Four score and seven years ago our progressives brought forth in this country a new notion, conceived in socialism, and dedicated to the proposition that all students must be created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil debate, testing rather that notion, or any notion so arbitrary and totalitarian, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that debate. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for the ideologues who here told lies that this infamous notion might live. It is altogether fitting and propitious that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not deconstruct -- we can not debunk -- we can not satirize -- these extremists. The brave reformers, living and dead, who struggled here, have exposed them, far above our poor power to add or detract. It is for us the free, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- we here highly resolve that this country, under God, shall have a new birth of enlightenment -- and that education of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
“Only the educated are free.” -- Epictetus
"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be. If we are to guard against ignorance and remain free, it is the responsibility of every American to be informed." -- Thomas Jefferson
“Education makes people...easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.” -- Henry Peter Brougham
“The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth.” -- John F. Kennedy
Wade through several hundred discussions about education. You finally realize it all comes down to one question: did all this crazy bad stuff happen by accident, or do the people at the top get up every morning scheming to keep kids semi-literate, unable to do much arithmetic, and ignorant in any direction you look?
I'm fascinated by this question because, for one thing, the crazy bad stuff seems too vast to be accidental. You can’t take your eyes off it. Watching Rome burn must’ve been a similar experience. The waste, the incompetence, the reckless malice. Whatever the exact cause, finally you’ve got a city on fire. Not just any city. The world’s greatest city. And what have we got today but what should be the world’s greatest education system--and it’s on fire. But not in a good way.
Second, one of the most successful people in America told me years ago, "Bruce, I agree with a lot of what you say but I can't go along with the conspiracy stuff." That puzzled me. "Conspiracy stuff? You mean when John Dewey and his whole gang of socialists went to a conference and schemed to take over the ed schools, infiltrate the public schools, and thereby brainwash all the students? Why don’t you want to call that a conspiracy? Obviously it is one." For my money, it's a conspiracy the size of Antarctica. QED: we're not going to make progress in our public schools until people start facing the obvious facts. Probably everybody in the Education Establishment for the past 100 years was part of this conspiracy. It was these people who deliberately dumbed-down the public schools.
Third, once I got used to the idea that all the “crazy bad stuff” was surely the result of clever human activity, then my interest shifted to HOW. Wanting to win a fight, and being willing to do anything to win, is not the same as saying you have found the best strategy. Well, our Education Establishment is brilliant at sophistry. So what they did was to create schools with relentless, manifest activity that never seemed to advance very far. They turned public education into a Potemkin Village. That was the pretty but fake little town that Russian officials created so that Empress Catherine would think she was ruling a prosperous and happy country. Similarly, parents and community leaders are supposed to think that their public schools are doing just fine.
But that’s not the case. According to Charlotte Iserbyt’s famous phrase “the deliberate dumbing down of America,” our public schools are engaged in a deception. The key word, of course, is “deliberate.” The con, as I would term it, was carried out by the simple device of finding inferior methods, and using them whenever possible, to whatever extent was possible. For example, the Education Establishment might say that Whole Word was superior and phonics was obsolete. Well, not everyone accepted this nonsense. So the Education Establishment didn’t always win all the time. On the other hand, they never stopped trying to win. When one of their bad ideas was rejected, they came up with two or three more bad ideas. The public schools are now encumbered by dozens of bad ideas. Have you ever seen a caterpillar weighed down by parasitic wasp larvae? It was this sad sight that made Charles Darwin doubt his religion.
For a quick rundown of the bad ideas, see “56: Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.” www.improve-education.org/id83.html
Many public schools still teach sight-words. Take precautions.
School starts in less than two months. Take steps now to make sure your kids understand the basics of reading. The basics are simple. You can teach them.
A problem occurs if children are made to memorize sight-words without ever hearing about the basics. So here are the basics 1-2-3:
1) Children must learn to say, and then to print, the alphabet (the ABC's). They can identify any letter they see.
2) Then they learn that the letters stand for certain sounds, A is for aaa.
3) Then they learn the blends; that’s when you say the T-sound (tuh-) and an A-sound quickly....and you get "taa."
