An acquaintance sent this note: “My sister tells of teaching math to college freshmen. The question was: If X plus 5 = 10, what is the value of X? It took her an entire week to get the kids to finally say ‘5.’ So the following Monday, just on a hunch, she gave them another problem: If Y plus 5 = 10, what is the value of Y? And no one could answer!”
Remember, these students have been admitted to a community college. Presumably, many studied Algebra around the ninth grade. The teacher is an experienced veteran who knows mathematics.
How can anyone explain this anecdote?
You would surely conclude that public schools did a terrible job. But the situation seems more ominous than even this summary suggests. These students have been made dumber at 19 than they probably were at 12. They can’t understand a simple idea, even when it’s explained to them for days. It’s almost as if someone had performed a long, slow lobotomy on these young brains.
How do the public schools achieve this diminishment?
Suppose you were serious about achieving exactly that goal. There are techniques you would automatically use. Books could be written on each technique, and probably have. But I’ll be brief. It’s the totality of the effect that we need to contemplate, not the details.
1) You ensure a general disorderliness, with lots of interruptions and chatter from loudspeakers. Discipline is slack. Ideally, unmanageable students are kept in the classroom. If children feel insecure and frightened, that’s helpful.
2) You curtail or eliminate recess and physical activity. You want the children confined and lethargic, or bored and restless.
3) You divide students into small groups. They are graded as a group, praised as a group, and addressed as a growth. They learn not to trust their own thinking.
4) You keep children constantly engaged in trivial “activities.” They sing a song or talk about their favorite day of the week. What matters is that the activities have no academic content.
5) You ensure that the classroom does not contain maps, especially of the US or the world. Geographical details are rarely mentioned.
6) You make sure that teachers think of themselves as facilitators. They do not communicate information to the students. Teachers emphasize that facts need not be memorized. History and science are skimmed, not taught.
7) Literacy is constantly referenced; and the classroom is filled with books. However, the methods used to teach reading are designed not to be effective. (The central sophistry is to teach English, a phonetic language, as if it’s a hieroglyphic language.)
8) Math is referenced every day. However, the methods used to teach arithmetic are designed to be ineffective. New topics are introduced helter-skelter. Often these topics are exotic and complicated. Weird techniques are taught. Even in the sixth grade, most children can’t multiply and divide, and don’t understand decimals and fractions. They are dependent on calculators. As college students, they don’t know what 7×8 is.
9) You insist that grammar and spelling are obsolete; cursive is a waste of time; kids shouldn’t learn a second language. Anything rigorous and logical is dismissed as “inappropriate for our children.” It’s important to create an atmosphere where deadlines don’t matter, tests are soft, grades are inflated, everyone is promoted, and students learn that little is expected of them.
10) The goal is that most students feel at once overwhelmed and empty. They know they are ignorant and barely literate. Whatever education is, they didn’t get any. Many have been told they are dyslexic or have ADHD. Many have received tutoring, counseling, or sedation. Many pretend to be sick so they can stay home.
11) All educational failure is blamed on factors the school can’t control. Children are said to be not ready, not smart, or neurotic in some way. Parents are said to be not involved, not helpful, or hostile to the educational process. The schools constantly praise their own wisdom and performance.
The totality of these techniques, kept in play month after month, virtually guarantees that no education takes place. If some students are stubborn and insist on acquiring information on their own, they are labeled “gifted” and removed from the general population.
The whole process is carefully anti-educational and anti-intellectual. Whatever a real school would do, you do the opposite. A remarkable thing happens. The children grow physically; they age before your eyes. But what they know at 10 or even 15 is not distinguishable from what they knew at 8. What they know as high school graduates can be measured in smidges. They arrive in community college able to drink, drive, vote, serve in the military, or marry, but unable to grasp that if Z+5 equals 10, Z must be 5.
Much more than we would like to thank, the k-12 experience is a lobotomy performed in slow motion.
McKinsey & Company, the famous consulting firm, put it this way in 2009: “The longer American children are in school, the worse they perform.”
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.