Bruce Deitrick Price
K-12: Grifter's paradise
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By Bruce Deitrick Price
January 26, 2017

K-12 education is a dangerous part of town. Swindlers and carnies rule the streets. You'll see rigged roulette, craps played with loaded dice, and three-card monte. Suckers never get a break.

If you have a cynical sense of humor, you may like watching city slickers sell the Brooklyn Bridge to hick tourists for $10. But in education, you are the dumb hick endlessly hustled. Look at what they're doing to your kids. You won't see anything funny about it.

Here are six big fat illustrations of our Education Establishment at work:

1) Philip Kovacs, a professor of education speaking at TEDx, pointed to a 65-pound stack of textbooks. He said that 9th-graders typically carried such a stack in their backpacks. We need to ask: at the end of the year, how much of this information have the students learned? Probably not enough to fill an eight-page brochure. Those books (2000+ pages) are a waste of money. They are for show. Presumably they impress parents. We know from endless stats and anecdotes that schools teach very little of whatever content is in these books. What we have here is a con – the pretense of doing something that is not being done. Let that 65-pound stack of books stand as an emblem for American public school chicanery.

2) Public schools pretend education is their purpose but the real agenda is usually social engineering. Professors of education in the 1950s bragged: "We don't teach history. We teach children." Let's amplify this pretentious little sophistry to make sure everyone gets the impact: "We don't teach math. We teach children... We don't teach science. We teach children... We don't teach literature. We teach children...We don't teach geography. We teach children..... We don't teach reading. We teach children." Everyone should demand to know: teach them what? Academically speaking, the answer is little or nothing, certainly not any math, science, literature, geography, reading. However, with regard to social engineering, much is taught. Politically correct attitudes and opinions are relentlessly taught. This process, which can be called brainwashing, doesn't add to your knowledge or your ability to think. It shapes your feelings. So this is the essential bait and switch: knowledge is promised, ideology is delivered.

3) Constructivism (also called discovery, inquiry, student-centered learning, learning by doing, etc.) is the theory which demands that schools stop teaching facts to students. Instead, students should forage for their own information. This little sophistry has devastated public schools from K to 12, all subjects. What we see is less teaching, and less learning. Imagine that you go to library to learn a new subject. You could spend a day on research and not learn the vital information that a lecture might tell you in a half-hour. Constructivism can work; it's just very slow and inefficient. What used to be taught in a school year would now take two school years or maybe three. Let's call that a con.

4) Nobody signs up for school expecting to have their brains short-circuited. But that's precisely what a lot of K-12 techniques do. A new gimmick in Common Core claims that "frustration" will drive students to do better. Elementary school arithmetic has been made unnecessarily complex. One gimmick is to skip over mastery of basics, and proceed directly to advanced problem-solving. For most students in elementary school, high difficulty means they will routinely fail. A smart school would try to build mastery and confidence at this young age. Too often, our public schools prevent confidence, and set the stage for years of failure.

5) The paradigm for difficult but useless instruction remains the rote memorization of Sight-words. It's the same as memorizing phone numbers, license plates, chemical equations, etc. If we're talking about a couple dozen symbols, memorizing them is doable. But Whole Word in its heyday required memorizing tens of thousands of English words, an idiotic demand. The minimum Dolch list has 315 words – a near-impossible goal for most children. And throughout all these years, while the children are attempting the impossible, they are kept illiterate. Few cons are as vicious as this one.

6) In another TEDx speech, a teacher now returned to grad school bragged about giving up all the traditional approaches and assumptions. Her passions have become "social justice, global education and helping students make the world a better place." This is now the Party Line. You'll see no mention of facts, knowledge, or logical thinking. What do students know at the end of such a curriculum? They know that social justice, global education and helping students make the world a better place are what really matter. Reading, writing, and arithmetic do not. The con here is to pretend that ignorance and illiteracy can be called "justice" or "a better place." (This change agent is working on a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction. She will be in charge of shaping young teachers in the future. The downward spiral will continue.)

QED: everybody should be cynical about our Education Establishment. If these people claim that X is a great way to learn something, you should immediately suspect that X will be another in a long line of expensive frauds.

If these people knew how to run good schools, wouldn't they be doing just that? Instead, we are afflicted with failure and mediocrity.

The Education Establishment claims that they have great new ideas. They don't. They claim they will make your kids college-ready and career-ready. Not likely. (At the end of high school, your kids will hardly be high-school-ready.) They claim they'll make them lifelong readers. If they ever become readers at all, you should be amazed. They claim they will teach your kids critical thinking. Really? If the American public had critical thinking, would they tolerate the games that high-level educators play?

Our professional educators were corrupted by ideological visions. Meanwhile, our community and religious leaders are not leading. It would be helpful if every individual citizen got more involved in public schools. Don't hesitate to meddle. If you see a bunch of drunk chefs making inedible food, it is your duty to step in there and cook a few cheeseburgers.

CODA: Donald Trump said he would drain the swamp. I am particularly hopeful he can drain the educational swamp. Our Education Establishment, disciples of John Dewey all, has spent the last 90 years concocting pedagogies said to be sent straight from heaven. But they never seem to work as advertised. I'm satisfied they were never intended to work. Their real goal is socialist leveling. The simple first step for Trump and Team is to get rid of these impostors. Clear the field. Embrace again what has always worked. If in doubt, survey the five most successful private schools in your area, and do what they do.

© Bruce Deitrick Price

 

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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site Improve-Education.org (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is Lit4u.com .

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