That’s the basis of everything that goes on in a phonetic language. Most children will figure it out for themselves given enough time. The problem is that less-verbal kids need direct instruction the most.
If the child ends up at a school that still teaches sight-words (also known as high-frequency words, Dolch words, whole words and other names), that child can be slowed down drastically.
Here are some resources you can use. They all deal with the same problem from different directions. So pick one and start:
"Hey! Teach these kids to read." This is a good article for getting started. http://www.rantrave.com/Rant/HEY-Teach-Those-Kids-to-Read.aspx
"54: Preemptive Reading – Teach Your Child Early” Explains the phonics concept at greater length.
"The Bouncing Ball Project.” Features several videos with a bouncing ball. Children will understand the directionality of English and the concept of syllables. We welcome feedback.
Best video on reading. Please view.
If too small, view on YouTube.
Best video on reading. Please view.
If too small, view on YouTube.
One bizarre aspect of any discussion about public education is that everybody tiptoes around the real reason why the schools are mediocre.
We spend billions of dollars. Millions of people work in this area. The whole country embraces public education.
So why do we have low literacy rates, widespread ignorance among ordinary citizens about simple things, etc., etc.??
The people in charge can’t be trying to do a good job. Put another way, whatever it is these people mean by “education” is not what most parents want for their kids.
John Dewey and everybody else in charge of public education from 1900 onward was a socialist, a communist, a collectivist, or something of the sort. This is not a secret. Most of these people used the word “progressive” to describe themselves, and this was a common synonym for socialist.
The only thing that seems to be hidden is the degree to which these people would push their socialist agenda--rather than focus on the educational services they are paid to care about.
Bottom line, it clarifies every discussion about education if we understand that the DNA of this field is far to the left. Socialists want to eliminate private property, religion, family, and freedom. To accomplish all this, they try to dumb down the public through education.
Clearly, the American Revolution was not fought on behalf of these disgraceful goals.
For a longer discussion, see “Socialism versus Education.""”
I usually call myself an education crusader, education activist, or education reformer. The basic idea is the same: things aren’t ideal and I want to improve them.
But these terms are misleading. They do not tell what I actually do all day, which turns out to be much more like what police investigators do. Or what, I like to think, Sherlock Holmes is doing right now in his stories.
There’s a crime. The police, detectives, investigators, and forensics people arrive at the crime scene and try to reconstruct what happened and who is guilty. That’s what I’m doing all day.
Truly, American public schools are the biggest crime scene in the history of the country and probably the world. All day, weird counterintuitive things are going on. Things that give the opposite results from what is claimed. Victims, suffering and dying, are scattered everywhere.
All the while, the Education Establishment lays down a barrage of false clues and tainted evidence. Every bad idea is praised as an upstanding citizen. Every bad result is concealed by jargon and disingenuous alibis. The Education Establishment blames parents, TV, drugs, sex, the kids, the Internet, sports, popular culture--in short, everything but themselves.
The criminals in the story are presented as heroes. The crimes are treated as victories or, at worse, momentary setbacks, innocent mistakes, and in any case the work of somebody else.
So if we want to solve a crime we have to ignore all the BS. Be cop-cool and lab-clinical. First, start with a description of the crime. For example: we have 50 million functional illiterates. Now, that’s a crime. How could it happen? The game is on, as Sherlock would say.
Our public schools created this result by using a lethal, unworkable method called Whole Word. Rudolf Flesch solved the crime in 1955. But the Education Establishment went right on. It’s like watching a criminal at a trial, continuing to lie. Whole Word was what cops call an MO or method of operation. Still going on in schools today. You say, how could they get away with it? Well, how could O. J. Simpson kill two people and walk?
I think it’s what we call a corrupted jury. The Education Establishment is a billion-dollar syndicate, and protects the members of the gang and pays them well.
And what would be the motive, which is the main thing to deduce in criminal behavior. All of our educators are progressives, collectivists, socialists of some kind, and this has been true since the time of John Dewey 100 years ago. Their big goal is social engineering, creating a Brave New World, making a new kind of kid. Once you start thinking like that, you really don’t care if children know where Japan is on a map or what 6 x 7 is. And that’s the collateral damage we get.
