K–12: Fake, like Adulterated Milk
In the 1800s, adulterated milk was common. Milk produced by swill herds, as muckraking journalist Robert Hartley wrote in 1842, was "very thin, and of a pale bluish color," the kind nobody in his right mind would buy. So distillers added flour, starch, chalk, plaster of Paris, or anything else they could get away with to make the milk look healthy. This adulteration only increased the bacteria in milk that we today would consider undrinkable.
The common theme in adulteration is that you pay for A, but they give you B. It's not what you want. Additionally, it's likely to be dangerous to your financial health, your physical health, and your mental health.
In recent decades, the adulteration of olive oil was such a scandal that 60 Minutes presented an exposé. The Sicilian Mafia figured out a way to reach across the Atlantic and steal from the wealthiest Americans, people who wanted only the best virgin olive oil.
Food fraud has been common through the centuries. The worst cases involve maple syrup, vanilla, apple juice, coffee, orange juice, and honey. Mix in something really cheap, and you've got a winner.
Fake medicines, according to Interpol, are killing people. It's a worldwide problem. In some cases, these counterfeits have been found to contain highly toxic substances such as rat poison.
The most spectacular 21st-century commercial crime may be Chinese drywall. The U.S. imported enough phony drywall for 60,000 homes. It looked like ordinary drywall, but deadly problems appeared months after the new owners moved in. Sulfurous fumes from bad drywall rot electric wires, turning copper to powder. Air conditioner coils and silver jewelry are affected. Emissions, which smell like rotten eggs, worsen as temperature and humidity rise. Homeowners report a great variety of horrific health problems, including difficulty breathing, headaches, and sinus issues. It is a long, drawn out nightmare for the victims. Often, the homes cannot be saved. At the least, you have rebuilding expenses and probably legal expenses.
Whole Word, a theory that children can learn to read by memorizing sight-words, is a lot like living with Chinese drywall. You get headaches and respiratory problems. Your health is shot from worry and failure. After years of going to school, the victims still have nothing to show for all that work and expense. Memorizing sight-words is difficult to do and counterproductive. Once you have these designs in your brain, you can rarely be a fluent reader. More than 40,000,000 people, known as functional illiterates, are victims of this peculiar adulteration. Reading is promised but not delivered.
Here's one obvious irony. In terms of food and most products, we have been advancing steadily. Everything is healthier. Whatever it says on the label is probably what it is. Adults in general are well informed and often obsessed with making sure they're eating healthy foods. A deadly or even dangerous food could ruin a company's reputation forever. But not much of this progress is apparent in public schools. Adults in general are not sufficiently well informed about adulteration in public education.
Arguably, almost everything in K–12 is the equivalent of milk laced with "flour, starch, chalk, plaster of Paris, or anything else they could get away with to make the milk look healthy." Kids can't teach themselves. And most parents are apparently too distracted to find out what's going on. Bottom line: We need to get the parents up to speed. Hello, Mr. and Mrs. America — your kids are being abused right in front of you.
During the last hundred years, Progressive education systematically tried to eliminate traditional ideas, which were by and large wholesome, like milk itself. Progressive educators don't seem to care about wholesome. They want their intellectual junk food if that can help their social engineering schemes.
Arguably, New Math, Reform Math, and Common Core Math are fake math programs. They create a lot of cognitive confusion. It's hard for the parents and the community to understand what's actually happening in the classroom. We see a lot of negative coverage of these pretenders — kids are crying, parents are unhappy — yet the Education Establishment is so arrogant that it goes right on dumbing down its own country.
A second obvious irony is that our government helped us defeat adulterated foods, but it's our government that is the primary force behind adulterated education. That is, public schools brag about wonderful new reforms that somehow end up being destructive. The Education Establishment is the fountainhead of fake pedagogy. You can't go in a drugstore and get this stuff. No, it is bestowed on you by your local pushers.
Discredit, dilute, and discard — that seems to be the formula for K–12. Everything is slowly turned into a Lite version of itself. All of these changes are best understood as adulteration. You start with milk and end up with blue swill.
Students may go to school for 12 years and not know how to find Alaska on a map. They may waste months learning cumbersome Common Core methods but never use them. After years of effort, you may memorize 500 sight-words more or less automatically but never actually read a book in your life. That's a common destiny these days. Our Education Establishment has adulterated literacy right out of people's lives. A big percentage of public school students will learn only one thing for sure: in every situation, you should guess. Problem is, you can't stop guessing. Instead of reading, young adults guess.
The problems and perversities in K–12 are so obvious that we have to wonder where our political and intellectual leaders are. Think of all the energy that the NeverTrumps expended in the last several years. I didn't see George Will writing about fixing up the schools. I would like to. Two years ago, Jeb Bush came out swinging on behalf of Common Core. What a silly performance. I guessed that his campaign was effectively over at that moment. But why support a flop like Common Core?
The best way that heavy hitters can show their seriousness is to promote the best ideas for improving public schools.
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.