If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be comical. Our schools seem to be run by Italian cruise ship captains.
In a society, where everyone is immersed in language and surrounded by words, we somehow manage to have an illiteracy crisis. Recent government tests show that two-thirds of the kids entering middle school are sub-literate. This country has 50 million functional illiterates. Furthermore, SAT scores are falling. American students don’t compete well against students from other countries, even though we spend vastly more per student than almost everybody else. Ordinary citizens know less and less general information. In short, public education is a disgraceful sham.
If public schools were a publicly traded corporation, it goes without saying that all the top people would be fired today. New management would be brought in. New policies would be tried until improvement was manifest to everyone. You know this is exactly what would happen in any practical, sensible part of the universe.
So the question must be: why has our Education Establishment been allowed to make a mess of things year after year? Did it win an election running on the incompetence platform? Is there a fix? Can you attend a graduate school of education only if you sign your brain over to a cult?
Well, let’s not indulge too much in the ridicule of the ridiculous. Let’s focus on the main prize, which is to fix this mess.
The Education Establishment itself appears to be a self-perpetuating Rube Goldberg contraption. Gears squeak; that’s too often all that happens. Virtually every elite educator since the time of John Dewey has been a denizen of the far-left. These socialists seem to think exactly alike; and they don’t let in people who don’t think alike. So we can’t assume that the official experts are going to help. My conclusion is that they caused the problems, and how can we expect them to turn around and fix the problems? So when we look at the Department of Education, National Education Association, and all the top people in the field somewhat ironically called “education,” we should know that we will simply get more of the same non-education.
Indeed, if Arne Duncan and President Obama can lock in their Common Core Curriculum, it seems to me we’ll get more of the same but worse. So who can save us?
Obviously we have to look to the larger world for leadership and salvation: prominent citizens, community groups, private and charter schools, conservative political groups, and particularly non-profit organizations.
Many of the big-name non-profit organizations (in business, politics, military, and other fields) are officially devoted to education reform. Often, these groups solicit funds for that exact purpose. But education stays the same or gets worse. Isn’t that intriguing? I’ve called up some of these organizations to ask: are you really doing all you can? Is it unreasonable to ask that you try harder? (Contributors should ask the same thing.)
In all cases, we need to move to a higher level of seriousness. The Education Establishment, intent on its ideological goals, has dumbed down not just the schools but almost every discussion about the schools. We’re trying to discuss the architecture for a new building even as we are dog-paddling around in a swamp. First, let’s drain the swamp. Then we need a lot more people with what Hemingway called “a good bullshit detector.” Virtually everything the official educators come up with is either trivial, a distraction, or outright BS. Let’s call it what it is as a simple first step toward reform.
Seriously, folks, you simply cannot create 50 million functional illiterates without some serious stupidity or you are trying very hard. Isn’t that a fair statement? It’s not as though young kids are living in the jungle and never see a printed word. No, we are all surrounded by language from the time we open our eyes. TV ads. Packaging. Magazines. Billboards. Menus. It’s almost inconceivable that our public schools can actually prevent children from learning to read — that’s how I would put it — but prevent reading is exactly what they do. Ditto so much else that used to be taught in public schools.
Quick, find some top-level educrats and say: you’re fired.
Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, and education activist. His simple 10-point blueprint for school reform can be found here: “A Bill Of Rights For Students 2012.”