K-12: Why So Little for the Mind?
Many critics say our public schools are a train wreck. In Charlotte Iserbyt's memorable phrase, we are all victims of "the deliberate dumbing down of America." Is there any escape? Perhaps, but only if we're candid about what has been done to us throughout the past century.
Here's how bad things are now. Camille Paglia, popular professor and author, declares: "What has happened is these young people now getting to college have no sense of history – of any kind! No sense of history. No world geography. No sense of the violence and the barbarities of history. So, they think that the whole world has always been like this, a kind of nice, comfortable world where you can go to the store and get orange juice and milk, and you can turn on the water and the hot water comes out. ... They know nothing!"
Professor Patrick Deneen at Notre Dame says, "My students are know-nothings. ... Their brains are largely empty. ... They are the culmination of western civilization, a civilization that has forgotten nearly everything about itself, and as a result, has achieved near-perfect indifference to its own culture."
Let's jump farther back to 1983 and the famous "Nation at Risk" report produced by a congressional investigation, which concluded: "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people." Then came the wonderful deadpan crescendo: "If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war." Please savor this. Our schools are so bad that the Russians are probably in charge – that is, the communists.
This shocking statement merely reveals the obvious. A decade earlier, celebrated communist author Herbert Marcuse, in Counterrevolution and Revolt, applauded "the strategy of the long march through the institutions: working against the established institutions while working within them ... by 'doing the job', learning how to program and read computers, how to teach at all levels of education, how to use the mass media[.]"
Such strategies have long been commonplace. After the Russian Revolution was consolidated in 1920, the Communist International proposed that the same methods be pursued around the world. The Long March, the Deliberate Dumbing Down – all proceeded simultaneously in every part of our society. The communists wanted to influence print media, broadcast networks, magazines, publishing businesses, universities, the foundations – and they pretty much expropriated control of everything. That's why they could do to education whatever they wanted and reduce public schools to ignorance factories.
The central fact of this whole story is that the USSR was a police state (and probably better described as a slave state). Khrushchev announced to the world circa 1956 that he intended to bury us – i.e., make us part of his evil empire. The communists assumed this outcome until after 1990 and probably do so today. So throughout the 20th century, these subversives was merely preparing us for our proper place in the world: enslaved. Slaves don't need to read or think.
Decades earlier, John Dewey and his Fabian socialists proposed the strategy that would be endlessly replicated: infiltrate and conquer. And never tell the truth. The New Republic tied together the main threads:
Finally, Dewey arguably did more than any other reformer to repackage progressive social theory in a way that obscured just how radically its principles departed from those of the American founding[.] ... Dewey initially embraced the term "socialism" to describe his social theory. Only after realizing how damaging the name was to the socialist cause did he, like other progressives, begin to avoid it. In the early 1930s, accordingly, Dewey begged the Socialist party, of which he was a longtime member, to change its name. "The greatest handicap from which special measures favored by the Socialists suffer," Dewey declared, "is that they are advanced by the Socialist party as Socialism. The prejudice against the name may be a regrettable prejudice but its influence is so powerful that it is much more reasonable to imagine all but the most dogmatic Socialists joining a new party than to imagine any considerable part of the American people going over to them."
Our secret socialists faced endless packaging and marketing problems. The education commissars had to provide a clever cover story for every excrescence. If professors of education could justify claiming that non-reading is reading, then they could use Whole Word to make children into functional illiterates. If they could claim that garbled, nearly useless arithmetic is as good as real arithmetic, they could make kids learn Common Core Math. If they could create bogus research to prove that Constructivism is a superior way to teach content, they could make sure everyone knew almost nothing, exactly as professors Paglia and Deneen described.
America became a large beetle with a nasty parasite consuming it from the inside. Nineteen fifty-three is roughly the midpoint of our long march to defeat. That year, Hilda Neatby, a world-class professor, published her book So Little for the Mind. Neatby was the first female president of the Canadian Historical Association. Her book provides a shrewd exposition of what happens to a civilization when a parasite is inside. It's easy to fall in love with Neatby's beautiful mind:
It is well, however, to skirt Dewey's philosophy lightly, not through irreverence, but rather through godly fear. He has been looked upon as the fountain at which every novice must drink; in truth he is no fountain, he is rather a marsh, a bog where armies of school teachers have sunk, and, one might add, many of them have never risen, but speak with muffled accents from the depths.
Although [the expert] says he wants children to think, when driven into a corner he betrays an uneasy conviction that most children cannot think and he therefore accuses his critics of planning an 'academic' education suited to the few.
The faith of our experts is not faith in the ability of all to solve problems but the reverse. The material which would enable the individual to work out his own salvation is practically withheld in order that he may be more receptive to the ready-made solutions that are handed out. Few experts in education show any appreciation of the rewards of disinterested scholarship. And this is not surprising; few indeed have experienced them.
Neatby tells us what happens when communists are loose in the world. Hardly 40 years into the war against these subversives, we were largely pacified. We had 100% literacy in 1915, but it declined steadily thereafter.
This historical review points to an unexpected and unpleasant conclusion. Many of our most important institutions lied to us continually. I suspect that nothing preached by our Education Establishment was ever true, was ever intended to work, was ever intended to help children, was ever intended to be genuinely educational. We're looking back at a century of lies and subterfuge. The commies, if we may call them that, out-schemed us and out-plotted us. These indefatigable enemies, these expert assassins, knew our kill spots. Education was the biggest and softest.
Education, which should elevate a society, was used to devastate ours.
Everybody should acknowledge this shameful acquiescence. Look in a mirror and grin sheepishly: yeah, we were easy, so, so, so easy.
Basically, our socialists and Education Establishment did all the things we accused King George of doing: "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance. ... He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation."
We stopped King George. Now we need to stop King Ed or, if you prefer, Red Ed.
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.