Bruce Deitrick Price
A stroll through the beautiful ruins of American public education
K-12: Q&A with Bruce Deitrick Price
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By Bruce Deitrick Price
March 8, 2018

Q: What is your main feeling about K-12 education today?

A: Sadness. There is a perennial waste of energy and money, both taken in great quantities from millions of citizens. Instruction, if logical and systematic, can teach a great deal in a timely way. Instruction, if incoherent, will leave students worse off than when they started. That is why McKinsey and Company, circa 2007, concluded that American students are measurably worse each additional year they remain in the public schools. Our #1 job is stopping this waste.

Q: So what is the big sin?

A: The Education Establishment concocts new ideas that are presented to the public as panaceas, as the ultimate and final answers to better education. But what we get instead are systemic poisons, things that damage the body politic. Individual citizen sometimes never recover from these poisons. This is not hyperbole. For example, we have more than 40 million functional illiterates. Every one of them has been damaged by the poison known as sight-words. In practice, this means that many children level out when they're only 10 or 12 or 14. And stay there for the rest of their lives.

Q: What is the most critical thing you want people to know?

A: Throughout K-12, many bad ideas are locked in place. Some of these ideas were first introduced 30, 50, 70, and 90 years ago. The Education Establishment hangs onto its bad ideas with ingenuity and ferocity. That's why reform is so difficult. However, I think if more people get involved, and make more noise, we can unlock these bad ideas, and toss them in the trash. I want people to realize they can't depend on the Education Establishment to fix problem. We can, however, have progress if people demand it. So start demanding. The first step is to understand all the worst gimmicks. Once you understand these things, you'll know we have to get rid of them. (Here is a quick rundown: "Top 10 Worst Ideas in Education.")

Q: What are you most disappointed about?

A: I'm surprised that our movers and shakers, especially the media and mainstream political leaders, are so passive, so indifferent. I think the Education Establishment has succeeded in baffling and exhausting the society's top people. Year after year, we wallow in mediocrity and confusion. Executives and politicians decide that Education is a hopeless field full of incompetents. Why aggravate yourself by getting involved with such people? I suspect our educrats want to induce precisely this feeling. In particular, political leaders, black leaders, and religious leaders, who have millions of followers, do not use their leverage. Part of the answer is that every American should pressure their leaders to be more active. Every large organization should have an Education Committee whose job is helping the organization use its influence in the most constructive ways.

Q: So why did you become focused on K-12 education?

A: There is a lot of nuttiness in K-12, counterproductive for students, but often intriguing for onlookers. (For me it's a big crime scene and I find it utterly fascinating.) You might hear an anecdote from friends at dinner or you might read something in the newspaper. You think, this is impossible, isn't it?? College kids who don't know where Alaska is? They don't know what 67 is? When I hear things like this, I'm first disgusted and second resolved to do something about it. Each such anecdote is a canary in the coal mine. Education is dying all around you. The signs and symptoms are unmistakable. Point is, you shouldn't look away from this nuttiness, you shouldn't excuse it. Confront it. Think about what schools were like when you were there. How should they be now? You know immediately that we could do better.

Q: If you could have any improvements you wanted, what would they be?

A: Just for starters, we have to get rid of sight-words and bring back phonics. Second, we have to eliminate the idiotic, century- long campaign against memorization Third, try to obliterate anything called Common Core, which is a glittering array of dopey ideas. Fourth, we need to get rid of Constructivism yesterday. Let teachers teach.

Q: Take it from the top. How would you summarize what's happening to the kids?

A: They are ideology fodder. That's a reference to World War I when soldiers at the front were called "cannon fodder." They were fed to the big guns. Similarly, our kids are fed to theories and visions. Stalin killed 20 million of his own people. He had really big theories and visions! Point is, ideologues don't mind cracking lots of eggs in order to prepare a few omelettes. Ever since John Dewey and his Progressives started taking over the schools of education in order to transform teachers, the country has been hurt by a simmering ideological war. You feel the existence of this war every time you see a public school embrace a counterintuitive idea. The main thing to know about ideologues, in addition to their ruthlessness, is that they are tireless. They never take a week off. That's why they have been so successful, and people talk about "the deliberate dumbing down of America."

Q: Is there a conspiracy?

A: No, it's completely coincidental that virtually all public schools embrace and promote the worst ideas in the history of education. Just a coincidence that every professor of education at Harvard's Graduate School of Education believes in the same wacky things. They all somehow drank the same Kool-Aid and found each other. What are the odds?

Q: Okay, if you're in charge, what's the next step?

A: A wise dictator would cut the Department of Education in half; protect teachers from mandatory membership in the NEA; politely point out that the public school system in America has been in steady decline for more than 75 years and any professor who has been involved with this decline is not entitled to work in the field of Education, please find a new line of work; and college students must not be allowed to major in that most trivial of majors, Education. They should major/minor in the subjects they will eventually teach. That's common sense everywhere but the USA.

(Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is "Saving K-12;" his education site is Improve-Education.org. You can support his work on Patreon.)

© 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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