Bruce Deitrick Price
The K-12 archipelago
By Bruce Deitrick Price
January 6, 2020

The Gulag Archipelago was Stalin's personal penal system, 1934-1953, where roughly 2,000,000 people died from hunger and exhaustion. Hundreds of prisons were strung out across the vast emptiness of Russia. The novelist Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn perceived an archipelago not of islands but of hellholes.

Together these prisons comprised a separate existence cut off from everything desirable or normal. Everyone was cold, hungry, frightened. It was a world defined by a lack of basic necessities.

The K-12 Archipelago in America is softer, more mental, more a metaphor. It is a world defined by a lack of basic skills. In both cases, prisoners are operating at a low level, one that borders on less than human.

Students can read only in a fumbling, struggling way. Simple arithmetic is difficult for them. They don't know much basic knowledge such as where Russia is on a map. They wander through a fog of busted grammar and disinformation. They aren't learning much; what they do learn is often not what other students are learning. Due to Personalized Learning, everyone is separate and isolated. How can people have a conversation about scattered fragments of information?

The victims have a middle school education, not even a good one. Soon enough they are adults. They don't know much. Many never read a book in their whole life. If they did, it would be hard work. Adults who can read for pleasure are more and more rare.

Knowledge is the first casualty. Then public schools go to work on your character. The message is: don't bother doing things properly; don't try hard.

Still worse, our public schools now specialize in a kind of cognitive disorientation. Nothing is studied to mastery and topics change every few days. You are not encouraged to concentrate on anything in particular. Finally, you lose that essential skill, focusing. You are restless but without ambition. You can't put three sentences together to make a coherent paragraph. You can't think critically or independently because you are trained to practice cooperative learning, where you are always part of a group. You've been under-educated and non-educated. Your potential has not been reached.

The Dean in Animal House said that "fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life." Neither is dazed and empty-headed.

Students are told that they are now college-ready and career-ready. They are neither. Any good college would tell such students they need remediation in everything. Do they know that something is missing? Perhaps if they meet a well-educated person and wonder vaguely what that feels like. But with people like themselves, why would they be reminded of anything else?

Contrary to propaganda, we had excellent public schools 100 years ago Now, all the proven theories and methods valued a century ago, and still today around the world, have been ignored and shredded.

There is no physical pain in the K-12 Archipelago, no hunger. It is defined by absence and emptiness, by things you can't do and thoughts you cannot have.

CODA: The foregoing is a literary way of saying that things are gone to hell. For those who like statistics, here is that unpleasant reality according to the latest numbers.

Recently released NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) figures continue to indicate that only one-third of American teenagers are "proficient" in reading. One-third. The other two-thirds exist in murky terrain known as "below proficient."

Meanwhile new numbers have appeared from PISA (Program for International Students Assessment). Despite huge budgets, our scores are mediocre. It's revealing to watch major media pretend that everything is hunky-dory. Psychology Today says it most honestly: "US scores show that our education system is flatlining. We are not keeping up with our global counterparts, though the world is becoming increasingly interconnected and interdependent."

Lower scores – what do they mean?


Bruce Deitrick Price's most recent book is "Saving K-12 – What happened to our public schools? How do we we fix them?"

© Bruce Deitrick Price


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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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 (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 .


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