Only You Can Prevent Bad Public Schools
Perhaps you are an eternal optimist, hoping the Education Establishment will reform itself. I have bad news: the top people in education like what they're doing just fine. John Dewey and his successors were/are socialists first, educators second. Everything you see in K-12 education is not an aberration, but a fulfillment of Dewey's "progressive" dream first formulated a century ago.
John Dewey wrote thousands of pages explaining his ideological vision. But if you want a single comment that captures all the counterintuitive goofiness in a few words, listen to G. Stanley Hall. He was Dewey's mentor and himself one of the early titans of American education. Professor Hall said: "Reading should no longer be a fetish. Little attention should be paid to reading."
It's a straight line from that inanity to the latest stats indicating that less than one third of fourth-graders and eighth-graders ever reach proficiency in reading.
And the point is, Professor Hall would be proud of our dumbed down K-12 schools. So please don't expect the Education Establishment to fix things. It's up to you.
Here's the three-point blueprint:
First, understand that you are in a war, and you need to know the strategic situation. The Education Establishment has a largely hidden ideological agenda intended to transform every aspect of the school. Their first concern is not academics or learning, no matter what they say. The real emphasis is on creating cooperative children. In this way, children become accustomed to being on the same level, as socialism requires. Additionally, cooperative children are docile, controllable children. Let's be realistic: our ideologues will not be able to create their brave new world if students learn to think for themselves. For concerned citizens, the first order of business is resisting this political agenda whenever possible.
Second, the intellectual terrain, as we might call it, consists of dozens of inferior theories and methods. Children are stymied by dysfunctional ways to learn reading, arithmetic, basic facts, and knowledge. Don't expect these methods to work; they are cleverly designed not to work. Nobody learns to read with sight-words. Nobody learns arithmetic quickly with Reform Math or Common Core Math. Nobody learns knowledge efficiently with Constructivism. It's as if each child's backpack had a 20-pound weight hidden in it, so that all progress is slowed. Take a few minutes to understand these bogus theories and methods so you can explain them to somebody else. Then you can oppose the Education Establishment.
The third thing to confront is that the Education Establishment doesn't leave much to chance. They have created an interlocking array of bureaucracies, unions, foundations, think-tanks, political parties, publishers, media, and agents of influence. So you can expect a continuous bombardment of wrong-headed answers. Everybody needs to dig in his heels. Stay focused on some simple points: if these people were sincerely trying to improve education, would we have 40 million functional illiterates? Would our schools be mired in widely acknowledged mediocrity? Would more than one third of the students entering college need remedial education? No, on all counts.
Two years ago, Brad McQueen wrote a book denouncing Common Core. A particularly interesting feature was a six-page appendix listing 76 not-for-profits that received billions from Bill Gates. What did these groups do with the money? They basically functioned as a gigantic PR operation, telling us how wonderful Common Core is.
A hundred years ago, Frank Norris wrote a famous book called The Octopus. It was about the interlocking, all-powerful railroad company. Today's Octopus is the Education Establishment. There seem to be more than 100 separate entities that exist to make public schools conform to liberal/progressive templates. These front groups pretend to be wise, disinterested, and constructive. But they seem to promote the same theories and methods, leading to the same goals. Here are some of the names you see over and over: National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Governors Association, National Science Foundation, Achieve, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), National Education Association, International Reading Association (IRA), and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). There are dozens more.
In summary, it's a war, and the other side is fighting to win. They are extraordinarily good at marketing, jargon, advertising slogans, seeming profundities, and disingenuousness. Savor these phrases: Reform Math, New Math, Whole Language, Whole Word, Multiculturalism, Constructivism, Project-Based Learning, Self-esteem, 21st Century Skills, New Literacies, Deeper Learning, and so many more. Most people, hearing these for the first time, are impressed. What's not to like? What's not to like is that all of them are, in essence, advertising jingles with all the depth of I'm loving it. Here is one quick example of what the reality looks like: multicultural means that your kids are supposed to learn as much about foreign cultures as about their own country. American third-graders know the names of rivers in China but don't know the word Mississippi. That's just quackery, and sneaky as well. There is nothing accidental about it.
The government's official advice for fighting terrorism is that if you see something suspicious, say something. If American parents follow that maxim, they will never be silent. Finding something in K-12 that is not suspicious would be the surprise.