K-12: Faking It

Welcome to Wonderland.  That's the code name for the fake houses and landscapes built to hide California's airplane factories circa 1942.  Japanese bombers were expected at any moment.

This anticipation was the theme of Steven Spielberg's 1979 movie titled 1941. The film, starring John Belushi, was too slapstick to convey California's utter panic.  People truly believed they saw Zeroes swooping in from every direction.

That panic explains the intensity of the faking-it offensive.  Thousands of the best engineers, architects, artists, carpenters, set-designers, and magicians responded with grim ingenuity.  They invented, constructed, and improvised at a fierce pace.  Entire neighborhoods were created on burlap strung above the factories.  Trees.  Streets.  Cars.  People.  Telephone poles.  Empty lots.  Shrubs.  Ranch houses.  And every inch of Wonderland was a lie.

The goal was to trick a Japanese bombardier flying a mile overhead.  He's looking for a massive factory, not somebody's suburban house.  The illusion was almost perfect.

Where else do we see such obsession with substituting the fake for the real?  Not in a small way, as in bogus money, silicone breasts, or magic tricks, but in a huge way: an entire panorama is replaced by a new "reality." 

If you survey American K-12, you see a similar story.  The Education Establishment replicated traditional schools and, with relentless ingenuity, created doppelgangers.  Almost no one notices that everything has been replaced by clever forgeries.

This educational fakery was directed not at foreign invaders, but at natives, at the local population.  That's you and I.  Are we the enemy?  Yes.  We are not supposed to see the nature or extent of the deception.

Little is left of the original school. Almost everything you see now is the imitation.  It's the $100 bill printed on an Epson; it's the big zirconium diamond.  Vast ambition is the most striking feature.  The Education Establishment didn't seek a little bit of fakery.  These people wanted total fakery, wall to wall, from K to 12.

Two sets of clues revealed the onrushing duplicity.  First, throughout the school system, standards nosed downward, always and in every subject. 

Second, in order to facilitate the decline, all fakes were promoted and protected by layers of jargon.  There was often a new name for everything and new wrinkles that needed to be taught to millions of teachers.  Jargon is typically a sign of decay and dysfunction.  Orwell discussed how the squid squirts out its black ink and then hides inside that ink.  Jargon, in American education, is one of the most creative fields. 

Here, in no particular order, is some weird jargon generated, like so much marsh gas, in America's greatest educational wasteland, faux reading instruction: closed instructional activities, emergent literacy, picture reading, pre-reading, functional systemic linguistic theory, authoring cycle, goal orientation theory, cognitive flexibility theory, and many others.

Note that all this jargon is gone, passé, obsolete – not real now because it never was.

Elementary schools still taught reading, but millions of children never learn to read.  School officials pretend sight-words are traditional reading instruction but better.  All too often, the victims never realize that what they're doing is not reading, but a stand-in.  They don't grasp that they can't actually read.  Many teachers don't realize they have not been teaching reading.

Arithmetic presents similar confusion.  The Education Establishment tried again and again to replace genuine math instruction with fake instruction.  The first counterfeit was New Math in 1962.  The main gimmick was to teach advanced material to young children.  Americans, almost across the board, realized immediately that this thing was a scam.

Experts moved on to Reform Math circa 1985.  The most famous version is called Everyday Math.  Again, Reform Math, with all of its sophistries and mysteries, was not math; it was anti-math.  But it looked like a math class because there are numbers on the blackboard, children have a textbook, and they had problems to do at home.

This trickery is now evolved into Common Core Math.  Again, the schools sent home things that are called problems.  Many are egregious.  Even smart people cannot agree on the answer: "Juanita wants to give bags of stickers to her friends.  She wants to give the same number of stickers to each friend.  She's not sure if she needs four bags or six bags of stickers.  How many stickers could she buy so there are no stickers left over?"

In another example of inspired phoniness, public schools mutated all direct, commonsense instruction into non-instruction, known as Constructivism.  Teachers were ordered not to teach.  So students learned whatever they concocted for themselves, often very little.

The blueprint for all this chicanery was to substitute unreal for real.  The entire process was like greedy offspring, not willing to wait for their inheritance, who commission forgeries for all the valuable antiques in the family mansions.  Little by little, there's nothing left of value.  But to the complacent, all too trusting parents, everything looks as it did.

That's the story of American K-12 throughout the 20th century, the Golden Age of the Imposter.

Finally, that thing down there is not an airplane factory.  It's something completely different.  The Education Establishment creates a dummy in order to make dummies.

Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is Saving K-12 — What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?  His education site is Improve- Education.org.

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