I remember when I found Sherlock Holmes and how much I enjoyed all the stories. I’ve enjoyed trying to solve educational crimes just as much. For an interim report from police lab, see “Top 10 Biggest Crimes in Education.” (aka Top 10 Worst Ideas) www.improve-education.org/id83.html
Here's a theme I've been talking about for a few years. The country's intellectual and financial decline is partly due to the mediocrity of the public schools. This decline can be reversed by adopting proven theories and methods. That's a doable project:
Free The Schools
a simple four-step plan
Our Education Establishment has an 80-year record of praising
and protecting bad pedagogies. Enough.
Here is what we need instead, starting now:
1. REAL READING. That means systematic phonics for several months until children learn to read. That means no Whole Word, no sight-words, no Dolch words, no high-frequency words. These gimmicks are all the same thing and the reason we have 50 million functional illiterates.
2. REAL ARITHMETIC. Schools use sensible, coherent programs such as Saxon Math, Singapore Math, or the like. (They do not use Reform Math in any of its forms-- Everyday Math, Connected Math, TERC.) Children master basic skills, know the multiplication tables, and can find answers. No more spiraling, fuzziness, or dependence on calculators.
3. REAL LEARNING. It’s knowledge-based and fact-filled. Children learn basic information in the fields of Geography, History, Science, Literature, etc. Students advance in a logical way from the simple to the complex--which leads to genuine critical thinking.
4. REAL EDUCATION. It’s academically correct (as opposed to politically correct). The emphasis is on building study skills and scholarly character. Students know a great deal, and know how to learn more. They can do independent work. They understand that precision, rigor, and honesty are the same things.
FREE THE SCHOOLS
is simply what all good schools have done throughout history
and are now doing around the world.
Good education is not rocket science.
Get the asinine theories and methods out of the way. Real education will thrive.
We especially need this in the early grades,
where lots of children have to play catch-up.
If you can use or advance this campaign, please do so.
If there are people or groups we should contact,
leave info at: Word-Wise, 757-455-5020.
A short article on what NOT to do:
56: Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.
A short article on what schools SCHOULD do:
“A Bill of Rights for Students 2013”
[both on Improve-Education.org]
YouTube video version of FREE THE SCHOOLS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaT2S4Vep-w
YouTube video version of FREE THE SCHOOLS: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aaT2S4Vep-w
The last straw: my paper in Norfolk just ran an article praising local schools for adopting all the recycled bad ideas from New Math, Reform Math, Constructivism, Cooperative Learning and all the rest. There is nothing new, not one good idea. But this newspaper is all aglow.
How can parents defend themselves against this nonsense if the media always aid and abet the Education Establishment? The short answer is that parents should not expect much help from the school system or local media. Parents need to familiarize themselves with the bogus theories and methods, understand why they don’t work, and know that we can easily do better.
It’s sad and pathetic the way the Education Establishment pretends to care about math. In truth, they do everything possible to make sure that children don’t become good at arithmetic and math.
Close-up, their MO is to litter the landscape which so many obstacles, perverse instructions, and upside-down signs that most children give up. They tell the world that they are just not gifted at math. They don’t try any more math courses. And science is close to math, so they’ll avoid that too.
And that’s how the Education Establishment wins, even while mouthing pretentiously about their love for lifelong learners and the rest of it.
But let’s stand back a long way and try to see the one essential thing the Education Establishment does. Here it is. They make sure that the children, from day one, experience failure, only failure.
Conversely, good teachers and good curricula present things that children can master. They gain confidence. They want to move toward more adventurous challenges. That’s the way it is for all ages, in all subjects, all the time. If you don’t think you can do something properly and you’re experiencing failure day after day, you will run.
Joan Dunn, in her wonderful 1955 book “Retreat From Learning,” wrote what I think is the most profound statement you will find about education: “The children suffer academically because learning is neglected, and the time that should have been devoted to skull work in reading, writing, thinking, and speaking is given over to chatter. Nobody knows this better than the children. They want to be taught step by step, so that they can see their progress. The duller they are, the more important and immediate is this need.”
