K-12: Horrifying yet Fascinating
Conjoined twins. Bearded ladies. Pinheads. Eight-foot men. Human skeletons. Alligator and lobster boys. A mother with four legs.
Few can say they are not irresistibly intrigued by freak shows.
Medical abnormalities, grotesque life forms, the deeds of serial killers – the mind struggles to rationalize these oddities and outrages. For example, how does a calf have two heads? How do we account for Albert Fish, who infamously commented, "I like children. They are tasty"?
Many find the same sick appeal in K-12 theories and methods. These often constitute a Ripley's Believe It or Not of classroom anomalies, a News of the Weird about public education – for example, college students who don't know which side won the Civil War.
A professor at Notre Dame sums up our predicament: "We have fallen into the bad and unquestioned habit of thinking that our educational system is broken, but it is working on all cylinders. What our educational system aims to produce is cultural amnesia, a wholesale lack of curiosity[.]"
An education system working on all cylinders to obliterate knowledge? Now, that is totally fascinating. Probably never before in human history have education and amnesia converged.
The decline in general knowledge is well established. Even educated people don't know basic things. But this ignorance is not the most fascinating perversity. That would be the two-headed logic for not teaching those things in the first place, when kids are eager and their minds are sponges.
K-12 in America has become a quackery factory. Each new formulation has the goal of excusing ignorance and making sure we get plenty more of it. Let's go back to where it all started, or at least shifted into high gear.
In 1929, Edward Thorndike and Arthur Gates, two of the most esteemed professors of the time, took strong positions in their textbook for teachers. "Artificial exercises, like drills on phonetics, multiplication tables, and formal writing movements are used to a wasteful degree. Subjects such as arithmetic, language and history include content that is intrinsically of little value." These guys knew what's important: its name is ignorance.
Roughly 1962, the same sort of professors rolled out New Math. The creators of this thing practically squealed with joy that elementary schoolchildren would now be doing high school math. "Children are taught in elementary grades bodies of knowledge in the field of mathematics that were formally reserved for junior high school or high school. Geometry, integers, coordinates, and rational numbers are some examples of this." Welcome to the freak show.
In the 1970s and 1980s, Professor Frank Smith dizzied hundreds of thousands of teachers with his freaky paradoxes about the insignificance of the alphabet. "I have said that children should not be taught the alphabet[.] ... [U]ntil children have a good idea of what reading is about, learning the names of letters is largely a nonsense activity[.] ... [C]hildren cannot even begin to learn to recognize a until they can compare it with every letter that is not a."
A video extolling Everyday Math explains why correct answers are not so important. A Common Core official explains to teachers that "3×4 = 11" might be an acceptable answer. "If they were able to explain their reasoning[.] ... We're really more focusing on the how and the why." The linked video reveals the doctrine that pervades schools of education – namely, mastery of facts and procedural fluency are not stressed.
Constructivism is an example of sophistical gigantism, like a 7-foot woman. Today, it's bigger and more powerful than the rest of the curriculum. This victory was made possible by deep thinking such as: "The emphasis is on the learner as an active 'maker of meanings.' The role of the teacher is to enter into a dialogue with the learner, trying to understand the meaning to that learner of the material to be learned, and to help her or him to refine their understanding[.]"
This nonlogical kind of logic is arguably more weird than Lady Myrtle Corbin, who had four legs, two vaginas, and five children.
Common Core presents such geeky quandaries as "in each cube stick, color some cubes blue and the rest of the cubes red. Draw the cubes you colored in the number bond. Show the hidden partners in your fingers to an adult. Color the fingers you showed." Ew.
You can't believe that professors would present such malarkey to the world. The trick for the rest of us is to separate these faux experts from their pretensions.
The professor at Notre Dame seems correct in supposing that ignorance is the primary goal of our Education Establishment. Their version of socialism requires leveling. This goal demands that everyone be mediocre. If your kid knows something another kid doesn't know, the other kid will feel bad. That cannot be allowed, so your kid must be kept ignorant. This is according to the Doctrine of Self-Esteem.
Arguably, sophistry-watching offers the same thrills as bat-cuddling or tick-collecting. Oh, look at that! Ugly! Finally, there is deep pleasure in seeing a sophistry across the street and knowing exactly what it is. You can get it before it gets you; that's the main thing. Everyone should become a sophistophile (a neologism by the author, someone who enjoys sophistry as a creepy artform, akin to Geekophilia).
In short, know thine enemy.
Nowadays, the Education Establishment seems intent on sabotaging any possibility of meaning. Our schools are adrift from the original purposes of education. You know this because they invent goofy new jargon; they concoct strange new interpretations of everything; they seem perpetually to be seeking odd new goals and strange victories. Remember that these professors (for example, in the case of Common Core Math) are not math professors. They are professors of education. This is freaky: two subjects they don't know much about (math and education), but they're allowed to run amuck in both.
Personally, I find their behavior reprehensible because it's hurting children. At the same time, I find it fascinating in a sick sort of way, like the face of the star-nosed mole – the very picture of ew.
Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K-12: What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them? He deconstructs educational theories and methods at Improve-Education.org.