K-12: Let the Peasants Eat Popcorn
Andrew Carnegie made billions in steel, sold his business, and switched to philanthropy. He built 2,500 libraries, at least. In his 1889 essay The Gospel of Wealth, he said that "the rich have a moral obligation to distribute their money in ways that promote the welfare and happiness of the common man."
Where are the people who feel like that today? Here's the first step they would take. They would ensure that all kids in our public schools learn to read in the first grade. Then those children could go to Carnegie's libraries and enjoy the books. We have to ask: where are the Carnegies these days – that is, people with big bucks and big hearts?
Upscale people send their kids to private school. What do they care if poor kids can't read? Is that the logic? This does seem to be the prevailing attitude. My children are doing fine, thank you. Let the poor and minorities eat cake.
This country's K-12 system has created 50 million functional illiterates, give or take. Where are all the people with consciences, social consciousness, or even just the smallest sense of fair play? Reading is easy to teach. Why do we allow people to remain illiterate?
Noblesse oblige is a concept asserting that people with money and other advantages have to take care of those less fortunate. Another formulation goes like this: from those to whom much is given, much is expected.
American society has never been richer, has never had so many billionaires. What we're short on is altruism and charity, especially in the direction of genuine (i.e., traditional) education. Our upper class seems content to let our schools decline before our eyes.
Note that K-12 decline is not speculation. It is long established. The Nation at Risk report of 1983 opined that our public schools are so bad that they seem to have been created by an "unfriendly foreign power" –presumably a known meddler like the USSR.
When you see the mediocrity of our schools, when you realize that millions of kids can't read, can't find Japan on a map, and can't do basic arithmetic, shouldn't you be concerned? If you can improve the situation and you don't, shouldn't you feel guilty?
The American dream was to let people work and prosper the best they could. The government should not pick favorites or impose handicaps on one class or another. But now the lower classes are doubly handicapped: they are poor and poorly educated. Shockingly, this appears to be government policy.
The people in charge of K-12 are typically liberals, socialists, collectivists, something in that direction. So why do these people impose such a terrible burden on their constituents? Poor isn't bad enough? The poor must also be rendered ignorant and illiterate?
Where does all this go? The public schools have almost stopped teaching – not just reading, but all subjects. The most elemental things that used to be taught in the first few grades are now in eclipse. What sort of liberalism allows this? A phony sort.
Anyone who has studied communism is not surprised when ideologues in that orbit behave aggressively. So the fact that our far left tries to dumb down our schools is predictable. But percentage-wise, these extremists are a tiny group. Why are they allowed to trample on the rights and futures of the vast majority?
I'm disappointed by our upper class. These people have been to college. They live in nice houses, have money, can travel, and wear fine clothes. Most crucially, they know the benefits and joys of being educated. Why do they want to withhold these benefits from everyone else?
Why, in short, do they tolerate vacuous and ineffectual public schools? The government continuously announces that two thirds of fourth-graders and eighth-graders are below proficient in everything. This is a massive failure of our leaders and public agencies. They are so incompetent as to be a joke, or they are subversive. U.S News sums up the mess: "Latest NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] scores show growing gap between those at the top and bottom of the achievement spectrum."
To paraphrase Carnegie only slightly, "the rich have a moral obligation to distribute their money in ways that promote the education of the common man."
Education officials appear eager to weaken the country by dumbing it down, and they don't worry about the victims of this process. "Dumbing down" is not an abstraction for the millions of children who aren't taught reading, arithmetic, or general knowledge. Insidious perfectly describes what's going on in our public schools. A strange sort of enemy has moved within our gates and worked to subdue us. Why do our upscale people tolerate this aggression?
From my point of view, private schools have one serious flaw. They insulate rich people from the horrors of public schools.
What would happen if you took away private schools and made the children of the rich go to public schools? You would probably have a rebellion. Well dressed suburbanites would show up with rage and pitchforks. This would be delightful to see. The way it seems to be done now is that the well off are given a gated educational community. The contrived dysfunction of public schools doesn't enter their lives. We might put it this way: the silence of the rich is secured by giving them a separate school system.
This is a challenging situation. To defeat the nonsense in the public schools, Americans have to understand this nonsense. But if most of our top brains are taken out of the game, then the dysfunction just goes on forever. You have sight-words to teach reading, Common Core Math to teach arithmetic, and Constructivism to teach knowledge. These approaches are counterintuitive and don't work very well. How do the public schools get away with this malfeasance?
Simple. Few people complain. Religious leaders, political leaders, black leaders, media leaders, cultural leaders, business leaders, the upper class generally – most are strangely mute. Everyone is dazed, misled, or co-opted. Let's turn this around. Stop tolerating left-wing social engineers who won't serve the country or the children. Stop looking the other way and letting these people get away with what might be called soft murder.
Surely, the society would be better and stronger if all students were lifted up to their potential? This is a reasonable goal, a doable goal. All we need is enough people demanding it.
Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K-12. He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org. Support his work on Patreon.