Simply put, Dewey cared more about children playing harmoniously together than he did about what each one learned.
BY BRUCE DEITRICK PRICE -
Education is a mystifying field. You can study it for years but remain forever on the surface.
The media, for example, endlessly discuss every aspect of public education. But nothing improves; and nobody explains why we spend so much money but get mediocre results. (Note: many pundits believe the public schools are now so bad they are a threat to this country’s survival.)
Here’s my main theme these days. We must look deeper. Until we grapple with the underlying causes, nothing will improve. We have to move inside the machine and figure out how it works.
One thing we know for certain is that our education stats are dismal. So let’s stay focused on international tests, statistics, SAT scores, and everything else that quantifies our malaise. These unpleasant facts should be our main reference point.
The second thing we know is that a LOT of activity is taking place. Tens of millions of children, tens of thousands of classrooms, billions of books, more than a million teachers. Everything is busy-busy-busy. But then we come back to the central fact: somebody neglected to make all this activity smart and productive.
Instead, we have too much activity that is like a mime pulling a rope. The rope is imaginary; the mime is not actually “pulling.” In a similar way, a lot of the education in our public schools is theatre; it’s mime. Nobody is being educated. The stats prove that.
Now, let’s zoom in on the essential components of this activity, these being what professors of education call “theories and methods.” Typically, somebody has a flashy theory that children should be taught a subject a certain way; other professors devise methods incorporating the theory. Theory A leads to Method B which is the basis of Textbook C. Obviously, dumb theories will spawn dumb curricula.
My conclusion, after years of wrestling with the most popular theories and methods found in the public schools, is that most of them are flawed. In fact, they are shockingly second-rate. It’s as though you hired a tone deaf person to compose your corporate song. How did we got into this bind?
John Dewey (d. 1952) and his followers were Progressives who wanted to fundamentally transform the United States. Dewey and friends were also professors of education; naturally they thought of using the schools to achieve their ideological goals. The plan was simple: first indoctrinate teachers; have the teachers indoctrinate the kids.
When Dewey’s educators selected classroom methods, the primary concern was social engineering, not traditional education. That’s the crucial shift. We’re still living with the aftershocks. Simply put, Dewey cared more about children playing harmoniously together than he did about what each one learned.
Meanwhile, parents usually demanded more traditional education, not less. They wanted as much learning as their kids could absorb. Thus, the sides were drawn. For 75 years, we have had Education Wars.
How do we escape from this wasteful and paralyzing conflict? In an ideal world, the social engineers give up their UNAUTHORIZED experiments and get back to teaching kids the skills and knowledge that everyone needs.
Unfortunately, that may not be happening any time soon. Common Core Curriculum seems to be another wave of the same old indoctrination. However, there is still much we can do. Americans can be better educated about education. Don’t expect the Education Establishment to reveal their dark secrets. Parents need to do a little homework, that’s all.
Parents can learn to recognize the names of the flawed methods used in our schools, and then fight to eliminate them.
Whole Word (a/k/a sight-words) is the worst way to learn to read. Insist on systematic phonics.
Reform Math (which has 12 separate curricula including Everyday Math) is the worst way to learn math; try instead Singapore Math, Saxon Math, or similar.
Constructivism is a fancy word for preventing teachers from teaching, so that students are forced to discover facts for themselves. It might work sometimes. Usually, the result is that kids know less foundational knowledge.
There are many suspect methods: Project-Based Learning; Prior Knowledge; Learning Styles; Cooperative Learning; Multiculturalism; Self-esteem, for starters. Despite clever names and glorious claims, these things tend to retard education. The stats prove that.
The Education Establishment is clever at keeping us distracted and confused. We end up staring at the surface they want us to see. No more. Let’s look at the warped gears inside the machine, and replace them.