elaborately confected sophistries that invariably do the opposite of what is claimed. That's because the actual goal is a non-educational one.

Consider reading. Whole Word (i.e. sight-word reading instruction) is a medley of methods that cunningly prevent children from becoming fluent readers. So we have 50,000,000 functional illiterates.

Math? Reform Math is a cluster of techniques that prevent children from mastering much math. That's why we don't have enough scientists and engineers.

Knowledge? Constructivism says that children will discover the facts they need. They won't! Suppose I'm trying to teach you to play the piano, speak French, or climb mountains. Would it make sense to leave you, a smart adult, to discover the field's essential knowledge by yourself? That's what our schools do.

 Learning in general? Self-esteem prevents asking very much of students. Let them stay dumb and empty as long as they feel good about themselves.  All by itself self-esteem will destroy a school system.

But self-esteem is only one of a dozen ingenious worms and Trojan horses. Other lethal viruses include multiculturalism, prior knowledge, diverse learning styles, cooperative learning, relevance, no memorization, authentic assessments, et al.

Look closely and you will find that each component (or sub-routine) of the Public Schools OS is a clunker by design. That's from an educational point of view. As social engineering, they are all works of sublime genius!

In short, Public Schools OS is like Stuxnet, the clever software juggernaut used by Israel against Iran. So brilliant. And if you're cynical and perhaps politically extreme, you may think it's clever what the Education Establishment has done to this country. I think it's sabotage, and unforgivable.

We ought to reboot with a new OS. Watch the country soar. Watch education budgets plunge. Right now John Dewey's Club For Hackers has hijacked the schools. That's the "essential problem."


Is Your School Really Educating You?

Warning to students: your public school may be shortchanging you.

You’re told that you are receiving a world-class education; you are being prepared for college and career in the 21st century. This might be a big exaggeration. Chances are, you’re hardly being educated at all. You are probably not ready for a real college or a demanding career.

Did you hear of foreigners visting New York where merciless cabbies charge $700 for the ride into Manhattan? Tourists sometimes don’t know the most basic things. They can be easily tricked. Could that be you?  

First order of business, throw away the rose-tinted glasses. Be realistic about how much, or how little, education you have received.  

Start by focusing on what sort of educational experience you have actually had. Identify anomalies and deficiencies. Then you can figure out how to fix them. Here’s a checklist:


1: Can you read fluently and with pleasure? Or is reading something you do poorly, and therefore you try to avoid ever needing to do it? If the latter, then you know you have been cheated of the most basic skill there is. You do have a right to learn to read. 

2: Can you do basic arithmetic with confidence? Can you multiply and divide, using the common algorithms preferred all around the world? If not, you are probably the victim of Reform Math curricula such as Connected Math, TERC, Everyday Math, and similar.

3: With regard to basic facts and knowledge, what information do you actually know? Can you point to Japan on a map? How many degrees in a circle? Why is George Washington famous? What’s a moon? 

4: Do your teachers actually teach? Or do they expect you to find or otherwise invent information for yourself? Why is the teacher there, in that case? Is there a realistic chance that you can reinvent the wheel, rediscover the rules of math, and formulate anew the facts and lessons of history, science, etc.?

5:  Is every activity a group activity? Are you always forced to sit at a table with 4 or 5 people? Are you supposed to learn how to do something by doing it simultaneously with other people? Do you expect to be driving a car with a group, getting married with a group, going to your first job interviews with a group? Why are you being made to work with a group--did you ever wonder this? Isn’t the insulting message that you can’t be expected to complete jobs by yourself?

6: Did you hear lots of talk about Prior Knowledge, as if what you learned  years ago is all that matters? Did your classes always seem to be mired in the past? Did you ever wonder, well, let’s get on with it, I’d like to learn something new? “Prior knowledge” can be a euphemism for running in place, which is the very oppposite of what a school should be doing. 

7: Do your teachers ask about your Learning Style? Are you being encouraged to think that you are a right-brain learner, or left-brain learner, or a visual learner, or an auditory learner, or a kinetic learner, or some other kind of learner that makes you different from other people?

(In the real world are people going to say, “You’re a visual learner? I guess I have to draw a picture for you? Haha!” Whether in a factory, on the battlefield, at an executive meeting, or family gathering, are other people supposed to cater to your alleged lopsidedness? Not likely. And let’s say for the sake of discussion you are a visual learner. That’s all the more reason why teachers should try to develop the other, non-visual parts of you.)

8: Are you constantly praised for no good reason? Self-esteem demands that students be given constant praise. But you know in your own mind that you don’t deserve the praise? Did you ever have a thought: who’s conning whom here? I’m not doing a damn thing and my teachers are telling me how wonderful I am.

9. Is there constant chatter about Critical Thinking? But there’s almost no concern with logic, rhetoric, reason, deduction, or even accuracy? If anything, didn’t you find that your school encourages you to guess, to approximate, to accept fuzzy answers and indeed fuzzy thinking?


Summing up, doesn’t it almost seem as if your education is a guided tour to nowhere? You are taken all over the countryside but somehow ended back near where you started. 

You got older. Your tastes in clothes and music changed. You watched several thousand hours of television. But what more did you learn during all that time?

It’s almost as if you were deliberately prevented from being educated. In what ways are you now more fully prepared to earn a living, to perform a specific job, or to take responsibility? Truth is, public schools in the United States typically give a shallow, almost trivial education. If you want your education to be deep and substantial, you are going to have to make it happen yourself. 

For starters, you have to redefine education as something positive, wonderful, and worth working for. There is such hostility, or at least indifference, toward education. The schools themselves hardly seem to believe in what it is they are ostensibly doing.

For the future, it’s a matter of stepping up your game. Take charge of your own education. In not that many years, you will be a voter, an employee, a parent, maybe a business owner or a community leader. The more you know, the more you can help your society.

Try to read a newspaper every day, a magazine cover-to-cover every week, and a book every month. Identify areas where you don’t know much and reflect on how you can most quickly fill that void. There’s a website, or maybe 10 of them, on every subject. Online education is becoming a real force in education reform. Whatever you want to know is out there, readily available.

But don’t think of this as work. That may be a prejudice that your schools have given you. Think of it as fun. The brain likes to learn new stuff. The brain likes to be engaged. It’s wired that way. Humans are a learning animal. They want the fireworks of new knowledge.

That’s the secret at every level, for each teacher and every student. Celebrate learning. Think of education as something you chase after, not something you try to avoid. Demand more from your schools, and from yourself. 


Here's a quick test 
(100 easy questions) 
that will reveal how much you know: THE QUIZZ


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