The Results of Radicalism in Chicago's Education System

"You've got a mouthful of gimme, a hand full of much obliged."

-Clarence Williams, "Gulf Coast Blues"

The difference between the lowdown character in Clarence Williams' "Gulf Coast Blues" and the striking Chicago Teachers Union is that the teachers don't bother to offer a "much obliged."  For the past three decades, Chicago's mouthful-of-gimme education elite has singlehandedly done more than any other school system in America to insure that the city's students will never rise out of poverty through gaining a meaningful education.

There's something like karmic justice involved here.  Illegally elected Mayor Rahm Emanuel, along with Barack Obama and former Chicago education czar and now U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, is faced with the perverse clash between the leftist teachers' union all of these characters blindly love and Emanuel's, Obama's, and Duncan's leftist "philosophy" of education.  Both are purposely committed with malice aforethought to do exactly the opposite of what a true education philosophy should -- which is to say that they're designed to reduce students to placeholders in the classroom with no hope of receiving the skills they need to succeed in a real-world capitalist economy while making sure that the professionals who keep them in this position continue to do so.

Imposition of the left's education philosophy has a long history in the U.S., in Chicago and elsewhere.  It involves the application of many of the principles of behavior modification which Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov pioneered to the classroom, which in turn has evolved during the past century into a place where changing behaviors and attitudes of students have replaced learning, and where trying to ensure equal "outcomes" for all students has replaced encouraging students to achieve at as high a level as possible.  The classroom has become the bastion of groupthink and the enemy of intellectual freedom.  We have the left, and its champions of intellectual tyranny, to thank for that.

Although the National Education Association (NEA), the fountainhead of that educational tyranny, has been in existence since the middle of the 19th century, it was not until it came under the influence of the American educator John Dewey, a professed communist, in the early part of the twentieth century that it found its true purpose: the perpetuation of Marxist educational philosophy in American schools.

An early statement of Dewey's educational goals can be found in his essay "New Schools for a New Era," first published in 1928.  There are two fundamental things needed to shape a school system into such an agency: the need for "the development of public economy with reference to Socialist reconstruction in general" and "the development of the population in the spirit of communism."  The latter Dewey calls "the cooperative principle," and it is the core idea in Dewey's stated aim to convert the American education system to one similar to that which he helped to develop in Russia.  Dewey's communist educational manifesto for establishing "the identification ... between cultural and industrial education" in the United States is based on goals that have been integrated into the general educational philosophy of our school systems, thanks to such organizations as the NEA, which has carried out Dewey's assault on educational freedom relentlessly.

The NEA found the champion it needed in the person of another leftist educator, Benjamin S. Bloom.  Bloom is called "the father of Outcome Based Education" (OBE).  OBE, which began as what Bloom labeled "mastery learning," would become the single most destructive educational philosophy in the history of the discipline.

Bloom's Mastery Learning/OBE master plan was based on his examination of the reasons students learned at different rates and achieved different educational "outcomes."  Under a system in which teachers tended to give the same instruction to all students and to grade them on how well they were able to absorb and demonstrate their knowledge, student results tended to conform to the familiar Bell Curve, which meant that a small group of students performed exceptionally well, while a majority of student performances clustered near the middle, and another minority performed badly.

Bloom's 1956 book, Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, proposed a method of teaching that tested students more frequently as to their mastery of a given set of educational objectives and offered remediation for those who had not achieved the desired mastery.  The catch was that until all students had mastered a given unit, no students were able to advance to the next one.  Remediation was given to those whose performance lagged behind, while those who had already mastered the unit's objectives on the first pass were given supplemental work to do while their less gifted fellow students tried to catch up.  In this way, Bloom reasoned, the differences between high achievers and low achievers would eventually be wiped out, and every student would achieve the same outcome.

So devastating were the results of "Mastery Learning" in Chicago that, after the particularly disastrous failure of the implementation of the methodology in the late 1970s and early '80s, nearly half of Chicago's high school students dropped out of school.  The approach was subsequently renamed Outcome Based Education and has insinuated itself as the pedagogical method of choice in America's public schools since then.

The results?  One of the headlines accompanying the current Chicago teacher walkout has focused on Chicago students' inability to read at their grade level.  Chicago's school system has brought the level of reading proficiency among its 8th-graders down to 21 percent.  There's only one parallel to the OBE results in Chicago: slavery.

One of the most egregious laws passed during the time of slavery in the United States was the law that forbade slaves to learn how to read and which punished anyone who taught a slave to read.  The reason this law had to be passed was twofold.  First, being able to read is, in an important sense, liberating.  That single skill gives the person who possesses it access to virtually limitless information, and that was something slaveholders could not risk.

But the second reason is equally important: it is very difficult -- nay, almost impossible -- to keep a person from learning to read.  In colonial Boston, for instance, the literacy rate was nearly 100 percent.  Virtually everyone knew how to read, and anyone who didn't could easily find someone to teach him.  Girls, boys, women, men...everybody could read.  So easy is it to learn to read that it was necessary to forbid teaching slaves.  You can sit down with a book and someone who knows how to read, and that person, even if he or she is not a licensed teacher -- or, as is more appropriate today, especially if he or she is not a licensed teacher -- can very likely teach you to read.

What the Chicago school system has done to its students ranks among the most egregious crimes against a people -- in this case, the largely African-American population of the city of Chicago -- that I can imagine.  And the idea that the teachers who perpetrate this criminality on their charges are holding out for higher pay and benefits serves only to highlight the reasons we've got to give the Obama administration and his radical Chicago cronies the boot in November.