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