It’s the duller students that are most destroyed by the Education Establishment, those so-called experts who should be creating schools which make sure that slower students are given every chance.
To do that, you would want to look at how John Saxon designed his textbooks. You give students a morsel. You make sure they understand it. You give them little tests. You then review what they learned. When you’re sure the children have really got it in their brains, then you move to the next morsel. You never go ahead until the students feel in control.
That feeling of being in control is the key to everything. If you know anything about Reform Math, the very essence of it is that the children never feel in control. (“Everyday Math: Innumeracy By Design” is a collection of comments by irate parents about this diabolical curriculum.
To show how Reform Math works in practice, I put an article on hubpages (title: “Why American Kids Can't Do Math") where I said, let’s do a thought experiment; let’s imagine you are trying to make sure that a captive population never learns to do arithmetic. What will you do?? Very much what Reform Math does!
For contrast, here is an article about John Saxon and his ideas.
Dear Valerie Strauss,
I’ve been writing about education for many years; I’d like to share with you my explanation for why the public schools are mediocre despite huge budgets.
Newspapers are full of analysis that I don’t think tells us much. There is definitely something counterintuitive about the field of education. It makes me think of optical illusions, such as the one way where steps are going up AND they are going down.
The problems in education are hidden in plain sight. They are the theories and methods endorsed by our Education Establishment. If you examine these theories and methods one by one, you find a surprising consistency: all are more destructive than they are helpful.
The breakthrough for me was reading theory. Ever since 1931, the Education Establishment pushed Whole Word (or sight-words) as a way to learn reading. It doesn’t work; it cannot work. But they keep pushing it. Freeze that frame. Everything you need to understand education is right there.
Reading is the paradigm. But the same pattern replicates itself over and over. Each new method is much praised and massively promoted; we are supposed to accept it as a panacea. A decade or two later the stats get worse. We look closely at this thing and we realize that it’s not working. But the Education Establishment doubles down.
You probably remember the famous drawing from Gulliver’s Travels: a huge man held down by dozens of tiny, almost invisible strands. Public schools are something like that. Kids don’t learn to read as well as they should. They can’t do arithmetic as well as they need to. They don’t learn basic knowledge as well as they could. They are encouraged to guess and approximate....There’s an across-the-board attack on every aspect of the kid’s education and every aspect of the kid’s character.
On an optimistic note: I believe all these ideas were systematically inserted into the schools, and they can be systematically withdrawn from the schools. I suspect you could improve quality by 10% and cut costs by 10% almost without lifting a finger. You would just have to stop using all the bad ideas.
If we try to decide motive, we will get lost in political discussions. I know people who say it’s a far-left plot, while others say it’s a far-right plot. A documentary called “Zeitgeist” maintains its neither the left or the right, just ruthless SOB’s at the top who want everybody else to be stupid.
Well, Valerie, my purpose is to urge you to throw this analysis out there, provoke the public, and challenge the elite educators. Inquire innocently as to why they can’t do a better job.
The main thing is to open up the debate. Get people talking.
What I fear is not just the terrible stats but a terrible paralysis. I don’t see the Chamber of Commerce, Mission: Readiness, the media, the elite universities doing anything. I think the Education Establishment has deliberately battered everybody into passivity. People hear the same arguments over and over for decades, but nothing changes. Superman does not show up. Ordinary citizens feel helpless. If the official leaders can’t do anything, what can parents do?
The only hope is that the grown-ups get more involved. The smart, practical people (and I think you’re one of those) can start pushing the envelope, start agitating, start pointing out that the emperors of education are not only naked but abusing children.
Okay, that’s my explanation. If you want details for any aspect of it, please tell me.
PS: For details, see this short discussion of individual methods: “Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.” ( http://www.improve-education.org/id83.html )
NB: Valerie Strauss blogs on the Washington Post as The Answer Sheet. I originally created this as a letter to her, but she didn't answer so please pass it along.